Sunday, December 4, 2011

Brian Sammons Hi-Def Horror Hoedown!

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011)– Blu-ray review

Director: Rupert Wyatt
Cast: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto

Ok so it’s not necessarily a horror movie, but it is a reboot (yes I said reboot and not remake) of a great movie written in part by the guy that gave us all THE TWILIGHT ZONE, so that’s more than enough pedigree for me. So get ready to pick some bugs from your buddy’s hide with you filthy paws, its monkey time.

RISE is set in modern day earth where we humans still call the shots. Thankfully there is no capsule falling from the starts with space chimps in it. Unfortunately it’s the old chestnut of trying to defeat Alzheimer’s disease buy genetically altering animals that gets folks into trouble. Come on people, that’s the exact same setup for DEEP BLUE SEA, and you know how well that went. Anyway this time around the well-meaning scientists are experimenting on apes instead of sharks, so I guess that’s a little better. This testing results in a supper smart mommy monkey who goes berserk one day defending her super smart baby, so she is killed and the project is scrapped by the typical evil rich businessman. But one scientist, played by a rather wooden James Franco, sneaks the genius chimp out of the testing labs to raise as his own. This Mensa monkey is named Caesar and yes, that name should sound familiar to you, for more than just historic and pizza reasons.

Caesar grows up like your typical hyper intelligent primate, looking on the outside world with longing from his attic bedroom. The classic tale of “who am I?” is played out as Caesar is smart enough to know that he’s different from his adoptive father and grandfather (John Lithgow doing a good job as Franco’s Alzheimer’s afflicted father) but he doesn’t know why he’s different. Things then go from sad to bad when the demented granddad goes outside and gets accosted by the world’s biggest jackass neighbor. When Caesar swings in (literally) to save the day and bites the douchebag’s fingers off, he gets sentenced to monkey jail until the courts decides what to do with him. And as you would guess, bad goes to worse as the ape house is run by Brian Cox and has Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter films) as a scumbag assistant. Yeah, I’m sure Caesar will have no problems with either of them.

The movie next becomes a bit of a primate prison film with Caesar having to prove himself to the other apes, including the big bully chimp of the cellblock. Meanwhile the well-meaning scientist tries to get his ape buddy back, but at the same time he continues his work on the wonder drug that made Caesar so smart. But before long Caesar decided he’s had enough of man’s cruelty to his kind, so he steals a bunch of the smart drug, doses all of the apes in the monkey prison, and stages the great ape revolt.

I have to admit that when I started this film I had very low expectations. While I liked the original PLANET OF THE APES movie, I was never a fan of all the various sequels, so I didn’t have any fanboy love for this series. Also the previews I had seen for the flick just looked silly; it looked like a CGI monkey fest where apes could somehow overcome a SWAT team complete with machineguns and helicopters. That said, I was surprisingly won over by this film. Sure there were a lot of silly bits in it, but that’s to be expected in any movie with super smart apes in it. But here the story was surprisingly engaging, all the actors did a very good job, and even James Franco was less wooded than usual. Special kudos must be given to Caesar as both a good looking CGI creation, and a fine performance by the master of mocap (motion capture) acting, Andy Serkis, who mastered his virtual acting skills by playing Gollum in the LORD OF THE RINGS films and Kong in 2005 KING KONG remake. The vast majority of time I can’t stand CGI, but here I not only didn’t mind it, but I sometimes forgot I was looking at a computer created character. Higher praise than that, I cannot think of.

As far as extras goes, this is one of those three-way combo packs that I like so much. That means it has the Blu-ray, DVD, and digital copy of the movie to choose from. In addition there are a ton of goodies on the Blu-ray disc including audio commentaries, deleted scenes, and a boatload of featurettes with many of them focusing on the CGI/mocap aspect of the film and on Andy Serkis in particular. A nice collection of trailers, concept art, a look at the previous APES film, and more round out the impressive list of extras to be found on this Blu-ray.

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES was a fun, popcorn-muncher of a film with a lot more depth in it then I would have thought. I think it will satisfy both fans of the original series and those who have never seen any of the previous APE films. And as someone who was neither, I really liked it too. So consider this bit of monkey business recommended.

