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Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Red Stallion (1947): What’s That, Lassie? Timmy’s Fallen Down a Training Track?

The Red Stallion (Lesley Selander, 1947)

 

photo credit: tvlistins.zap2it.com

Any similarity to the cover of John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony is purely unintentional.

The Red Stallion was Hollywood’s attempt to create, in essence, a horsey version of Rusty the German Shepherd—a series of movies featuring an animal hero that would appeal to kids. (To the best of my knowledge, only two Red Stallion films got made, this and 1948’s The Red Stallion in the Rockies.) And for what it is, it does its job passably well, but that’s for what it is; it was a quickie attempt to cash in on a current trend. Done well, this sort of thing can be a classic (the obvious example being Black Beauty), but this is carbon-copy-out-the-door stuff, full of emotional shortcuts and manipulation. Which is not to say it isn’t still a fun movie if you’re in the mood for a family-friendly animal tale.

photo credit: ebay

Seriously, this movie is so obscure that the only thing close to a screencap I can find is production stills being auctioned off on ebay?

Plot: Joel (Ted Donaldson, who also starred in the Rusty movies), while out on a make-believe hunt, actually runs across a real bear and scares it off with his gun. He discovers the bear had killed a horse who was protecting her newborn foal and, after a bit of deliberation, he takes the foal home, intending to nurse it back to health. He lives with his grandma, Aggie (Mary Poppins‘ Jane Darwell), a feisty old broad, and I use that term in the most affectionate sense, who has fallen on hard times and owes her creditors over ten grand (and this was back when ten grand actually meant something). When Joel discovers that the recently-deceased mare was an award-winning thoroughbred, he gets the obvious idea in his head, and sets out to train Red, as he calls the horse, to race for money. That, however, is no job for a ten-year-old boy. Enter Any MacBride (Bye Bye Birdie‘s Robert Page), a horse trainer on a nearby ranch who sees the look of eagles in Red’s eye…

photo credit: ebay

…yep, seriously.

It’s the post-WW2 equivalent of a Wonderful World of Disney TV movie; as soon as the major conflicts are set up (and the romantic subplot between MacBride and the rancher’s daughter, played by Giant‘s Noreen Nash), you know how it’s all going to turn out. It’s fun, it’s enjoyable, it’s entirely empty calories, but you won’t regret having watched it when you’re done. ** ½

 

Not a trailer in sight.

Senki (Shadows) (2007): There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe

Senki (Shadows) (Milcho Manchevski, 2007)

 

photo credit: filimadami.com

“Well, the good news is, it’s not lung cancer…”

Senki was Macedonia’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2007. It didn’t get nominated, although that’s the year the Academy infamously passed over 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days as well. Not that this movie is anything close to 4/3/2, but it’s an interesting, if kind of derivative of Japanese New Horror, flick that combines the American TV series ER with Ring and its ilk to come up with something that you will at least not regret watching.

photo credit: observer.com

“It’s a beautiful day for a picnic. Did you bring the merlot?”

Lazar Perkov (The Border Post‘s Borce Nacev) is a doctor who, at the beginning of the movie, is involved in a very nasty car accident—one of those “if your head had been a couple of inches the other way you’d be dead” kinds of things. But he survives, and attempts to move on with his life. The only problem is, he’s starting to see weird things, things that no one else can see. Being a doctor, he suspects some sort of brain injury, but is it? Or could it be something more?

photo credit: kinomusorka.ru

“Yes, in case you were wondering, I AM hotter without the glasses.”

The film plays out less like a horror movie than it does a drama with mystery elements and the occasional touch of horror. And as long as you know that’s what you’re in for—that things will not be blowing up every five minutes and long-haired Japanese ghosts aren’t going to be crawling out of televisions—then you can probably sit back and enjoy this one for the leisurely-paced drama/mystery that it is. (Note: you may not even consider it a mystery, depending on how much attention you’re paying to early scenes; the entire “mystery” angle is explained in the first fifteen minutes or so, and even if you know all the answers, it’s still a pretty good drama.) Oscar-worthy? Not really. But not awful, either. ** ½

 

Trailer. Subs? Don’t be silly!

