Halloween Scene: Stung (2015) & Return Of Count Yorga (1971)

stung posterA good buddy of mine sent me a box of awesome horror Blu-rays leading up to Halloween. I wrote about a few of them last week, but also wanted to give Stung and Return Of Count Yorga some blog love.

Stung was actually a bonus tossed in the box without warning. At first I wasn’t super interested because it sounded like a bit of Syfy or Asylum craziness with a plot revolving around giant wasps attacking an upscale garden party. But this Benni Diez-directed, Adam Aresty-written film is actually pretty damn delightful.

Our heroes are the owner of a catering company and her slacker employee who can barely handle himself when she switches from one shirt into another on the way to the event. He’s a bit too much of a goofball for my personal tastes (haven’t we seen enough of this character?) but he gets tangled up in the craziness of the events around him and starts adapting in the process.

Anyway, they wind up working some local bigwig’s party when these insane wasps start attacking. The stings are bad enough, but they also make their targets transform into gigantic wasps. Our heroes are joined in their drive to survive by Clifton Collins Jr. (who starred in Capote) and friggin’ Lance Henriksen, both of whom play against type a bit and also last much longer than you might expect.

I give Stung a lot of credit for not only featuring some impressive special effects (yes, there’s a lot of CGI, plus a fair amount of practical grossness) but also playing with expectations with what many would assume is stunt casting. I also thought it worked quite well as a nature-run-amok movie along the lines of Frogs. My own personal scare factor was boosted because I’ve been dealing with wasps under our siding all summer and hate those damn things. Whether you have wasps diving bombing your table or not, I highly recommend checking out Stung. It just went up on Netflix Instant, so it’s even easier!

return of count yorga posterI also gave The Return Of Count Yorga a watch. I feel like I’ve always known about these movies (or at least the original one from 1970), but just never got around to watching either of them. I think I saw part of the first on Netflix a while back, but who can remember?

Anyway, in this film, Yorga (Robert Quarry) makes his come back because of the Santa Anna winds (sure, why not) and he soon gets to work turning the gorgeous Cynthia — played by Mariette Hartley — into a fellow undead minion. Along the way his vampire brides also turn an orphan boy who then leads them to Cynthia’s family. Soon enough everyone in the family is turned aside from a deaf woman. She goes to the police about the attack, but no one believes her because the vamps cleaned up the mess and the kid is on their side.

As I mentioned, Hartley is just captivating, but so is Quarry. When he’s just hanging out in slick guy mode — at a costume party no less — he’s mesmerizing. But when he’s in vamp mode? It’s a bit laughable. Instead of sneaking up on his victims, he puts both arms straight out and just charges at them (complete with white pancake makeup). Even with that, though, there are some pretty scary moments, though they mostly revolve around people telling the truth and not being believed or voices coming from nowhere potentially driving folks crazy.

So, yeah, it’s a little goofy at times, but there’s also enough cool in this movie for me to recommend it if you dig on early 70s movies with some psychological scares and great actors.

 

Pacific Rim Is Awesome

Pacific-Rim-Poster Before jumping into my review of Pacific Rim, I want to talk about two things running through my mind as I was heading into the theater Saturday evening. First off, I’d been reading a lot that week about how this movie was going to tank. That’s one of the downsides to having a gig in the entertainment industry, you’re constantly inundated with the business-y side of Hollywood, the kind of stuff most people don’t really care about. The problem, though, is that sometimes the projections about how well a movie is going to do leading up to its release wind up poisoning the well a bit for the people who do pay attention to these things. “It’s not going to do well? I’m not gonna go.” I don’t have a solution for those aside, but the news bummed me out. Did it have something to do with Despicable Me 2 and Grown Ups 2 doing better over the weekend at the box office? Maybe. Then again, those more family friendly movies were going to be big no matter what.

The other thing rolling through my head was, “THIS is going to be what I always wanted from a Godzilla movie.” As a kid, I loved the bits and pieces of giant moster flicks I’d catch on TV, but when I finally turned 16 and started getting tapes by the backpack-full from Family Video I discovered something rather unsettling: a lot of those movies (like Gamer vs. Viras) are super boring. All you really want is guys in rubber suits fighting over a cardboard city with toy tanks shooting at them, but what you get is a little bit of that with a lot of scientists talking about how to stop the monster. Yawn.

I figured that a director like Guillermo del Toro would be able to figure out a way to balance the giant action with the smaller character moments and that’s what Pacific Rim delivered as far as I’m concerned. The story takes place on an Earth in which an inter-dimensional portal has opened up in the ocean. Said portal spits out giant monsters — dubbed kaiju — that humanity has to fight. The human race took on the first one with conventional weapons, but eventually built gigantic robots called jaegers to handle the menace. The jaegers are so big, though, that you’ve got to meld two minds to run them. Two pilots — usually relatives — literally link minds to drive these things and fight the baddies. Charlie Hunnam’s Raleigh Becket is a one-time jaeger pilot who winds up working for his old boss Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) and new co-pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) to try and put a stop to this nearly decade-long menace once and for all. There’s a whole heckuva lot more going on, of course, but I don’t want to get too spoilery (yet).

Guys, I loved this movie. It delivered exactly what I wanted and even a little more. The robots versus monsters scenes were fantastic with everything from spinning blades and swords to battleships coming into play. But there’s also a real sense of menace to the film. They got pretty good at taking on the kaiju for a while as Becket tells us in the opening monologue, but then things got crazier with bigger, more dangerous monsters attacking. A pair of scientists played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are doing their best to figure out what’s going on, but in the meantime you get the sense that the world is hanging in the balance. Some politicians have decided to bury their heads in the sand and try a fairly foolish means of defense (which might seem a little insane, but I bought it enough), but luckily for earth there are some very brave men and women from all over the globe working together to put a stop to it.

