Beauty and the Best


Mini Review - Barry Levinson's "The Bay"

The first thing I thought when I saw this on iTunes is: “What’s the director of ‘Rain Man” and ‘Disclosure’ doing messing around with a found footage flick?” Then I realized it probably wouldn’t be too bad expressly because of Barry Levinson’s involvement, and I was right. The Bay is an ecological disaster thriller focusing on a strange biological organism that has infested the eponymous body of water in the title. As a result, all manner of grotesqueries ensue - I guarantee you’ll squirm. One really smart thing Levinson did here was rely on a critter for the bad guy that actually exists in real life - the super creepy looking, ancient isopoda. These things feed on just about anything that drops to ocean floor, but they also occasionally crawl to the surface making for a nice fright fest. (It reminded me a little of Ridley Scott using "Nottingham lace,” which is the lining of a cow's stomach, for the interior of the original egg in Alien.) However, in reality, isopods they don’t own up to their menacing appearance. Since most people have probably never heard for them, it which allows them to make for an effective baddie and they also look super realistic because, obviously, they are.

The movie has a brisk pace and starts off with an infected person having a meltdown at a town fair. All of this is reported to us by the super cute and curvy Kether Donohue, who plays a reporter telling the story from some unknown location after it all went down. She’s one of the survivors. Of course we learn that greed is at the heart of all this, as a corporation tied in with local politicians has been dumping tons of chicken dung right next to the bay for longer than anyone can remember. The chickens were farm raised on steroids and their manure, consumed by the isopods, causes organisms to become faster growing, aggressive, human flesh eaters.

The movie got a 75% on Rotten Tomatoes, which for once is about right. It’s not a top tier horror movie, but it’s definitely not bad either. Check it out.

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Mini Review - Amir Avni - Artist

One of the great things about blogging is that it allows you connect with talented creative people you might not have otherwise met. Amir Avni is a great artist from Canada who did the original of Mal Malloy that I featured on Indosplace.

Amir was nice enough to update his initial sketch with the below drawing, which I really like. His style reminds me a little of John Kricfalusi (Ren & Stimpy). Amir is also an animator on a new Cartoon Network show called Grojband, so check him out.

Grojband Promo


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Halloween Special - Resident Evil Remake Review

Resident Evil was originally released by Capcom for the Sony Playstation in 1996 and follows members of a police special operations team called S.T.A.R.S. as they investigate another squad's disappearance in the forests surrounding Raccoon City. During their investigation they get chased into a spooky and mysterious mansion by wild dogs. As one of these members of S.T.A.R.S. you explore the mansion, fight off infected zombies and other creatures (bosses), solve puzzles, and uncover the terrible truth of just what happened there.

It was the game that really kicked off the survival horror genre and is still remembered as a classic. That's why in 2002 it was remade for the Nintendo GameCube then ported over the Nintendo Wii in 2009. This remake is the real classic in my mind however and one my favorite horror games to this day.

How the Remake Differs from the Original

Most obviously, the graphics have been updated along with new areas & enemies for this version and they still hold up remarkably well for a ten year old game.  The backgrounds are beautifully pre-rendered animations and that frees up a lot of processing power to allow character models & other effects to be incredibly detailed. “The mansion's confined hallways and dusty rooms offer a claustrophobic and helpless atmosphere that's been missing from previous episodes. And like the best horror films, RE Zero's environments are portrayed from camera viewpoints that leave you filled with dread at the prospect of what awaits you around the next corner.” (Wales on Sunday, Cardiff Wales, Sept. 22, 2002.)

The music and dialogue have thankfully also been updated. The original was pretty notorious for having terrible voice acting, "Jill, here's a lock pick. It might come in handy if you, the master of unlocking take it with you." Some may argue this was part of the campy, B movie charm that Resident Evil was going for, but I personally find these changes in the audio to be a lot less grating.  

And before you ask, yes it still uses what are known as "
tank controls.” Tank controls mean rather than pressing left to go left or right to go right, you pivot on the spot in the direction you press then use up or down to move forwards and backwards. It's definitely something to get used to but many people think it's just too hard. “Resident Evil Zero forces players to turn the character left and right with the analog stick and then push forward to move forward. This means no strafing or free movement of any kind. Some gamers will swear by this control scheme.” (IGG, Clementes, Resident Evil Archives: Resident Evil Zero Review.)