Halloween Night (2006): The Film That Launched a Thousand Mockbusters

Halloween Night (Mark Atkins, 2006)

 

photo credit: themoonisadeadworld.net

check the photo credit on this one, and then go check out the blog, it’s rad. (If you don’t know how to grab alt-text, just go to themoonisadeadworld.net and check it out.)

I’ve seen a number of the “mockbusters” put out by The Asylum over the years, and they’ve all been crap. And then there is Halloween Night, which may have been the first of the mockbusters, after they decided that actually putting out good, original films wasn’t getting them anywhere (they were responsible for King of the Ants, Stuart Gordon’s best movie since the mid-eighties, before they went down this path, for example). It is certainly, of those I have seen, the least obvious a copy of the movie it apes. It is also the most watchable of the mockbusters I have seen; I do not believe these two things are unrelated.

 

photo credit: horrornews.net

I have only one burning desire, let me stand next to your… ah, forget it.

Plot: David (Snakes on a Train‘s Derek Osedach in one of his last screen appearances before he headed behind the camera to become a full-time producer) is a guy who has been putting on haunted houses for Halloween every year, but really wants to amp things up, so he hatches a plan with his old college roommate Darryl (Bikini Spring Break‘s Jared Cohn) and friend Todd (YouCube‘s Nicholas Daly Clark) to spring on his guests. Meanwhile, however, crazed and horribly disfigured serial killer Chris Vale (You Don’t Mess with the Zohan‘s Scot Nery) has broken out of the mental hospital where he’s been held for the past ten years and is headed home… which happens to be the house where David is planning his hijinks. Put a serial killer together with a bunch of drunk kids and what do you get?

photo credit: horrorchannel.co.uk

“Sure, I may be in the maximum security ward of an asylum, but I can leave whenever I want. Honest!”

 

…pretty much every slasher film made in the past thirty years, really. The Asylum, screenwriter Michael Gingold (Leeches!), and director Mark Atkins (Sand Sharks) weren’t going for originality here, but they were at least keeping the Halloween references to a few in-jokes (Todd, stopped at a roadblock, mentions to the officer that he’s coming from Russellville, for example) rather than copying the movie as close to frame-for-frame as they could get away with, like they normally do.

I should rush to add that when I say Halloween Night is a better, more watchable movie than A Hunting in Salem or Transmorphers or Death Racers or… that I don’t mean to imply that this is a good movie in any way. It’s about as awful as one would expect from the Asylum’s stable. But it’s not the worst movie I saw this week, so that’s something. *

 

Trailer.

The Lost (2006): Gotta Ketchum All!

The Lost (Chris Sivertson, 2006)

 

photo credit: tarantularangler.com

“true story” is stretching it a bit, but not nearly as much as one might like.

Chris Sivertson, longtime friend and colleague of Lucky McKee, was bitten by the Jack Ketchum bug right around the same time McKee was, and the first Sivertson/Ketchum adaptation, The Lost, appeared in 2006. All well and good, with a few caveats: (a) Sivertson (who would soon after be responsible for the Lindsay Lohan vehicle I Know Who Killed Me) is not nearly the director McKee is and (b) The Lost is not one of Ketchum’s better novels. Put these two things together and your chances of coming up with brilliance are pretty slim.

photo credit: findeseance.com

“now, see, that was just a warm-up. next, I shoot you!”

