7/26/2015

BELATED HORROR REVIEW OF THE GALLOWS

2015 rating: **1/2
If there's one thing more annoying than the handheld chronicling everything on a video camera horror it's whoever is behind the lens, gabbing away. Then again they have to be obnoxious, determined and stubborn enough to keep the thing rolling no matter what happens: a sort of rambling/recording Black Box while catastrophe awaits, and ensues...

Yet somehow in THE GALLOWS, the guy filming his handsome high school buddy, smitten with the drama queen and rehearsing for the titular play that, twenty years earlier, resulted in a student/cast member being accidentally hung on stage... In this particular case the obnoxious cameraman doesn't mean as much as he wants to; thus the perpetual shakiness isn't altogether distracting from those being centered on. In fact, GALLOWS is almost completely character-driven as some unlucky teens venture backstage before the cursed play to, for some unexplained and rather banal reason, wreak havoc on the set so the show won't go on. Here's where the mysterious wraith begins stalking, and yet we see very little until after the third act.

There are enough effective sudden jolts for the price of a ticket, and the leading couple have an intriguing opposites-attract chemistry that might have benefited a more conventional horror flick. And although a barrage of potentially befitting victims are introduced... including freaks, geeks and bullying jocks... and then abandoned, the four on board keep the dizzying nightmare to a somewhat maintainable level, making this handheld teenage body count slightly better (and a tad more creative) than most of its kind.

7/24/2015

ADAM SANDLER STARRING IN PIXELS

2015 rating: ***1/2
While THE WEDDING SINGER took us literally back to the '80s, that era's beloved video games are the centerpiece in PIXELS, and they're no longer safely locked inside an arcade game. Something has happened as a hostile planet, misreading a transmission where Adam Sander participated in a video game competition, takes the form of havoc-wreaking creatures like CENTIPEDE, PAC MAN and DONKEY KONG.

One nice surprise, given the usual banality of the latter Happy Madison productions, is the "legit" technical setup moving from one scene to the next, feeling like an INDEPENDENCE DAY meets GHOSTBUSTERS: serious matters combined with the buddy/teamup genre as Sandler, a tech repair guy, his best friend Kevin James, now the President of the United States, join with eccentric gamers Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage and love interest Michelle Monaghan to battle the suddenly nefarious pixelated icons wherein Pac Man's New York rampage is an action sequence standout (director Chris Columbus at the helm).

Meanwhile, the characters go from region to region, figuring things out with a lot of busy, often redundant banter. But even the slow parts have a decent amount of witty interplay between participants. Some of the jokes fall flat, sure, but it doesn't matter since another nostalgic curio is around every bend, and it's neat seeing those classic games playing (by their actual rules) outside the box.

7/20/2015

JUDD APATOW DIRECTS AMY SCHUMER IN TRAINWRECK

2015 rating: **1/2
Actress Amy Schumer, while scoring at the Box Office, has somewhat misled her target audience, being that her titular TRAINWRECK remains, for the most part, right on track…

From the very SHALLOW HAL like opening, as a father implants bad advice into his child’s vulnerable mind, the raucous stage is set, and Schumer’s free-spirited Amy is far from being uptight, picky, fickle, or mainstream-attractive. The latter makes our flawed ingenue more realistic than most comedy starlets: a young lady who would usually play the main girl's brutally honest best friend is given the lead. And that alone makes up about twenty minutes of an otherwise sweet-natured and surprisingly gentle romance that's not just about an average yet sexy wildcard, but the nice guy she winds up reluctantly falling for after an extremely progressive first date.

As the romantic lead, Bill Hader, playing a sports surgeon, turns in a good performance, but his input often derails the mainline. One intentionally cliche feel-good montage... inspired by Woody Allen's MANHATTAN, Gershwin music included... works as a witty satire embracing New York. Yet the entire prologue of Amy's slutty nightlife ultimately feels like a montage in itself, and continuously so: Right when getting down and dirty, like promised in the trailers, we're cleaned up again.  

Amy Schumer the actress is often outshined by other characters, and this could be intentional... For some credit should be given to Schumer the screenwriter: She’s definitely not selfish, allowing others to shine including her cantankerous father (veteran comic and REMOTE CONTROL co-host Colin Quinn); her blunt British female boss; and a scene-stealing muscle-head boyfriend. Meanwhile, basketball whiz LeBron James, as a touchy/feely version of himself, is given way too much screen time, especially in scenes with Hader, making us forget who (and what) this vehicle's really about. 

