Friday, July 20, 2018

Worth Mentioning - The Blood Price Is Paid

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.

Captives, zombies, wishes gone bad, and the blues.


Based on a novel by Melanie Joosten, Berlin Syndrome derives its name from Stockholm syndrome (or Helsinki syndrome, as said in Die Hard), which is what it's called when a captive starts to develop a bond with their captors. I'm not sure if the title is really all that appropriate, since the captive in this case never seems to become all that fond of her captor, she just depends on him for her survival, but regardless, the film does indeed tell the story of a "false imprisonment" scenario.

Teresa Palmer (Lights Out) stars as Clare, an Australian tourist in Berlin who clearly intends to have a one or two night stand with a German guy when she's not photographing the sights. Unfortunately for her, the guy she ends up scoring with is Andi (Max Riemelt), a school teacher who takes her back to his place - which happens to be the only occupied apartment in an abandoned complex, where his windows face the inner courtyard.

Clare and Andi have sex, he goes to work in the morning, and soon Clare realizes she can't get out of this place. The door is securely locked, as are the reinforced windows. Clare is trapped... and there's evidence that she's not the first woman who Andi has trapped in his apartment. So if he kept a woman captive before, did he end up killing her? Will things turn out the same for Clare? It seems like it will only be a matter of time before Andi decides to kill Clare and find someone else, and that decision gets closer closer while the months pass.

That's quite a harrowing scenario to watch play out, and screenwriter Shaun Grant and director Cate Shortland brought the story to the screen in a well-told, rather believable manner. Baffling situations like this happen in the real world far too often, and I find them very hard to wrap my mind around - why would someone do this, and how can they possibly get away with it for as long as they do? Some of these situations go on for decades, with multiple captives involved. How do people not notice that something is strange? I'd be questioning the logic of Andi's apartment complex set-up if I hadn't heard of real life cases where abductors had even more complicated and suspicious set-ups than this.

Carried by great performances from Palmer and Riemelt, Berlin Syndrome is a fascinating film that had me engrossed and frequently grossed out.

BLUES BROTHERS 2000 (1998)

In 1980, writer/director John Landis and writer/star Dan Aykroyd delivered one of the most highly regarded comedies of all time with their collaboration The Blues Brothers. Eighteen years later, they tried to recapture the magic with a sequel that was so poorly received and had such awful looking clips that it took me, even though I had grown up watching The Blues Brothers, twenty years to get around to trying to sit through the whole thing.

The idea of ever making a sequel to The Blues Brothers really should have gone out the window as soon as Aykroyd's fellow Blues Brother John Belushi passed away in 1982, but since Aykroyd kept the Blues Brothers band going in reality with different people (like John Goodman or Belushi's brother Jim) stepping in for Belushi, it made Landis and Aykroyd think a sequel could still work. It doesn't... but this ill-advised attempt certainly wasn't helped out by the quality of the script Landis and Aykroyd put together this time around. Apparently they even hated their own script.

Aykroyd reprises the role of Elwood Blues, who is released from prison after serving eighteen years to find out that his brother Jake (Belushi's character) has passed away. That doesn't stop him from diving right into trying to put their band back together, and when the film saddles Elwood with a 10-year-old sidekick (J. Evan Bonifant as Buster) within the first 10 minutes, you already know things are on the wrong track. The kid isn't too annoying and Bonifant had the dance choreography down for the abundant musical sequences, but his presence still indicates that - at the studio's assistance - Blues Brothers 2000 is attempting to be a more family-friendly affair than its R-rated predecessor.

Jim Belushi had scheduling conflicts that kept him out of the film, but John Goodman made it in here as Elwood's new cohort Mighty Mack McTeer, who isn't a great character, but he's Goodman, and Goodman is always great. Also not a great character is Joe Morton's Cabel Chamberlain, who starts out as a police officer in pursuit of the Blues Brothers but becomes a prominent member of the band after having a spiritual epiphany.

The biggest problem is, any attempt to tell a story within this sequel is cringeworthy, especially when it builds up to a battle of the bands that's hosted by a 130 year old, zombie-creating voodoo practitioner. When music isn't being performed, the movie just doesn't work.