FINAL DESTINATION 5 (2011)– Blu-ray review

Director: Steven Quale
Cast: Nicholas D'Agosto, Emma Bell, Arlen Escarpeta

Yep it’s another FINAL DESTINATION movie and since the plot for them haven’t changed a single, solitary bit since the first movie back in 2000, you know exactly what to expect. Some young and far too pretty people narrowly avoid a massive and over the top death scenario, be it an airplane crash, killer roller-coaster, world’s worst traffic accident or whatever, by someone getting a psychic vision of the impending doom. This cheat really pisses the grim reaper off to no end who then strives to put things right through the use of usually overly complex deaths. Think of the traps from SAW as seen through the eyes of a morbid Rube Goldberg, with a healthy
dose of happenstance and whimsy mixed in for good measure.

The protagonists always try to find a way to escape their fatal fate while all their friends around them die gloriously gory deaths, and by the end of the movie they will think they did cheat death a second time only to get a “surprise” (yep, those are finger quotes) death at the end proving that no one can escape their fate. And seriously, that’s it, that’s the exact same story, over and over again, with only new death scenes cut and pasted into the movie to make one film the least bit different from those that came before it. Hell, even the endless chain of FRIDAY THE 13TH movies had more variety and creativity than that.

But you know what, that’s ok. Because the real star of these movies have never been the mad-libs with gore story, or cute but forgettable twenty-something actors, or the competent at best, but in no way thrilling direction, or even Tony (Candyman) Todd as the voice of death. No, you go to see a FINAL DESTINATION movie for the crazy kills and sensational splatter and these films have always delivered the goods. Thankfully Part 5 is no exception to this and the kills come fast and bloody in this latest installment.

The one, and pretty much only, new wrinkle to this tail is the setup, the aforementioned big catastrophe that the stars of the show narrowly escape. This time it’s a bridge collapse in all its CGI splendor. After that come the usual “who will die now and how” part of the film and this is where these movies shine as death gets medieval on their collective asses for daring to turn him down when he first asked them to dance. However, as rote as this part of the film is, I must say that the ending of FINAL DESTINATION 5 was, in a word, super-freaking-awesome. Seriously, it’s the best ending of any of the movies from the series and if you are a fan of the DESTINATION flicks, it is worth the price of admission alone just to see it. Also as impractical as it first seems, in retrospect the movie plays 100% fair and honest with the big twist. Go ahead, watch it a second time and you’ll notice all the clues you first missed.

As far as extras on the new Blu-ray from Warner Brothers goes, like the movie its self, the majority of them focus on the stars of the show; the death scenes. From alternate versions of the deaths, to behind the scenes bits on the technical aspects on creating those deaths, to split-screen features on two of the big set pieces. Sadly there was no commentary track, but what would such a thing be, anyway? “Ok here we thought it would be cool if someone died during lasik eye surgery. Now here we were thinking about acupuncture needles…”

FINAL DESTINATION 5 does nothing new, but what it does, it does well. If you’re a fan of the FD flicks then you’ll dig this one too. If you’re not, then this movie won’t do a thing to change your mind. If you’ve got a jones to see people get squished, sliced, bashed, stabbed, electrocuted, and all sorts of other icky things happen to them real good, then this movie is the one for you.

CHILLERAMA (2011)– Blu-ray review

Directors: Adam Green, Joe Lynch, Adam Rifkin, Tim Sullivan
Cast: Richard Riehle, Adam Rifkin, Ray Wise, Joel David Moore

Hello fans of the wonderfully weird, the gorgeously gross, and the fantastically f***** up, do I have a movie for you. It’s CHILLERAMA, a collection of four short films gathered CREEPSHOW style that bills itself as “the ultimate midnight movie.” Does it live up to that lofty claim, or is it like many of the movies it rips off – er, I mean pay homage to, and its more hyperbole than honestly good? Well jump in the car and let’s head out to the drive-in to find out.

