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December 30, 2009

The Incredible Shrinking Man chosen for the U.S. National Film Registry!

Wanted to briefly post some exciting news about one of my favorite sci-fi films of all-time, The Incredible Shrinking Man. As you can tell from the title, The Incredible Shrinking Man has been chosen as a film to be placed in the U.S. Library of Congress' National Film Registry, a great honor for any film.

For those who don't know about it, National Film Registry selects 25 films each year "that will be preserved as cultural, artistic and/or historical treasures for generations to come." In other words, it's an effort to ensure that some of cinema's greatest treasures are maintained for as long as humanly possible. 2009's selections bring the total number of film's in the Registry to 525.

I'm extremely pleased to see this little film, from The Creature of the Black Lagoon director Jack Arnold and sci-fi/horror god/writer Richard Matheson, chosen for this honor. It's been one of my favorite sci-fi films for a while now, and is a great example of how good b-movies can be even with the most ridiculous of plots. While I don't have time to fully rave about the film right now, I wanted to at least bring the honor to attention, and reiterate how excited I am to see a film like this (and especially this film!) honored as something that will live on for a long, long time. While the film's currently only available in a 5-Disc collection of sci-fi flicks that Universal released a couple of year's ago, here's hoping that this award will bring bigger and better things for Arnold and Matheson's truly Incredible Shrinking Man!

Here's a short trailer for the film. It's not the best quality, but it does feature a pimping from none less than Orson Welles!

December 29, 2009

Midnight DVD Round Up - December 29, 2009

As 2009 is coming to a close, I took an opportunity tonight to catch up with three films new to DVD that have Midnight Movie written all over them. Two of them are films I'd missed theatrically, but one was one of the most enjoyable films I viewed this year. And now, I'm gonna ramble about them to you.

First up was the Karyn Kusama/Diablo Cody collaboration Jennifer's Body, notable to some as a "feminist" horror film and to most as a Megan Fox eye-candy festival. My expectations of this one were pretty low, but I still had a bit of faith in Cody after unapologetically loving Juno.

The story follows Fox's Jennifer as she slowly transforms into something vicious, all while being watched by her best friend, "Needy" (Amanda Seyfried). The opening of the film gives a sneak peek of where the story would end up, but I still got some enjoyment out of watching the story unfold.

Fox, as stated above, is the selling point of this one, and I didn't expect her to survive my scrutiny. However, she didn't bother me much. There are a lot of blatant shots designed to make her look good for advertisements, but they also seem to fit her character well. Seyfried gives a strong "survivor girl" performance, despite some silly character changes throughout the film.

Jennifer's Body is a silly horror film, but it at least feels slightly original and bucks a few trends that occasionally bog similar genre flicks down. Add in Cody's fresh, though occasionally intentionally perplexing, dialogue, and the movie has plenty of decent moments. I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend it to anyone, but I definitely enjoyed it more than I expected to and could find it being a decent horror film to watch as a "party" film with others. Which, I guess, is kinda a recommendation.

Next up was the Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov produced animated film 9, directed by Shane Acker. Unlike Jennifer's Body, I had hopes for this film to be a fun visual treat. Unfortunately it let me down a bit.

I must start by saying that 9 is quite impressive from a visual standpoint. The post-apocalyptic landscapes are filled with wrecked buildings and strewn corpses, and the ragdoll characters are fun to watch. The "beasts" the film brings forth are interesting creations, though I did find them to be a little bit too intricate at times - look, I understand these machines are supposed to be so advanced that they destroyed humanity, but I felt like I was spending so much time counting tentacles and noting the frayed wires that I wasn't focusing on the act of the robot chasing the ragdoll. However, it's a minor complaint about a film that's so visually rich.

Unfortunately, the film lacks any depth in story. Our numbered characters do each have a distinct personality, thanks to their individualized designs and the excellent vocal talents involved. But the story is straightforward to a fault and repetitive - discovery, battle, discovery, repeat - which leaves it feeling more like a demo reel than an actual narrative film. I definitely like what 9 brought to the table in image, but the final product left me dissatisfied - to the point that I wouldn't recommend this for anything more than the technical aspects.

The final film I want to talk about is NOT the new to DVD Paranormal Activity, which I reviewed after my theatrical viewing. While I now look back at the film less fondly than I did in that glowing review....I'm still a little too afraid of it to watch it again. Yeah, I'm a wimp.

The final film I do want to talk about is David Twohy's A Perfect Getaway. I had the pleasure of catching this one in theaters back in August, and couldn't wait to check it out again. As I now see it a second time, it's bringing a lot of smiles to my face.

A Perfect Getaway is the twisty tale of three couples on a trail in Hawaii. It starts with Cliff and Cydney (Steve Zahn & Milla Jovovich), two newlyweds who're honeymooning on the islands, who run into Cleo and Kale (Sin City's Marley Shelton and future THOR Chris Hemsworth) and the colorful duo of Nick and Gina (Timothy Olyphant & Kiele Sanchez) - and begin to realize that one of the couples are killers on the run. While initially skeptical of the volatile Kale, Cliff begins to become more curious about Nick's tall tales of international intrigue and his claim to be a "Goddamn American Jedi" as the couples travel together.

