MOVIE REVIEW – FRIGHT NIGHT

September 29, 2011

Directed by Craig Gillespie

Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and Five being the highest.

THE REVIEW

Fright Night (hereafter referred to as FN) is the latest entry in the unending stream of remakes coming from Hollywood these days. This time around FN is set in a Los Vegas suburb and concerns teenager Charlie Brewster (Anton Yelchin) and his attempts to destroy his new neighbor, and blood sucking vampire, Jerry Dandridge (Colin Farrell). Charlie becomes suspicious of Jerry’s thirst for plasma after his ex-best friend Evil Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) tells him about the many disappearances in town lately. Among the missing is Adam (Will Dentor), the third member of their childhood trio. Charlie dismisses Ed’s vampire theory and tries to go back to his new life. Charlie, it seems, has moved on from all the sci-fi, fantasy, and horror stuff that he, Ed and Adam used to to do when they were younger. In fact, he has moved on from Ed and Adam. Now, he hangs with the cool kids Mark (Dave Franco) and Ben (Reid Ewing) and has even found himself a hottie girlfriend, Amy (Imogen Poots) to boot!

But when Ed joins the ranks of the missing (dispatched by Jerry), Charlie reluctantly begins his own investigation. In a great scene involving a six-pack of beer, Charlie confirms Ed’s theory, Jerry is indeed a vampire. What’s worse, Jerry knows that Charlie knows. And the way that Farrell plays this scene (as well as the whole film) lets the audience know that Charlie, his mom (Toni Collette) and Amy are all in big trouble.

Later, when Charlie sees that Doris (Emily Montague), the stripper who lives next door (Why can’t I ever live in that neighborhood?) is going to be Jerry’s next victim, he quickly attempts a rescue. He breaks into the house and soon discovers secret passageways, locked cells, and finally the bitten and drained Doris. After watching Jerry take another big drink from Doris, Charlie attempts to sneak her past Jerry and out of the house. It’s a great sequence, and Gillesipe and his actors nail it, mixing in equal parts of suspense and horror.

Charlie, now desperate for help, goes and sees the great magician and vampire expert Peter Vincent (David Tennant). Vincent is currently headlining at a casino in Vegas, and Charlie hopes he has the answers. Vincent reveals himself to be more of a performer than a vampire hunter, and quickly sends Charlie on his way.

The final reel has several battles, pitting Jerry and his growing army of vampire followers against Charlie and his friends. With casualties mounting in both camps, Charlie and Peter Vincent (Who has had his own little moment of redemption, and is now willing to fight) gear up and head off to a final showdown in Jerry’s underground lair. There, in a nod to the original film, Jerry menacingly tells them “Welcome to Fright Night…for Real!”

This movie was actually a lot of fun. Great performances by the entire cast (especially Farrell and Tennant) help to raise this movie beyond its standard script. It’s 106 minutes of roller coaster action, and I enjoyed the ride. The design was excellent and CGI was used in appropriate amounts. My biggest nitpick with the movie actually was the pacing. As fun as it was, I felt it made the movie more of an action genre than a horror flick. A slower pace could definitely have made for a scarier movie. From just about the opening scene the human characters (as well as the audience) are clued in that Jerry is a supernatural creature. The film makers could easily have made that journey of discovery longer, and much more horrifying. I feel that the film makers missed an opportunity to use a great horror concept: ‘Evil is lurking right next door.’ It’s something that all of us can identify with, and suburbia is a wonderful setting for it. We’ve all heard a strange noise coming from our neighbor’s house or apartment and wondered “what are they doing in there?” But since the plot is in overdrive, and Jerry pretty much flashes his fangs to anyone watching, this concept is quickly run over and left far in the distance.

One theme that did come through is “Things are seldom what they seem.” Jerry, at first introduction, is a night contractor, and at worst, a ladies’ man.  We quickly learn that he is much, much worse (he’s a vampire contractor – imagine him re-doing your kitchen!). Even Charlie is pretending to be something that he is not, having ditched his childhood friends and re-inventing himself to be accepted by the ‘cool’ clique.

