Monday, December 16, 2013

Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

Starring: Toby Jones, Cosimo Fusco, Antonio Mancino

Writer & Director: Peter Strickland

Synopsis (IFC):
Mild-mannered sound engineer Gilderoy arrives in Rome to work on the soundtrack to a film called The Equestrian Vortex, a tale of witchcraft and murder set inside an all-girl riding academy. Before long he becomes entranced by the film's mysteriously terrifying allure, and the lines between reality and fantasy begin to blur. Now Gilderoy's own mind has become the battleground between his horrifying delusions and his desperate grasp on the real world.

The story for Berberian Sound Studio may be considered paper thin or just really basic. It's the visual style, music, and sound effects that make it so damn intriguing. That, and a handful of great performances – a couple of which are straight up terrifying. The lead, Gilderoy, is more or less a pushover, working totally out of his element within a genre he knows nothing about. Moreover, he's working side-by-side with the film's producer, Francesco, who is quite a prick. Aside from these negatives, watching Gilderoy – a master of his craft – record, edit, and perform the sound effects for The Equestrian Vortex is nothing short of mesmerizing. But it's on a completely different level once he begins losing grip, caused by the scenes being show before him.

We never see the terror of The Equestrian Vortex. Yet, Berberian Sound Studio manages to be terrifying in itself. No, it's not a horror film. And no, we aren't watching actors/actresses being brutally murdered beyond the lens of a camera; we're seeing radishes get ripped apart, frying pans sizzle, lettuce getting stabbed, and fucking watermelons being smashed into oblivion. This is some of what's used for murderous sound effects. I'd wager that the thought of fruits and vegetables meeting a grizzly demise on camera doesn't sound creepy at all. Well, it is, for one reason or another. And even when it isn't, it's still an entertaining and eye gluing experience.

The film strongly succeeds off of its visual and audible presentation. Some shots go from crystal clear perfection to a blur, as if you're watching from eyes drowning in tears. The scenes of Gilderoy working the soundboard, matched with a performer shrieking the fear of a thousand souls from a confined recording booth is mind blowing. These instances are hands down frightening at times, due to character close-ups and execution from the actors/actresses. It's like watching someone hit insane levels of speaking in tongues. Eyes go bloodshot, hands are clenching, and heads are shaking as if they're being exorcised. You won't want to blink.

Toby Jones as the lead, Gilderoy, is fantastic. The character is like a timid puppy of sorts. Even when we see a different side of him later in the film, he's still quite subdued. Cosimo Fusco as Francesco the producer is a great counterpart to Gilderoy's character, too. The man is all about getting the job done, and he's not very caring about his employees. Antonio Mancino plays Santini, the director of The Equestrian Vortex. Kind of a rock star type person. Shows up here and there, happy go lucky at face value, but something's off. Do not make the mistake of calling his film “Horror”. Fatma Mohamed plays Silvia, who voices a character for the Giallo. Silvia is my favorite next to Gilderoy, and Toby Jones and Mohamed have some great moments together.

Broadcast's soundtrack for Berberian Sound Studio is an Italian horror fan's wet dream. Once you get to the scene where Toby sits down and has his first experience with The Equestrian Vortex, I'd be surprised if that's not your selling point for the movie. It's so incredibly coherent to the genre.

Final Words:
If more style than substance isn't typically your thing, you may find disappointment in Berberian Sound Studio. But on a visual level, I doubt it. The film looks and sounds glorious, and the acting is ace. Available now on DVD from IFC, as well as Netflix Instant.

- Eric (Brobocop)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Back Online. Back On Doodie - Tales From the Batcave Goes to Hell!

Back Online. Back On Doodie.

Tales From the Batcave

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday

By: Mitch Reaves

I tend to find at least something to enjoy with just about everything I watch. I've never been one of those people who watch things just to be able to bitch about them. For me to say that I absolutely hate something that I intentionally sit down to watch, because it’s something I was interested in, is a rarity. Sure, some things have been disappointments, some have been downright awful, but still there’s normally at least one thing that I can take away from the experience as a positive. I said all that to say this, the day I saw Jason go to Hell in a small theater in LaGrange, Georgia, I fucking hated the shit out of it.

Oh how well I remember the summer it was released, it was way back in 1993 and I was but a wee lad, 15 years of age. I had just really gotten into horror around the age of 13, and when the first news came along that Jason would once again be on the big screen, well, you can imagine my excitement. A brand new Friday the 13th film, and I was going to get to see it. It’s 20 years later, and I still get ridiculously excited for new Jason, at 15, I felt like I was going to die before the movie came out. My excitement was further exacerbated by New Line Cinema, who marketed the holy hell out of the movie. There wasn't a single day that went by that I didn't see a TV spot, or see an ad in a magazine. Jason fever was spreading across the world, and I had a terminal case of it.

