Sunday, June 12, 2011

Devil (2010)

**** (out of four stars)
When talk of Devil first emerged I completely wrote it off. With M. Night's name attached I wanted nothing to do with it. The guy is like a disease. There was one problem though. The trailer looked so damn good. After some research I noticed John Erick Dowdle had directed it. I liked Quarantine and I can't wait to see The Poughkeepsie Tapes. So on a Friday night, with little to do I said, "What the hell". Besides, it won't be the first or last time I waste a good $11 on a movie ticket.

The film is about five strangers who become stuck in an elevator. We soon find out that all of the strangers have sketchy pasts. A thief, a liar, a thug, a crooked salesman, and an ex-military person (who we later find out also has a violent past) are among the group. Not a good mix when trapped together. Once the story begins to unfold, the passengers die one by one after a series of power outages. The lights go out and when they come back on somebody is dead. Now it's a guessing game as to who (or what) is causing all the carnage.

Chris Messina plays Detective Bowden who we find out lost his family in an automobile accident. The other drive was drunk but was never apprehended. After a series of unfortunate events, Bowden is the man who is now in charge of the faulty elevator and our strange persons aboard it. I loved this character. Chris Messina does a great job as a detective. In one scene he's told a story by one of the security guards (Jacob Vargas) about the devil coming to earth and wreaking havoc - turning people against one another and making them do things they normally wouldn't. At first he's apprehensive about it, but later starts to indulge in the theory that there could be something far more dangerous in the elevator than the humans. To me this made his character a little more human. When unexplained happenings take place, you might have to put aside your skepticism and see things through a different perspective.

Logan Marshall-Green, Jenny O'Hara, Bojana Novakovic, Bokeem Woodbine and Geoffrey Arend make up the cast of characters in the elevator. Each character has a level of mystery behind them. As the film continues so does the paranoia. Each character is taking it upon themselves to point the finger at each other. I love how you have this simple story of five strangers trapped when any one of them could be doing the killing. It's like one giant head game. All the characters in this film are flushed out so well. Everyone has a place and not one page of the script is wasted with convoluted, unwanted story lines. A masterfully written story by screenwriter, Brian Nelson.

Keep your eye out for director John Erick Dowdle. This guy is making quality films. His direction in Devil is as tight as you can get it. He does a fine job of conveying atmosphere in a small elevator. As a viewer we're left in isolation, which sparks those great elements of atmosphere and suspense. It is what's going on in the elevator that keeps the story moving with ease and brilliance. It's only when we venture out of the elevator to the other characters that we can take a moment to breath. With a less competent director this film may not have been so effective to me.

Devil is a well directed, and well written suspense story. I'd like to think of it as a homage to Hitchcock. It works well for a lazy Saturday afternoon. Again, don't be worried or swayed from watching this film because M. Night's name is attached. He's only responsible for the story. But it is one hell of a tale if I have to say so myself. This is the first of three films in the "Night Chronicles". I'm looking forward to the other two.

Starring: Chris Messina, Logan Marshall-Green, Jenny O'Hara

Directed by: John Erick Dowdle

Written by: Brian Nelson

Story by: M. Night Shyamalan

1hr 21 mins


Funhouse (1981)

***(out of four stars)

A traveling carnival comes to town. Four teens get the bright idea of riding the funhouse and staying for the night. After the carnival closes, the teens witness the murder of the carnival fortune teller, by a man wearing a Frankenstein mask. The teens must stay alive long enough to escape... The Funhouse!

The acting in this film is quite good. Amy is played by Elizabeth Berridge. She's quiet and shy, but underneath that exterior, she's looking to get into some trouble. Cooper Huckabee plays Buzz, the tough, jock boyfriend. With them is Richie (Miles Chapin) and his girlfriend, Liz (Largo Woodruff). All of our teens play their roles respectively. But my favorite comes with the role of Conrad Strake played by the irreplaceable, Kevin Conway. This dude really brings out the "creepiness" in all those carnival workers you see. He plays three different roles - all of them equally effective and equally creepy.

The Monster is another great character in this film. The monster is a carnival worker but underneath his "Frankenstein" mask, he is a deformed creature. This is Conway's son in the film. In one scene the Monster kills Madame Zena (Slyvia Miles) after he pays her for sex. The monster prematurely ejaculates and wants his money back. When Zena doesn't comply with his wishes, well, he kills her. There's more than one way to get your rocks off, eh? When Conrad finds out that Zena is dead he's enraged. There's some banter back and forth where we find out that Conrad is obviously pro abortion. During this time the teens are listening and witnessing all of this from above. Richie drops his lighter and is spotted. Now Conrad and the Monster have some business to attend too.

What ensues is the teens being picked off one by one. Of course, our heroin Amy, is the last one left standing. There's a show down with her and the Monster, but you know he isn't going to win, right? I won't spoil anything here. Watch the film.

The kills for the most part are very tame. It's not a bad thing, but if you're looking for blood and gore, it's just not in this film. Sorry. What you will get is that authentic carnival atmosphere. That general creepiness that follows those things. Hooper did an amazing job capturing that atmosphere that a carnival brings. I commend him on that.

This film is fun. It has that wonderful 1980's look and feel. The characters are great, the carnival workers are great - again, an authentic feel to it. This film was shot in Hooper's Heyday. When he really had talent that resonated on the screen. It's a must see for sure.

Starring: Elizabeth Berridge, Kevin Conway, Cooper Huckabee

Directed by: Tobe Hooper

Screenplay by: Larry Block

96 mins


The Lodge (2008)

**(out of Four stars)

The film starts off with a women tied to a bed. She's struggling to free herself as an unseen person climbs on top of her. The camera floats away; out the door, down a hall and descending a few stairs. The person follows the camera and we are led to a basement, where a woman is seated in a chair; tied and gagged. Her throat is slit. So begins THE LODGE.