While reveling in observational relationship-based humor and with genuine performances intact, TRAINWRECK doesn’t always know where it’s going. Right when we begin to enjoy our lusty starlet breaking conventional rules, she gets stuck in a way too familiar opposites attract Rom-Com template combined with a family troubles melodrama. And while there is enough chemistry between Hader to provide a genuine love song, it's too bad the bad girl party anthem had to end so soon.

7/17/2015

PAUL RUDD & MICHAEL DOUGLAS IN ANT-MAN

year: 2015 rating: ***1/2
Michael Douglas is one of those great good actors, and he not only steals ANT-MAN, but his exposition-wielding Dr. Hank Pym is pretty much everything here. In fact, before working class hero thief Scott Lang, played by Paul Rudd, conveniently discovers the suit that can shrink him to the size of... you know... there was a whole history between Hank and his wife that could have been its very own movie, shown in flashbacks during the plan and execution of a big caper against Pym Industries, now run by a nefarious short-cutter who wants... like your usual comic book heavy... to rule everything his way.

The Heist genre is taken to the hilt, including funky instrumental music lifted straight from Quentin Tarantino's JACKIE BROWN, and a band of ragtag underdog thieves including comic relief Michael Pena, a funny enough guy who often tries too hard.

Beneath the engaging caper, a busy hybrid of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE and SPIDER-MAN yet with the origin story built straight into the central plot-line, much of the film feels like a hard sell to make this unlikely hero fit within the "serious" Marvel mainline, including one battle against the least important Avenger. In that, Lang, with a neat way of getting in and out of danger, is worthy of the canon: Unfortunately there are too many real (overly CGI) ants on board, making him more passenger than driver while turning an otherwise legitimate adventure into HONEY I SHRUNK THE SUPERHERO. Thankfully, Paul Rudd is likable enough despite attempting to be Tony Stark Light, and Michael Douglas really keeps things in check: helping his creation rise above expectations for both the characters and the audience.

7/14/2015

RYAN REYNOLDS & BEN KINGSLEY IN SELF/LESS

2015 rating: ***1/2
Modern Science-Fiction needs only a simple everyday word or term to make an impossibly far-fetched premise believable. In the case of SELF/LESS, a process called Shedding is what a rich powerful dying man does to become young again i.e. remain living. And we get a nice twenty minutes with the iconic Ben Kingsley before he turns into Ryan Reynolds, not continuing his life in the business world but playing street b-ball and having lots and lots of sex. Meanwhile, our young/old hero, taking pills to aid the transition, suffers from mysterious flashbacks relating to a group of deadly suits out to retire him permanently.

Effective action scenes bookend an overlong and not very moving (or interesting) romantic mid-section... And while Reynolds does a good job given the mental and physical intensity of his new life, you might forget he was ever anyone else... Ben Kingsley or Mickey Mouse, it really doesn't matter since SELF is his ride, the best stuff occurring in the now despite everything else relying on the past. 

7/12/2015

INTERVIEW WITH NATALIE BURN INVOLVING 'AWAKEN'

Natalie Burn Interview
AWAKEN is a suspenseful and mysterious, action-packed motion picture that takes you for a ride, and beyond. With a sense that anything can happen at any time, we follow the main character, Billie Kope, played by actress, writer, producer and Cult Film Freak interviewee NATALIE BURN as she... with an eclectic group of survivors... goes up against extremely dangerous odds while figuring things out along the way...

Tell us about your job as a co-writer and producer: How did you get AWAKEN from the page to the screen?

It’s very important to understand that in order to make any kind of project possible, you need to have a clear-cut vision of what you want done and what type of  message you want to convey to the world. You want something that will ultimately spawn curiosity from people, something that will touch people’s hearts, and most importantly, something that will inspire them.

Natalie Burn
What inspired me to pursue the Awaken project was me taking the step to show a struggle with family, devastation and then, hope, to people who have experienced  any form of extreme loss. The more truth you bring to the script, the more people will feel the authenticity of the movie. When I started to run through ideas for a project, I wanted something real and that’s when I came across this interview about a boy who had gone to get an operation on his nose and never woke up. Later his mother insisted on an autopsy and found out the boys organs were all gone...

When I saw this I knew this was a subject I should tackle. So, step one is the actual IDEA and then it’s time to make it happen! From its inception to its completion, Awaken has been MY project.  It’s something that I am very proud of and most of all it has served as a giant learning experience for me. I’ve learned so much about making movies, everything from what type of cameras to use, what type of lighting to use, and how to deal with the cast and crew on set. I’ve realized as a young producer it’s all on me, so I make sure to come to the set a little bit earlier than everyone else and just breathe in the moment of the project. I channel my emotions and get ready for the long hard day ahead of me.

