Favorite Films of 2015

There are a lot of movies I have not seen.  So bear that in mind.  If you are wondering why the Room is not on this list?  It is cause I have not seen it.

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
    Biggest surprise of this year for me.  When first announced, I thought there was no way this could work.  It would be a lesser sequel to a franchise that puttered out over 20 years ago.  And yet, George Miller came back to his franchise and blew the audience away.  The film is insane with it’s visuals.  It’s characters are minimal yet compelling.  it has a positive message.  and it is amazingly re-watchable.
  2.  Selma
    Ava DuVernay has given us a powerful gut punch of history.  The performances are excellent and the film pierces the heart.
  3. Creed
    Like Fury Road, this one totally surprised me.  It was the smartest way to continue the franchise with great performances from Jordan and Stallone.  The story is compelling and inspiring.
  4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
    Introducing lovable new characters, bringing back beloved heroes and putting the prequels to the best use possible…I greatly enjoyed this.
  5. What We Do In Shadows
    Thanks, New Zealand.  This mock documentary follows four Vampire Flat mates and manages to mine laughs from even the most awful parts of vampire lore.  Very funny film.
  6. Maggie
    A small and personal zombie film with one of Schwarzenegger’s strongest performances.
  7. Jupiter Ascending
    A much maligned film, it is like watching a live action Anime.  it gets goofy at times, but like most Wachowski Sibling films visually stunning.
  8. Mr. Holmes
    A typically thoughtful performance from Ian McKellan and a movie that is comfortable moving at a slower pace.  Having a compelling story allows them to take there time without becoming boring.
  9. Ant-Man
    This was such a fun change of pace after the more grim Age of Ultron.  It had a strong and likable cast.
  10. Krampus
    This one was just a light fun holiday scare movie that I enjoyed immensely.

What a Scrooge Part 4 (A Christmas Carol, 1938)

a-christmas-carol-reginald-owen-posterThis version of a Christmas Carol stars Reginald Owen as Ebeneezer Scrooge.  It follows the story quite faithfully, and features fine performances.

In fact, the film has one of my favorite portrayals of Scrooge’s nephew Fred.  Barry MacKay portrays him with a wonderful exuberance.  His kindness is overflowing.

One of the more interesting aspects to me is that the Christmas spirits win Scrooge over quite early.  He is in love with Christmas by Christmas Present.

Yet it still works, and Owen has a true joy when he awakes on Christmas morning.  While the sequences with Fred and Bob Cratchit’s (Played by Gene Lockhart) family are brief, they capture the soul of the redemption of Scrooge.

Owen belongs in the list of memorable Scrooge performances and this is a terrific telling of Dicken’s immortal tale.

Confusing Christmastime (Black Christmas, 2006)

blackchristmas_2006This movie is why people hate horror remakes.

Seriously, they tossed out the things that work and add in…uh, a backstory.  One of the most unnecessary back stories ever.  See, now the sorority house is Billy’s old house, and that is why Billy came back.

Except, now Billy is not alone.  Apparently his daughter/sister (don’t ask) is in the house and has been for awhile.  Cause somebody is killing the sorority girls while Billy is still locked in the asylum.  See, the film does not reveal the sister/daughter until after the killings begin, so it is totally confusing.

The film is just a mess, and truthfully, the cast is not all that memorable in their roles.  The characters are far more generic feeling. Bitchy Girl, Drunk Girl, Nice Girl, Weird Girl…the cast feels like it was culled from the WB.  Probably cause it was.

There is an added “eyeball torture” aspect and a happier ending.  Nothing added to the remake improves upon the original, and everything skipped is that much more noticeable.

Christmas Darkness (Black Christmas, 1974)

black_christmasHalloween is often cited as the father of the slasher genre.  But three years prior was Bob Clark’s Black Christmas.  If you are wondering why the name Bob Clark might sound familiar, there is a reason.  For about a decade, for 24 hours every Christmas, TNT aired back to back showings of Clark’s “A Christmas Story”.  Yeah, that guy who brought us a beloved holiday classic also gave us another, lesser known (but no less classic) holiday film.

