Friday, November 30, 2018

Worth Mentioning - Is Film More Important Than Life?

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.


Creeps, killers, undying love, and DTV Stallone.


BURYING THE EX (2014)

The character played by Anton Yelchin in director Joe Dante's horror comedy Burying the Ex finds himself in a situation no one would want to endure, but at the same time the story feels like a wish made on the part of writer Alan Trezza. Although the main character, Max, is a milquetoast, horror-loving cinephile, he has a beautiful, stylish girlfriend who is obsessively in love with him - Ashley Greene as Evelyn - and also has a beautiful fellow pop culture junkie, the sort of girl who will ask him out on a date to see a cemetery screening of Night of the Living Dead - Alexandra Daddario of Texas Chainsaw 3D as Olivia - lusting after him, desperate to get him into bed. Max may have horror knowledge, but he's as bland as it gets beyond that, so it's hard to understand why he has both Evelyn and Olivia under his spell. The first iteration of this story was made as a short film, written and directed by Trezza, and the scales were just as unbalanced there, as the love triangle consisted of Mircea Monroe, Danielle Harris, and John Francis Daley.

And if all this weren't nonsensical enough, in Dante's film Max also has a schlubby half-brother named Travis (Oliver Cooper), who somehow hooks up with magazine cover models and has threesomes. None of these females have any standards.


But regardless of whether or not these romantic and sexual scenarios was Trezza writing out his daydreams, it resulted in an entertaining story where things take a very unfortunate turn. That happens when Max asks Evelyn to meet him in a park so he can break up with her, something he is scared to do even though they're not really compatible (despite what Evelyn thinks). On her way to the meet-up, Evelyn is hit by a bus and killed. Time goes by, Max decides to pursue a relationship with Olivia... and as soon as they make a love connection, Evelyn rises from her grave to return to her man's side.


You see, Max and Evelyn had vowed to be together "always and forever" while in the presence of a magical item in the horror store where Max works, and that item is making them stick to their vow. Not even at death will they part. What is Max to do? As established, he is incredibly wimpy, which makes this strange situation even worse: at one point he's so incapable of dealing with zombie Evelyn that he figures he'll just let her turn him into a zombie as well and accept that he's stuck with her for eternity.

The characters might baffle you, but Burying the Ex is a good time anyway and well worth checking out. It's a solid addition to the filmography of the director who gave us such films as Piranha and The Howling, among other classics.



URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT (2000)

Coming along just a few days short of exactly two years after the release of Urban Legend, this slasher sequel is the sort of follow-up that, for the most part, just uses the concept of its predecessor and then builds a completely new story on that foundation. It has new characters, a new killer who wears a different costume, and is set at a different location - while the events of the first movie occurred at a college called Pendleton University, this one centers on a group of film school students who are vying for the prestigious Hitchcock Award at Alpine University - "the greatest film school that ever existed". Thus the Final Cut subtitle.

Along with all these differences and the Alien to Aliens style title alteration, this film was also the product of a new creative team. High profile composer John Ottman, directly from having most of his music replaced on the Halloween H20 score, made his feature directorial debut with this film, and to this day eighteen years later it remains the only feature he has directed. He was working from a screenplay by future Sinister / Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson and his co-writer Paul Harris Boardman, earning their first credits.


Ottman wanted his film to have a "wacky" tone, which is generally not a popular approach to take to a widely released sequel, so it's no surprise that Final Cut is generally looked down upon in comparison to its predecessor, which was already plenty wacky and cheesy to begin with. Ottman's wacky vision is obvious from the very first scene, which presents an over-the-top version of the sort of movie where a completely unqualified person has to take over the controls of an airplane after tragedy strikes. In this case there's a killer on the loose on the plane, which the heroine (Jessica Cauffiel as aspiring actress Sandra) realizes when she reads the threat "You're Going Down" scrawled across the restroom mirror - and she sees this while receiving some mile high oral pleasure from her boyfriend. This sequence may be too goofy for many viewers, but thankfully it's a film-within-a-film scene, this is a glimpse at a student film being shot by one of the characters. A student film with very impressive production value.

 

Sandra is the heroine in the student film, but not in the actual film. That would be aspiring writer/director Amy Mayfield (Jennifer Morrison), who is struggling to find inspiration for her thesis film until she has a chat with the one returning character from Urban Legend, Loretta Devine as Pam Grier superfan security guard Reese. Reese tells Amy her own story, about a serial killer stalking a college, committing murders that are based on urban legends, the school's decision to cover up the murders, firing the security guard when she won't go along with the cover-up. Amy thinks the story of murders at Pendleton is just an urban legend, but she likes the idea of a making a movie about a serial killer whose murders are inspired by legends.