Natalie Burn
Whats it like working as a leading lady/action heroine?

My character quickly evolves form survivor to butt-kicking bad-ass in Awaken. As the lead, I knew that I would have to bring everything out of myself for this role, so I went through two months of training with Benny the Jet, who also played my father in the movie. We kickboxed; we were wrestling and boxing for several hours a day, six days a week! This was very important to me because, as I said earlier, I want to inspire people... especially women... because I remember the action heroines that inspired me, like Sigourney Weaver, who may be the most iconic and enduring female action hero ever portrayed in a science-fiction film.

A ripped Linda Hamilton in T2
Another actor who really opened up my eyes was Linda Hamilton and her role in Terminator. Even though she started off as the stereotypical damsel-in-distress, she eventually morphed into a muscle-bound weapons expert who would stop at nothing to defeat the Terminator, which is what I felt like my character in Awaken was like: a strong and determined girl who will not give up until she does everything to find her sister.

Furlong in T2
What was it like working with established stars Robert Davi, Edward Furlong, Micheal Pare and Daryl Hannah in AWAKEN? What did they bring to the table?

It was an amazingly bright and memorable time working with such talent. I’ve always believed that experience is the best form of education anybody can get, and I make sure to retain as much as I possibly can from every actor I work with. I really admire how passionate these actors are about what they do and how they do it. The "performance" is really what ultimately sets actors apart from one another. You have to love the stage and camera and you need to have a real desire to entertain people. You want a flawless connection from a performer to your audience, which is really not that easily achieved if you are not willing to always keep your mind open to learning new and skillful techniques.

Mel Gibson in E3
And you had a role in THE EXPENDABLES 3: What was this like? 

Working on The Expendables 3 movie was very entertaining and very helpful. This was the biggest project that I have ever been a part of so it was very interesting to see how and what all these actors do in terms of their preparations for their characters. The film was very physically demanding on everybody involved, so it was very important for these actors to stay on their workout routine.

I remember seeing just how disciplined Ronda Rousey stayed to her training for the role. She would train constantly – often times more than the men! Every morning she was at the gym no matter how tough the day of shooting was.

What I really enjoyed about filming was my experience playing the wife of Mel Gibson's character. He really took the time needed to develop his character and he did this by trusting his own instincts with acting; on top of that he did a tremendous work on getting deep into understanding his character. What kind of gestures does he have? How does one walk, talk, dress? I feel this is crucial for character development because it provides you with your own backstory for the role you are creating. And in the end makes you exactly the person you want to be in that film.

Order AWAKEN at Amazon by clicking this link
Last but not least... What made you want to become an actress and how did you set out to become one?

I’ve always had a passion for performing and even though I started dancing at a very early age, I’ve always dreamt of one day becoming a Hollywood star. I really enjoyed dance because it allowed me to really express all of my emotions out through choreography and dance...

However, once I got injured I needed to find new ways of expressing myself and what better way to do that than vocally performing my emotions. That’s when I started to pursue acting so I made the choice to move to Hollywood and become an actor. I joined several well respected schools and eventually I realized that opportunity is something that you need to create on your own because waiting around for the next audition is something I’m accustomed to. So, I created my own production company, 7Heaven Productions, and started doing my own thing. My first project was a short film called Fallen Angel and then Awaken soon followed. Now I have 3 movies in development and I can't wait to make them happen!
Natalie Burn on the set of AWAKEN

7/11/2015

NARCISSISTIC REVIEW OF BEST WORST MOVIE

year: 2009 rating: ***1/2
A vehicle in which yours truly appears for an epic fifteen seconds (of fame), as one of many fanatical fans of the 1990 so-bad-it's-good horror flick TROLL 2 (having written a fan fiction sequel script), this documentary glosses through the making of an amazingly terrible but hilariously engrossing gem with neatly edited footage from the catastrophic cult phenomenon while centering primarily on today's George Hardy, who played Michael, the patriarch of the Waits family, swapping homes with a local Nilbog (spell that backwards) clan and eventually battling the town's sinister residents: a horde of goblins, not trolls. But that review is for another time. Let's center on BEST WORST MOVIE...