Plot: Four years ago, Ray Pye (Red White and Blue‘s Marc Senter), while wandering the woods with his friends Jennifer (Rocker‘s Shay Astar) and Tim (Drillbit Taylor‘s Alex Frost), came upon two young ladies out hiking (Misty’s First Female Lover‘s Misty Mundae and Ruby Larocca) on a romantic getaway weekend. When all was said and done, one of the hikers was dead, the other barely alive, and Ray Pye and his friends had a very dark secret to keep. Fast-forward to the present day. Charlie Schilling (Kill Bill‘s Michael Bowen) and his now-retired partner Ed Anderson (The Artist‘s Ed Lauter) know Ray Pye shot those women, but have never been able to prove it. They keep trying to find ways to shake that tree, but it might get shook all by itself when Ray meets the new bad girl in town, Kath (The Gingerdead Man‘s Robin Sydney), who makes him think very dark thoughts indeed…

photo credit: stagevu.com

“If I stand perfectly still, you won’t see me…”

Before I go slagging this movie off, it’s obvious that a lot of people threw a lot of talent at it, and in hindsight a number of folks who didn’t do all that well here have really stepped up their game in the intervening years, especially Senter, one of the few bright spots in the recent The Devil’s Carnival. None of which changes that fact that even Ed Lauter, normally the most reliable of character actors, couldn’t turn in a solid performance to save his life in this movie, and I don’t know why. Sivertson’s not a great director by any means, but he’s not that bad. And still everyone involved in this movie (and I only touched on a few of the names you will actually know) seems to have phoned it in.

Couldn’t get my head round this one. **

 

International trailer.

Boksuneun Naui Geot (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) (2002): Newboy

Boksuneun Naui Geot (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) (Chan-wook Park, 2002)

 

photo credit: IMDB

“Don’t worry. It’s not like you need a kidney or anything. Wait… oh, SHIT.”

I was wowed by Oldboy, like pretty much everyone else, and I thought Lady Vengeance was pretty nifty, too. But I had never gotten round to seeing Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, the first film in Chan-wook Park’s celebrated trilogy, until recently. It’s the one you never really hear people going on endlessly about, and now I know why. Which is not to say it’s an entirely bad film, but held up to the others, it pales badly in comparison.

photo credit: filmjournal.net

“Dammit! This is why I didn’t want you watching America’s Next Top Model in the house!”

Plot: Ryu (Thirst‘s Ha-kyun Shin), a deaf factory worker, is trying to save money for his sister (Vanishing Twin‘s Ji-eun Lim), who needs a kidney transplant. Realizing that he’ll never be able to save enough with his job, he attempts to donate one of his kidneys via a fly-by-night operation who takes all his money, takes his kidney, and then leaves him naked and shivering in an abandoned building. Worse, he’s been fired from his factory job. But there’s at least some hope: the hospital calls and lets Ryu’s girlfriend (The Host‘s Doona Bae) know that a donor kidney has been found for Ryu’s sister. The problem is, Ryu no longer has the money to pay for the operation… so the three of them conspire to kidnap Yu-sun (The World of Silence‘s Bo-bae Han), the daughter of Ryu’s former boss, Park (Memories of Murder‘s Kang-ho Song). Given Ryu’s history of good decisions throughout the movie so far, you know this is not going to end well…

photo credit: listal.com

“Well, you ask me to baptize you, what did you expect? FULL IMMERSION, baby!”

For some odd reason, a lot of people seemed to have a problem following the final fifteen minutes or so of this movie, at least if the IMDB boards are any indicator. I thought they were the clearest part of this, where Park is tying up all the disparate pieces of this otherwise aimless script. And to his great credit, he does a very good job of it, though you have to be paying attention to really get the gist of certain bits. (Here’s a hint: you’ll want to give your undivided attention to the scene where the cops are questioning Doona Bae’s character; as long as you get everything there, the entire ending should work for you without any problems.) But in hindsight, given the scripts for the other two movies in the trilogy, it’s obvious that Park, with one more rewrite of this script (which, famously, was completed in a single twenty-hour writing marathon), could have produced something on the same level as Oldboy and Lady Vengeance here. This is worthwhile, but it’s not up to that level. ** ½

 

Trailer. With subs, even!

Don’t Look Up (2009): Plot Stickers

Don’t Look Up (Fruit Chan, 2009)

 

photo credit: IMDB

Gory of the Eye.

Had you told me in 2008 that Hollywood would import Fruit Chan, the director of the phenomenal little flick Dumplings, to do Yet Another Asian Horror remake, I’d have laughed at you. If you then told me that Chan would bungle the movie almost completely, I probably would have been laughing so hard I wouldn’t have been able to breathe.