As soon as Amy makes her intentions known and starts working on getting her film together, a serial killer wearing a fencing mask starts stalking Alpine and knocking off students. Some of the kills are inspired by urban legends, like the one about a person waking up in a tub full of ice with their kidney missing and the snuff film legend, but this killer doesn't stick as closely to classic stories as the killer in Urban Legend did, and the first movie used most of the best ones already.


The characters involved with the ensuing murder mystery include, in addition to Amy, Sandra, and Reese, include boom operator with a bad attitude Vanessa (Eva Mendes), douchey horror director Toby (Anson Mount), Anthony Anderson and Michael Bacall as production assistants Stan and Dirk, Hollywood heir Graham Manning (Joseph Lawrence), Matthew Davis as both student Travis Stark and his twin brother Trevor, cinematographer Simon (Marco Hofschneider), and Professor Solomon (Die Hard's Hart Bochner). Jacinda Barrett, five years down the line from appearing on the MTV reality show The Real World, also shows up at the killer's first victim, and Ottman couldn't pass up the chance to have her warn a character who will soon be graduating that "Next year you'll be in the real world."


While knocking off her friends and associates, the killer also takes the time to chase and toy with Amy a couple times on the way to the climax. My favorite moment involving the killer is one that the composer director came up with: the masked slasher chases Amy into the room where film scores are recorded and, knowing his prey is hiding in there somewhere, just stands at the piano and hits the low keys while waiting for Amy to give away her hiding position.

Urban Legends: Final Cut has its negative points - some things about it are too goofy, and most of the legends used for death scenes are lacking - but overall I find it to be a much better film than it's generally perceived as being. I didn't think Urban Legend was great to begin with and this one is a step down from it, but it's a small step. Final Cut is a perfectly serviceable slasher flick with some fun references to films and filmmaking.



ESCAPE PLAN 2: HADES (2018)

With the release of Escape Plan 2: Hades, Sylvester Stallone has now earned his fourth franchise, as Escape Plan follows in the footsteps of Rocky, Rambo, and The Expendables. Unlike most of his action star contemporaries Stallone has managed to avoid becoming a direct-to-video star, but here we have his first direct-to-video sequel. He's not going to be spending a lot of time in the DTV world during the immediate future, as he has high profile theatrical sequels Credd II, Rambo V, The Expendables 4 coming up, but this is his first big step into that side of the business.

Escape Plan was a team-up vehicle for Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but Arnie didn't come back for this one, which Steven C. Miller directed from a screenplay by Miles Chapman, who also co-wrote and came up with the story for the first film. Stallone didn't exactly return in the same capacity himself. How do you get him to come back for a DTV sequel? You give him less to do and have an ensemble carry the film with him.


Stallone reprises the role of security specialist Ray Breslin, whose business has expanded since we last saw him. No longer is Breslin just getting himself locked up in American prisons so he can figure out their weaknesses and find a way to escape, now he has a team working for him that goes on international missions. The film begins with an action sequence in which his team - which includes Shu (Huang Xiaoming), Luke (Jesse Metcalfe), Abigail (Jaime King), Hush (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson), Jules (Lydia Hull), and wild card Jaspar Kimbral (Wes Chatham) - busts up a hostage situation in Chechnya with martial arts, gunfire, and explosions.

Unfortunately, one of the hostages dies in the process and Kimbral takes the blame, getting fired for focusing on his computer programs more than on his teammates. The firing of Kimbral is reminiscent of the firing of Dolph Lundgren at the beginning of the first Expendables. Dolph went bad in that film after his firing, although all was forgiven by sequel time. So when Kimbral turns up again later in the film, I never trusted him for a second, no matter how helpful he seemed.


The true star of the film is Shu, a fact which is hard to complain about when Xiaoming proves to be such an ass-kicking martial artist. He's given plenty of opportunities to show off his skills, too, as he's abducted and thrown into a prison called Hades (and also called The Zoo), which is so over-the-top hi-tech that it might as well be inside a virtual reality world, and prisoners in Hades are forced to fight to compete for the chance to spend some time in "Sanctuary", a calm room away from the others. Shu is being held hostage here while "Zookeeper" Gregor Faust (Titus Welliver) tries to gather information on a dangerous computer program created by his cousin.