The biggest example is Peter Vincent. We actually get to see him strip off all of his external character traits (hair, beard, sideburns, eyebrow ring) and go from mystical vampire killer to drunk B-actor. It’s a great scene, and Tennant plays it just right, comfortably and believably showing us exactly what the man behind the curtain is like. And at the same time, he confirms our fears that nobody is who they say they are.

Combine these two themes and you could have a really powerful, scary film. A different film than what Gillesipe and crew turned out, but a good one, I think. As is, the film they did was an exciting joyride, and I highly recommend it.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE

The set up is perfect for horror gaming, and Call of Cthulhu comes to mind instantly! Vampire stories are perfect for Cthulhu, since you can craft each encounter with Jerry exactly as you want. That being said, when you look at the set-piece encounters in the film, there are a lot of opportunities for good gaming.


Look for Chris Sarandon (The original Jerry Dandridge) to pop up in a cool little cameo. In the credits, his character is listed as “Jay Dee” – get it?

‘Course, what do I know?

You can check out this review as well as all the others at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.

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Location: I-CON

Date: 9/10/11

Result: Major Space Monster Victory

Current Tally:
19 Games
13 Space Monster Victories
6 Crew Victories

Play Tester Game Playing Level: High

The Space Monster Player (Derek Hurley) chooses the Space Monster Attributes while The Crew player (Matt Aper) looks on.

Turn 1 saw the crew move to normal duty stations and then decide to build motion tracking units to help in finding the monster. The monster moved about the ship and unsuccessfully attempted to damage it. Cargo hold Two was repaired by machine. The Monster revealed one of its attributes by emitting an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) which shut down the electronics of the ship for the turn.

Turn 2 began with Milton and Britt refusing to work unless they got more money. The Captain successfully activated SISTER, resulting in an extra card draw combat at the end of the turn. The Monster attacked Milton in the Engine Room, but only succeeded in wounding him before he was able to run away. This convinced the Crew that weapons would be needed to fight the monster, so high strength nets were hastily constructed. New damage was detected in the Crew Mess, and then both Cargo holds exploded with light damage in both being the result. The Crew began to move to the damaged section. The Monster appeared in Corridor Two and killed Cinder. Despite this loss, the crew, was able to repair the damage in Cargo hold one. New damage was detected in the Crew Mess. The Captain moved to the computer room and again activated SISTER.. The information he received would provide an extra die in any upcoming combat. The monster finished the turn by attempting to evolve, but was unsuccessful. The crew finished out the turn by repairing the damaged Crew Mess. The end of this turn would see the player decks expand to 40 cards.

The Monster began turn 3 by getting wounded in an unsuccessful attack on the Captain in the Crew Mess. Milton was healed with the timely application of first aid. The Monster attempted to damage to ship and failed. During the end phase the Monster evolved to Stage Two. (another Monster Attribute, although the Crew was unaware of this development)

Turn 4 had the Captain spend the entire turn in the Infirmary to study something interesting. The rest of the crew searched for the monster, found it in the Crew Mess, and in the ensuing melee was able to wound it. The Space Monster retreated into the bowels of the ship. The Crew spent the rest of the turn fruitlessly searching for the wounded beast.

The Monster started turn 5 healing one wound while the Crew attempted to locate it. The Monster surprised Engineer Milton in the Engine room and killed him. The Crew then decided to split into two teams to maximize their efforts. The Monster, despite this, was able to avoid detection. At the end of the turn, Palance and Britt located the monster and attacked, and although they succeeded in wounding the monster, both were killed in the battle. Now there were only 3 crew members left, so abandoning the ship became a viable solution.

Turn 6 began with the Engine room suddenly losing pressure. The monster became distracted by the lights on a control panel and had to randomly discard a card. The surviving crew members argued over who was in command, resulting in the random discard of a card from their hand, also. After calming down, the crew constructed 2 high strength nets. The Captain then decided to try to force the monster out of the ship by going into the vents. His attempt failed and he was killed at the third junction.