And yet here we are with Don’t Look Up, a remake of Hideo Nakata’s 1996 flick Jôyu-rei. And it is almost as horrible as the critics would have you believe.

photo credit: allhorrror.net

“It’s uncanny… she looks just like my career arc!”

Plot: a film crew working on a low-budget horror picture (why can’t film crews in horror films ever be working on, say, a lavish costume drama?) discovers footage of a much older film shot in the same location by cult director Bela Olt (Inglorious Bastards‘ Eli Roth), who, according to the local folklore, went insane during filming, as did most of the surviving cast and crew after one cataclysmic night of bloodshed. Of course, the present-day film crew, headed up by equally obsessed director Marcus Reed (The Hills Have Eyes II‘s Reshad Strik) and producer Josh Petri (Gangs of New York‘s Henry Thomas), puts no stock in such stories…but after they view the old footage, strange things start occurring on the set…is the ghost of lead actress Lila Kis (You Don’t Mess with the Zohan‘s Rachael Murphy), or the witch she was portraying in that old film, haunting the new production?

photo credit: joblo

I considered coming up with another eye pun, but decided to save you the pain.

All of which sounds good. And by all rights, from everything I’ve heard, it is good, when directed by Hideo Nakata. But this? This is just another bad re-tread, made all the worse for being directed by a guy who is, when not working within the confines of Hollywood, one of Japan’s most innovative, witty directors. How did this go so horribly wrong? We may never know the answer to that question, but there can be no argument about the fact that something certainly did. Perhaps the production was haunted by the spectre of Yasuyo Shirashima? **

 

Trailer.

Helen (2009): They Will Say That I Have Shed Innocent Blood…What Is Blood For, If Not Shedding?

Helen (Sandra Nettlebeck, 2009)

 

photo credit: Amazon

The sound of a heart breaking.

Ashley Judd is singularly excellent at playing people who are about to break down, in the process of breaking down, or have just broken down. I’m not sure what, if anything, that says about Ms. Judd’s personal life, but it does make many of her performances schadenfreude-style treats when consumed on the big screen. And the first thirty-odd minutes of Sandra Nettlebeck’s Helen are described perfectly by this. Unfortunately, the movie runs two hours.

photo credit: manhattanmoviemag.com

“I would get up, but the magpies outside the window are so…interesting.”

Plot: Helen (Judd) and David (ER‘s Goran Visnjic) are a seemingly happy couple whose life couldn’t be better—that is, until Helen begins changing. It’s not much of a spoiler to tell you that she’s sliding into depression (like I said, this stage of the film is its first quarter, give or take). And we’re not talking rainy-day blues here, we’re talking crippling, life-threatening depression. She eventually hits bottom and deserts her family—and her doctor—to bond with Mathilde (Lie with Me‘s Lauren Lee Smith), a similarly-affected former student of hers, while David tries to figure out what went wrong and how to make it better.

photo credit: newsjunkiepost.com

White crosses stand against the silken black.
Let’s stay and never come back.

It’s impossible to get into the meat of why the last three-quarters of the movie don’t work without what some may consider spoilers, though they have to do with the experience of depression rather than things specific to the film, so I will throw in a spoiler alert here and let the reader beware. The problem is that “what went wrong” is, as will be instantly recognizable by anyone who has lived through this kind of depression or lived with someone who has lived through this kind of depression, the wrong question entirely to be asking. I have no doubt that was Nettlebeck’s point; the problem is that if her intention was to portray the ineffectual nature of David’s quest leading to almost causing his own breakdown, she perhaps did it too well, as watching it is almost as frustrating as living it. One review I read of the film recently said this is a lesson as much as it is a movie. Indeed. And the didactic nature is liable to grate on anyone who already knows the answer.

Still, Ashley Judd’s performance in the first part of this movie does make this worth watching, though I think you’d be forgiven for deciding to turn it off halfway through. **

 

Trailer.