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Saturday, September 3, 2016

HORROR DOUBLE-FEATURE REVIEW: 31 & BLAIR WITCH

This week I was able to attend two very special screenings of two upcoming horror movies. The first being Blair Witch (2016) and then Rob Zombie's '31' (2016). Both of these movies are highly anticipated in the horror genre and while I was able to get free admission to 'Blair Witch', I did purchase a ticket for a one-night special sneak preview screening of '31'.
Blair Witch is essentially a remake/reboot, which are usually hit and miss within the realm of horror movies. Set in 2014, it references the events in the original The Blair Witch Project (1999) when the character James (James Allen McCune) has been searching for his missing sister Heather since the original tape was found almost 17 years ago. When coming across found footage on the Internet, supposedly of his sister, he and his friends confront Lane, the one who found it and convince him and his girlfriend to lead back them into the Black Hills Forest to find Heather. Obviously unaware of how really bad an idea this is, and equipped with a handheld Digital HD camera, this group of young people ventures into the woods anyway. As you can expect, they get lost, despite the availability of a GPS device and even a remote control drone equipped with a web-cam. One by one, James' friends are separated along with Lane and his girlfriend Talia encountering supposed supernatural sounds and voices and various warnings from the ever-present wooden figures tied to the trees.
This more modern incarnation of Blair Witch Project depends mostly on the fame and mystique created by the original film which became such a groundbreaking horror film 20 years ago. Although panned by critics for it's amateur production and vomit-inducing shaky camera it nevertheless began the new sub-genre of horror/suspense in the "found-footage" film, which has become prevalent in many recent movies such as the Paranormal Activity franchise and Cloverfield (2008). While the premise of Blair Witch in that how does James expect to find evidence of his sister still in the woods after 17 years is somewhat far fetched, the movie does have some significantly frightening moments. While the inclusion of 21st century technology really doesn't add much to the story except as shallow plot points and instead replacing a lost map with a lost GPS signal.The drone shots make for some interesting shots as we see just how huge this forest really is and adds to the overall theme of isolation. Without really giving away any spoilers I will say that the few glimpses of what we can only assume is in fact the Blair Witch are truly terrifying. All in all, this is an interesting movie but not as original, yet it lets us forget the total train-wreck of a movie that was Book of Shadows: Blair With 2 (2000). On a side note the special screening I attended at the Angelika in Dallas was a wonderfully interactive experience with help from costumed performers from Dark House Haunted House in Plano complete with fog machines and creepy red lighting to add a little ambiance to the show.

I have been a big fan of Rob Zombie since first hearing White Zombie's "Astro Creep: 2000" (1995) in high school. Then having followed his solo music career since the release of Hellbilly Deluxe (1998) and his promising film career beginning with his first horror movie House of 1,000 Corpses (2003). Burgeoning out of his experience in directing his own music videos, he developed a style all his own, which to his fans has only increased his popularity but critically he has met with box-office failures and commercial setbacks. After his two remakes of the Halloween horror movie franchise (Halloween (2007) and Halloween II (2009), his last film Lords of Salem (2012) was a major flop with both audiences and fans (read my review). His latest venture into the extreme-horror genre comes the most brutally, ultra-violent, exploitative horror movie I have ever seen! This is Rob Zombie's '31'.
Set on Halloween, 1976, while on a rural Texas road, a group of five carnies are kidnapped and forced to play a sadistic game of cat-and-mouse in a so-called "Murderworld" where they must survive for 12 hours. The ringleaders of this psycho-circus is known only as Father Murder (Malcolm McDowell) and his two female companions, Sister Dragon and Serpent,  dressed in gaudy French aristocratic costumes straight out of Versailles. Among the murderous-maniacs are a group of six lazily-named, psychopathic, killer clowns. The first being a vulgar, Spanish-speaking, Neo-Nazi, knife-wielding, midget (no joke!) named Sick-Head (Pancho Moler), who then proceeds to kill them off one-one until there is only one survivor. The final adversary is a pretentious, white-faced,  masochist named Doom-Head (Richard Brake) with a unusually sick-sense of fair-play.
The movie features much of the similar music-video style of visuals Rob Zombie has been known for. With a survival-horror theme similar to the Saw series, the story has somewhat of a slow start with a bizarre monologue from the character of Doom-Head as he is about to mutilate his latest victim before we are even aware of what's going on, which presents a very disturbing, albeit apologetic, first-hand view of his twisted philosophy as if we were the one about to be brutally killed. Although effective, it is both confusing and presumptive. The one major flaw in all of Rob Zombie's films (and most music videos) is his inclusion of his wife, former model and dancer Sheri Moon-Zombie, While Sheri has often been featured prominently in many of his works first as the maniacal 'Baby' in House of 1,000 Corpses, Sheri has gone on to appear in every one of his films becoming more and more of a central character including her part as Deborah Myers, Michael Myers' mom, in both Halloween and Halloween II. As the main character of Heidi Hawthorne in Lords of Salem, most audiences and critics agree that Sheri is not leading lady material however this doesn't stop Zombie from casting her in more and bigger parts like he's Roman Polanski or Luc Besson. Also his tendency to cast has-been (but still classy) actor Malcolm McDowell in everything as well. It would be a surprise if Zombie didn't feature both actors in his next project.
While '31' is a fast-paced, gut-wrenching murder-fest, there is little substance or story to speak of. There is very little information regarding why or even how these people continue to wage their little Halloween game of death every year as there is obviously not much chance at survival for any of them. There is even a debate between the Father and Sisters waging on the incredible odds of survival so far as 1,000,000 to 1 for one of them! It's like if C-3PO was a serial-killer instead of a droid telling us the odds of survival! It is curious that Zombie seems to be deviating from his originality again by  embracing the trends with recent killer-clown movies such as John Watt's Clown and the upcoming remake of Stephen King's IT.v With it's strange, abrupt ending, this movie left me drained and confused and concern for the future of Rob Zombie's films.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Movie Review: Dracula Untold

