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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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.

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.

MOVIE REVIEW – CENTURION

August 16, 2011

Centurion

Directed by Neil Marshall

 

 

 

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

THE REVIEW

Another review of a film from last year. But I will start doing some more current flicks soon, promise! Centurion (hereafter referred to as Centurion) is set in Britain during Roman rule in the second century. It concerns a band of Roman soldiers, led by Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender as the Title guy) and their attempts to reach friendly territory after surviving a bloody ambush where their entire legion gets wiped out by the Picts.  The Roman Governor (Paul Freeman) has grown weary of the never ending Vietnam-like quagmire that Rome is caught up in Britain, and has ordered General Titus Flavius Virilus (Dominic West and what a great character name!) to lead his entire Ninth legion northward to kill the Pict king Gorlacon (Ulrich Thomsen) and end the war in glorious Roman triumph. Of course, once the Romans get out into the country, the scout Etain (Olga Kurylenko) quickly leads them into the previously mentioned bloody ambush and the chances of Roman Triumph are greatly diminished.

The film now goes into Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid mode with Dias and his small band being pursued all over England by Etain and a mounted group of Picts. (Think LeFors, but hotter) Along the way, they run across Arianne (Imogen Poots), a super hottie Pictish woman who shelters and feeds the fleeing men in her big, empty house. Arianne apparently lives alone; there’s not a man in sight, because…apparently that’s how just super hottie Pictish women roll.

After Dias and Arianne exchange the customary Davy Jones twinkle eyes, the Romans decide to to make a last stand at a nearby abandoned Roman outpost.

This film actually has a pretty good look to it. The design of the film is well thought out and there were some bucks spent in both real stuff and CGI. The sound design was average. Nothing jumped out at me as glaringly wrong (no sync issues, or bad ADR) but nothing jumped out at me as exceptional. The costumes and sets are both good. The actors try hard, and most do well; it’s too bad they are handcuffed by a such a weak story. Besides the story, a couple of things raised major red flags for me. First and foremost is the character of Etain. She is completely and utterly unbelievable. From the moment the Governor introduces her to General Virilus, all she does is stare killer daggers at every Roman in the tent and is basically making the slashed throat sign to all of them, all the time. Yet they trust her implicitly and follow her into the abattoir without a second thought. I must point out, however, that despite her homicidal anti-Roman tendencies, in many ways she is the perfect woman. Beautiful, scantily clad…mute. (A cookie to anyone who can name the movie that quote is from!) Second is the politically correct casting. Our Roman survivors are, because of today’s day and age, a nice ethnically diverse group. In addition to several Romans we get a Nubian (“What’s a Nubian?”) and a Syrian thrown in the mix. The third thing is the anachronisms that pop up through out the film. For example, Dias, in bad narration style, says this about Arianne “Is she angel, or demon?” Really Dias? You’re a Roman – in fact you’re a Roman before the conversion to Christianity. Your religious beliefs don’t include such concepts as angels and demons. Those are more of Christian ideas. I know it’s only one line, but things like that are all it takes to push a film into crapsville.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE

Here is a perfect setting for Dungeons and Dragons. You can have a big set piece battle to start, and then get into the role-playing. Or just start with the aftermath of the ambush. The only thing missing is magic. The film itself has no magical items, spells, or magicians. The film makers do suggest that Etain might be using magic to help in her tracking (we see her taking ashes of the dead and boiling them in kettles and stuff) but they don’t follow through with that idea. So, some magic would have to be added in. If a chase adventure doesn’t sound exciting enough, you can always add in some other goals for the party to try an achieve. If I were running it, I would split the party in two and let one group take on the roles of Etain and the Picts, and let the players match wits against each other. You can always keep the Roman Army in  your back pocket as the cavalry coming over the hill, if you need to.

 

 

 

Look for Noel Clarke as the Nubian runner Macros. A lot of you will recognize him as Mickey The Idiot from Doctor Who. While I’m glad to see the actor get out and do other projects, I did find him a bit distracting. Once I saw him, I started looking for Rory, the plastic Roman (Arthur Darvill) to show up….