Speaking of drive-ins, they’re not only the perfect place to see this movie, but the setting for the wraparound film that holds the other three together. “Zom-B-Movie” takes place on the last night of a local drive-in that plans to go out in style by having an all-night freaky flick fest. Unfortunately what was not in the plan was for one of the employees to dig up his dead wife for some “dead head” before going to work. And yes, dead head is exactly what you think it is. However little miss cold and rotting doesn’t like the idea of necrophilia, even when she’s the corpse, so she bites one of her hubby’s bean bags off, which surprisingly doesn’t upset him all that much as he still goes to work. So as CHILLERAMA progresses, and the other three short films play out, things start to get weird at the drive-in as a slight case of zombie-itus begins to spread. However these undead don’t want your flesh, well at least not for eating. No, they’re only hungry for you love, whether you want to give it to them or not. Yeah they are sex crazy rape zombies, and if the idea of that puts you off this movie, then you should just stop reading now, as things only get weirder from there.

“Wadzilla” is your typical 1950s sci-fi, giant monster movie, if the giant monster in question was a huge, man-eating sperm. Yep poor old Miles Munson, played very well by this segment’s director; Adam Rifkin, has very slow, weak sperm. Taking a new and untested drug to give him stronger little swimmers, he gets more than he bargained for when, after rubbing one out before a hot date, he pops out a fist sized sperm that just keeps growing and growing and growing. Pretty soon its giant-fire-breathing-lizard size and it’s up to Miles and the good old American army to save the day.

“I was a Teenage Wearbear” is the age old story of boy meets girl, boy would rather meet another boy, boy gets bit on the butt during a wrestling match and starts to transform into a bear when aroused. And if you’re familiar with gay slang then you will know why bear is far more appropriate than wolf here. Oh and all this is set to sunny 50s style music. That’s right this is a high school musical with sexual confused teenage shapeshifters. What’s not to love about that?

Last, but in no way least, is “The Diary of Anne Frankenstein” by Adam “HATCHET” Green. In this movie Adolf Hitler gets a hold of Frankenstein’s diary and plans to make a murderous monster to win him the war. Naturally he wants his monster to be as frightening as possible, so he makes him in the image of what terrifies him most, a Jew. Too bad for Hitler (and I never thought I’d type that) he never thought there would be a downside to creating a huge, hulking, indestructible Jew. Then his pet monster, named Meshugannah and played by Kane “the best Jason Voorhees ever” Hodder, realizes that he really shouldn’t be doing the bidding of the chief Nazi and does what everyone on earth, besides other Nazis, would love to do.

And as if all this wasn’t enough, there’s even a mini-movie within one of the short movies called “Deathecation” about…well take a guess. So CHILLERAMA gives you blood, guts, necro-rape, naked boobies, killer sperm, Nazis, impalement on a large werebear penis, show tunes, foul language, and poop jokes. Oh and it is also funny as hell, if you are into over-the-top gross-out humor that doesn’t care about what is nice, acceptable, or family friendly. I, for one, completely loved this movie for that.

To compliment this crazy film are a nice collection of extras on this Blu-ray. First and foremost is a video commentary track with all four directors. And when I say video, I mean just that as the commentators appear in a little window in the upper left of the screen. As you can expect from a meeting of the minds that brought us this frightfully funny flick, there’s a lot of clowning around and I found the commentary a very entertaining addition to this film. Additionally there are a bunch of featurettes of varying lengths, with one of the best being a thirty minute making of for “The Diary of Anne Frankenstein”. Tim Sullivan’s "I was a Teenage Werebear" does double duty, providing a twenty minute behind the scenes feature and a collection of deleted scenes. Sadly the same love is not shown to “Wadzilla” and “Zom-B-Movie” as both of those are just represented by a few deleted scenes. There is a very short (five minutes or so) interview with the quartet of directors from FAMOUS MONSTERS magazine and a just slightly longer interview (seven minutes, give or take) with the freaky four at 2011’s Comic Con. A couple of trailers bring the extras to an end.

CHILLERAMA is a fun and funny flick perfect for those not easily offended. It’s bloody, silly, sexy, and is totally the movie you would never watch with your mother. If that sounds like the flick for you then snap yourself up a copy today. Consider this one very recommended for all out craziness and not taking anything seriously. If only more movies dared to do this, the world would be a better, if weirder, place. Of that I am certain.

--Brian Sammons