Black Christmas is a little bit different in tone, of course.  It is set on Christmas Eve at a sorority house.  As the women engage in festivities, their house is plagued by an obscene caller who speaks in guttural cries.

The film is mainly focused on Jess (Olivia Hussey) who is pregnant, and set on having an abortion.  Her boyfriend, Peter (Keir Dullea), is dead set against it.  There is also a hunt for a young missing girl, and the first girl to die.  But nobody is sure if the sorority girls are running off or truly missing.

We the audience, of course, no better.  The killer is in the house, but what is his motive?  Why this house?  It is a mystery that the film never chooses to answer.  “Billy” has no origin story.  He just shows up and terrorizes the girls.  And it is an effective and unnerving choice.

Black Christmas is well acted, with great visuals.  Rather than focus on gore, it is focused on mood.  And it is powerful.  The film’s final shot as the credits begin to roll are chilling.  There is no music as the camera pulls away from the house.  Just a lone ringing telephone…

Cannon Blasts (Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, 2014)

electric-boogalooThe 80s were the heyday for Cannon Films.  Electric Boogaloo is the story of Israeli  cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus.  Their goal?  To make Hollywood Blockbusters.  Things did not quite pan out, in spite of their tries.

What we got were schlocky gimmick films and attempts to create trends with their films.  This documentary chronicles the rise and fall of their studio Cannon Films.

The film talks to a thorough list of their directors, actors and employees that offer a entertaining and fascinating look at the studio’s rise from sexploitation films to goofy dance films to Chuck Norris actioners.

The film offers some interesting tidbits I was unaware of.  One example?  The Chuck Norris Vietnam POW action flick Missing In Action was actually the second film.  The director of the film told Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus the first film (which was not yet released) was terrible.  So they released the sequel as Missing In Action, and the first film was released as Missing in Action 2: The Beginning.

I found the documentary was interesting and enjoyable.  The Cannon world was a crazy one.  Interestingly, the cousins refused to be interviewed for the documentary, instead funding their own (the Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films) and beating Electric Boogaloo in release by three months.

No Santa (Krampus, 2015)

krampus-winter-posterThe Krampus is a part of Christmas folklore largely unknown to the U.S., he is not part of our tales of Santa.  It is a popular bit of European folklore though.  But, as the film states, he is the dark shadow of Santa.  Santa rewards goodness, but the Krampus condemns the naughty.

It only makes sense that there would be a Christmas film for the Krampus.  Christmas horror stories have been around for quite some time.  A Christmas Carol is a Christmas horror story.

Mike Dougherty, most well known as a screenwriter of numerous super-hero films, this is his second feature as Director.  His first was the very entertaining Halloween themed Trick R’ Treat.  And now he returns to the holiday theme with a Christmas Monster movie.

Young Max is frustrated that his family Christmas is not like it onvce was.  There is fighting, cruel put downs and tension.  After being humiliated with his letter to Santa, Max is angry and heart broken, tearing up his letter to Santa.  He does not realize he has called forth a terrible wish.

The family wakes to discover there was a terrible snowstorm and they are out of power.  And that is not the really bad news.  what follows is the family discovering they are in for a terrible night.

The Krampus and his minions work to take the family to hell.  The thing about Dougherty is he has a skill with letting a horror film have the right amount of dark humor.  The monsters are wonderfully whimsical and creepy, which results in some enjoyable laughs.  I mean, the giggling evil gingerbread men cookies were crazy enough.  The designs are terrific.  The Krampus is almost like a melted Santa…his skin hanging loose, like ill fitting cloth.

The use of a frigid winter and snow are well used.  It is harsh and unforgiving.  The cast (including Toni Collette, Adam Scott and David Koechner) are great.  I genuinely found myself wanting this family to succeed, stop the Krampus and get out alive.

Krampus is a fun and enjoyable ride.  It won’t be winning any awards, but it was great fun for a horror fan.