‘Course, what do I know? Now if you will excuse me, I’ve going out to find me a super hottie Pictish woman…

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

The Last Exorcism

Directed by Daniel Stamm

Running Time: 87 mins

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

THE REVIEW

Now, I know that this flick came out last year, but I’m gonna review it now anyway, in case anybody missed this little gem of a movie.  The Last Exorcism (hereafter referred to as TLE) is about a preacher in Baton Rouge named Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) that is having a documentary made about him. As we see him preaching, he explains the showmanship in his work, and in a great gag involving a recipe, we quickly become aware that Cotton is moved by money more than God. Soon the documentary turns to demons and exorcisms. “I don’t believe in Demons,” he announces, but he does believe in good healthcare. As far as he’s concerned, if people want to pay him to conduct an exorcism, then why not. He’s totally willing to put on a show, and he has, many times. But since he has read about people, including young children, who have died in exorcisms, he has decided not to do them anymore. Iris (Iris Bahr), the producer of the film, convinces him to do one more for the movie and Cotton decides to let the film crew tag along on the last exorcism.

TLE then moves to the Sweetzer farm in rural LA. There, Louis Swetzer (Louis Herthum) believes that his teenage daughter Nell (Ashley Bell) is possessed. In another great sequence, we see Cotton prepare for the exorcism – complete with hidden iPod and speakers producing spooky noises and a smoke-generating crucifix. Later, he puts on a spectacular show, ending in the grand tradition of Zelda Rubinstein pronouncing, “this girl is clean.” Thinking that the job is done, Cotton and the film crew return to their hotel and begin planning the trip home.

That plan quickly unravels when they find Nell in her pajamas waiting for them at the hotel. How she has managed to get there is a mystery. She has no car and had no idea which hotel the group was staying in. The mystery of the Sweetzer farm quickly deepens as Cotton and the crew return Nell, and try to uncover what is truly going on.

The filmmakers do a great job in not tipping their hand too early, instead letting the audience discover what is going on along with the characters. Cotton and friends all have their “I’m in a horror movie” moment at the right time. It’s believable, and feels right, which makes it even more scary! The look of the film was effective and creepy. The documentary style of long takes gives the film a realistic look – in that what we are watching are real events and not scripted scenes. Only the occasional scoring of horror music in several scenes betray this effect. I guess the filmmakers decided that the film wasn’t strong enough on its own and needed them. Too bad, cause I think it works pretty damn good without them. One final note on the sound design: Fantastic! The designers did a great job without throwing it in the audience’s face.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE

This is a film the H.P.Lovecraft himself would heartily endorse. It’s chock full of all the “There’s something dark and evil lurking everywhere” ideas that he constantly wrote about. And the setup is perfect for “Call of Cthulu” games, in any time period. In fact it would be fun to try this story set in the 20’s. The film also has just the right amount of research moments. Not sot many that they give the farm away, (no pun intended) but enough to provide the characters with enough information to try to solve the mystery. A good group of role-players would have a field day with these characters. From the cynical preacher to the true-believer father and the girl who may or may not be possessed, there are lots of nuggets to play with. If your group isn’t quite into full blown role play, then the story itself should be quite enough to ensure a fun evening or two of gaming.

I’m not gonna say much, cause I really don’t want to blow anything. However I must point out an important lesson from TLE: If a possibly possessed girl draws pictures of you being horribly, painfully killed, DON’T JUST LAUGH IT OFF, RUN!

‘Course, what do I know?

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

Season of the Witch

Directed by Dominic Sena

Running Time: 95 Minutes

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

THE REVIEW

Season of the Witch (hereafter referred to as SOTW) is a curious little film. I say that because it seems like the filmmakers couldn’t make up their minds on what type of movie they wanted to make. Horror or action? Instead of picking one, they compromised and decided to do both. The result is a 95 minute mess. A well made mess, but a mess nonetheless. Now, let me stop for a second to say, I enjoyed the 90+ minutes that I invested on this film and didn’t feel like the six dollars I spent were wasted. But Lord of the Rings, this ain’t.