As a kid I always wanted to cut out all the boring stuff with people and just watch the fights, but in this one, I thought there was a good deal of humanity interspersed throughout. Sure, a lot of it’s the kind of stuff you’d expect. A leader who considers his image more important than his well-being, a cocky fighter unsure of why the hasbeen and rookie have been brought in, a person who hates the kaiju for destroying their family (that flashback scene kicked me in the gut, I’m such a wuss when it comes to kids in films these days). But when those characters are played well — and I thought they were for the most part — a bit of new life is breathed in. Plus, even if you don’t dig the, you wait a little bit and a robot rips a monster’s tongue out, so it’s cool.

pacific rim gipsy danger poster

There were a few elements of the film that didn’t sit particularly well with me. Minor SPOILERS follow. I enjoyed Hunnam’s performance, but the way he spoke was kind of distracting. The actor is from England, but he sports one of those accents that doesn’t sound like it truly belongs on either side of the pond. I had a similar complaint regarding Freddie Highmore’s performance in the first episode of Bates Motel. I’m not sure if this is just how he talks or how he was directed to speak, but it was distracting. I also wondered why the manner of defense against the kaiju was so segregated. You’ve basically got the jaegers and a giant wall, but the two are almost completely unrelated. Wouldn’t it make sense to have cannons that can do the same thing that Gipsy Danger’s fists can? They’ve been fighting these monsters for 6 or 7 years and no one thought of building up the borders in a different way?

But those are fairly minor quibbles. On the whole, I thought the story had a lot of fun, new elements that made sense and also had fun with sci-fi elements. The mental handshake stuff was cool and how can you not love ridiculously gigantic robots being built in even bigger bunkers driven by two people? The basic concepts get thrown at you pretty early in the movie, so if you’re not on board with the movie science, then you might want to skip the whole thing altogether. As it is, I enjoyed seeing a big budget spectacle that wasn’t based on anything but writer Travis Beachum and del Toro’s imaginations. I was far from disappointed by this film and would recommend anyone who though the trailers looked cool to go check it out.

Okay, SUPER SPOILER TIME. This is so SPOILERY that I’m putting it after the jump if you happen to be reading this post on the main page. If not, you’ve been warned.  Continue reading Pacific Rim Is Awesome

Somewhat Quick Movie Review: Capote (2005)

Capote_poster A few years ago I came across a copy of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood at a garage sale and decided to pick it up. I think this was sometime after the 2005 release of the film Capote which chronicles the writer’s experience while writing about the murder of a Kansas family by a pair of would-be burglars. The book was a moving, chilling account that not only got into the minds of a pair of killers and explained how and why they committed such a crime, but also humanized them in a way that can be very offputting. We don’t like thinking of our villains as people with real problems, we just want them to be one note movie  baddies twirling their moustaches while tying defenseless barmaids to the train tracks, but that’s not usually how these things work out.

The other night I was looking around for something to watch on Netflix and found myself just about to push play on the John Candy comedy Summer Rental when I clicked over a few pages and saw Capote. I felt like a comedy, but something drew me to this film. Since I already knew the gist of the story, I figured I could handle the grislier aspects of the film and I’m glad I did because this is an incredibly well put together film.

Director Bennett Miller really did something amazing here. Without being too in your face about it, he clearly had some very specific ways he wanted to show the audience this film. He’s got a lot of scenes that start with long shots of landscape. Sometimes this feels like pointless padding, but in this case, I found the cold Kansas landscapes to not only help in nailing down the physical setting of the film, but also the emotional one. Capote goes from looking at all this as just another story to write about for the newspaper, but winds up getting absorbed not only by the townspeople who live with the crime against their own, but the men who committed the crime itself.

I was also impressed with how he waited to get to the actual crime. It follows the reality of Capote’s interaction with the criminals Perry Smith and Dick Hickock (mostly Smith) who didn’t actually recount the events of the break-in and murders until much closer to the end of the movie. This makes for an interesting companion piece to the book which gets into that right away followed by the criminals’ experience after the crime until they were caught and tried several times. Clearly Miller and screenwriter Dan Futterman who was working based on Gerald Clarke’s book were making an effort to tell the story of Capote’s experience with these people and not the story already told in the true crime novel.

Of course, you can’t talk about Capote without talking about Philip Seymour Hoffman who really seemed to just dive full form into the role. I don’t actually know what Capote sounded or even really looked like, but you get the sense that Hoffman’s doing the character justice. He’s a broken man who wields truth and lies like weapons when he deems them appropriate. He enjoys his raconteurish lifestyle, but he’s also clearly been changed by having Smith in his life. He eventually got deep into drugs and alcohol and never finished another book which makes me wonder how much Perry’s death had to do with it. Capote himself explains a theory held by some, including his live-in boyfriend, that Capote actually fell in love with Smith during their talks. It’s an interesting take on things that I hadn’t picked up on from reading the book, there’s also enough there on screen from both actors to support it if you want to go down that road. Hell, the casting was so good all around in this movie. Chris Cooper as the small town sheriff, Catherine Keener as Capote’s take-no-BS friend and fellow writer Nelle Harper Lee, Clifton Collins Jr. as Perry Smith, Mark Pellegrino as Dick. Everyone brought their A-games and seemed to lose themselves in their characters that I must admit that I half expected Cooper to break out into the Tex Richman rap from The Muppets.

As you can tell, I really enjoyed this look into a life, especially a writer’s life. It really felt like Miller not only understood the characters and their motivations, but also the best possible way to convey those things to the reader. Top notch stuff.