RE’s Contribution to the Zombie Revival

Around the turn of the century, there was a zombie renaissance in the US. It started with films like “28 Days Later” and Zack Snyder’s remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” but Shinji Mikami's phenomenally popular Resident Evil video game - the most prominent of more than 70 zombie game titles - definitely played its part in the zombie revival. The game alone has spawned at least four movies starring B-queen Milla Jovovich, all of which could be considered “zombie flicks.”

For me, however, it's not only the zombies that create tension; it's the consequences of potentially crossing one. It's something few current gen horror games have given me. They just make it too easy to avoid or defeat enemies, and even if I die, so what? I saved only a few minutes ago.

Not in Resident Evil. Ammunition is scarce so you have to choose between wasting what little you have, finding another route if you can or whether it's worth risking damage by trying to run past an enemy despite the controls. That's all part of the game and if you die, you could be set back hours because even when you cross a save point, you have a limited number of items that let you use it. It gives this game the scariest thing of all - pacing.

Deliberate Pacing

It's the moments between encounters that are scariest of all. I play by creeping around, letting the fear grow and grow about what could be around the next corner and whether or not I'll be able to even survive long enough to get that next item I need to heal or save or progress. It's stressful but it makes the pay off all the sweeter and in a sick way, it's kind of fun.

It's fun to be scared. It's fun even when I get killed or have to play a part over and believe me those things will happen. It's encouraged to go through multiple times however because there's even two different playable characters, each with their own scenarios. This “replayability” and level of immersion definitely makes the Resident Evil Remake a game worth owning for those darkened evenings alone.

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"Smiley" Movie Review - Turn That Frown Upside Down


Smiley represents a paradigm shift from the old school, exclusive way of making films, to the new media template forged by websites like YouTube and This movie is the result of Michael Gallagher parlaying his success with “Totally Sketch” into a film deal. That means this movie was not concocted behind closed doors by some studio snobs who all go skiing together. Instead, it was made by the people for the people. And it shows.

Cameos by the who’s who of the internet world abound, including Bree Essrig and Nikki Limo - familiar faces from Totally Sketch. Also, the characters who round off this cast of internet misfits feels more authentic than if you had forty-something executives guessing at it. For example, the actors in the first party scenes come in all shapes, sizes and colors and something about it just rings more true - not like the plastic-y, overly glammed actors you might see in something like Scream 4.

Smiley explores the urban legend of a stitch-faced killer who magically appears behind the unlucky victim of a video chat where the other person types “I did it for the lulz” three times. Ashley, played very nicely by Caitlin Gerard (I’ll always remember her as the girl Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker were ogling in “The Social Network” ) moves in with Proxy, spritely embodied by actress Melanie Papalia, as they start college. Proxy immediately introduces the naive Caitlin to the world of the underground interwebz - 4chan message boards, hackers, network security specialists, etc. - and takes her to a party where a number of LA-based members from an anonymous board are all socializing under their online nicknames. While there, Ashly, Proxy and a few others parses off from the crowd and put the smiley legend to the test in real time. To everyone’s surprise, especially Ashley, it works. Enter victim number one.

From there, the usual slasher flick type story unfolds. More people die while our protagonist wonders if she is imagining it all or if Smiley is real. The acting is solid in this movie, especially the leads. Andrew James Allen is especially good. I haven’t seen an asshole character this likable since Seann William Scott’s Stiffler from American Pie. The story is also intriguing and there is a meditative element brought out through classroom scenes where the teacher explores themes played out in the movie. I also liked the notion that all the evil brought about through the web has come into being through Smiley.

The biggest issue with this movie is, ironically, the lack of studio polish in terms of the look of the film. It just isn’t very pleasant visually - zero production design. But it is actually scary in parts, which gives it a leg up on most horror films produced these days. One appearance by Smiley toward the end of the film is especially unnerving. Let me just put it this way: you probably won’t be typing “I did it for the lulz” anytime soon in a chat room. Mission accomplished. Happy

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Sleep Tight

Sleep Tight Graphic
This is one twisted movie. But it’s also craftily executed, proving once again that when it comes to horror, foreign offerings are not to be underestimated. Directed by Jaume Balaguero of “Rec” fame, Sleep Tight tells the story of Cesar, a sociopathic concierge who can only find happiness in the misery of others. Played to the hilt by Luis Tosar, Cesar has his sights set in particular on the indefatigably upbeat Clara, who looks like a Spanish Jennifer Aniston. Cesar is not content to simply daydream about Clara’s unhappiness. He actually lurks about in her apartment at night, drugging her into a deep sleep while he puts poisons in her face cream, plants cockroaches in her apartment, and, yes, has his way with her while she’s unconscious.
As bone chillingly creepy as that may all sound, Tosar somehow manages to make Cesar sympathetic. I guarantee you will wind up hoping Cesar does not get caught as he skulks around Clara’s apartment.