All of this leads to a third act that I found entirely compelling on first viewing. Now that I'm seeing it a second time, I'm convinced that this is exactly my kind of thriller. Twohy's script is self-referential and shows that he's well aware of the ridiculous behavior a lot of films like this rely on. And while this one has its share of goofiness in the twisty journey, it never takes itself too seriously. Meanwhile, the cast is fantastic - particularly Olyphant, who's deserved to be a big star for some time - and the whole thing is perfect escapist fun. In fact, if I were going to make a list of my future midnight movies from 2009, this would be near the top based on how rewatchable I find it.

It's a shame Twohy is best known for his larger scale Riddick films, because his more contained scripts like this (along with his alien invasion film The Arrival and the supernatural submarine flick Below) seem to be where he's most effective. I can't promise you'll be able to accept this one as much as I have, but I find myself ready to recommend it as strongly as any thriller I've seen in recent memory.

(One note about A Perfect Getaway: Stick to the theatrical version. The only thing added to the director's cut is a lot of extra explanation that slows down the third act tremendously.)

December 22, 2009

The Mike's Christmas Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

It's been a while since I've written. You know how it is: postage rates are up, college took some of my focus from the simple things in life, and I even forgot how to write in cursive. But the internet has given me new life, at least in expressing myself, so I thought I'd send you a shout out this Christmas. And, since I'm humble enough to admit I've been negligent, I'll even make it an open letter that all my readers can see.

Anyway, it's good to have you around. That litterbox in the wrapping paper/kitten in the other room trick from '89 was awesome. And I still guard that Portuguese set of Universal Monster flicks you found me while they were out of print with my life, even if that Van Helsing flick brought them all back from the dead the next summer. Plus, that time when you got me the clock radio with tape deck and got my sister the clock radio without tape deck...HILARIOUS! She cried so hard that the 'rents went to town Christmas morning and bought her boom box. Good times, Sir Claus.

This year, I've only got one request. It's kind of a big one, and I know you and your elves might have some trouble making it work, but I've got to put it out there:

Dear Santa, Please don't let The Wolf Man remake suck.

I know, I know. The thing's been in developmental hell for years. It's had re-shoots, re-castings, re-edits, even re-scoring. Every sign points to it being re-diculous. (See, I didn't say tarded. I'm really trying here, Nick.)

But if I ignore all that, and I ignore the fact it's a remake, and I ignore the fact Joe Johnston hasn't made a good movie since The Rocketeer....I have so much hope for it. I mean, Benicio Del Toro? Anthony Hopkins? Hugo Weaving? Emily "HOTNESS" Blunt? I love that cast! And the effects look soooo good with Rick Baker back in charge! Not only that, it looks like it nailed the Victorian style, all while adding a Frankensteinian plot element. I couldn't be more excited for an adaptation of one of my favorite films! I know, I's ridiculous of me to hope for good. But we need this, Santa.

After British and Canadian folks nailed the werewolf genre early this decade with Dog Soldiers and Ginger Snaps, Hollywood followed suit...and gave us things like Cursed and Blood & Chocolate. Worse, werewolves became the pawns in Harry Potter and Twilight books and movies. Even if Cuaron did them well in the Potter-verse, it's not enough to bring the fellows back to prominence. Underworld had them second billed to Kate Beckinsale's hotness for two films, and I get that, but it's not what they need. Even the aforementioned Helsing flick gave the lycanthropes the shaft.

Face it, you know werewolves are cooler than vampires, mini-wizards, or even Olivier Martinez. But everyone's stuck on having them play second fiddle lately. We have to stop this.
Even if we take monster social class wars out of the equation, I ask you: When's the last time we've seen a horror flick that looks half as old-school, nightmare-visually promising as this one? Sleepy Hollow, at least. You know it, and I know you can't accept it. Again, we need this one.

I beg of you, Santa, look in your heart. We all know you're a horror nerd. No one who pulls an all-nighter flyin' is a morning person. Something tells me you love staying up late with the Mrs. and puttin' on a Hammer flick, or something with Karloff and/or Lugosi. You can't trick us with your jolly yuletide cheer. You're one of us and you want this as much as I do.

So make some calls. Give the head of Universal that shiny golf club he wants. Leave a few more flashlight pens for Roger Ebert than usual. Put a little extra fromage in the french distributor's stocking. Whatever it takes, Santa. Whatever it takes.

That's it for me. I'd like that Watchmen Ultimate Edition, or that Robert Mitchum box set, or even just a copy of Sand Serpents or Swamp Devil or whatever else SyFy put out recently. But I won't be fully satisfied with anything less than a little assurance that this Wolfman flick will have my heart on February 12th.

Keep up the good work, and be safe flying over the middle east. I believe in you Santa, and something tells me you and I can work together on this one.

From Midnight, With Love,

The Mike

(And to all of you readers out there (Yes, the four of you), I wish you all safe travels and great times with your family and loved ones this holiday season! It's been a great first year of running this thing, and I hope we can stick to our guns and add some new stuff in early 2010! Since I don't have gifts for you all, I offer this picture in the hope that our great nations may learn to live in peace. Happy viewings!)