Michael and Me, 2007
Hardy, a successful dentist in Alabama, got the role while practicing in Utah – the rest is bad movie history! And our roving director is Michael "Joshua Waits" Stephenson... the child actor who starred in the film. He, along with creative cinematographers Katie Graham and Carl Indriago, follow George from his sweet home Alabama to packed TROLL 2 screenings across America, winding up at an unsuccessful "rude awakening" layover at a celebrity autograph show.

Seeming a bit exploitative about the less fortunate elderly actors in Utah while neglecting two important alumni, the "father/son" duo infectiously laugh off their past with younger cast members, including Darren Ewing, whose infamously adored "Oh My God!" scene went beyond-viral on You Tube. Although it's Italian director Claudio Fragasso who steals the show as the essential grouchy antagonist... he's not sure why T2, written by his wife Rosella Drudi, is considered so awful, while Hardy and Stephenson embrace this pop culture explosion, using their documentary as an outlet: with mostly captivating results!
Rent BEST WORST MOVIE on Netflix and enjoy TROLL 2's OH MY GOD! embedded below

7/09/2015

GROUCHY MALE REVIEW OF MAGIC MIKE XXL

2015 rating: *
Thank kitschy heaven for Joe Manganiello: The giant actor (who could have been the next Tony "Meat" Ganios if PORKY'S was remade), playing Big Dick Richie, is the best thing going for this limp MAGIC MIKE sequel, in which the only thing XXL is our airhead comic relief's stage name...

And so now, instead of a Steven Soderbergh art film only partially centering on the kind of male revue that secretaries file in droves to catch on the big screen, especially with former stripper turned cinema dancer turned A-list Hollywood leading man Channing Tatum at the helm, we now have a bonafide road trip movie that's even more ponderous and, trying desperately to be artistic with askew insert shots, overlong conversations with a new disassociated love interest and added-on characters who act as if they've been around all along... like Mike's former boss Jada Pinkett Smith as a madame MC... the core fans wanting what men got with SHOWGIRLS are once again subjected (whether they know it or not) to Tatum's pretentious agenda to make his former trade, in which he's much too talented and professional to seem realistic, more ponderously deep than gloriously banal. 

7/01/2015

WEDNESDAY REVIEW OF TERMINATOR GENISYS

year: 2015 rating: ***
While this rebooted sequel of the TERMINATOR series feels like a strategic opportunity to delete the fourth film, SALVATION, an overlong catastrophe taking place in a future where only random flashbacks should occur, it actually winds up erasing the third, RISE OF THE MACHINES, since a gung-ho Sarah Connor is ready for a new start after having experienced similar ups-and-downs of the first two (and best) James Cameron-directed adventures. So when futuristic Kyle Reese shows up in 1984 to save her life, she’s been through the ringer, and then some, and has a familiar face protecting her…

To give anything else away, including what elements of each film are reused and/or recycled, or what time-lines are travelled, would be an absolute crime since... bookended between two segments of non-stop action is so much expository dialogue about what happened, what’s about to happen and what really happened when it almost didn’t happen the first time when everything began... at a certain point GENISYS, relying completely on scientific plot-twists, hits a major wall of downtime…

Thankfully the characters, including a resilient and mysterious John Connor; the energetic duo of Sarah and Kyle; and Arnold Schwarzenegger being used with the right combination of kitsch and badass (“I’m old, not obsolete”), all help morph what begins to feel like an over-explained cable series pilot into the big budget spectacular that was needed to aptly reboot… or rather, sustain… a classic and creative franchise.

6/29/2015

REVIEWS OF MAX & INSIDE OUT IN TWO PARAGRAPHS

year: 2015 grade: D
MAX: Like a dog buries a bone, the makers of MAX buries the titular lead, and instead of centering on a military Marine dog suffering shell shock, as promised, or an unlikely friendship between dog and boy, we follow a confusing melodrama about white trash bullies with some kind of military secret as Max the German Sheppard circles around this boring mainline also including a group of teenagers with less chemistry than a bad After School Special… So Max not only gets lost in the confusing political intrigue that’s hardly intriguing, but his young master’s new human friends hijack any purpose he would have otherwise… After all, it’s supposed to be his very own Dog Gone movie, so where on earth is he?

year: 2015 grade: C
INSIDE OUT: Now for a venture that can be compared to two films that shouldn’t be mentioned in a review about a children’s movie: EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK and THE EXORCIST… In the first, Woody Allen took us inside a body as we saw humans, as mechanics, controlling from the outside, like a bridge on a spaceship, the person inside… And in the latter, well, a little girl is wielded by something other than herself – in this case a handful of personality traits including Joy, Sadness, Anger and the token goofball relief, an Imaginary Friend elephant creature that, in trying to be the Josh Gad FROZEN favorite, winds up more annoying than helpful in a somewhat creative yet rather bland trek – the personalities traipsing slowly through the child’s cerebrum as, on the outside, a little girl deals with unrealistically jovial parents and a new school, which all seems an afterthought to the candy-coded fluff going on elsewhere: perhaps too much for grownup taste buds yet INSIDE OUT might make kids think... about thinking.