Finally the day came, and my mother dropped my brother and I off at the theater, which as mentioned was in a small town in Georgia, which was a 40 minute ride from the even smaller town I grew up in next door in Alabama. We got there pretty early, as I was certain the movie was going to sell out, and I would have to wait another week, which just wasn't acceptable. Of course my brother and I ended up being two of only a handful of people in the theater, which looking back shouldn't have been a surprise, but at the time was. The theater lights went out, and I’m fairly certain I let a girly squeal escape my lips as the trailers began.

Then the movie started. Things kicked off to a pretty normal start for a Friday flick. Camp, at night, naked chick, and finally… JASON FUCKING VOORHEES. I was 100% glued to the screen, sitting on the edge of my seat, prepared for 90 minutes of amazing. As we all know, about 10 minutes later, Jason takes a mortar to the face, and doesn't reappear in the movie as himself until the last 10 minutes or so. What. The. Fuck. I was crushed. I left the theater angrier than I had ever been at a movie. I simply couldn't fathom that New Line had screwed up so badly, and this flick was what I’d been waiting so impatiently for so long to see. Even the fact that the ending was pretty badass, and Freddy’s hand made it’s infamous cameo didn't help. Devastated doesn't even begin to describe how I felt. I even came close to swearing off the franchise for good, it was that big of a deal to me. Of course I understand how ridiculous that idea was now, but you try telling 15 year old me that he was being irrational over a movie.

For many, many years after that I refused to even acknowledge the existence of Jason Goes to Hell. It had hurt me like no other movie ever had. It wasn't until Jason X was getting ready to release in 2001, 8 years later, that I ever laid eyes on it again, and I wasn't happy about it either. I did as I’m sure most of us do when a new Friday is getting ready to release, I had myself a marathon and watched every film in the franchise, and when the time came, I even went and bought a copy of Jason Goes to Hell. It’s the completionist in me I suppose, I had to have all of them, even that one. I popped it in, ready to fast forward most of it, and yep, it was pretty much exactly as I remembered it. But something funny was happening, the mortar landed and I was well past that part, and I hadn't hit the fast forward button once. I wasn't even mildly upset either. Fuck me, was I enjoying this? It turns out I was, I guess knowing what to expect helped, and while it was still my least favorite sequel in the series, yanno, that beginning was pretty badass, and that ending was supremely badass, and FREDDY’S GLOVE!

To this day I can honestly say that while it’s by no means my go-to Friday the 13th movie, I like Jason Goes to Hell a little more every time I watch it. It’s got a dark sense of humor, a needlessly complicated and convoluted supernatural origin thing going, but it’s gone from a furious rage inducing pile of shit to a movie that I view as adorably awful but trying it’s hardest. For me, that makes it hard not to love.

* Mitch runs Tales from the Batcave, one of the first blogs I followed shortly after starting Back Online Back On Duty. We hit it off immediately, due to our love for werewolf movies...specifically Silver Bullet. You can check out the Tales From the Batcave blog HERE, and the Facebook Page HERE. Thanks for bringin' the Doodie, homie! Happy Friday the 13th!*

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Sightseers (2012)

Sightseers (2012)

Starring: Alice Lowe, Kennith Hadley, Steve Oram

Writers: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Amy Jump (Additional Material)

Director: Ben Wheatley

Synopsis (IFC):
Chris wants to show his new girlfriend Tina his world and he wants to do it his way – on a journey through the British Isles in his beloved RV. Tina has led a sheltered life and there are things Chris simply needs her to see. But it doesn't take long for annoying tourists, overbooked campsites and Tina's meddling mother to spoil Chris' dream. Now he's out to prove that hell truly hath no fury like a vacationer scorned.

I went into Sightseers more or less blind eyed. Other than seeing a trailer – which doesn't show the full greatness of the film – I did no other research. Admittedly, I still haven't watched Ben Wheatley's Kill List, which I hear is insanely excellent. I'll definitely be seeking it out now, and anything else Wheatley's name is attached to, because Sightseers blew my damn mind. It's a perfect mix of hilarity, brutality, and strangely, endearment.