One of the highlights of the movie is Cesar’s relationship with preteen tenant, Ursula (Iris Almeida). Ursula has a taut face and pretty, cruel eyes. She’s been doing her own spying and knows what Cesar is up to. There’s a playfulness to their disdain for each other that adds some levity to what could easily become heavy-handed drama.

It’s pure entertainment watching Cesar up the ante as he becomes increasingly frustrated that none of his tactics to destroy Clara’s happiness work. She just keeps leaving the building everyday with a smile on her face. It’s also an interesting commentary on human nature, and how some people seem to able to choose happiness while others are relegated to tough knocks and misery. In one of the more
Ursula Suspicous
nuanced scenes, Clara starts to suspect Cesar may be involved in her run of bad luck and actress Marta Etura, who has had to play Clara fairly one note up to this point, shows some real subtlety as she conveys a sly suspicion about her doorman’s intentions.

There are several points where you think the movie might end, but it keeps delving deeper and deeper into Cesar’s obsession with Clara until it finally reaches a crescendo of violence when Clara’s boyfriend confronts Cesar. What ensues is one of the most gory deaths I’ve seen in a while. It’s long and drawn out and the blood looks hyper realistic. Personally, I felt it was over the top. But it’s a minor complaint for what is otherwise a very solid thriller, right up there with Single White Female and Fatal Attraction.

Oh, and don’t forget to reconsider the movies title in light of its unsettling conclusion.

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Cabin in the Woods: Visual Companion Guide - Mini Review

Page From Cabin in the Woods
Reviews of this movie abound on the net. Obviously, Cabin in the Woods has been christened the holy grail of horror movies by fan boy types (including me). Ironically, the Visual Companion Guide - which covers just about every facet of the movie you could imagine in great detail - somewhat detracts from the fun of it all because it’s so self conscious (exploitative?) about the geekdom factor.

That said, I would still highly recommend this book to anyone who liked the movie. The prelude interview with Joss Whedon and Drew Goodard (director) is unusually honest. For example, Joss talks about how one actress they both liked refused to do the nudity required for the Jules character (p. 22). He goes on to state that her stubborn refusal to show her boobies was one of his and Drew’s more “uncomfortable” moments in the casting process. (The role eventually went to Anna Hutchison.) The whole section comes off as a subliminal dig at whoever this actress is from the director of the 3rd highest grossing movie of all time (e.g., The Avengers).

There is also an interesting little bit about how they had to fire the first casting director because of a lack of simpatico (p. 20). I find stuff like this fascinating for some reason. I’ve always disliked those interviews where the cast and crew of movies say they got along great. (Yawn.)
Cabin in the Woods Visual Companion Guide Image

Update: Just a brief note about the Cabin in the Woods Blu Ray special features - they rock! Much more enjoyable than the Visual Companion Guide just because this type of information is best conveyed through moving pictures and audio. The extras are WAY more extensive than the iTunes Extras, including at least three more features. Drew and Joss, while somewhat “self-congratulatory” (as described by Joss himself), are very entertaining in both the Wonder-Con interview and the audio commentary. Interesting factoids include: 1) Sigourney Weaver was concerned about the Werewolf having someone to sit with during a lunch break while shooting, 2) the gas station was actually someone’s home, and they had a confederate flag in the window that made Jesse Williams uncomfortable, 3) Twilight was being shot in the same forest as Cabin in Canada, at the same time, 4) even after working with Chris Hemsworth on Cabin, Joss made a call to Kenneth Branagh to see how he was to work with on Thor before casting him in The Avengers (yikes!).

The one thing I do find especially interesting about Cabin is that Drew and Joss repeatedly emphasize the practical effects in this movie (over CG) and yet any credibility they had built up in that regard is blown by the somewhat cheesy looking CG effects in the infamous elevator mayhem scene which you forgive because it’s such a fun scene. But I do recall thinking, “Gawd those effects looked CG!”