Turn 7 began with action as the monster attacked the two remaining crew members, seemingly from out of the shadows. Hamm was wounded in this attack, but Abel succeeded in driving the monster off in the second round of combat, inflicting another wound. Abel then went to the computer room and asked SISTER for advice, gaining an extra die in combat at the end of the turn. The Monster evolved to stage three in the end phase.

In turn 8, Hamm became suspicious of Abel’s motives and didn’t trust him. Despite this rift, both survivors decided to kill the monster, rather than abandon the ship. The Monster, with only two wounds left, did not attack the crew, instead attempting to damage the Infirmary…but was unsuccessful.

Turn 9 saw Hamm discovering a secret corporate directive in the ship’s records indicating that one of the Crew was secretly put on board to protect the monster. Abel and Hamm then built incinerators and searched for the monster but were unsuccessful. The monster again tried to damage the ship but was unsuccessful.

Turn 10 opened with Hamm discovering that not only was Abel placed on board to protect the monster, but that he’s also a robot! Hamm decided to make a last stand in the hibernation room. The Robot then attacked Hamm and killed her with an incinerator, ending the game in a major Space Monster Victory.

The game ends with the entire crew wiped out by the Space Monster

Lessons Learned:
We finally got to see the robot show up! The mechanic seemed to work, but it’s hard to know for sure with only one appearance. The Monster is still too hard to locate – searching will have to adjusted. Another Airduct attack almost wins the game for the Crew. The EMP attribute will have to be better defined. As it stands now, it effectively removes the SISTER bonus card draw. Another fun and exciting game, with both players getting a chance to win the game. And we got to see the robot – armed with a flamethrower, no less.

Oct 14 will see the release of another remake of the Thing.

You can view the new redband trailer here.

I’m not sure what to think of this. It appears that it’s a prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing with this story concerning the Norwegians’ first discovery of the alien life form. It would be fun to finally see how the base that MacReady and Copper discover got torched. And who the guy was who slit his wrists and neck and then froze to death in the chair. I hope that this group of  filmmakers have a sense of continuity.

Looks like a lot of CGI, but it could be fun!

What do you guys think?

Directed by Rupert Wyatt

Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and five being the highest.

THE REVIEW

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (hereafter referred to as ROTPOTA) is a reboot of the Apes movie series from 1968-1973. Specifically, it is a remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and attempts to explain, as Chuck Heston put it in the original Apes, “How in the hell did this upside-down society get started?” In the original, Caesar the talking chimp was introduced to our current time by his backward time traveling parents Cornelius and Zira (In Escape from the Planet of the Apes). ROTPOTA depicts Caesar being accidentally created by well meaning scientist Will Rodman (James Franco –  in a totally forgettable performance) who is working on a cure for alzheimer’s disease. He is developing a virus that attacks the disease and causes the brain to repair itself. One of his test subjects is Caesar’s mom, Bright Eyes. Rodman’s dad (wonderfully played by John Lithgow) suffers from this terrible disease, so Will has extra motivation to find a cure. After the worst progress report meeting in the history of progress report meetings occurs, the testing is shut down and Will is ordered to destroy all of the test monkeys. But once he looks into baby Caesar’s little green eyes (Which indicates that he has got the test virus in him and is uber smart) he can’t bring himself to do it and instead decides to take him home. This act of kindness, as you can imagine, will ultimately have REALLY BAD consequences for the other 6 billion or so folks living on the planet.

We see Caesar (Andy Serkis) quickly grow up and develop sign language skills, and other smarts as Will studies him in secret and continues to develop his cure. Eventually Caesar is discovered and sent to a home for wayward chimps run by John Landon (Brian Cox) and his sadistic son Dodge (Tom Felton). Once there, Caesar experiences the cruelty of man, and begins to plot revolution.