At the end of the day, our lead characters may not be the most well strung individuals, but that doesn't mean that they aren't without sweetness. It's kind of impossible to not fall in love with Chris and Tina, despite some of the heaviness that unfolds during the story. They are actually easy to relate to in a lot of ways. Have you ever been in a situation where someone near you does something that just completely rubs you the wrong way, so much that you want to take action? You know you have. I have visions of Michael Douglas Falling Down syndrome all the time. But that's it; they're just visions, and you can't follow up with them. That's the beauty of having a film like Sightseers, where characters DO follow up with actions, allowing the viewer to blurt out a morbidly resounding “Hell yeah” followed by laughter.

On the acting front, Alice Lowe and Steve Oram – who additionally wrote the story and scouted locations – are absolutely monsters in their roles of Tina and Chris. They nail every aspect of their relationship, from love to spite to anger and so on. What makes this all the more admirable is that both characters are pretty restrained personality-wise. There's some other great secondary performances in the film, but it's really the two leads who shine above all.

Revealing the horror factor of Sightseers would be a true injustice, but damn, it definitely has some graphic moments. Honestly, the sheer violence behind some of the actions is what makes it so heavy hitting. The bloodletting is extra cheese on the already awesome nachos.

Jim Williams has a great score and the movie carries an awesome rock soundtrack, as well. What's nice about the music here – along with some sleek camera direction and slo-mo moments – is how well it contrasts with the insanity of the story.

Final Word:
I can see Sightseers ending up on a lot of “Best of” lists, given that it just dropped on DVD in the states. It will definitely be somewhere in mine. Now available from IFC, and also streaming on Netflix. Well worth your time, friends.

Special Features on DVD- Interviews, Trailer

- Eric (Brobocop)

Monday, December 9, 2013

Man of Tai Chi (2013)

Man of Tai Chi (2013)

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Iko Uwais, Tiger Chen

Writer: Michael G. Cooney

Director: Keanu Reeves

Synopsis (Anchor Bay):
Keanu Reeves stars as a wealthy owner of a Beijing underground fight club who recruits a humble Tai Chi student to his closed-circuit battles. But when the young man is seduced by money and power, it will trigger a war between the Hong Kong police, the world's deadliest combatants, and a peaceful spiritual discipline turned lethal new fighting style.

Man of Tai Chi is great action wrapped around a pedestrian narrative. It's kind of like a video game. One of those fighters from Dreamcast or Playstation 2 era that tries to add some depth to the characters, but in the end you don't give a shit, because you just want to fight. This flick would have a seriously high replay value if it were 105 minutes of straight ass kicking. It's the story that weighs it down a bit, along with a pretty hilarious performance from Keanu Reeves.

Saying Reeves is a terrible actor is somewhat of a double edged sword for me. On one hand, I do believe that assessment is accurate- while on the other I surprisingly like a whole hell of a lot of films he's been in. That being said, it's interesting to see him take on more of a villainous role in Man of Tai Chi. If you look at the film from a video game style perspective, his performance makes sense. He's really hamming it up here. Though, what's confusing is whether or not he's trying to. It also sorta feels like he's still stuck in his Matrix glory, but it's really hard to blame him. That movie made him look fairly cool. 

Man of Tai Chi has fight choreography from legendary Yuen Woo Ping, and Tiger Chen – who worked stunts for the Matrix trilogy – takes the lead role. Mad credit can be given to Chen, as he really stands out as a character conflicted with the good and evil of the world. As far as acting goes, he runs circles around Reeves. Fights circles around him too, for that matter. 

There's a review blurb on the back of the Blu-ray case that cites Man of Tai Chi as being the best martial arts film since The Raid. That's a seriously bold statement, and one that I can't agree with. Taking nothing away from Man of Tai Chi, as the fights are indeed awesome, but they don't pack the same punch. Not even close. More importantly, at the end of the day, this is a much different type of film. So, be advised not to fully read into that comparison. With that out of the way, the fighting in this film is fast paced and highly exciting, and Reeves is spot on as far as camera placement to capture it all. It's very obvious that he's a fan of the genre.

Additionally, there's some great choices of music that accompanies all the ass kicking. Well, not even just for the fighting. Sometimes the music does a fantastic job of making Tiger Chen look straight up awesome while he's walking around the city and whatnot. It made me feel cool just watching it.

Final Words:
All in all, not a bad directorial debut for Keanu Reeves. It would be nice to see more come from him behind the camera. Man of Tai Chi is light on story and often silly, but there's enough feet and fists vs. faces and other body parts to keep you entertained.

Anchor Bay/Starz releases Man of Tai Chi on DVD and Blu-ray Tuesday, December 10th, 2013. Special features include a "Making of Man of Tai Chi" featurette and an audio commentary with Keanu Reeves and Tiger Chen. Order the DVD HERE and the Blu-ray HERE.