I wasn't missing much in the twenty years it took me to get around to watching Blues Brothers 2000, and I don't think I'm going to be revisiting it in the near future. If there are any saving graces that can get you through a viewing, it's the fact that it's packed with great music and features some vehicular mayhem, as you'd hope to see in a Blues Brothers follow-up. But really, we'd have been better off with a Blues Brothers concert special that had no story to it at all.


Automaton Transfusion is a film that has an infamous reputation in my sister's household. This is the zombie movie that pissed her off by ending abruptly in the middle of a scene, just when the characters were about to spring into action. I don't agree with the way writer/director Steven C. Miller chose to end it, either. I believe a movie should have some sort of resolution, even if you do have a sequel in mind. You can't rely on a sequel to wrap things up. Miller intended for this to be the first chapter in a trilogy, but there's not likely to ever be a second installment, let alone a third, so Automaton Transfusion will forever be incomplete and unsatisfying.

Despite that issue, and it's not a small one, I do have a certain level of admiration for this movie, because with it Miller accomplished what I was only dreaming of at the time. With a miniscule budget, a nine day production schedule, and a standard def consumer level camera - a DVX-100, and I bought one of those myself around the time when this movie was made - he made a feature that launched a successful directing career that's going strong more than a decade later. Miller has made six movies just within the last three years, movies starring the likes of Bruce Willis, Gina Carano, Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, and Sylvester Stallone. That's an incredible career in my eyes, and it all started with this little open-ended zombie movie shot on a camera I owned, which somehow landed major distribution through Dimension.

There's really not much special about the story of Automaton Transfusion (it's just another movie about a zombie outbreak), or about the characters (a bunch of high school students) we follow. There is an energy to the way it's shot, which you would hope to achieve when you have nine days to shoot a movie with a mini DV camera, and that footage is cut together in a way that keeps things flowing quickly through multiple action and chase sequences. Its zombies move quickly as well, helping the movie speed toward its too-early non-conclusion.

Miller pulled off the unlikely with this one, and now the finished (sort of) film stands as an inspirational example of what can be accomplished with limited means. That's primarily the reason to watch it.

WISH UPON (2017)

I wasn't surprised when director John R. Leonetti's horror film Wish Upon was hit with a large amount of negativity when it was first released, because even though Leonetti has served as cinematographer on several movies I've enjoyed to varying degrees (Child's Play 3, The Scorpion King, Piranha 3D, Insidious, Insidous: Chapter 2, The Conjuring, etc.), he hasn't done so well in the director's chair. He is the man who has given us Annabelle and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.

After watching Wish Upon, I can still understand why it was so poorly received. It's about as generic and run-of-the-mill as a horror movie can get, and while its director was a sixty-year-old man, it has a very teenybopper mentality. This is a film in which a teenage girl (The Conjuring's Joey King as Clare) gets her hand on a magical Chinese music box that can grant her seven wishes, and she proceeds to waste them on things like becoming popular at school and getting her crush to fall in love with her. This is a girl who could make some very serious wishes, like bringing her late mother or her beloved dog back to life, but instead she focuses on the most superficial things imaginable.

Making Clare's knuckleheaded wishes even worse is the fact that each one causes someone in Clare's life to die in some gruesome way. That's the price the music box demands in exchange for granting the wish. Of course, Clare doesn't know this until several wishes and deaths in, but that didn't make me feel any better about it.

Leonetti assembled a good cast of potential victims around King, with Ryan Phillippe as her father, The Walking Dead's Sydney Park and Stranger Things' Shannon Purser as her best friends, Sherilyn Fenn as her neighbor, and Ki Hong Lee making a strong impression as a classmate who helps her translate the Chinese words on the music box. The death (and near death) scenes some of these characters are involved in are entertaining to watch, and at times sort of like the death scenes in the Final Destination films.

I probably would have liked Wish Upon a lot more than I did if I were half the age I am, but while I found Clare to be maddening and couldn't stand her by the end of the film, there was enough enjoyable nonsense going on in the film that I was left with a mostly positive outlook on it. It could have been a lot better... but it was a lot better than I expected it to be.

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