Michael (Owen Szabo) and Julia (Elizabeth Kell) have been together for three years. They're young, happy and very into each other. Michael rents out a lodge in the Colorado mountains for an entire weekend. His hope is to relax, smoke and have hardcore sex with Julia in ALL ten rooms of the lodge.

Once inside, the young couple finds the lodge may have been occupied recently. The kitchen is left dirty. Like somebody had to leave quickly.

Enter Henry (Kevin McClatchy) the caretaker of the lodge. From the get go, this dude is just not right. As he stands in the kitchen he's caked with blood, supposedly cutting up a deer in the garage. There's no denying or actually hiding the fact that he's gonna turn out to be a lunatic.

Brad Helmink and John Rauschelbach direct this low budget film. They do have a few things going for them on this first feature. The cast is good. Owen Szabo and Elizabeth Kell are great characters and actually good, competent actors. The chemistry is there. Later on, when things get ugly, Owen and Elizabeth's performances shine even brighter. Another thing that this film has going for it is the beautiful cinematography by Aaron Platt. The lush mountains are beautifully shot and captured. He took advantage of the landscape and location. In the opening the film is bright and colorful, but later, (again when things turn ugly) the lights get darker - with blues, reds, and blacks. The camera compensates the different moods of the film. A job well done.

Unfortunately, this film falls flat for me. I really felt that although the acting was great, there was just no where for the performances to go. There's a long bit where it's just cat and mouse, long after the suspense had faded, the scenes kept going on and on - running and hiding and running and hiding some more. It just lost it's suspense factor after a while.

Another issue was the give away early in the film. Henry obviously is the killer. There's no guessing game, no who dun it, nothing to keep you guessing. From the first scenes you know he's just not right. I really wish they would have flushed out a little mystery with this film. Somewhere in the middle, a little blond haired girl is seen stalking around the house. What is she? A ghost? A victim of Henry's? When it's revealed, I'd say that could be your twist - but I'm still not biting.

Overall, this film was good. I've realized a few things when trying to make out a good film from a bad one. If the acting is good, and there's a decent story, then you don't have a lot to complain about. Like I said, it did fall flat for me, but I'm in no way being negative about this flick. There were moments when it grabbed you. There were moments when I was stunned by the vibrant quality of the cinematography. There were some moments that keep you at bay, waiting for that moment of horror. But it all comes down to a bunch of good scenes or parts. As a whole, well, it does suffer a little. I'd work out the script a little better next time.

By all means give it a look.

Starring: Kevin McClatchy, Owen Szabo, Elizabeth Kell

Directed by: Brad Helmink and John Rauschelbach

Screenplay by: Deb Havener

83 mins


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Lake by Ray Bradbury

***(out of 4 stars)

Published in 1944, Ray Bradbury's short story, The Lake, is a story that I read quite often. I've become very fond of this magical writer. Recently, oh the past year, I've really digested Ray Bradbury fiction. There's something about his prose that attracts me more than any other writer. It must be his metaphors, his style and the way he personally lives an enriching life, that really inspires me to keep turning the pages. After all, his life does bleed through the pages.

With each story, Bradbury takes you on different journeys. He can take you to a simple setting such as a lake. He can take you to an entirely different planet. Or, he can take you back through time. Where ever the journey, it's always more pleasant with Ray Bradbury. The story that I wish to talk about now is a very short one. I mentioned it above, The Lake.

Harold is a young boy visiting a lake with his mother. He walks off by himself and finds a place to sit. He begins to reminisce about a time not too long ago. A friend of his, Tally, walked into the lake about a year earlier and never returned. As Harold sits and reflects on the young woman we find out that he is leaving town; heading West. He begins to build "half" of a sand castle, hoping that Tally will come and build the other half. He leaves the lake - wishing, hoping - that his Tally will answer his call.

Years later - and newly married - Harold and his wife Margaret decide to head back East to visit Harold's old town. Once there memories flood Harold. Although he doesn't recognize most of the towns people, he surely feels at home.

Harold and his wife decided to visit the lake, where his young friend drowned so many years before. The day begins to fade away as most of the visitors of the lake retreat to their homes. A life-guard boat pulls into shore. The life guard is carrying something in a sack. Intrigued, Harold approaches the life guard, while Margaret stays behind.

A body of a young girl,(dead ten years)is recovered. The life-guard is astounded that they've even recovered the body. Of all the kids that drown in the lake - 12 to be exact - only one of them never turned up. Harold knows who the young woman is. He knows it with his heart.

Again, he walks off to be solitude with nothing but the sound of the waves crashing upon the shore. He notices footprints coming from the lake, and leading to a half built sand castle, then they disappear back out in the water. He comes to the realization that his friend had finally answered his calling. She built her half of the castle, as he wished her to do.

The Lake is a great little story. I loved every minute reading it and every word that was in those pages. For such a short narrative, Bradbury invites us into the mind of his character, Harold. Harold is grieve stricken with the loss of his dearest Tally. It actually haunts him his entire life. We know that his love for Tally is deep, much deeper than that of Margaret's. I think that this is why he choose to stay out West, rather than move back. The pain must have been too unbearable. A nice little twist at the end brings a paranormal aspect into this heart felt story.

This is another story I'm reading from The October Country collection. A must read for any Bradbury fan!

Side note: I'm not 100% certain, but I do believe that I heard an interview where Ray Bradbury stated that this story was inspired by his own experience with a young girl drowning in a lake.