- Eric (Brobocop)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane... Yep, Even Me! (Review)

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006)

Starring: Amber Heard, Anson Mount, Whitney Able

Writer: Jacob Forman

Director: Jonathan Levine

Synopsis (Anchor Bay):
Amber Heard stars as Mandy Lane, an untouchable Texas high-school beauty who is invited by her classmates to a weekend getaway at a secluded ranch. But as the sun goes down and the party rages on, the festivities take a disturbing turn. And for Mandy Lane, a night of endless horror has just begun.

That synopsis is pretty misleading, but rightfully so, as All the Boys Love Mandy Lane will work best when very little is known about it. It's an absolute shame that Jonathan Levine's 70's lookinh slasher-esque feature film debut sat on shelves collecting dust for seven years, before earning a US release. Criminal is a better word. In a way, this may even hurt the status of the film in the long run. Let's face it- hype has a way of determining a lot of people's overall reaction to a film. I’m not sure why, but nearly everyone at one point has bought into hype. It's best to put widespread acclaim – as well as disdain – to the wayside, because it's YOUR judgment that should determine how you feel about a film. It doesn't matter if a thousand people say something is either awesome OR if it's shit; it matters what YOU think, and that's important to remember while trying to absorb a film.

With that being said, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is now available on DVD and Blu-ray, thanks to Anchor Bay/Starz. It's waiting for the horror masses to take it in. The movie may feel like somewhat of a myth to a lot of people at this point, and that's okay. I'm not here to do a big plot breakdown, because that just wouldn't be fair. What I can say is that when seeing it a few years back I was pretty taken by it. As a fan, it's one of those movies you want to show to all of your friends. One of its best elements has nothing to do with the horror side, but more so with the lead character, Mandy. Moreover, what her image is. I feel like every high school has that one boy or girl that everyone swoons over, all cliques aside. Either they want to be a friend, a lover, or just know them in some manner, other than seeing them in a school hallway. This person isn't always part of a popular crowd; they are above that. They have a glow. This is who Mandy Lane is, and Jacob Forman's writing, along with Levine's direction, really captures that perfectly.

Even seeing this film years back, it wasn't impossible look at Amber Heard and just feel that she'd have a successful career. There's something about her, other than how gorgeous she is. There's a whole lot of charisma in this girl. Even her small role in Zombieland – which I am admittedly not a huge fan of – is exceptional. She's only around for a bit but holy hell, did I wish I could help her out. Then, she's a complete sexy badass in Drive Angry. But All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is basically where it started, and she's really damn good . Not to discredit the rest of the cast, but Heard honestly stands out. Everyone else gives what it takes, but there's less complexity. In a way, that speaks volumes about their performances. Most are portraying roles of stereotypical high school kids, and it's pretty convincing. A few of them have the depth of a rain puddle, but it makes sense and feels right. Anson Mount stands out as Garth, the ranch hand. He's a good lookin' fellow – I got a Mel Gibson/Mad Max vibe, by appearance – with a charming voice. For one reason or another, Garth has some type of connection to Mandy. Perhaps just because the movie title is true. Either way, Heard and Mount have some great screen time together that helps build background for their characters.

I don't want to say a whole lot about the horror side, but it's definitely layered in thick during the second half. There's several genres coming all at once here, to where at times you might forget you're watching a horror film. It's admirable when a writer and director can do that and still manage to keep things interesting. I feel the pacing is spot on. It helps that sunning visuals are in abundance. Lots of color saturated camera work, flaring, great wide shots and low angle work – which works well for replacing how safe the story feels at times by injecting an ominous tone.

The soundtrack is another high point for the film. It's a mix of indie-ish type jams, 80s tunes, classical, and more. It all adds to the accompanied scenes very nicely. Mark Schulz provides the film score, and like the rock/pop soundtrack, it fits the tone well.

Final Word:
That's about the size of it. As far as I'm concerned, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane deserves attention, and hopefully it will gather a cult status now that it can be seen by the masses. No promises can be made, but hopefully it adds up to all the good feedback you've heard for more than half a decade now. Or even more hopefully, you just forget about all that feedback.

Special Features:
As far as special features on the Anchor Bay release, Jonathan Levine's commentary is a total delight to listen to. It's the first time he's watched the film basically since it's original film festival runs. You'd think that with a time gap that extensive there would be a lot of dead air, or things forgotten. He actually gives all kinds of great information. He also unashamedly admits to things he wished he had done differently. I admire that in a filmmaker. Lastly, the dude is funny as hell. Well worth listening to.

Now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Anchor Bay/Starz.

- Eric (Brobocop)