Friday, January 9, 2015

Worth Mentioning - Quiero los ojos

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.


Cody talks old school action and new school horror.


SNIPER (1993)

Tom Berenger delivers what I find to be the most memorable performance of his career in this film, playing Master Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Beckett, a seasoned sniper (74 confirmed kills) who has lately been stationed in the jungles of Panama, assigned to deal with the guerilla rebel forces.

When the National Security Council gets word that a coup is being plotted in Panama and may be carried out on the country's election day, which is less than a week away, they put together a covert assassination mission (one which "wouldn't bear Congressional scrutiny") and send inexperienced hot shot Richard Miller (Billy Zane) to Panama to work as both Beckett's spotter and his commander.

Beckett and Miller do not get along. Miller has an unjustified arrogant swagger, he has the wrong gear, he wants to play the mission strictly by the book. Beckett throws the NSC's playbook out as soon as Miller arrives in Panama, partly because his previous spotter was recently killed in action due to the incompetency of higher-ups, and also because he has spent a lot of time in the jungle and knows how to get around.


But this isn't just another "oil and water" buddy picture, it has more depth than average due to the fact that Miller is an extremely flawed character. An Army veteran who is now on a Washington D.C. SWAT team, he is a sharpshooter, but all he's done with his ability is win a silver medal in the '88 Olympics. He has no kills, and when it comes down to it, he finds that he can't pull the trigger with a human target in his sights, even if that target is firing at him. Because of this, he gets people around him killed more than once. Yet he'll take heroic credit that he didn't truly earn.

As Beckett and Miller wade further into the jungle and farther out of Miller's element, the situation around them becoming more dangerous and violent as the tension between them rises, Miller even begins to have a psychological breakdown. They're going up against a rebel leader, a Colombian drug lord, and an ex-CIA enforcer while being stalked by a mercenary sniper who was trained by Beckett, but their biggest threat may be each other. Miller has, after all, been authorized to "take out" Beckett if he deems him to be a liability.

Written by Crash Leyland (this was his only screenwriting credit) and Michael Frost Beckner (Tony Scott's Spy Game, Renny Harlin's Cutthroat Island), Sniper has a very simple story, it's essentially just two men on a mission fighting their way through a jungle, but the characters have substance, the tone is dark and rather unnerving, and the action is intense, the moments of violence brutal and impactful.

Berenger shines as Beckett, a smart and capable man who's a bit run down from dedicating his life to killing, while Zane's performance makes Miller a conflicting character to watch - he's not likeable, he has a lot of bad traits, and yet there's an underlying hope that he'll turn around and prove himself worthy by the end.


In response to action movies of the time presenting killing in a "cartoonish and antiseptic" way, director Luis Llosa wanted the deaths in Sniper to have an effect on the viewer, and he accomplished that. Even though there are stylistic flourishes like shots of the bullets traveling through the air and there is a cheer-worthy moment when Beckett gets the drop on a rival sniper, there is little fun in the sight of people getting shot in Llosa's movie.

What Sniper does provide is the enjoyment of spending 99 minutes with a well-made, suspenseful, old school action/thriller.



OUIJA (2014)

Several years ago, Universal Studios made a deal with the toy and board game company Hasbro to make a lineup of feature films based on some of Hasbro's most popular items. Development started on such properties as Monopoly, Candy Land, Clue, Magic: The Gathering, and Stretch Armstrong. The first Universal/Hasbro project to make it to the screen was Peter Berg's maligned Battleship in 2012.

The Michael Bay production company Platinum Dunes, which has been behind such genre offerings as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Amityville Horror, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street reboots and remakes, were brought on to make a film out of the Ouija "spirit boards" Hasbro manufactures, with the selling point being that they're meant to allow buyers to communicate with the spirits of the dead. Despite its horror potential, Platinum Dunes first approached Ouija as a big budget, family-friendly adventure film in the vein of Jumanji and Indiana Jones, with McG attached to direct. When that iteration of the project fell apart, Universal had it rebuilt from the ground up, with Blumhouse Productions, the company behind the Paranormal Activity franchise, Insidious, and Sinister, joining Platinum Dunes (Dunes and Blumhouse also collaborate on the Purge films) to take Ouija down the logical path of making it a lower budgeted horror movie.

Directed by Stiles White from a screenplay he co-wrote with his wife Juliet Snowden, the final version of Ouija is, at its core, exactly what a Ouija movie should be. However, the execution is very lacking.

The story kicks off with high school senior Debbie dying of an apparent suicide. When her best friend Laine discovers a Ouija board in Debbie's home, she gathers some friends together to use the board in an attempt to contact Debbie's spirit and get answers about her death. What they discover is that Debbie didn't really kill herself, she was murdered by a dark spirit that resides within her home... And then that spirit starts picking off her friends one-by-one. Laine has to solve the mystery of the house's past and figure out how to lay this murderous ghost to rest before it's too late.