Camping On Elm Street (Freddy Vs Jason, 2003)

Freddy-vs.-Jason-2003-movie-posterFor about a decade Newline tried to come up with a movie bringing Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees together in a single film.  There were a lot of false starts.  It had been awhile since we saw film franchises cross (Aliens v Predator was still a year away).  You had to expect that in the end, this would probably be terrible.  When they announced Ronny Yu would be directing, that offered some hope, as his Bride of Chucky was actually quite entertaining.  The news that while Englund was back, Kane was not left more than a few fans disappointed.  Watching the completed film?  I actually had fun. Sure this ain’t high art. But it was funny, energetic and kind of interesting. The effects were pretty solid overall, though some moments were clearly computer generated. And the Jason Mewes clone(I kid you not…I expected him to yell “Snootchie Bootchies!”) was a bit ridiculous.

I think Kane Hodder brings a bit more personality to Jason than Ken Kirzinger did.  Part of that is that Kane is a six foot, broad wall of muscle.  His Jason is large and powerful looking.  Kirzinger is a bit taller and less broad…his Jason look much taller and sleeker.  The same can be said for Derek Mears from the 2010 remake of Friday the 13th.  These guys were not bad…but they were not Hodder.

There was a generous amount of nudity, for those who feel that is important to a slasher flick(I do not fall into that camp I am afraid). This is clearly more of a carryover from the Friday the 13th series…there’s nudity in the Elm Streets of course…but not to the degree that there is in a Jason flick.

For Jason, this is a redemption of sorts from the painful Jason X. Thankfully, that took place far in the future and this movie could happily ignore it.  The writers found a pretty interesting way to bring the characters together.  Freddy had lost access to his power, the kids of Elm Street are drugged and no longer dreaming.  So to cause them to fear again, he resurrects Jason and sends him on a murder spree.  but when Freddy is finally strong enough, he finds Jason out of control-killing Freddy’s intended victims.

So Freddy embarks on a mission to take down Jason so he can get back to his own killing spree.  Meanwhile, Lori (Monica Keena) and her friends are trying to figure out how to stop Freddy and Jason with the help of a local cop (Lochlyn Munro) who transferred in from the Camp Crystal Lake area.

Englund slipped right back into the role of Freddy. Cracking wise and being generally vicious. But he pulls it off…Freddy seems a little darker than in the sequels that followed the original. Not a comedian who kills…and some of the facial reactions he pulls off under that makeup is great.  There is a great moment where he suddenly realizes he has been pulled into the real world, and Englund’s expression is that of genuine fear.

As I said towards the beginning, this is a fun movie with a lot of energy, mostly for fans of the franchises, but horror fans in general should be able to find stuff to like.

Let’s Go Camping Part 9 (Jason Goes to Hell: the Final Friday, 1993)

MPW-59123I like the title. It doesn’t warn you that it is NUMBER NINE in the series.  And by golly, it is the Final Friday!  This is the end of the series.  For sure.

And in a grand revisionism, we get new members of the Vorhees clan (Played by Col. Wilma Deering!), a crazy bounty hunter (played by the police captain from 21 Jump Street!) and a bunch of character actors playing wacky hicks. The movie starts out very basic. Attractive woman goes to a cabin, gets naked for a shower and the lights go out. She puts on an industrial strength towel and leaves the bathroom. She looks around, it is just the wind, she turns around and sees JASON! What misdirection! Jason raises a machete and misses the girl one foot away, but he manages to break the railing and she falls to the floor and smashes a coffee table. Towel stays intact. She jumps up and runs out the door. Towel Stays intact.  She slides across her car Dukes of Hazzard Style, and hides behind it as Jason steps out of the cabin. Towel Stays intact. She runs. Towel Stays intact. And runs. Towel Stays intact. And runs. Towel Stays intact. Through a forest. Barefoot. In a towel. Jason lumbers. Towel Stays intact.  Jason catches up, but we discover-IT’S A TRAP!!! There are military guys everywhere. They shoot Jason with machine guns and mortar rounds. They launch missiles at him. Jason go boom. The military guys hand the girl her soldier uniform (a hat). Everyone is happy. Towel Stays intact. That was an impressive towel.

But here is the twist. Jason is not…dead. Oh, wait, that’s not a twist? Shoot. At the autopsy, a familiar character actor sees Jason’s still beating heart and eats it, thus transferring Jason’s essence into his body. How is that for a twist?! See, Jason wears bodies like I wear a suit. Poorly. We also meet our young hero, John LeMay (who has gone on to an inspiring career playing such roles as…um…I am not sure). He is in love with Wilma Deering’s daughter (Kari Keegan, you might remember her from the uncredited role of “former girlfriend” in Jerry Maguire-NO?), even though they broke up.