December 20, 2009

The Mike's Top 10 Horror Films of the 1980s!

I know, I know. I just did a list. And I have another list planned for the near future. BUT, fellow horror blog Zombies DON'T Run is currently asking readers to name their Top 10 Horror films of the 1980s, and I couldn't NOT participate. In the interest of fairness to my readers, I'll give you the ballot I turned

(Don't worry, I'm gonna keep this waaaay shorter than that last list.)
10. The Blob - If you know The Mike, you know how The Mike feels about blobs. (He's for them.) and I couldn't enter a vote that didn't include the excellent remake put together by Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell. Almost went with another personal pick, like Clownhouse or Happy Birthday to Me or April Fool's Day, but blobness wins the day.

9. Re-Animator - Originality counts here, as I gave this one a vote over more standard picks like Poltergeist and The Lost Boys. I also strongly considered Hellraiser, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Near Dark.

8. Creepshow - I've always loved the anthology horror subgenre, and the combination of George Romero, Stephen King and an all-star cast makes this a must for my '80s list.

7. Dead & Buried - Maybe I'm overrating this based on Dan O'Bannon's recent passing (*tear*), but this has quickly become a favorite of mine over the last two years. So it's in.

6. An American Werewolf in London - John Landis' werewolf comedy/tribute is one of the most rewatchable flicks of the decade. So it's a must, and now I wish I'd listed it higher. Sadly, The Howling just missed the cut.

5. The Monster Squad - This is another personal pick, but I love my classic monsters and my '80s flicks and this one puts them together too perfectly for me to not list it in the Top 5.

4. The Shining - Another no-brainer for me. One of my go-to films for instant creepy factor.

3. The Thing - Like I'm NOT gonna have a John Carpenter flick up here. I almost listed Christine as well, and Prince of Darkness is a personal favorite that was probably #11.

2. The Evil Dead - To me it's the most iconic '80s horror film, but it missed out slightly on the #1 spot. I left Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn off the list, mostly because I wanted to vary my picks a bit.

1. Fright Night - Fright Night is probably one of the 10 movies I've seen more than any other, and it never gets old. Roddy McDowell's Peter Vincent is possibly my favorite horror character, too. Thus, it was an easy choice to get my vote as the #1 horror flick of the 1980s.

I, unthinking, left Gremlins off the list, and it's one of my favorite flicks of all genres. However, I don't feel bad considering it's known more for its comedic and family elements than the underlying horror story.

So that's how I voted, at least today, when it came to the topic of Top 10 Horror Films of the 1980s (plus a dozen or so title drops of other movies I love). Feel free to head to Zombies DON'T Run and enter your own top 10. And - as always - you can enter your comments below. Happy viewings!

December 18, 2009

In Defense Of.... Hostel Part II

Lately I've been thinking of new column ideas for this site, and one of the things that's stuck with me is the idea of defending movies that most wouldn't dare think of watching, or even movies that I dismissed initially. But when I thought of starting this column, entitled "In Defense Of....", I never dreamed the movie that would inspire me to act would be Eli Roth's sequel from 2007.

Over the last half decade, I've loudly bashed the "torture porn" sub-genre of horror that's come into the mainstream. A mixture of old-school indie bloodbaths and the chic teen-based slashers of the '90s, films like Roth's 2005 Hostel signaled to me that filmmakers (and the audiences that bought what they were selling) had given up on trying to create atmosphere and tension in their films via character and setting, and that scares were being sacrificed in the name of blood spurts and severed limbs.

In fact, when Hostel Part II arrived in theaters, I skipped it entirely. That's a rare feat for a horror addict like myself (Despite my disdain for the first movie, I still nearly skipped out early from the wedding rehearsal I was at to see it on opening night), but I was tired enough of Roth and his brand that it pushed me away. When the negative reviews kept pouring in, I wrote this one off entirely.

But time passed, and I eventually found myself intrigued enough by the fact a mainstream horror had gotten away from me. So when I sat down this week to finally watch Hostel Part II...imagine how surprised I was to find myself thoroughly entertained by it. How did that happen?

From here on out, there be spoilers........

For starters, I liked how Hostel Part II focused on both the victims and the killers, as opposed to the original's focus on the victims primarily. Roth's first film introduced a excited killer played with vigor by Rick Hoffman late in the film, which was one of the highlights of that script thanks to Hoffman's frantic antics. In Part II, Roth goes to that well early and comes up with the testosterone fueled Todd (Richard Burgi) and his timid friend Stuart (Roger Bart), the bidders who win the chance to join the Elite Hunting circle. While it's still the idea of rich people killing for the sake of killing, having Bart's character involved reminds us of the humans who would have trouble considering this act. Burgi adds a scary presence as Bart's counterpoint, as his twisted outlook on the value of life is sadly realistic at times and made me think about how many people there are who don't have the same values most of us feel are common sense.

The film couldn't have survived on these characters alone, because in the horror world we like to meet the cattle before we get the beef. In Hostel, we followed three male college students as they were led toward the "hunters", and I didn't find any of them to be too interesting or sympathetic. In Part II, Roth focuses on three female leads and, while they're still stereotypical characters (even more so than the first, since most horror films follow the survivor girl model), they're written in a more interesting light. Roth's male characters in Hostel and his debut Cabin Fever have been scarily realistic, but the reality of college age males isn't always something you want to sympathize with. These girls aren't perfect, or entirely interesting, but Lauren German's Beth at least seems like the survival girl type we're used to.