Ouija is less its own story than it is simply a collection of clich├ęs, moments and plot elements from various other supernatural films that have been copied and pasted together to fill out a reasonable running time. It's very obvious all along the way that the movie wants to reach the heights of other recent popular ghost stories, it just can't quite get there. It tries to be unnerving, but doesn't accomplish it. It tries to be scary, but its jumps are repetitive.

One problem is that the first half of the movie is exceptionally dull, focused on a group of uninteresting characters in mourning. It's not the fault of the actors that their characters don't pull the viewer in, they do the best they can with the material they've been given, and I support the choice of making Olivia Cooke the lead, as she's one of the best things about the Bates Motel TV show. The characters are just empty.

They don't even realize there's an evil spirit around until more than 45 minutes in, leaving just over 30 minutes for the more involving horror moments to play out in - or these moments would be involving if they weren't so familiar. It's hard to be intrigued by a mystery when it's just reminding you of other movies. It really seems like Ouija was assembled by saying, "This worked in that, so it should work with this." There's no energy to it.

If you're in the mood to watch a horror movie based around a Ouija board, I'd say stick with 1986's Witchboard.



WRONG TURN VI: LAST RESORT (2014)

After a three film stretch with Sharktopus filmmaker Declan O'Brien at the helm, the producers behind Fox Home Entertainment's Wrong Turn franchise decided it was time to bring in new blood behind the scenes for the sixth entry in the series. Bringing their fresh perspective to the inbred toxic mutant cannibals are director Valeri Milev (the 2013 zombie movies Code Red and Re-Kill) and screenwriter Frank H. Woodward, who has primarily written for horror-based documentaries up to this point.

What Milev and Woodward have delivered here is a film that is very different than any of its predecessors.

Last Resort follows a young man named Danny, who has had a rough time in his life, a lot of his problems seemingly branching out from the fact that he was adopted as a child and has never felt like he fit in anywhere. His biological family has always been a mystery to him, but now Danny has gotten word that he has inherited an old spa resort that is situated deep in the West Virginia wilderness.

Journeying out to the Hobb Springs Hotel (established in 1902) with Danny are his girlfriend, his girlfriend's brother, and a small group of close friends. They are welcomed to the resort by its caretakers, Jackson and Sally, a very strange brother and sister pair who are not-so-subtly incestuous. In their private conversations, the caretakers speak of their ulterior motive for bringing Danny out to his family property, a motive that is slowly revealed to the viewer over the course of the film.

While Danny learns bits and pieces of his family history and Jackson and Sally do their best to show him that he has finally found the place where he truly belongs, murder and danger lurk at the edges.


With Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings, O'Brien had moved the timeline back to before the events of the original Wrong Turn so he could include in it all three of that film's killers; Three Finger, One Eye, and Saw Tooth. Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines was also set before part 1, and with part 6 we are still in prequel territory - Three Finger, One Eye, and Saw Tooth are all present and accounted for (although One Eye looks very different, he's really only recognizable because he's with the other two.) Jackson and Sally are kin to the deformed maniacs, and although the trio are not supposed to be murdering people just yet, lest they ruin the plans in store for Danny... well, they're maniacs, you can't really control them. People in and around Hobbs Springs get picked off by the series' star killers while Danny is gradually altered by this experience in his homeland.

Stlishly directed by Milev in naturally atmospheric locations, Wrong Turn VI has a unique pace and tone among the other installments. Although this is, like the others, about a group of people getting picked off in Greenbrier Backcountry, it is much more focused on telling a story within this world. There's more going on than the murders, there's a purpose to the scenario. There's a plot, there are dark secrets that come to light, there's a character arc.

At times the film did seem to be moving along too slowly for my taste, but its story was intriguing and the overall feel appropriately unnerving.

I thought it would be refreshing to have a new writer and director, but I never imagined Milev and Woodward would set their sequel apart from the others as much as they did. Rather than simply copy what others had done before them, they took their own path through the concept. That approach is not only commendable, but it also was effective in making Wrong Turn feel fresh again.

Sometimes a series has to switch things up a bit to keep from feeling like it's been run into the ground, and that's exactly what Milev and Woodward have done here. Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort is a very strong entry in the series that works in a different way than any of the previous five did. Even if you got tired of the other sequels as they went along, the sixth film is still worth giving a chance, because there is no other Wrong Turn like it.

However, if you haven't already checked out Last Resort, it might be a while before you're able to get your hands on it for a decent price. Due to an issue with the image on a "missing persons" poster seen in the movie, copies of Wrong Turn VI have been recalled indefinitely.


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