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Moonrise Kingdom

blogEntryTopperThere’s a great line in Rushmore when Rosemary is counseling Max Fisher after he’s feigned injury and climbed through her bedroom window to get close to her. Comparing her dead husband, Edward Appleby, to Bill Murray’s Herman Blume, she says: “Edward has more… imagination in one fingernail than Herman Blume has in his entire body.” Well, that line could very well be applied to Wes Anderson, who is in full force and effect in Moonrise Kingdom. Moonrise is about Sam, an orphan who has been disowned by his foster parents for consistently aberrant behavior, and Suzy, a well to do, strong willed young lady who is at odds with her family. Sam is a Khaki Scout and survivalist of sorts and with his training, the two set off together into the wilderness. Their adventure forms the first act of Moonrise. It’s really something to see the culmination of Wes Anderson’s filmmaking efforts over the past 15 years in this movie. His sense of color, odd timing with dialogue, and overall unique style are all on display here. Anderson is one of those people who was truly meant to do this. It would be a waste if he did anything else.

At the conclusion of act one, Sam and Suzy are caught and separated (albeit very briefly). Sam is informed that he can’t go back home and that social services may give him over to a mental hospital where he is likely to receive electroshock treatment (the movie takes place in the 60s). While he awaits the arrival of Social Services, he stays with the island police officer, played impressively by Bruce Willis. The two develop a rapport during their brief time together, but soon Sam and Suzy escape again with the help of Sam’s boy scout troupe. The second adventure is rife with danger and drama, but it’s really the first one that will stick with you. Anderson has always been able to convey the sense that his character embody their own special universe, a sort of altered reality, and that’s what we get with Sam and Suzy’s first journey into the wilderness. It’s usually warm and cozy and filled with wonderment, but occasionally interrupted by stark violence (the death of snoopy, vivisection of the fish for supper). I’ll leave the rest for you to enjoy when you check this out at the movies or on DVD.

I will lodge one complaint. For a guy as good as Anderson at creating imaginative settings filled with unrealistic yet interesting and insightful characters, the utter lack of diversity in this movie is rueful. Are you telling me not one Asian American or black or Latino person applied to be cast as one of those boy scouts? I know this was set in the 60s on some remote island, but with the myriad of other implausibilites in this movie, Anderson could have thrown in a little diversity for goodwill’s sake. I’m just sayin’.

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All The Boys Love Mandy Lane - AGT Mini Review

blogEntryTopperEver wonder what Jonathan Levine did before he directed the critically praised cancer dramedy “50/50” ? Well, it turns out the 2008 arthouse horror flick, “All The Boys Love Mandy Lane,” was his feature directorial debut, and it’s impressive. Levine got involved with directing Mandy Lane while he was still a student at AFI, where met the writer and producer. (There’s a very interesting story about how the film was discovered by the famed producer Harvey Weinstein at the Toronto Film Festival and subsequently wound up in distribution purgatory, here.)

Mandy Lane Flirting
Pic traces the story of the somewhat mysterious title character, Mandy Lane, who is unquestionably the most beautiful girl at her high school, and also probably the most taciturn. Mandy just smiles ambiguously when guys compliment her and runs away from them on the track. But when peer pressure finally drives her to make an appearance at a pool party, things turn ugly when the school jock jumps off a rooftop to impress her. Can you say “massive head injury”? To be fair, he may have been egged on a little by Mandy’s ne'er-do-well male compadre, Emmet.

Cut to nine months later and Mandy has somehow assimilated into the in-crowd and is about to spend the weekend with them on a remote farm. Of course, muy killings ensue, but how it all unravels will no doubt surprise you. The movie is beautifully shot with liberal quantities of lens flare and golden hour lighting. Amber Heard, who plays Mandy, could not have asked for a better debut vehicle to showcase her classic, Hollywood good looks.

Here are the things that struck me about Mandy Lane. One, it’s got a nice build up. I happen to be one of those people who prefer the silly preludes before the killing sprees in horror movie, and this story unfolds nicely in that regard. Plenty of middle-aged wish fulfillment played out here with all the eye candy. Secondly, Amber Heard. Have I mentioned that this gun-toting lesbian is hot? Lastly, the direction, production, and script - this movie is just a cut above as horror flicks go. It’s not scary though – it’s more of a thriller.

So pick this one up on a Friday night if you can find it (it is quite difficult to find because it never got its intended US release). It’s a Digging-Thru-Crates gem.

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