SOTW is about two 14th century Crusade knights who, fed up with the endless killing in the Holy lands, desert and return to Eastern Europe. Once there, they come upon a land rife with plague. At the heart of the pestilence is a girl (Claire Foy, named only ‘the girl’ in the credits) who is believed to be the witch that unleashed the plague. This supposed witch is to be sent to a faraway monastery where she will be tried and killed, thereby lifting the curse and ending the plague. Our two knights, Behmen (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman) are quickly recruited by the local Cardinal (Christopher Lee – I know, wow, the dude’s gotta be 80!) to transport the witch. If they accept, the Church will forgive them for deserting the Crusades.

Behmen and Felson are joined by a fellow knight named Eckhart (Ulrich Thomsen) a priest named Debelzaq (Stephen Campbell Moore) and Kay, (Robert Sheehan) a knight wannabe. Rounding out the intrepid band is Hagamar, (Stephen Graham) a trader who knows the way to the monastery. But is the girl really a witch? Debelzaq is convinced of her guilt, but he is a priest and might just have the Church’s best interests at heart. Or, maybe she is a scapegoat, like Eckhart thinks, and the Church is intent on killing her to show the local populace that they have the answer to the plague? But if she is a scapegoat, then who or what is unleashing the deadly illusions and packs of CGI wolves that appear almost immediately? And what about the Davy Jones eyes that the Girl and Kay share?

The last reel features the final CGI overload showdown at the monastery against the ‘true’ evil of the film.

The look of the film was pretty good. The dark, menacing woods were quite effective, and the makeup effects were good. As far as the acting went, it was OK. Both Cage and Perlman clearly had a boat payment due, and don’t really bring anything extra to the film. Along with the rest of the cast, they gamely try, but the limited script doesn’t give them much to work with.

The same can be said for Dominic Sena’s direction. He seems to know what to do, but the script handcuffs him into going straight down cliché alley for most of the picture. Again, I think that the initial decision by the producers to hedge their bets and try to make a combination horror-action picture (and a PG-13 one at that) instead of going all in on one genre or the other, doomed SOTW to mediocrity.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE

This type of thing is obviously perfect for D&D. Although for a truly engaging story, the journey would have to be fleshed out a bit, with a few more encounters along the way. Maybe some more bits of story expo to help prove the girl’s innocence or guilt.

As far as role-playing goes, there is nothing wrong with the secret agenda. For a veteran gaming group, one of the players could even tackle the character of the witch. Now that can be fun. She can plead her innocence and try and turn the other characters to her side, all the while, setting them up for the big fall. Or not; maybe she is just a pawn. There are a lot of ways to go on that. And lots of ore to mine, with the right group of players.

When SOTW finally reaches the monastery, we find that all the monks there are dead from the plague. The witch is not really a witch at all, but is in fact a demon possessing the girl. It seems that the demon needed to be brought to this monastery to get a holy book of Christian rights and chants (there’s always a holy book!)  This triggers a massive battle against the CGI beastie, who suddenly is just another monster to be hacked and slashed. I really hate it when films do that. Here we have a demon who for the whole movie is hiding in a girl’s body and perpetuates this witch-plague story so it will be taken to this monastery, yet once it gets there, it quickly becomes this winged fire breathing dragon-like beastie that looks like it could have saved everybody the 95 minutes and just flown to the monastery and grabbed the book on its own. I guess that in this age of movie making, the audience is expecting the climactic battle, so this is what we get.

‘Course, what do I know?

Paranormal Activity 2

Directed by Tod Williams

Running Time: 91 Minutes

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

THE REVIEW

You know, overall, sequels are tough things to pull off. They’re tough for audiences to like, and they’re tougher for producers to make. Now, to me there are two basic kinds of sequels; one is a continuation of a larger story arc (think Harry Potter for a current example or the Empire Strikes Back for a retro example) and the other is bringing back the elements of a successful film to try and cash in a second time. Paranormal Activity 2 (hereafter referred to as PA2) clearly falls into the latter category. The sequel brings back all the things that worked in the first film: the greenish video surveillance footage, the rumbly noise, the menacing date graphics (DAY1, etc) in heaping amounts.