Meanwhile, Will has used his test virus on his dad with spectacular, although temporary results. This convinces his money-driven boss Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) to begin testing on a new, more powerful strain – even though the effects of this new virus on humans is (John Carpenter music here)…unknown!

And so the stage is set for the apes to start their rise. The final reel is all about the pitched battles between some rather dim humans and Caesar and his simian army.

Overall, this film was a lot better than what I was expecting. The acting was great – not counting Franco. Andy Serkis again delivers an Oscar worthy motion capture performance as Caesar. His work coupled with the impressive CGI work make Caesar a real, believable character. Old pros Lithgow and Cox deliver the goods as well, and Tom Felton has fun as the punk kid who constantly has to prove he’s smarter than his ape charges.

The design was good and the film was well edited to keep the film on a brisk pace. I did have a few issues with the story telling; there were a couple of plot points that weren’t totally believable for me. First and foremost is the battle. I guess the realist in me can’t really envision how a bunch of monkeys armed with sticks and rocks are going to defeat fully armed S.W.A.T. teams with air support. But the movie had so many other positive things going for it that I really didn’t mind.

Being a huge fan of the original Apes film, I wasn’t overly excited about this film. In fact, my fondness towards the original pretty much preordained my dislike for this film. But about 20 minutes in I realized that this wasn’t a remake of my beloved Apes movie; it was really a re-telling of Frankenstein. Once I saw that Wyatt and his producers were really telling us a cautionary tale of man meddling with nature, I was able to relax my protection of the Apes films and just sit back and enjoy the show.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE
This setup is perfect for modern day Call of Cthulhu. Although it would take some extra work on the part of the GM, it would be fun to set in the 1920’s too. I can easily see making your party the group of scientists tampering with forces beyond their control. Maybe bring in a Lovecraftian artifact that will help your players accomplish their goal (albeit with really, really bad consequences, naturally). Or maybe the corporation funding their experiments is really run by the head of some cult (or the actual beastie, itself) and is funding the money to unleash some icky evil on the world. And to keep the party going forward, no matter what dire warnings they come across, you can give each player a secret goal (like fame, helping a dying loved one, boatloads of cash for example) And if you can throw in global apocalypse along the way so much the better!

Fans of the Apes movies should keep their eyes and ears peeled for many references to the original movies that are peppered through out the film. From Caesars mom being called ‘Bright Eyes” (which was Taylor’s nickname in the original) to Tom Felton’s character being named Dodge Landon (a nod to Taylor’s fellow astronauts Dodge and Landon who both meet bad ends in the original) to the quick news footage of the Icarus mission – commanded by George Taylor, lifting off and later on, vanishing. There are a bunch of others, see if you can spot them all.

The whole second virus test was really a big sticking point for me. From a plot perspective it was incredibly dumb, and since the rest of the film was actually quite smart, this made this moment really stick out. First of all, they are using an airborne strain of the virus for testing. Seriously? That seems a bit reckless, and unsafe. Second, all of the scientists administering the test are NOT in full hazmat suits. All they have are little masks that cover their nose and mouth that you would wear if you were varnishing your furniture. Again, seriously? No scientist worth their salt would ever conduct an experiment with an unknown virus under those conditions. As you would imagine, one of them gets his mask knocked off and is exposed to the virus. This brings me to the other thing about this sequence that is dumb. Once Franklin (Tyler Labine) starts getting sick after being exposed (complete with sneezing up blood), does he bother to tell anyone? No, he goes home and hides for several days. Not very scientist-like of him, but since the virus is the mechanism for wiping out humanity, the film makers had to get it out somehow. I just wish they could have come up with a smarter way.

Oh, and don’t forget to stay for the end credits. There is a great sequence that shows exactly how the virus spreads ALL over the world!

‘Course, what do I know?

You can check out this review as well as all the others at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.

Location: ICON Game Convention
Date: 9/10/11

Result: Major Space Monster Victory

Current Tally:
18 Games
12 Space Monster Victories
6 Crew Victories

Play Tester Game Playing Level: High

We spent a very enjoyable weekend at ICON in Springfield, IL. Got to meet a lot of cool folks, make a few new friends, and get in 5 playtest games of SPACE MONSTER.

