V/H/S (2012)

VHSReleased: September 6, 2012. Directed by: Various (including Ti West, Adam Wingard). Starring: Adam Wingard, Joe Swanberg, Helen Rogers. Runtime: 116 min.

V/H/S is a found-footage anthology film featuring five main short films built around a frame narrative, that also works as its own short film experienced in snippets. As with most found-footage films, the cinematography is all over the place, but at least the shaky cam shots are well-edited. How the filmmakers make an excuse for taking the found-footage approach, meaning the reason why the characters are using hand-held cameras, are unique. In one segment, the story is shown from a main character’s glasses that have a hidden camera in them; in others they’re just documenting experiences; and one uses a Skype approach.

I’ll tell you a bit about each segment answering if they’re scary or not, but I’ll try not to spoil too much – it’s just the basics, really. The film opens with a gang of unlikable hoodlums wreaking havoc upon unsuspecting citizens and ugly old buildings. They are tasked by an unknown third party to enter a house and recover a rare VHS tape (apparently we’re living in the 1990s), but in order to find the correct one they have to watch the footage on the tapes, because there’s unfortunately no title on any of them saying “It’s this one!” This segment is the one experienced in short snippets; it’s not very interesting or scary, but having a frame narrative is better than not having one at all, because it gives the appearance that the film is more focused.

Onto the segment that made me scream like a little schoolgirl at a drive-in. Well, not really, but I did have to turn it off three times and catch my cool the first time I tried watching this film. This segment, called “Amateur Night,” follows a group of teens who go out to a party to pick up women. The main guy named Shane has the glasses that captures everything on video. It seems to me that he is doing it so he can either watch his sex film for his personal pleasure or just sell it if she’s hot enough, or just post it on the internet. These guys are simply a bunch of drunk college kids trying to get lucky, but the point-of-view is intriguing. The plot basically teaches me that I shouldn’t pick up women from bars who have strange feet or only say “I like you.” Kudos to the actress and the special effects in this segment. This segment is awesome and truly scary (in my eyes, at least), but I doubt I’ll re-watch it because it’s really too freaky for me and experiencing it twice is enough. Definitely one of the best segments and a really good fifteen minutes (estimated) of cinema.

The second segment is called “Second Honeymoon” and is directed by Ti West. This one is a simple short with a boring build-up, okay characters, an awkward chemistry and no great pay-off. It’s not very smart and West largely handles this dully and it’s not scary at all. The only other works by West I’m familiar with are his awful short segment in The ABCs of Death, the god-awful Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever (I should review that soon), and his great film that premiered at TIFF in September, The Sacrament. Apparently he’s not good at directing or writing shorts at all, because this one isn’t impressive.

The third segment is a mysterious one called “Tuesday the 17th”; it’s gory and fun and seems to promise a simple camping getaway premise. The foreshadowing is well done, leading up to an okay pay-off. The execution by writer/director Glenn McQuaid is pretty good. It’s about as scary as a regular slasher flick, which is to say it’s more thrilling then terrifying.

v_h_s-06The fourth segment is my favourite. It’s freaky and ultimately quite scary. It’s not as scary as the first segment, but it’s entertaining and has an interesting ending. It’s effective during its brief runtime. I like the camera angles, too, where the webcam films whatever is happening – and there are two cameras, one capturing what’s happening on Emily’s side, and what is happening on her boyfriend’s side (as pictured above). Kudos to the Emily character (portrayed by Helen Rogers) for staying in a creepy and potentially haunted apartment for so long. Rogers is a cute actress who captures paranoia well; and she strikes me as an older-looking and brunette version of Chloë Grace Moretz.

The final segment is a haunted house premise (like the  previous segment), where a few party animals walk into a house where a party is supposed to be happening. Craziness follows and I think the execution is pretty good. It doesn’t make the most sense or gets fully explained, but it’s creative. Some static in the cinematography adds an unsettling layer. It’s at least much scarier than Ti West’s attempt.

When I like four out of six segments, I think it’s a mild success. This is largely an experimental film, and while the cinematography is overall weak, it’s an enjoyable horror experience. Another weak aspect are the characters who really suck, but keep in mind there’s no time for development because of the limited time for each segment. The segments range from not scary at all to very scary, but I think there’s at least one or two segments most horror fans will like; besides, if you don’t like one segment, you might like the next.