6/27/2015

PARENTHETICAL CAPTURES FROM THE MOTION PICTURE JAWS

"Y'all know me, know how I earn a livin'... I'll catch this bird for you, but it ain't gonna be easy... Bad Fish!"
JAWS is celebrating the 40th Anniversary this year, a timeless summer classic directed by Steven Spielberg with images as iconic as anything in the history of film: so here are some cool shots you don't always get to see, along with descriptions, trivia, and beyond.
Roy Scheider's Cheif Brody leafs through a shark book & comes across a shark tower idea, later used in JAWS 2
Jeffrey Kramer's Hendricks is the Barney Fife of Amity, and here's a classic dim reaction
Unlike the poor pooch Pippit, these two dogs survive but obviously aren't having a terrific time
When Richard Dreyfuss' Hooper answers "Tiger Shark," the camouflage guy replies "A Whaaaaat?" hilariously
Glowing glimpse into the epic Spielberg magic, backed by a John Williams score, that would continue for decades
Part of the KILLER SHARK video game that ends the July 4th intro/montage with a bang... and then some
Wider shot of the KILLER SHARK video game as the camera then pans to a very busy beach
"A dark cloud in the form of... a killer shark" says JAWS novel author Peter Benchley as a reporter
Apocalypse Before as an annoyed Mayor bitterly shrugs off a shark-spotting helicopter
An old school scream queen reaction while the copter soars during the beach stampede
The Cute Hippie Artist Chick who bridges the beach to the pond, Carla Hogendyk is the true shark spotter 
Following the ominous opening credits, the bluesy fire-pit party includes this condom ad moment
Sean Brody, "bitten by a vampire," played by Chris Rebello, who died  of a heart attack in 2000
Like Hitchcock captured the seaside town in THE BIRDS, Spielberg provides a neat establishing shot
What type, literally, of death was this? Well the coroner says one thing before quickly changing his mind
Lee Fierro as Mrs. Kitner, the last to react... She later made a cameo in the abysmal JAWS 4: THE REVENGE
The central gunner who resembles Sam Bottoms aims at two practical joking kid brothers: "He made me do it!"
Lee Marvin was originally sought, Sterling Hayden considered, then, thank cinema god, Robert Shaw reigned
Here's a nice shot of the grungy, crowded boat that would wind up catching... that red herring Tiger Shark
This is a popular scene but take a look at that suddenly-oblivious coroner who changed facts to fiction
Another well known image, and it's great seeing a biscuit-chomping Shaw by his iconic chalkboard artwork
Back to basics: What seems like a shark attack is really boy & girl playing frisky in the water
An aesthetic cross between Peter Boyle and Grandpa Al Lewis, here's the Tiger Shark scene's White Rabbit
Scriptwriter and actor Carl Gottlieb directs the victorious shark photo within the shark movie
CLICK HERE for the first Cult Film Freak tribute to JAWS

6/26/2015

WEEKEND REVIEW OF TED 2

2015 rating: *1/2
For what's considered a silly stoner buddy comedy, TED was pretty philosophical, taking on everything from pop culture to relationships to religion. Through the safety net filter of a foul-mouthed, pot smoking Teddy Bear, Seth McFarland could channel everything he loathed without restraint and, providing the voice of the titular doll turned human-like sidekick of Mark Wahlberg’s sweet-natured Boston slacker John, the sky was the limit.

Like any comedy sequel, the main agenda here is to go so overboard, fans will forget the past. Right off the bat is a dance number opening credit sequence, as if Seth’s Oscar gig inspired an extravaganza that might lead to something maybe not better, but definitely bigger this time around... Nothing doing.

With a semi-serious plot about Ted going to court to prove he’s human enough to have a baby with his wife; a new love interest for the divorced John in cool chick lawyer Amanda Seyfried; a pointless road trip and a handful of lazy cameos seeming like guests at a stranger’s funeral, TED 2 doesn’t try for anything, really, that would push the envelop any further in this bland vehicle, too contained to be extemporaneous, too restrained to be raucous, too reserved to be controversial, and using the same lame villain, can’t even die with dignity.

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