Then there is The Bounty Hunter (Captain Fuller from 21 Jump Street. Oh, and Mr. X on the X-Files. My friend Rob would be heart broken if I forgot to mention that). He’s a wacky bounty hunter who speaks in crazy metaphors and is an expert in all things Jason. He is just waiting for someone to pony up enough cash to catch Jason.

This film is a crazy mess of a film.  The story makes no sense and an all new back story is invented for Jason.  Suddenly he is a body hopping spirit aided by demons.  Special knives are now required to end Jason.  He suddenly has additional family members.

The film attempts to wink and nudge it’s way through working hard to be self aware.  In one scene, we see a guy and girl getting it on. She says he has to use a condom, he whines, so she says “what the heck” and throws the condom out of the tent.  And for that, Jason guts her and her boyfriend. As Jason walks away, his boot grinds the unopened condom into the mud. How this never became a safe sex ad on TV is beyond me.

In the end, the ground opens up, giant hands grab Jason and a light shines down from heaven, Jason is sucked in to the earth, leaving behind only his hockey mask. LeMay and Keegan walk off (with the baby). Suddenly, a clawed, gloved hand bursts from the dirt, pulls the mask into the ground and we hear Freddy cackle. This started the hopes of horror fans everywhere for a Freddy and Jason movie.  And then eight years later we got…a sequel without Freddy…

Let’s Go Camping Part 8 (Friday the 13th: Jason Takes Manhattan, 1989)

friday13th8Yep. Jason Takes Manhattan. Again, Kane Hodder makes Jason very entertaining to watch. Anyways, the movie starts on the Streets of Manhattan where a voice talks about the gritty city…eventually, after the credits are over we get to Crystal Lake and a small houseboat on which two high school seniors are getting it on. The anchor drags along the bottom and picks up a powerline. Juice jumps to the body of Jason, who is chained to the bottom of the lake, yet again. The boyfriend hears a noise. He leaves the girl, and she starts to get predictably nervous. Suddenly a guy in a hockey mask pops in and stabs her! Oh wait, it’s just a retractable knife. She gets so mad at him that they get back into bed to have sex. I gotta remember that…making a woman think you are a mass murder and she could have been your next victim is a turn on to the ladies. Of course, if you are paying any attention when you popped the disc in the player, you know Jason is on the boat and ready to kill, kill, kill. And so he walks in grabs the hockey mask and a spear gun. The girl sees him, freaks out causing her boyfriend to turn a few shades of white as he turns around. Jason shows the tried and true aim of a Stormtrooper from Star Wars and misses the two kids that he is five feet away from. Don’t worry, he remedies the situation and manages to kill them both.

The next morning we meet the senior class of Crystal Lake High…all fifteen of them. Just like any high school class there are your basic stereotypes. The Jock and his friends. The friendly Black Jock. The Hot, Self Absorbed Blonde and her follower (in most movies she has more than one, in this film it is just Kelly Hu). The video nerd. The rocker chick. The nice geek. The nice teacher. The creepy principal and then there is the Troubled Heroine and her dog. She is scare of the water. And is getting on a big boat. She has waking nightmares about a young boy calling for help. Sometimes? Its a young boy with a full head of hair. Other times, its a deformed boy who looks like young Jason. They are both supposed to be Jason though. Go figure. Jason grabs onto the side of the boat. Then there is the ominous deck hand who keeps saying everyone is going to die. Every ship should have one of those. Maybe the Titanic would not have sunk.

Jason wanders the boat, killing just about everyone. For some reason, he thinks it’s better to kill the captain and it’s crew first, ensuring that the ship start to have technical difficulties forcing the survivors to jump ship in a life raft. Real smart Jason. So the Nice Geek, Nice Teacher, the Friendly Black Jock, the Creepy Principal and the Troubled Heroine (without her dog) all float along until they reach New York. But Jason gets there as well. And lucky for Jason, people are not faced by walking corpses wearing Hockey Masks in New York, so he is not phased.