Score60/100

Question: What was your favourite segment?

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The Possession (2012)

The PossessionRelease Date: August 31, 2012Director: Ole BornedalStars: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, Natasha CalisRuntime: 92 min.

There’s a lot of strange behaviour in “The Possession”. There’s a lot of moths, as well. But not a lot of scariness. Dean Morgan delivers a good performance as the caring father. The little girl who is possessed is pretty disturbing; so that translates to a decent performance in a horror movie. The beginning sets up an atmospheric movie, but the entire feature ultimately doesn’t deliver. It becomes sillier and sillier as it goes along. The first half is decent – but it skids along to its ending that doesn’t come as soon as you’d like. Director Ole Bornedal pulls out every trick in the horror book without much surprise. The unsettling mood in the first half is appealing. The true story edge is the only other intriguing aspect of the movie. But it just changes from unsettling, to exhausting and boring. It plays out like every other demonic possession/exorcism flick known to man, without many effective frights. It will still get points for effort, anyway.

Score44/100

Frankenweenie (2012)

FrankenweenieRelease Date: October 5, 2012Director: Tim BurtonStars (voices): Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin LandauRuntime: 87 min.

Tim Burton isn’t my favourite director, but he has a style about him that’s usually easy to appreciate. I haven’t seen many of his classics; but I can tell lately, his charm has been lacking in many of his films. That is most prominent in 2012’s incredibly dull “Dark Shadows”. Burton also released the animated flick “Frankenweenie”, which is actually pretty damn good.

Young Victor conducts a science experiment to bring his beloved dog Sparky back to life, only to face unintended, sometimes monstrous, consequences.

“Frankenweenie” has a real old-school charm about it, that will satisfy families and, more so, fans of classic horror. It has some attractive messages depicting science isn’t only about the facts, one must have a love and passion for it for their experiment to work properly. It also brings about ideas of the thought of life and death. It also teaches that isn’t so bad to be different. Kids’ll want to bring back their pet if (s)he died, so this movie is sure to strike an emotional chord or two with animal lovers. This movie simply works, as a fun time and a smart spin of that classic “Frankenstein” story. The beginning’s slow, but once it gets to the half-way point and many colourful (well, black and white) characters join in on the “bringing animals back to the dead”, it becomes a true blast.

This is a memorable creature feature. There might be some aspects that won’t have me rushing back to it, but it’s charming to see a stop-animation like this, coupled with an old-school feel thanks to the black and white, and its tone. On second thought, I’d probably add this movie to my collection thanks to the second half alone, because it’s an blast that doesn’t feel lazy in the way it gets resolved. I’m glad I like one of Tim Burton’s animated movies. There are some laugh-out-loud moments in this screenplay and some phenomenal voice-work in here. The most notable voice-work is from Atticus Shaffer (TV’s “The Middle”) as the hunchbacked Edgar “E” Gore, and Martin Short, who is just basically using his own sincere voice for the majority; but he is able to have a true blast as the incredibly strange Nasser, one of the school students hell-bent on winning the science fair. All of the voice performers have fun in this family movie that isn’t always easy-watching for little tykes.

Score: 75/100

The Loved Ones (2012)

The Loved OnesRelease Date: June 1, 2012 (U.S.A.)Director: Sean ByrneStars: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, Victoria ThaineRuntime: 84 min.

“The Loved Ones” has a constant tense atmopshere, and it just proves that Australians know how to make films extremely well. It follows Brent (Xavier Samuel), a young man who has just turned down Lola Stone’s invitation to the prom. Lola (Robin McLeavy) enlists the help of her father (John Brumpton) to kidnap Brent, and force him to be her prom king – regardless of what he thinks about that. As Lola and Daddy concoct their game, Brent’s mother, girlfriend and the police sheriff launch a search party to find him.