The character that most helps establish the film from the first is Lorna, played by former child star Heather Matarazzo. She's the naive and innocent party along for the ride with Beth and the more adventurous Whitney (Bijou Phillips), and she really nails the part. Roth capitalizes on this as anyone behind a movie of this sort making her the first victim. But not only does she become the first victim, her torture is by far the film's most brutal, and it's heartbreaking to see. The first death is always important in setting the level of distress for any horror film, and this one (which is technically the second, but I count the earlier death as a continuation of Hostel) was handled in a way that had me interested thematically despite the use of gore...the "overkill" factor actually made me feel sorry for the character and worry about what could happen to the other girls when they met their hunters.

Aside from the improvements in characterization, Hostel Part II seems like an all-around more polished film than the first. The scenery is more appealing, it balances the two sides of the story throughout the script, and the final act surprisingly seems less blatant with its use of gore. The finale hits hard with a sinister double turn (or even triple turn, considering the outcome for Beth, Stuart, AND Todd) and leaves us with a couple of great moments that round out Beth's survival girl arc perfectly.

I've always thought Roth had a lot of potential to do horror right, but I didn't expect the sequel to his vulgar "breakout" hit would be the thing that gave me the most faith in him I've had yet. But I ended up enjoying Hostel Part II far more than any of the decade's Hollywood "torture porn" films, and I can't help but find myself defending this sequel as one of the most worthwhile films of its type.

December 15, 2009

FMWL Presents: The Top 10 Future Midnight Movies of the 2000s!

Welcome back to From Midnight With Love's look at the Future Midnight Movies of the 2000s. Last night I posted lists of movies that nearly made this top 10 based on their impact, fanbase, or simply my preference. Tonight we get to the big dogs. These are the 10 movies from the 2000s that I think will have the biggest impact on midnight cinema of the future.

10. Bubba Ho-Tep
The cult star of our generation lives on! That's right, THE Bruce Campbell made a triumphant return to the big screen in 2002 with an assist from a great story by Joe Lansdale and the cinematic eye of Phantasm creator Don Coscarelli. The story of an aging Elvis, accompanied by and aging and now darker JFK, fighting a retirement home mummy sounded too good to be true. But, it was true, and it won viewers over from a cult standpoint and a dramatic standpoint.

Looking back now, Bubba Ho-Tep is still as fresh as it was when it first hit the scene. Campbell has made a couple more cult flicks like last year's self-effacing My Name is Bruce, but this stands out as the film that really put him back on the map for a new generation of cult horror fans. While it'll never approach the level of mayhem his Evil Dead films inspire in fans, Bubba Ho-Tep will clearly live on as a latter masterpiece in Campbell's filmography. I almost said it'll serve as his final masterpiece, but I'll never sell The King short.

9. A Scanner Darkly
In cinephile sects, Richard Linklater is one of the most revered indie darlings you'll find. But in 2006, with an assist from the short-lived Warner Independent Pictures, Linklater's animated adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel seemed to hit bigger with sci-fi fans than the critic community. The film has slipped out of the spotlight in a lot of decade end discussions, but I've got a hunch that Linklater's film is one of the sleeper midnight hits for the future.

First of all, the names involved should keep A Scanner Darkly in people's minds. It's led by a cast of Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, and Winona Ryder that should keep it in the eyes of mainstream viewers, and I've already mentioned that Linklater has his fans. Moreover, adaptations of Dick stories, minus Impostor, have a great track record of staying around, and this one is as powerful as any of them have been. I see no reason that sci-fi fans won't keep it on a similar pedestal to the likes of Minority Report, if not Total Recall or Blade Runner.

8. American Psycho
Christian Bale is officially a big star, even if he's to the point that he's getting overshadowed by co-star's deaths and onset blow-ups. And with every big star, there's always a beginning. Some point all the way back to his childhood work in Spielberg's Empire of the Sun or the kiddie musical Newsies, but for today's horror and cult crowd, American Psycho is the place to be.

Aside from Bale (and a supporting cast that includes Reese Witherspoon and Willem Dafoe), American Psycho maintains relevance as a social commentary from the eyes of its psychotic main character. It's got memorable scenes of blood and gore, but has a lot of thought behind it that's borrowed from Bret Easton Ellis' novel. In fact, there are even in depth academic essays about the film's importance after less than ten years. While I'm not the film's biggest fan, I can't deny its importance as a future midnight mainstay.

7. Dog Soldiers
This is most likely wishful thinking on my part, but I'm not letting Neil Marshall's debut, accurately billed as "Jaws, Aliens, and Predator with a werewolf twist" on the DVD jacket", fade away. One of the few horror films of the decade to use practical effects (MEN IN SUITS!), Marshall's Dog Soldiers is a non-stop thrill ride that deserves comparison to the best creature features of all-time.