Now I call PA2 a sequel, but it’s more like a prequel/sequel. It starts several months before the first film in an attempt to provide an explanation of why the first film happened and then shows us what happens after the first film ends. PA2 centers around Kristi (Sprague Grayden – most recently seen in 24) and her family. Kristi is the sister of Katie (Katie Featherston) from the first PA. Just like in the first film we see video clips of Kristie, her husband Daniel (Brian Boland) and their kids; teenager Ali (Molly Ephraim) and baby Hunter (William Juan Prieto & Jackson Xenia Prieto). After a break-in which may be ghostly or just a non-ghostly crime, the family installs surveillance cameras in every room of the house. After that, the film follows the PA playbook page by page as the creepy bits ramp up in intensity and violence. The film offers an explanation or two about why the sisters are being visited by the demonic beasties, but it mostly just runs through the series of nights leading up to its grisly conclusion. Like the first film, PA2 does have a scene with a ouija board. But this one is actually a very funny scene involving the teenage daughter and her horny boyfriend.

The acting is about what you would expect from a film like this; so-so. The exception is Molly Ephraim. Out of all the actors, she runs the most believable arc of “I’m in a horror movie” and starts believing that the titular paranormal activity is really happening after the appropriate amount of evidence is presented to her. She brings a good balance of “this is scary” and “I’m a teenager so this stuff is cool” to make her character ring true. Plus she’s a cutie.

PA2, much like PA, times out at a brisk 91 minutes. So don’t blink, ‘cause you might miss it. Overall, it’s an enjoyable 91 minutes, and given the limited subject matter, anything longer might have dragged. And if you liked the first one, PA2 is a good second helping.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE

Obviously, this film is gonna inspire horror RPGs more than any other game. Call of Cthulhu comes to mind most. The idea of dealing with an unknown, seemingly unstoppable beastie is right up Lovecraft’s alley.

The idea that one of the players is ‘cursed’ or ‘stalked’ by the beastie definitely has possibilities for a good story. For a quick, one night adventure, something as simple as PA2 (Or PA for that matter) would work. Anything that is going to be multiple game sessions would require a bit more work developing the beastie and its motives.

The family of PA2 does make a successful research roll and come up with a possible solution to their possession. However, it’s what I would term a Faustian Solution – that is it doesn’t kill the beastie, it just sends it to someone else. So, you save your own skin, but you have to pick some other poor fool to take the fall. This idea is not new one, and it was used much more effectively in The Ring and Drag Me To Hell. In PA2, they can ‘pass’ on the curse of this particular demon, but only to another family member. Husband Daniel doesn’t hesitate to push the beastie and its supernatural baggage onto sister Katie (which is why the events of PA happen in the first place) and let her deal with it. I would have liked to see a bit more hand wringing over this potential decision, but that wouldn’t have fit in with the films lickety-split pacing.

This concept of damning others to save your own neck is role playing gold. It gives you a chance to find out how much of a ‘good’ guy your character (and by extension, you) really is. I think in tournament play, where each player is competing with each other to be the best role player, it can be even better. And in a game like Cthulhu, where character survival is usually a coin-flip anyway, so much the better.

‘Course, what do I know?

MOVIE REVIEW – LET ME IN

October 25, 2010

Let Me In
Directed by Matt Reeves
Running Time: 116 Minutes

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

THE REVIEW

Let me just start off by saying I am very particular about movie vampires. I very much agree with Jack Crow’s views:

“…they’re not romantic. It’s not like they’re a bunch of #$%@in’ hoppin’ around in rented formal wear and seducing everybody in sight with cheesy Euro-trash accents, all right? Forget whatever you’ve seen in the movies…”

I never got into the Anne Rice Euro-fop scene. I didn’t watch Buffy or Angel. Embrace of the Vampire is a just awful (NOTE: I must admit that I do in fact have the DVD of that flick. But for one reason – Super hottie Alyssa Milano!) The Blade series was m’eh. The current sparkly, walk around in the daylight, teen angst vampires are right out.

See, I’ve never been able to see a vampire as a hero of the story. In my book, a being that hunts and kills humans is inherently evil, and the bad guy. And this concept that something that is undead (Note: that’s not living or dead. It’s undead, whatever that means) would still be driven by human needs and wants (love, sex, power) is foolish. It’s safe to say, I have a few issues about Drac and his pointy-toothed ilk. As my associate Joseph Martin Griffin, Esquire would say “I don’t have issues, I have the whole subscription.” And he’s not wrong.