I haven’t been felt this tense during a movie for a long while; and that just says this film does its job. It’s often darkly funny, but always disturbing – in a sort-of gleeful way that makes you want to look away, but honestly, you probably won’t be able to. It takes such a simple premise of kidnapping and makes something special with it, as it constantly goes in unpredictable directions one would never expect from a film. This is why indie films can be so awesome – you’d probably never see a mainstream flick take some of the edgy roads this does. This reminds me of “Carrie”, so it’s as if a Stephen King fan just went the extra mile with the story.

However, this doesn’t go without its flaws. There’s an occuring sub-plot that shows the real prom – with one of Brent’s buddies taking a slutty chick to the prom. It definitely looks more fun than the prom Brent is at, but the film could be just as good without this somewhat redundant sub-plot. Though, I sorta appreciate it because it gives two-minute breathers from the insanely violent scenes with Lola and Daddy. The other flaw is – as great as McLeavy’s performance is as the crazed Lola – she seems too pretty to have to be the one to do the asking for prom, not vice versa.

“The Loved Ones” is so much crazier, and smarter, than one’s everyday sort-of torture porn film. It’s very smart and it feels fresh. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to the main song called “Not Pretty Enough” without feeling tense ever again. It’s a messed-up film, but it’s unforgettable, has a gleefully insane performance by Robin McLeavy, and you’ll feel disturbed more than a few times throughout this flick. It teaches you that you probably shouldn’t decline someone’s invitation to the dance. There’s drills, hammers, needles, the whole nine yards – everything the tool set of a serial killer, quite frankly… This is a experience that shouldn’t be missed; so, watch it. It’s insanely awesome.

Score: 83/100

The Babymakers (2012)

The BabymakersRelease Date: August 24, 2012

Director: Jay Chandrasekhar

Stars: Paul Schneider, Olivia Munn, Kevin Heffernan

Runtime: 95 min

Everyone likes a good comedy that doesn’t make them think every once in awhile, right? I call them brain vacations. I love them as much as the next guy – but the keyword is a good comedy. A good comedy, THE BABYMAKERS is not.

The movie follows Tommy (Paul Schneider), a man who cannot impregnate his wife. (His sperm has fallen and it can’t get up.) He decides to enlist the help of his buddies to steal some sperm he donated a few years ago.

From the get go, I should have known this would be a tedious experience for me. I guess I was blinded by my love for the Broken Lizard crew – and their involvement in any project. They’re only slightly involved, here. They don’t have a hand in the writing. Jay Chandrasekhar directs and helps produce; Kevin Heffernan helps produce, and he is one of the supporting actors. Oscar-winning Nat Faxon brings in a supporting turn, as well – and while he isn’t part of the main Broken Lizard crew, he often shows up in their movies. He was that one villain in BEERFEST with the horrid German accent. Like that narrows it down, right? And yes, you did read *Oscar-winning* correctly; he won it for co-writing the screenplay for THE DESCENDANTS, alongside Alexander Payne and the Dean on TV’s COMMUNITY, Jim Rash. (He’s actually a talented writer – and I’m quite excited for Faxon & Rash’s co-directorial debut, THE WAY, WAY BACK.) Anyway, as much as I love the Broken Lizard movies, this movie isn’t good. It seriously needs their writing.

I think I laughed a total of four or five times. The Jehova’s Witness scene feels like a very honest portrayal of their interruptions of everyday activities. The humour is shallow, and it’s mostly just a movie younger boys might enjoy. I think this movie might have worked a lot better if the whole Broken Lizard crew came aboard – but that might not even help. Chandrasekhar and Heffernan weren’t able to make me laugh a lot because of its predictable humour, inane plotting and poor writing. One of the stupidest things about the movie is the robbery itself. Honestly… If one robs a sperm bank and only takes one vial of sperm; who might the prime suspect be? Gee, I don’t know… I also don’t think Paul Schneider is a likeable enough lead to carry this film well. Nor is he very funny. He might be good in other movies, but based on what I’ve seen of him so far, I’m not impressed.

This movie just falls flat on its unfunny face. There’s an evident plot, but it isn’t a particularly good one. It’s a very stupid heist movie. You probably haven’t heard of this, but if you have, just take it off your watchlist. It’s a colossal waste of time. By the end of it all, you really just won’t care any more if they have a baby or not. The sexy Olivia Munn can’t even save this. Nor those cantaloupes. (Not her boobs. There’s a running joke of cantaloupes on a magazine cover getting everyone horny.)