(The Prototype Game Board at the beginning of the game. All Seven Astronauts are located in the Hibernation room, while the Monster starts in the bowels of the ship.)

New Damage was detected in Corridor One and the Crew Mess, some of which was quickly repaired by machine. The Crew decided they had to repair the rest of the damage and moved to Cargo Hold Two and succeeded in their efforts. The Monster then began secreting goo (one of the Monster Attributes) while the Crew constructed the high strength nets to finish out the turn.

Turn two began with the Monster unsuccessfully attempting to damage the ship and the Crew constructing the electrical prods. The Corridor One Section doors suddenly became jammed trapping Milton and Britt inside. Palance moved to the Computer room and successfully activated SISTER to gain a bonus card for next turn. Milton and Britt, trapped in Corridor One, announced that they weren’t gonna work anymore until they got more money. The rest of the Crew spent the rest of turn fruitlessly searching for the Monster.

The Cargo in Cargo Hold 1 and 2 exploded, nearly killing Cinder to start Turn three with a bang.  Automated repair quickly repaired one of the holds. The Crew then decided that the damage was too severe to repair in Space. The turn ended with the Crew still unable to locate the elusive Monster. During the end phase the Monster evolved to Stage One due to a Monster Attribute.

Turn Four began with the Space Monster quickly evolving to Stage Two, an ominous sign for the Crew. The Crew again continued their efforts to find the monster and Palance again activated SISTER to earn the extra card. The mascot got loose and the Captain and Cinder went to the Infirmary to discuss an interesting discovery. This discovery led to the Crew learning about the Space Monster’s ability to evolve more quickly.

Cinder and Hamm spent the entire fifth turn on the bridge to plot the ship’s current position. New damage was detected in multiple sections. The turn ended with Milton being killed by a surprisingly large and powerful creature. With the first crew player killed, the player decks would expand to 40 cards at the the end of this turn.

The Monster appeared out of the shadows and killed Palance and Britt in quick succession. The Crew, finally becoming aware of the seriousness of the situation, opened the weapons locker and armed themselves. The Monster attacked the Captain but was fought off when the Captain overloaded his electrical prod and wounded the monster.

The four remaining crew members located the monster and attacked it. The Captain was killed in the attack. The Space Monster healed its wound, making the Crew’s chances even worse. The end of the turn saw the Monster evolving to stage three.

The Monster evolved to stage four but was quickly distracted by the flashing lights of a control panel and was unable to attack anyone this turn.

Abel was killed in a savage attack from the now fully mature monster. Cinder and Hamm, realizing that their chances of surviving were slim, decided to attempt to force the monster out the airlock. Cinder almost succeeded, falling short on the final roll and dying in the air ducts.

(Mikel Frost attempts the final roll in the Airlock attack. Success will eject the monster into space and win the game. Failure will result in Science Officer Cinder’s death.)

(Mikel’s reaction to coming up short on the final roll.)

Turn ten began with Hamm, all alone, deciding to make a last stand in Corridor One. The Monster attacked and killed the panicked and defenseless Hamm, ending the game.

LESSONS LEARNED:
The Monster still appears to be too powerful. How can we tone it down enough to give the Crew a fighting chance, yet still retain the horror flavor? The search mechanism also needs to be tweaked. It’s still just blind luck for the Crew, and that is not enough. Still, this was a fun and exciting game, with the overmatched crew almost winning with the airduct attack on Turn 9. We will see how the rest of the weekend’s games go…

Directed by Marcus Nispel

 

 

 

Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and five being the highest.