There's not a lot going for Dog Soldiers so far in the race to midnight immortality, with Marshall's follow-ups The Descent and Doomsday faring poorly in the US, despite critical success in the horror community. It has no big names, though star Kevin McKidd has made his presence in the video game world through the Modern warfare series. But I'm putting on the list because it deserves attention, and I believe in a future where this one overcomes its crappy DVD release and where Marshall becomes a big name in genre cinema. Because it flipping rocks.

6. Snakes on a Plane
If you've been on the internet for a while, you may have helped shape this movie. I think it's safe to say no movie has taken over the internet hype machine like Pacific Air 121....err, wait that's not what the fans want....SNAKES ON A PLANE.

This movie needs no introduction. Samuel L. Jackson agreed to do the movie on the title alone. Internet buzz got the filmmakers to reshoot for an R-rating, and add the iconic line uttered in the scene pictured above. Despite the fact about a third of the people that raved about the idea on the internet actually went to see it, there's no doubt in my mind Snakes on a Plane has a place as one of the midnight movies of the future, because Samuel L. Jackson motherflippin' says so.

5. Sin City
Another film that generated big buzz and not so big numbers, Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller's (oh, and Quentin Tarantino's) Sin City is the midnight comic adaptation of the decade. With a cast full of stars and the mixture of Miller's visual style and Rodriguez' eye for violence, Sin City has all the tools to stay relevant in the future.

One of the hardest things to determine when making this list was how to grade the films of Tarantino and Rodriguez. I already talked about Grindhouse in my last post, and the debate between that film, this one, and Tarantino's Kill Bill films was vicious in my head. In the end, Sin City best fit what I consider a midnight film, and I went with it as one of the midnight hits of the future. More on those Kill Bill flicks in a bit.

4. Repo! The Genetic Opera
Easily one of the biggest surprises to hit me this decade, Darren Lynn Bousman's Repo! The Genetic Opera is probably the most qualified midnight movie of the decade. The horror-musical already has been playing midnight shows across the country since its release, and its cult is already established, in short, this is The Rocky Horror Picture Show for a new generation.

It'll be interesting to see this movie grow with time, because I don't think it's entirely made its name yet. But I foresee big things for the collaboration between director Bousman and creators Terrance Zdunich and Darren Smith, and think the popularity of Repo! will last a lot longer than many of us ever expected.

3. Donnie Darko
I talked briefly of this film in my recent review of The Box, and want to make it clear that I'm not one of the biggest fans of the film about Mr. Darko. However, I can't deny the following it's gained.

In the 8 years since its release, Donnie Darko has already seen one revival, and has inspired endless conversation among its fans. It got Jake Gyllenhaal started on the path to stardom, and director Richard Kelly continues to make his mark as an auteur of the abstract. The film's foreboding imagery and flexible interpretations should keep it alive among thinking cult filmgoers (maybe that's my thinking!) for many years to come.

2. Serenity
Joss Whedon's cinematic follow-up to his brilliant yet brutalized TV series is a thing of beauty. And in the sci-fi 'verse of the 2000s, it reigns supreme.

The cult following was built before the movie even arrived, but Serenity didn't stop there. New fans were born (I'm one of 'em!), and they made new fans (My mom's one of 'em!), and they made new fans (My mom's coworkers are...well, you get the idea....). Anytime one of the cast members appears on a TV show or in a film, a lot of people call them by their character name. Fan fiction and artwork are all-over the internet, and petitions for more from the crew of the firefly-class ship are constantly being e-signed. To paraphrase the Captain, ain't no power in the 'verse that can stop them. Except.....

A Special Announcement from The Mike
So, about those Kill Bill movies...They aren't Number One on this list. In fact, I didn't list them at all. Why's that, you ask? first I forgot about them. But then when I did realize my error, I thought and I thought and...well, I don't think they meet the criteria I'm going for here. First of all, they're bigger mainstream successes than the other movies I've listed in my eyes. Secondly, it's a double feature that doesn't really fit the criteria I think of as a midnight movie. I almost listed Kill Bill Part One on its own, as the shorter, gorier, less dramatic part of the tale...but I wasn't comfortable listing it alone without the second part. Thus, Quentin Tarantino's magnificent Kill Bill saga, which would probably make my list of the 10 most relevant movies of the decade...does not make my list of the top midnight movies of the decade. Feel free to disagree (peacefully) in the comments below.

1. Shaun of the Dead

I never expected this movie to be as popular as it is, but I couldn't be happier. Even if the majority of its fans don't understand the significance of "We're coming to get you Barbara!", it's safe to say that Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost brought the zombie film into the new millennium and made sure it would stick around.

The odds are that anything I could say about this film has already been said. So I'm gonna call it a night and let you make your own conclusions on why Shaun of the Dead is or is not THE Midnight Movie of the 2000s. Add your comments below, and I can't wait to see what the future has in store for these 10 movies!

December 14, 2009

FMWL Presents: Future Midnight Movies of the 2000s, Part One

With the decade coming to a close, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the movies of the last decade, and think about the future of midnight cinema. I mean, the future's a tricky subject. Some say that future events such as these will effect you in the future. Others say that that they're interested in the future because they will spend the rest of their life there. As for me, I like to think that I'm not afraid of the future, because I've seen the past and I love the present. And, since the future depends on those who build it today, what better time for us to think about the movies that could shape the landscape of midnight movie showings in the future.