30/100

The Apparition (2012)

Apparition, TheRelease Date: August 24, 2012

Director: Todd Lincoln

Stars: Ashley Greene, Sebastian Stan, Tom Felton

Runtime: 82 min

Horror movies have always kept me up at night. I’d watch them, but in my younger years; I saw very few. I believe Darkness Falls was my first horror movie. (Sadly, I don’t remember some of the first movies I’ve seen.) That one kept me up at night – and I tried to rent it again a few years back, but I just couldn’t bring myself to watch it.

I’ve seen more and more horror movies over the years, and I’ve really grown to love them. I still have problems with supernatural movies, though. That is precisely what The Apparition is. I haven’t seen paranormal flicks like Insidious, Poltergeist, or any of the Paranormal Activity movies.

This makes me think I can check those out. The Apparition has successfully wiped away my fear of these kinds of movies. This film is laughable and not scary in the slightest. The concept from the advertising campaign, where if you believe in the ghost it can kill you, is hardly present in the final cut. It isn’t explored. This takes a traditional, supernatural movie route, and ends up being awful. This doesn’t have an ounce of originality, or an interesting concept. Greene looks attractive. That’s a positive. None of these performers can do squat with the screenplay, however, and they all go underused.

The director, Todd Lincoln, doesn’t do well, either. The ending might be symbolism of the studios’ lack of faith in the project. The hands crawling on Ashley Greene’s face are probably the hands of the angry moviegoers who want their money back. I watched this on TV, and I want my time back. Half of this has already left my memory, except the jokes I made during it. The entity ties knots with some of their clothes and makes scratches in the walls. The entity might as well have hands like a wolverine, can tie knots, and is often better with a camera than cinematographer Daniel Pearl.

This couple makes so many stupid decisions, you don’t care for their outcome. At all. I’m sure if a little statue (from the Experiment they conducted earlier in the film) came out of abnormal mold in my house, I’d leave. I’m also certain that if I witnessed paranormal happenings in my home, I would check into a hotel; not pitch a tent in the backyard. Fifty feet from where the events happened. This is where the malevolent spirit, or whatever unscary being it is, shows us its exemplary camera skills.

This might be considered “so bad it’s good” in some countries. One thing is for sure, it won’t be considered good around North America any time soon. It’s mostly just a blindingly boring, dull, laughable and insanely unscary horror movie. A positive does come out of this film: It will cure any fear of supernatural horror flicks.

12/100

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Moonrise Kingdom

Release Date: June 29, 2012

Director: Wes Anderson

Stars: Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Jared Gilman

Runtime: 94 min

Moonrise Kingdom is an intelligent and witty exploration of pre-teen rebellion, young love, and finding oneself. The story follows an orphan boy scout, Sam (Jared Gilman), who just wants to be accepted; but he is a bit too peculiar to be accepted so easily. He meets Suzy (Kara Hayward), who is the black sheep of her family, and she really wishes she didn’t have one.

This contrast of characters is poignant and interesting. Gilman and Hayward truly impress and have some fine chemistry. Their innocent sex scene is so awkward, yet very compelling and beautiful. I love their relationship.

Anderson’s cinematography and style are also something to love. The story is essentially a search-and-rescue story, meets coming-of-age tale. The themes, drama and comedy have a great balance. The plot, characters and the performers are the strongest aspects of the film. Though, it’s all a little boring. That might be because I am not yet accustomed to Wes Anderson’s pace of storytelling. I’ve always heard that his films are an acquired taste; and now I truly know why. Since this is my first Wes Anderson viewing, I don’t love it very much just yet. I’d like to watch all of his other movies; and then revisit this one.

Hayward and Gilman are fantastic. It’s also amazing to see Bruce Willis, Bill Murray and Edward Norton, my favourite actor, share the screen together. It’s cinema magic. I liked it a fair deal, even if I did feel bored during. It’s a seemingly acquired taste; so I’d love to revisit this after making myself accustomed to Anderson’s style. This really is a well-made dramedy.

78/100