DRACULA, a name that has haunted popular culture ever since author Bram Stoker published his gothic-horror classic in 1897. Since then, Dracula has appeared in over 200 films beginning in the 1920's. The latest incarnation of the immortal vampire comes from Universal Pictures, the same film company who produced the classic Dracula (1931) film starring Bela LugosiDracula Untold presents a much different view of the Dark Prince, based (somewhat loosely) on history rather than any literary or film source. Starring Luke Evans as Prince Vlad of Transylvania, who is forced to pay a hefty tribute in exchange for a shaky peace with the Turkish Sultan, Mehmed (Dominic Cooper). When the Sultan demands one thousand boys for his army, including Vlad's own son Ingeras (Art Parkinson), Vlad defies him, thus incurring the wrath of the Turks! Desperately seeking the means to defend his family, including his wife Mirena (Sarah Gordon) and his people from the invading Turks, Vlad encounters an ancient Vampire (Charles Dance) who offers him great power, but at a terrible price! Although cursed to become a vampire, Vlad possesses great, dark powers, but if he can resist his blood-thirst for three days, he will return to normal, if not he will be cursed for all eternity. Although he now has the power to defeat the Sultan's army, he is in danger of not only losing his humanity, but his soul as well. Will Vlad be able to control the darkness within him, or will it consume him forever?
Dracula Untold presents moviegoers with a much more sympathetic monster, with Dracula depicted as a dark, anti-hero. Welsh actor Luke Evans (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)) seems an interesting choice to play Dracula, having appeared in several big budgeted fantasy/action movies and has even portrayed two Greek Gods: Zeus in Immortals (2011) and Apollo in Clash of the Titans (2010). Instead of the suave, tuxedo-clad, Dracula audiences have come to know over the years, this Dracula is a seemingly young and handsome, similar to previous incarnations such as Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) played by Gary Oldman, or even the sexy Dracula 2000 (2000) played by Gerard Butler. Although there have been past attempts to depict the more historical figure of Dracula, such as in the prologue to the 1992 Dracula or even in the made-for-TV movie Dark Prince (2000), Dracula Untold gives us a much kinder and gentler Dracula, even as so far to show him as a dedicated  husband and father. Despite all the blood and violence, the movie surprisingly retains a PG-13 rating. Also much of the movie is in the perspective of his young son, as he is featured as the narrator of the story.
The real historical figure of Dracula, known as Vlad Tepes, aka "The Impaler", was a 15th century Romanian prince, infamous for his brutal reputation for extreme cruelty. His father Vlad Dracul, II, was a member of the 'Order of the Dragon', a group of knights dedicated to protect Christianity in Eastern Europe. The real Dracula was in fact NOT a vampire; merely a "bloodthirsty" despot, yet he is revered as a hero in many parts of Romania. There has been much speculation over the years in  separating the legend from history and although Stoker's novel did little to dispel the myth, Dracula, will forever be synonymous with vampires.
Dracula Untold presents a fresh, new perspective on the Dracula legend, turning the bloodsucking vampire into a rock star, complete with a tragic back-story and a somewhat believable reason to become what he is destined to become: DRACULA!