(Thanks to Google for helping me come up with quotes there.)

I started this listing of films thinking of a simple list of movies I think could be midnight movie classics of the future. But it's never that simple, because there are too many movies I'd like to throw a bone to. So, I have decided to break my thoughts up into two listings, and will start by giving you a few lists of movies that don't quite make the list of favorites.

Midnight Movies of The Mike-verse
To start my look at midnight's future, I thought of several movies that might be among my favorite midnight flicks of the future, and might be others' if not for circumstance. Some simply weren't seen by many, and some simply weren't liked by many. Some were simply too flipping crazy. Despite all that, I can't wait to run through them often.

(All films are presented in alphabetical order, this isn't a list of preference. That comes later.)

Crank/Crank 2:High Voltage
- Jason Statham has quickly gained notoriety as an action star, but the most entertaining films I've seen him in are these frantic, vulgar, and basically ridiculous action films about dying tough guy Chev Chelios. If nothing else, they keep me surprised.
A History of Violence - David Cronenberg's hitman-gone-country tale gained a lot of buzz and even some Oscar nominations, but was lost in the mainstream shuffle due to its explicit gore and sex. I think it's one of the most intriguing films of the decade.
House of the Devil - This one's hardly played in theaters yet, but I'm sold. A throwback to horror of both the '70s and '80s, it's a brutally tense horror that's short but savage. Mad bonus props for an '80s soundtrack.
The Hunted - Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro in a battle for wilderness survival with big knives and direction by THE William Friedkin. I don't care what critics or audiences say, I'm buying.
Jason X - This nearly made my Top 10, but then I realized it's a terrible movie. Regardless, it's a blast to watch. And if you're not down with drinking, drugs, or premarital sex, Jason's got your back.
The Last Winter - Not many topics have been discussed as much in this decade as global warming. Rest assured, there's a horror movie for that. A slow burn from director Larry Fessenden starring none less than Ron Perlman and the gorgeous Connie Britton, it's good enough that some bad CGI can't even derail it.
Moon - If you haven't seen this one yet, be ready. Sam Rockwell deserves the Oscar.
Nacho Libre - Jared Hess' Napoleon Dynamite was one of the break out comedy hits of the decade, but to me it's no comparison to Jack Black as a luchador in this oddly inspirational comedy.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow - No one was more leery of this one when it came out than I was, but I was shockingly won over by its mixture of CGI and 1940s characters. When a blockbuster reminds me of Cary Grant, that's a big win.
V for Vendetta - Another blockbuster that didn't make its quota at the box office, James McTiegue's (maybe?) graphic novel adaptation had some of the most memorable images of the decade. Plus, Natalie Portman's my honorary twin (we were born on the same day), so she has to be mentioned.

The Mike's Midnight Movie MUSTSThe last list was movies I may watch a lot in the future, these five movies are ones I'm certain I'll be revisiting constantly. With no further ado, here we go:

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon - In my eyes, this is as essential a slasher film as Halloween or anything with Jason and/or Freddy. Leslie Vernon is one of the most interesting horror characters to come along in decades, and the film knows its place as a spoof perfectly. It's Scream and This is Spinal Tap's lost child, and I love it for that.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army - MONSTERS! Yep, that's what I'm talking about. The monsters here make my heart sing. Guillermo and Ron, please give us MORE!
Hot Rod - I've always been a sucker for SNL alum, and this irreverent comedy made me laugh as much as any movie this decade. I'll buy that for a dollar.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - If more people don't see this movie, I just might lose faith in humanity. Seriously. Kilmer, Downey, Iowa's own Michelle Monaghan, Shane Black's wonderful script and simple's a must. Watch it now. Please. I know I will.
The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra - I reviewed this one in detail many moons ago, so I won't waste words. I sleep now. (Except for the sleep part. Let's move forward.)

Three Foreign Flicks that Could Make the Top 10 if Americans Stop Being so Stuffy
Pretty self explanatory, really.

Let the Right One In - Not many horror films of the 2000s got reviews near as positive as this one did. A touching tale of the relationship between two young people who are on opposite sides of the vampire/human line, it's a gorgeous and deep drama that keeps the viewer thinking.
Pan's Labyrinth - This one did relatively well with awards, reviews, and even made some money at the box office. But now that the shiny factor's worn off, I'm not sure it'll stay in the memory of most. It should.
[REC] - Another movie I've reviewed here. I think it's the best of the decade's "docu-horrors".

Midnight Movie of the Future Honorable MentionsThese movies nearly made the Top 11, but couldn't quite make the leap. Regardless, they'll keep a fan base.