Now, I’ve told you all that so I can tell you about this movie. First off, I really liked this film. It’s well made, well acted, and most of all, the vampire stays true to its nature. It kills for one reason: it kills for food. Let Me In is a remake of a Swedish film from 2008 called Let the Right One In. It’s about a 12-year old boy named Owen who is bullied and picked on at school. His life changes forever when Abby, a fellow 12-year old, moves in next door. Abby is different than the other kids. For one thing, she doesn’t go to school. She also walks around barefoot in the snow, and her ‘father’ (A great supporting performance by Richard Jenkins) goes out at night to find and kill some poor unsuspecting sap and drain his blood into a plastic jug to bring home for supper. Abby, you see, is a vampire. The two kids strike up an unusual friendship as the body count rises. Kodi Smit-McPhee does a great job portraying Owen as a kid who hasn’t hit his stride yet and doesn’t really fit in the world he’s in. Chloe Moretz, who most of you will recognize as Hit-Girl from Kick Ass, is superb as Abby. She gives off just the right amount of “that girl ain’t right” mixed with the awkward pre-teen girl vibe. The rest of the cast perform deftly. Besides the aforementioned Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas is quite good as the bewildered policeman, trying to make sense of all the death and violence erupting around him. And his “Hey, I’m in a horror movie!” moment comes at the exact right time. The film is well paced and edited and the ending is downright chilling – especially when you think of the future implications the last scene has for the characters.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE

This film had several great sequences in it. These moments really stood out and allowed the film makers to shine. I’ll mention two.

Abby has just gone out looking for food. Her ‘father’ botched his attempt to bring home “Dinner” so she goes herself (NOTE: While it is bad manners to cry over spilt milk, spilt blood is apparently acceptable). She lures a passing jogger – who happens to live in the same apartment complex (this will be have consequences later on) — into a tunnel and kills him. We watch as the she lures her prey into the tunnel with some beautiful sound design as the audience hears her cries of “Help me” echoing along the stone tunnel. Once she is resting her head on his shoulder as he has picked her up to carry her home, she’s in perfect position to literally ‘go for the jugular.’ It’s a simple scene, but powerful. All at once we see that Abby is both a cold, calculating hunter and a throat-ripping blood covered monster.

The other sequence that I’ll mention occurs at the end of the film. Owen has a final showdown with the group of bullies at the public pool. One of them pushes him in and then holds his head under the water. The rest of the scene is from Owens’s perspective. Through the ‘lens’ of the water we see something is happening up top. We then begin to hear through the ‘filter’ of the water the screams of the bullies. The water begins to turn red and something falls into the water right next to Owen. It’s the main bully’s severed head! Then in quick succession we see the other kids (NOTE: Or maybe just parts of the other kids! I’m not entirely sure) being dragged through the water. We still hear the muffled screams, and sounds of action. Now, we all know that Abby is ‘saving’ Owen, but not once do we see who or what is causing this carnage. Owen finally breaks the surface of the water and discovers he is alone with the various limbs and parts of his four ex-tormentors. The entire sequence lasts maybe 15 seconds, but the top-notch visual construction matched by the sound design make it a show-stopper of the highest degree.

These sequences reminded me a lot about the best RPG’s I’ve been in. I’ve always believed that a carefully crafted encounter with the beastie is what makes the difference between a good game and a great one. Random monster tables have always seemed boring and stilted to me. It’s much better to make those moments really stand out. Players being players, they will always provide more than enough randomness for your games by doing something unexpected and unplanned-for. When I’m devising my story for the players, I always start with two or three beastie encounters. One or two of these scenes are for the early or mid-game portion, and one for the final showdown. These scenes are gonna happen during the story at some point. The players will only help determine when. Then I approach each one as a scene from a horror flick. I make sure I have all the details for each one worked out. What is the weather like? Is it indoors or out? Does this location have lots of clutter? Or is it big and empty with no where to hide? What do the players hear? The whine of nearby machinery or maybe just the simple sound of crickets chirping? Do these sounds eerily stop just before the beastie arrives? Also what is playing on the soundtrack? Once these “Scenes” have been crafted to my satisfaction, then I build the story around them. If you do it right, you will have a classic on your hands and the players will remember it forever. To this day I still hear from some of my old players about “that battle in the abandoned farm’s root cellar” from a game from about 15 years ago. The rest of the details of that game are a little fuzzy, but boy do they remember that ‘scene.’