Monday, September 29, 2014

TV Review: GOTHAM

Possibly one of THE most anticipated TV shows of the Fall, GOTHAM premiered this week on FOX to a mixed reaction from fans. While DC Comics' characters have been successful in recent years from the highly popular Smallville (2001-2011) to the current series Arrow (2012-) , even more shows from DC will premiere this Fall including The Flash (CW) and Constantine (NBC). Set in the Batman universe and loosely based on the short-lived DC comic books series Gotham Central (2003-2006), Gotham is basically a cop show set around the events of Bruce Wayne's (David Mazouz) parents murder, but the future Caped-Crusader is not the main character. Instead, the show focuses on Police Detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) as he works with his partner Detective Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) as they try to clean up the streets of Gotham as organized crime and corruption plague the city as two rival crime bosses vie for control.
In the style of Smallville (Superboy/Superman), Gotham is essentially a prequel in that it tells more about the origins of the hero we have all come to know so well, namely Batman. While focusing more on the cop drama in the city and less on the origin story, the show has a lot of work to do in getting fans to follow it. While trying to desperately include plenty of fan-service (albeit too much) the show includes cameos from several other Gothamites and characters from Batman's would-be rogues gallery. Aside from the usual characters such as Gordon, Bullock there is of course Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee), Bruce Wayne's loyal butler. Along with a few familiar (and not so familiar faces) there is the criminals Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith) and Carmine Falcone (John Doman), while Falcone has appeared in the Batman comics for years Fish Mooney is a completely original character created for the TV series, much like Harley Quinn who was created for the 1990's Batman Animated Series and was soon incorporated into the comics. One of the major would-be villains who make an appearance is Oswald Cobblepot, (Robin Lord Taylor) aka The Penguin, as a much skinnier incarnation of the Batman villain. Other characters who make an appearance and have some, if very little to the story in the beginning is Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Camren Bicondova), Edward Nygma/The Riddler (Cory Michale Smith) and even a young Ivy Pepper/Poison Ivy (Clare Foley). While Batman as a character has one of the biggest cast of characters in the comic book it seems very difficult that the show will be able to address the origins of all these characters. The fact is, the show seems to have almost too many characters, especially those introduced in just the first pilot. While the show seems promising and hopes to draw in Batman and comic book fans alike, the show seems to be off to a somewhat rocky start, putting too much into the first show and insinuating tat the entire show will be focused on solving the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne in yet another re-working of the origin. Whereas the comics has its own origin, which has been changed and rewritten so many times, including the latest revamping of the character in 2011 as part of DC's New 52. The original character Joe Chill who was featured briefly in the Christopher Nolan movies seems to not be included in this shows story. All in all, Gotham seems to be less of a comic book based show and more of a CSI-like cop drama, complete with overly-melodramatic characters and action. As a Batman fan I was excited to see it, however after watching the pilot episode I was somewhat undecided to what the future of the show might hold and if the show will become as popular as Smallville or suffer the fate of previous Batman show attempts like Birds of Prey (2002-2003), only the fans and ratings will tell...GOTHAM airs Monday nights on FOX 8/7c.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ghostbusters 30th Anniversary