Drag Me To Hell - It's too soon to tell if Sam Raimi's newest will join the likes of his Evil Dead trilogy in the midnight movie circle, but I wouldn't bet against it.
Feast - This probably belonged on my personal list, but I know there's a following out there. Earns points for possibly being the most unpredictable horror franchise starter of our time.
Hatchet - Adam Green is well on his way to becoming a horror mainstay, and his slasher Hatchet created a huge stir as it debuted. I think it'll stick around in horror circles, and rightfully so.
In Bruges - This is a wildcard pick, but I can't help but think the Colin Farrell led hitman comedy will gain an audience over time. It's got all the elements the midnight crowd loves, and is surprisingly as effective a drama as it is a comedy or thriller.
Napoleon Dynamite - This one was hard to leave off the Top 10, but I worry it might have worn out its welcome with its initial run. Time will tell.
Pineapple Express - Well, this one will always have an audience. And it's pretty entertaining to boot.
Snatch. - Guy Ritchie's crime epic hasn't aged a day, and is still one of the most entertaining movies of the decade. Statham's success should keep it around, too.
Team America: World Police - I was lukewarm on this one upon arrival, but it grew on me with time. It's got the sing-along soundtrack that can help a cult following, but it might fall victim to being a product of its times, not to mention being South Park's little brother.
Watchmen - This movie was never going to make it in the mainstream, and the source's biggest fans produced a lot of detractors. But those of us that loved it will keep it in circulation. At least I hope we will.
Zombieland - Again, it's too soon to tell about this one. It might stay in the horror mainstream and rise above the midnight level, or it might fade away.

Lastly, there's one movie I want to bring up because, quite frankly, I don't know what the future holds for it. But I think it deserves special recognition.

Really, what do we make of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's epic tribute to b-movies past? How does a three hour double feature play at midnight shows? Will Planet Terror make the rounds and leave Death Proof behind, or will the opposite happen, or will both stay together and live in infamy? I don't know. Regardless, I think Grindhouse was the b-movie event of the decade...I just don't know where it will go from here.

That's all for tonight, but I'll be back tomorrow with what I think will are THE Top 10 Future Midnight Movies of the 2000s. In the meantime, feel free to leave comments with your own picks, or just click on those tiny pics to see fullscreen stills from the DVDs (especially the Kiss Kiss Bang Bang one, it's a great laugh.)

Happy viewings!

December 12, 2009

The Box

2009, Dir. by Richard Kelly.

When I first saw Richard Kelly's breakout cult hit Donnie Darko, I bought it hook, line, and sinker. But the more I thought about the film, the more I began to doubt it. And, when he followed it with the near incomprehensible Southland Tales, I became concerned that Mr. Kelly might not have an interest in making the kind of film I was interested in. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for inventive science-fiction flicks and movies that think-outside-the-box, but I need to be told a story that makes sense first. So when Kelly met up with a story by Richard Matheson and had major studio backing for a film that literally focuses on thinking about what's inside a box, I figured I'd give Kelly one more chance. I'm pretty glad I did.

Set in Langley, Virginia of 1976, our story focuses on a family of three - Norma and Arthur Lewis, and their son Walter - who are awakened early one morning by a ring of the doorbell and find a box on their doorstep. When they open the box, they find a wooden box topped by a single red button that is covered by a glass dome and locked shut. With it is a card that a Mr. Steward will pay them a visit at 5 pm. When Mr. Steward (Frank Langella) arrives, he brings his disfigured face and a proposal for Norma (Cameron Diaz). If she chooses to push the button, someone she doesn't know will die, and she and her family will receive one million dollars (insert pinky-to-the-mouth gesture here).

From that point forward, the film is about the Lewis' decisions, and their consequences. I've yet to read the Matheson story, sadly, but my understanding is that the first act of the film is his story, while the second and third are Kelly's own concoctions. I was glad to read that, because I felt a definite shift in tone after that first act that didn't seem to fit with what I have read of Matheson. Kelly's film takes the idea in directions that touch on government meddling, life on other planets, free-will, and more. But, with a couple of glaring instances of what I like to call "going flipping crazy", Matheson's film seems far more grounded than his two previous works.

If you're a fan of Kelly's previous flicks, rest assured that this one is not a paint-by-numbers thriller. There are plenty of deep questions asked, references to philosophical texts, and abstract images that are designed for malleable interpretations. The final hour has many moments that had me scratching my head in confusion, but it never seemed to be that moments were created for the sake of confusion. That had been something I felt about Darko and Southland, and something I was glad to see here.

More importantly, Kelly's direction of The Box really impressed me. The film has a terrifically creepy visual tone, and there are a lot of beautiful long shots of scenes that had me visually entranced. Additionally, Kelly does an excellent job of using background characters to amplify the terror on our lead characters, especially in a slightly cheesy mid-film scene where the couple hopes to find answers in a potentially hostile library. The musical score was also very effective, although there were moments I felt the volume of the music overpowered some important conversations. The plot seemed to jump from one set of characters to another often, but transitions were smooth and trying to follow the timeline of events was never a distraction from the film itself.

From an acting standpoint, I was surprised to find few concerns. I had expected to be bothered by Diaz' accent, but the newness of it wore off early in the film and she at least had the decency to keep it consistent through the film. James Marsden is adequate but slightly one-note as her husband, and doesn't detract from the film's power. Langella steals the show as the disfigured Steward, and really takes the film to another level with his performance.

The most exciting thing I found in The Box is that the film rarely seemed to lose momentum. The ominous opening gave me a lot to think about, and the film continued to add ideas to the concept up until the final minutes. There's a lot going on, but very rarely did I find myself lost in the theories when I should have been focused on the events. As a whole, The Box excited me and kept me on the edge of my seat for nearly two hours, which is exactly what I'd hoped it could do.