While Shu survives in Hades, memories of the advice Breslin has given him driving him forward, Breslin and the rest of the team are working to figure out how to spring him from the prison. Part of the solution involves recruiting the help of tough lead-chaser Trent Derosa (Dave Bautista). Although Xiaoming seems to be an established star in his native China, I had never heard of him before, so it's the presence of Bautista that gives Escape Plan 2 any sort of "action star team-up" feel. It's sure no Stallone and Schwarzenegger pairing, but it's something. Prior to this Stallone and Bautista were also both in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.


I was never wowed by Escape Plan to begin with, and this sequel is quite a step down from it in every way. Still, it does sport a more interesting look than many films of this sort have, and it moves along at a quick pace. Stallone fans might be disappointed to see that he has a smaller role in this sequel, but he was still given a good amount of stuff to do. This isn't one of those films where it's clear that the big star was only around for a couple days. That may well have been the case, but we never go too long without some Stallone in the movie. When he's not on screen, his co-stars do a capable job of picking up the slack.

Hades is quite middle-of-the-road and I wouldn't recommend it to viewers who don't typically watch this sort of thing, but some viewers might find some charm in the film's sci-fi edge... And I can't imagine there would be anyone who doesn't enjoy watching Huang Xiaoming kick ass.


The following review originally appeared on ArrowintheHead.com


14 CAMERAS (2018)

Two years ago, writer/director Victor Zarcoff introduced the world to a disgusting fellow named Gerald, a perverted creep very effectively brought to life by actor Neville Archambault, in his feature debut 13 Cameras. Now the sequel 14 Cameras has brought Gerald back in full force for a new round of spying on tenants through hidden cameras, sniffing panties, tasting toothbrushes, and keeping women captive. While Zarcoff provided the screenplay for the sequel, this time he handed the helm over to the directing duo of Seth Fuller and Scott Hussion, making their own feature debut.

I'm not sure we really needed to spend two movies worth of time with Gerald, but there is an upside to getting a follow-up to 13 Cameras, as that film ended with one hell of a downbeat ending. 14 Cameras builds on that ending, obviously drawing inspiration from real life cases of women and children being held captive for unimaginably long periods of time, situations that are discovered by the authorities with a shocking frequency. Brianne Moncrief reprises the role of her 13 Cameras character Claire, and it was good to get a more in-depth resolution to her story than the end of the previous film provided.

Many of Moncrief's scenes are shared with Chelsea Edmundson, who plays another woman who has run afoul of Gerald. Edmundson has been racking up the genre credits over recent years, and she does a good job here of making her character Sarah someone we can root for, as she is determined to stand up to the elderly creep, who really needs to get his ass kicked by a strong woman like Sarah.


While tying up loose ends with Claire, the film also gives us more of Gerald being a voyeur. Last time he was spying on Claire and her husband in their California home, this time he has set up hidden cameras around a vacation property in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which gets rented by a family of four - Hank Rogerson and Lora Martinez-Cunningham as parents Arthur and Lori, Brytnee Ratledge and John-Paul Howard as their kids Molly and Kyle - and the daughter's friend from college, Amber Midthunder as Danielle. Zarcoff, Fuller, and Hussion were less interested in the parents than they were in the kids, Danielle in particular.

Danielle's wild child antics and determination to seduce Kyle may not be as interesting as the relationship drama that carried 13 Cameras, but they do keep Gerald entertained as he spies on his tenants from the comfort of his own home... and this time he's not the only one watching. Gerald is also streaming the footage live on the dark web, drawing in a surprising number of viewers, and this new level of his sickness brings about an interesting twist in the latter half of the film.


The first movie gradually built up what Gerald was capable of, but now that he has been established to be an abductor and a murderer, the sequel is able to be a bit more eventful than its predecessor, which earns it some points. Neither of these films are exactly pleasant to sit through, since Gerald is so gross and off-putting, but they both work in their own way. What the sequel lacks in story and character, it makes up for with some added thrills. It balances out in the end - both films are pretty much on the same level.

If you liked 13 Cameras, you will probably like 14 Cameras. You've got Gerald doing his thing all over again, and a welcome continuation of the Claire story. It's not entirely necessary to have seen 13 before watching the sequel, you'll still get the gist of what's going on, but you'll definitely get more out of watching 14 Cameras if you're already familiar with the Gerald and Claire characters going in.

I would recommend watching both of these films; they're well worth checking out, if you can stomach Gerald for that long.

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