THE REVIEW

Conan the Barbarian (hereafter referred to as CTB) is a reboot of the 1982 Arnold Schwarzenegger flick. This time around Jason Momoa gets to play the Mullet that became a king by his own hand. Joining him for the CGI ride is Ron Perlman, Stephen Lang, Rosie McGowan, and even a badly done narration bit by Morgan Freeman. The story begins with our Cimmerian being born in the middle of a battle. This apparently means that Conan is going to be a warrior. We see this confirmed in the very next scene as the now 9-year old Conan single-handedly kills a gaggle of Road Warrior extras, all while holding an egg in his mouth. (I am NOT making that up. There is a reason for it, it’s kind of a stupid one, but there is one.) At this point Khalar Zim (Stephen Lang) shows up. He’s looking (in LOTR fashion) for a missing piece of an ancient snake mask that the opening narration was kind enough to tell us about. A long time ago, this mask was apparently broken and hidden to stop anybody from possessing it and taking over the world. (Is it just me or doesn’t it seem like the ancient world was chock full of artifacts that would either destroy or enslave the world?) Khalar and his witch daughter Marique (an eyebrowless Rosie McGowan) kill Conan’s dad, find the mask piece, and then leave our little barbarian to burn to death. Which we all know is a classic super villain mistake, since Conan escapes and lives to fight another day.

From there the film jumps to a grown-up Conan (Momoa) moving from one mindless CGI filled battle scene after another until he bumps into Khalar and his crew. Which was confusing to me, since he had the full mask, yet somehow 15 years had passed and the new dark age had not started. Apparently he’s now looking for the last descendant of some ancient blood line to resurrect his dead wife. I’m not really sure, the plot silliness had gotten so bad that I had kind of lost interest by this point. Suffice it to say that Conan hacks and slashes his way through the rest of the film.

This film was basically a mess. An expensive mess, but a mess. Costumes and props were standard but uninspired – straight out of the Fantasy movie playbook. Like any fantasy film today, there is a lot of CGI and some of it was actually pretty good. My real problem was the sound design. Now, it could have been the sound system in the theater, but the sound design was horrible. The mix was so bad that unless a character was shouting, every line of dialog was unintelligible. For example, in the scene where Tamara (Rachel Nichols) tells Conan her name, the mix was so bad and mushy, I had no idea what it was until the end credits.

The other thing about this film that disappointed me is that it quickly became apparent that the film makers had little or no knowledge of the Conan character from the Robert E. Howard stories. Basically, they got that he was a pirate (which he was in several stories) but that’s about it. Everything else in the stories that made Conan who he was, was gone.
One thing that always sticks with me from the Arnold flick was Conan’s search for the answer to the riddle of steel. Thulsa Doom ultimately provides Conan with the answer when he tells him, “Steel isn’t strong, flesh is stronger. What is steel compared to the hand that wields it?” If we change steel to CGI and flesh to character, plot and heart, we get to the main problem that besets all fantasy/sci-fi/horror films of today. What does state of the art CGI get you if there is no high quality character development, plot and heart (what I would call direction and production) to control it and make it meaningful? The answer is, alas, nothing but a wasted 113 minutes of your life – like you get with this film.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE

Obviously the Conan system is the way to go for this, with Dungeons and Dragons being a close second. You would have to work a lot on the plot to make it into a workable scenario. But the basic elements are all there. I could see a lot of potential for a campaign with your party trying to collect the various pieces of the mask before Khalar does. Each mask piece would be a different adventure. You can even have the mask pieces try to influence the party and get each of them to want to possess it. Now we’re talking! Party strife and conflict is always fun!

 

 

 

The best scene for me is when Khalar and Marique unleash several sand demons against Conan. The ensuing fight scene pitting Conan against warriors made of animated sand was pretty cool. Of course, the film makers didn’t take it as far as they should have. When it started, I thought they were copying the classic skeleton fight scene from Jason and the Argonauts. But instead of defining how many sand warriors were animated, they just had them (or maybe just one) jumping out of the sand periodically. Again, I enjoyed the scene, but it could have been done sooo much better.

If you really want to see a good Conan flick, I suggest you skip this mess and just pop in the DVD of the Arnold flick. Even after all this time, it still hacks quite a slash!

‘Course, what do I know?

You can check out this review as well as all the others at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.