In 1984, a film was released that would defy the boundaries of comedy and horror to become one of the most popular film franchises of the 1980's; that film was Ghostbusters! "Who ya gonna call?" To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Ghostbusters, the original film has been restored and remastered in 4K resolution and will be returning to the big screen for a limited engagement starting on August 29th, in theaters during Labor Day weekend.
Ghostbusters was one of those movies that defined the 1980's and of course my childhood. When I first saw it when I was young, (possibly too young) it stuck with me for the rest of my life. I enjoyed the animated series ("The Real Ghostbusters") from 1986 to 1991, along with the action figure line from Kenner, several video games, and ultimately the release of Ghostbusters II in 1989. Although the movie is often categorized as a comedy, it's really hard to label its genre. It has elements of intellectual comedy, romance, science-fiction and of course horror. The film's story even borders on "Lovecraftian"-style with elements of ancient supernatural forces such as Zuul and Gozer. I've always loved the character of 'Slimer', who although he was featured i a short sequence in the movie gained a considerable fan following along with his constant presence as the comic relief on the animated series. A little bit of trivia: Dan Aykroyd always referred to Slimer as the ghost of John Belushi.
While the Ghostbusters have stayed alive over the last 30 years, uunfortunately, writer and actor Harold Ramis didn't live to see the 30th anniversary, but the rest of the Ghostbusters including Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson are still around to celebrate. For years, there had been rumors that Ghostbusters 3 was in development, but for now, it is still in the works. Directed by Ivan Reitman and written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, Ghostbusters was a truly original, frightening and hilarious movie experience!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Movie Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fever has struck again! Since the resurgence of the popular franchise and animated series from Nickelodeon, the turtles return to the big screen after 20 years with a reboot from director Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans (2012)) starring Megan Fox, Will Arnett, and William Fichtner.
Years after the death of her father in a lab accident, aspiring TV news reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox) is hot on the case of a recent crime wave by the infamous Foot Clan. One night she happens upon a robbery at the docks and witnesses a battle between a mysterious vigilante and the criminals. The clan, led by 'The Shredder' (Tohoru Masamune), and his second in command Karai (Minae Noji), plan to drive the vigilantes out in a subway hostage situation. April stumbles on to their plan and sees not one, but four vigilantes take down the Foot and rescue the hostages! When she follows them to the rooftops she discovers, to her surprise, that the vigilantes are in fact Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! As April soon discovers their mysterious origin and meets their rat master, Splinter (voiced by Tony Shalhoub), she becomes involved in a plot by Shredder and the Foot to release a biological agent on New York City and the only cure is the green mutagen that flows within the blood of the turtles!
While the newest TMNT movie has little in common with the 1990 film aside from the central characters, the 2014 movie is much faster-paced, more action-packed with Michael Bay (one of the producers) style explosions, and overwhelming CGI special effects. Gone are the cute, cartoon-style turtles; the new turtles are bigger, stronger, and even disturbingly realistic. The new turtles also have much more personality than previous incarnations, with each one possessing their own personal accouterments that reflects their individuality. They range from random, found clothing, to various types of armor, decorations, even jewelry and gadgets. With the old turtles, the only way to distinguish them was either by their weapons of choice or their multicolored headbands (which were added in the 1987 animated series, whereas in the original comics, they all wore red). Their personalities however stay true to their origins (as featured in their famous and catchy original theme song) however on a much bigger scale. Leonardo (voiced by Johnny Knoxville) still remains the stalwart leader, whereas Michelangelo (voiced by Noel Fisher) is ever the goof-off, comic relief "party dude". Raphael's (voiced by Alan Ritchson) demeanor is just as rude ("but cool") and crass as ever, complete with a scarred face and chomping on a toothpick. Donatello's (("does machines") voiced by Jeremy Howard) 'nerdiness' is amplified with the addition of huge thick eyeglasses as well as various tech-gadgets  attached to his shell. Sensei Splinter plays a much more active role in this movie, no longer the kind and passive teacher, he becomes more of a harsh disciplinarian who can also kick-ass when he needs to. As for the choice of Megan Fox as the damsel-in-distress April O'Neil, (no longer a part of Michael Bay's Transformers franchise since the second film and their supposed feud) plays a less demure female lead, often portraying April as determined and often fool-hearty, willing to do anything for a story. Will Arnett plays her cameraman Vernon, who was also a supporting character in the original animated series. William Fichtner plays Eric Sacks, a billionaire scientist and socialite who worked with April's father.
Megan Fox as April O'Neil
Along with this new movie, this year also marks the 30th anniversary of the TMNT. Back in 1984, comic book creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird formed an independent comic book company called Mirage Studios and produced a self-published, black & white, comic book entitled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtleslittle did they know that their small independent comic would spawn even more comic books, cartoons, toys, video games, movies, and countless other forms of merchandise into what would become an immensely successful, world-famous franchise! With the initial "Turtle-mania" sparked by the 1987 animated series, (which would last through the late 1980's and into the mid-90's) the franchise has seen it's ups and downs over the years with a recent resurgence with the second animated series in 2003. In 2007 the turtles were given a face-lift and a fully-CGI theatrical movie simply titled TMNT. While the fans reception was mixed, it would soon spark a new revamped CGI animated series on Nickelodeon in 2012.
For many fans of the TMNT, this movie can be seen two ways, while some long-time, hardcore fans may be furiously disappointed about the drastic changes made to the characters that they knew and loved growing up; for the newer, younger fans, this is an enjoyable adaptation of the TMNT franchise. The movie is fun and entertaining and that's what the TMNT are all about. While these characters have grown and changed during the years, the spirit and fun of the turtles has never changed. The turtles themselves have always remained simple and lovable in their own rights.
There is a surprisingly sparse amount of down-time in the new movie for which usually allows for emotional or character development in most films. While the focus is definitely on the action and special effects, the story itself is somewhat predictable and cliche, right down to the stereotypical super-villain desiring destruction right down to a "Today New York City, Tomorrow the world!" mentality. The story moves fairly quickly and rarely slows down, the humor is witty and maybe even a little juvenile, thanks mostly to Michelangelo's cut-ups (I think they even managed to throw in a fart joke somewhere!), as well as their innate love for pizza!
Overall, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a fun and entertaining movie! Fans both young and old can enjoy watching it. I felt my own inner 10-year old crack a smile as they cried "Cowabunga!" and fought off a ridiculously, huge Shredder, who possessed enough blades to fill a dozen Swiss-Army knives! I haven't had this much fun at the movies in a long time. Of all the recent remakes of all my favorite childhood toys such as G.I. Joe and Transformers, I think for once, Hollywood got it right and finally gave the fans what they wanted: "TURTLE POWER!" Enjoy your pizza!
LINKS: Official Movie Website, Mirage GroupNickelodeon, Turtlepedia