‘Course, what do I know?

My Soul to Take (In 3D)
Directed by Wes Craven
Running Time: 107 Minutes

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

THE REVIEW

Wes Craven has made a career out of the dead killer returns to exact revenge on precocious teens horror sub-genre. It’s his thing, and he has done it pretty well over the years. When movie goers think of a ghostly killer striking from beyond, Freddy Krueger jumps to mind almost immediately. Freddy was scary in that he lived in dreams, and you can’t stop a dream. In My Soul to Take Craven unleashes upon us a character known as “the Riverton Ripper.” Someone who is killing people because…well, I guess because he’s just plain nuts, since no other motivation is ever given. But in the opening scene the police gun him down and then promptly lose him after the ambulance he is in does an old school ‘A-team’ flippy thing and he disappears into the river. And since out of sight is out of mind for all horror movie police, they pronounce him dead – case closed. Flash forward 16 years to the present day and we are introduced to seven high school kids who are known as the Riverton Seven because they were all born on the same night that the Ripper was “killed.” I use the quotes because remember, he disappeared into the river and was assumed dead by the local law enforcement. (Note – shoddy police work in horror movies NEVER brings about good things – see Halloween II)

Anyway, back to these seven kids. They all fall neatly into the standard horror movie molds. Bug (Max Thieriot) and Alex (John Magaro) are the picked-on nerds, Penelope (Zena Grey) is the churchy chick that prays all the time for everybody. Brittany (Paulina Olszynski) is the snobbish hot girl, Brandon (Nick Lashaway) is the dumb jock. Jay (Jeremy Chu) is the “I got a way to stop ghosts” guy who should have been called Victim Number One to save time. The final kid is Jerome (Denzel Whitaker) who is the lone African American in the group (Note – for the record, he does NOT say “That is whack!” once throughout the entire film.)

It seems that the killer had seven different souls inside him. Six of them were good and the seventh was the evil killer. When the Ripper died or almost died, those seven souls escaped into…That’s right! The seven kids. So the rest of the movie sees the Ripper dispatching the seven kids one by one in standard horror movie ways. By the third reel there are only a couple of kids left, and they’re all trying to figure out if the Ripper is back or if it is just his evil soul inside one of them. I have to admit, I didn’t go into this film expecting very much. But I was hoping for good storytelling at least. Wes Craven has done better. If you’re in the mood for a good Wes Craven film, go get the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, heck even Deadly Blessing would be a more enjoyable view.

I got to see this film in 3D and overall it was OK. The 3D treatment didn’t distract me from the film, but other than one cool headshot blood splatter, it didn’t really help the film either. There were no Cthulhu research moments in the film – but that was not unexpected given this sub genre.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE

The only cool role playing idea or situation I came away with from this film is “the monster is one of us” concept. There is a cool sequence early on where the original Ripper is standing in front of a mirror talking to his reflection. One of the souls is begging the other NOT to kill any more. That got me thinking: make the beastie be one of your players. That can be fun! Pick out one character and make them the possessed/werewolf bitten/cursed character. Pull them aside and explain the situation and give them enough info to run with it. Is the character evil and just pretending to be good, or do they blackout and have the evil take over and run their body from time to time. If the player you pick is a good role player, they can have a lot of fun with it. Also consider picking the player in the group that the other players would least expect. You know, one of the more quiet players who usually just sits back and follows the rest. That can be fun too! Now, it does require a bit of extra work, since as a GM, you want to keep the true identity of the beastie a secret as long as possible. But that can be done by pulling ALL the players aside separately for a moment or two and give each of them some bit of info. Really, is there anything better than pitting the players against one another?

‘Course, what do I know?