I'm still not entirely convinced Kelly has it all together as a storyteller (some plot developments call into question the idea of free-will vs. determinism, and I'm unsure the ending gives me a clear answer as to what the film believes in), but I'm more interested in seeing what he does next than I was before I watched The Box. With the right material and a bit of focus, he may just be someone to watch for yet. This film balances well on the line between providing easy answers and provoking abstract thought, and despite some reservations I find myself fully recommending The Box as a chilling and intriguing thriller.

December 10, 2009

Blood Mania

1970, Dir. by Robert Vincent O'Neill

OK, Blood Mania. I'm gonna keep this short, because, well Blood Mania is a goofy, awful, flat-out ridiculous movie.

I'd never heard the phrase Blood Mania before, but as a horror fan, doesn't it sound great? Seriously, I was thisclose to changing the title of my blog when I heard about this movie (Then I thought about how I don't really watch movies for blood most of the time and how it didn't fit my idea of what my blog would be about, and, well, I thought about it.) But I gotta admit the title gave me some thrilling ideas about what the film could be. And look at that poster!

Blood Mania, however, does not live up to that promise. I had doubts the minute I found it as part of a 12-movies-for-$5-Wal-Mart set (Entitled Gorehouse Greats, if you're interested, I hope to review more from it soon.), but the promise of a "Gothic-like horror tale" had me intrigued. But what we get is a film that's only slightly modified from being something like Basic Instinct or A Perfect Murder or any other "Michael Douglas + sexiness thriller" of the '90s. The modifications are an entirely incomprehensible cult ritual in this movie, which replaces the competent production values of those movies.

Blood Mania turns out to be the tale of a "young" doctor (Peter Carpenter, who also co-wrote the film) who has a young, gorgeous wife (Reagan Wilson), but falls for the seductive daughter of a rich patient (Maria De Aragon), while also dealing with a blackmailer. Anyone who's ever seen a film noir knows that having seductresses and blackmailers on each side of you creates a cosmic venn diagram, and you're stuck in the overlapping center that is labeled TROUBLE in capital letters.
If * = You, that's TROUBLE.

The film shows the doctor's dilemma in the first act by...well, it doesn't really. Mostly, the first act is dedicated to the above mentioned actresses getting topless in random situations. Sometimes, important conversations are going on in one room and, though we can hear the conversations, the camera's in the other room watching one of the ladies get topless.

The plot starts to pick up when the seductress' younger sister (Vicki Peters) arrives, and begins to get topless too. Finally there's a murder and a twist ending that remind us the film's supposed to be a horror film, when really it seems to be a showcase of '70s boobage.

I love '70s boobage, but I love good cult cinema and good horror cinema more. This one does not qualify. Skip It.

December 5, 2009


2007, Dir. by Greg McLean.

Somewhere between Jaws and Anaconda in style, Greg McLean's giant crocodile flick Rogue packs a lot of bite.

OK, I had to get that out of the way. On with the review.

Giant crocodile/alligator/snake/lizard films are a surprisingly hot commodity in the thriller world, and it's never easy for even the most astute horror connoisseur to tell the difference between them. Some are Hollywood B-Flicks with big stars (like Lake Placid or Anaconda), some are DTV/SyFy stinkers (like Croc or Python), and some hit the "so-bad-it's-awesome" plateau (like Boa vs. Python). But I don't know if there's ever been one as competent and exciting as Rogue.

The plot is simple and not very noteworthy. A wildlife tour group (led by Silent Hill's Radha Mitchell, who's very comfortable slipping back in to her native Australian accent) gets into the middle of nowhere and a giant crocodile attacks. This leaves the stranded tourists and locals (including future Hollywood stars Sam Worthington (Terminator 4, Avatar) and Mia Wasikowska (Tim Burton's upcoming Alice in Wonderland); and Alias' Michael Vartan) to fight for survival.

What impresses me most about Rogue is its focus on building tension. Unlike most of the films I mentioned earlier, McLean seems to borrow from the likes of Hitchcock and Spielberg in building slowly while giving us ominous looks at what might be out there while developing sympathetic characters, hooking the viewer's interest in their survival. He also brings a string-heavy musical score that sets the mood for impending terror, and parallels the characters' fears perfectly.

Of course, this all comes crashing down when we finally get eyes on our gigantic killer, which is a sight to behold. To say that the effects are top-notch is an understatement, especially in the final act when we see the croc full on. There's little that would make you think this isn't a real giant crocodile, except of course the fact that giant crocodiles like this might not cooperate with the filming of a movie about them.

There are several truly frightening moments in Rogue, something that's so rare in movies today. Even if they are simple jump scares, they're executed perfectly by McLean and crew. After being branded as a member of the new-horror "Splat Pack", it's also notable that McLean's Rogue is relatively low on blood and guts, except for a couple of moments in the final reel. There are no one-liners, nor is there gratuitous nudity/drug use/irresponsibility. This is a pure thrill ride that doesn't pull punches, and for that alone I have to recommend it as one of the most thoroughly enjoyable horror films of the new millennium.