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Top 10 Favorite Robin Williams Movies

Robin Williams was quite possibly the funniest comedian I have ever seen. I grew up with many of his movies during the 1980's and 90's and now unfortunately, he's gone... I can remember watching reruns of Mork & Mindy with my parents and the first movie I remember seeing him in was Popeye (1980). I can remember thinking that he was Popeye. There are so many memorable roles he's played, from the incredibly zany, to the sympathetic, and also even a little dark and scary at times. He was a man with a singularly remarkable talent and the world is a sadder place without him. Although many celebrities, both young and old come and go, we have somehow become used to the idea of those who get caught up in the difficult life of a celebrity and often succumb to their demanding lifestyles and their lives tragically come to an, very often before their time. There are only a few of those who really, truly make such an impact on our lives and make us laugh more than anybody that we can scarcely believe it when they are gone. Although he is gone, we can still remember the great moments and characters he played. To celebrate the life and career of Robin Williams, I wanted to list some of my favorite movies to which he gave me and my family so much joy, happiness, and even tears. CHERNOBOG'S BLOG PRESENTS: Top 10 Favorite Robin Williams Movies...We will miss you.

#10 Night at the Museum (2006) - Although Robin Williams only played a supporting role in these movies, (Night at the Museum 3 to be released later this year) with his unique presence and energy, he managed to make one of my favorite U.S. Presidents: Theodore 'Teddy' Roosevelt come alive, even if he was only a wax statue!
#9 Toys (1992) - Robin as Leslie Zevo is one of his strangest and wackiest characters ever. The movie itself is a bizarre experience with a very childlike but also very poignant story.
#8 Jack (1996) - Often underrated and criticized, Jack is one of Robin's most hilarious and yet most sympathetic characters as Jack Powell, the boy with a strange illness that makes him age 4X faster than a normal person.
#7 What Dreams May Come (1998) - While one of his most unsuccessful movies, possibly due to the intensely deep and disturbing subject matter, Robin stars as Chris Nielsen, a man who dies in a car crash and searches the afterlife for his wife.
#6 Bicentennial Man (1999) - Robin stars as Andrew Martin an android who endeavors to become more human.
#5 Popeye (1980) - "I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam!" 'Nuff said.
#4 Hook (1991) - Robin plays Peter Banning, a grown up Peter Pan who has forgotten his life in Never Land until Capt. Hook (Dustin Hoffman) kidnaps his children forcing him to return is one of my favorite movies of all time.
#3 Aladdin (1992) - With his voice giving life to the Genie in one of my favorite Disney animated features, Robin stole the show and created one of the most enigmatic and beloved Disney characters of all time.
#2 Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) - Quite possibly one of his most popular and memorable roles, Robin as Daniel Hillard, a divorcee father who disguises himself as an elderly woman is both incredibly hilarious and completely ridiculous at the same time...and that's what makes it his funniest movie ever!
#1 Dead Poets Society (1989) - This movie inspired me to become a teacher and also gave me a deeper appreciation for both literature and poetry. Robin Williams as John Keating will always be "Oh Captain, My Captain!"
LINKS: Robin Williams, Twitter, Facebook