Some druggie gang members kidnap the Troubled Heroine and shoot her up as they get ready to rape her. Her friends all split up to try and find cops. Well, before the gang members can rape her, Jason steps in to save the day. Jason isn’t so bad after all, right? So, our now high and Troubled Heroine runs away and meets up with the Nice Geek. They go looking for everyone else. The Friendly Black Jock turns a corner and meets Jason, well, that’s not good! Being a minority is bad news in a Friday the 13th film. If you want to live. He runs from Jason and climbs a fire escape. But apparently, Jason is able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. The Friendly Black Jock starts punching Jason. Jason just stands there until the Friendly Black Jock is so tired he is missing Jason (who is one foot away-I did not say he was a Friendly Black TALENTED ATHLETE Jock).. Then, all tired out he says to Jason one of the stupidest things you can say to an undead serial killer. “Go ahead…take your best shot”. So, with one punch, Jason knocks his block off. Literally.

In the meantime, the other four have met back up and found a cop. He makes them get into the back seat. When he opens his door the dome light reveals the head of the Friendly Black Jock on the dashboard. Everyone screams and the cops starts calling for help…rather in vain as Jason grabs him and drags him away. The Troubled Heroine jumps to the front seat, apparently, the cop cars in NY have no screen dividing the front and back seats. She speeds the car down the alley and Jason steps in front of the car. Suddenly she sees little deformed Jason soaking wet…and she runs him over and crashes the car…everyone but Friendly Teacher get out before the car explodes. Suddenly, the Troubled Heroine has a flashback to the Creepy Principal (her uncle, did I forget to mention that?) pushing her out of a boat to force her to swim, where she gets pulled under water by deformed young Jason. Seven and eight really mess with the Chronology of the series with these flash backs, but if you don’t try and make a logical timeline you will be okay.

So the Nice Geek and the Troubled Heroine run away from Creepy Prinipal. Jason wakes up and starts chasing him. The Creepy Principal runs into a building. It’s here that Jason displays his ability to teleport as suddenly the Creepy Principal flies from the second floor window. Jason looks at him and disappears from the window. Suddenly he is on ground level and grabs the Creepy Principal, carries him over to a barrel full of grungy looking rain water and drowns him in it.

Jason goes after the last two survivors. They duck into the subways and he follows. Oddly people are more annoyed by the kids pulling an emergency break on the Subway than the Homicidal Maniac in the Hockey Mask. Jason appears to get electrocuted by the train tracks. This allows the Nice Geek and Troubled Heroine to say, “It’s all over!” Its not of course…and They see Jason in the middle of Times Square. They run through the streets. Jason passes some punk rockers listening to rap. Apparently, Jason doesn’t “feel” hip hop, as he KICKS their boom box in stride. They of course start to make threats. Jason stops, turns around and lifts his mask and the punks have a change of heart. Jason lets them live and walks away. Best gag in the entire film.  He follows the two remaining kids into the sewers.

But the Troubled Heroine throws a bucket of toxic waste in Jason’s face. And it burns. But Jason does not give up. He stumbles down the Sewer. Well, the Trouble Heroine and the Nice Geek hit a dead end, but there is a ladder. They climb to the grate at the top, but it won’t budge. They are stuck as Jason reaches the ladder. OH SHIT! WHAT WILL THEY DO?! Did you know that at midnight, NY floods the sewers with Deadly Toxic Waste? Me neither, but according to the movie, they do. You would think they would not want us to hear about that. The NY Film Commission is just stupid. Or maybe they are just greedy. I don’t know.

So, anyways, the deadly toxic waste floods the hall. Jason sees it and starts vomiting water as the wall of toxic waste tumbles towards him. Not sure why. It’s just what Jason does. The toxic wastes hits Jason and he starts to disintegrate. Luckily, the toxic waste is odor and fume free, so our two survivors are not at risk of being knocked out by the fumes and falling into the waste. Then the toxic waste recedes. Leaving a normal, non-Jason looking little boy lying dead in his swimming suit. They killed Jason’s true spirit…or something like that. The two survivors find a way out and walk onto the streets at sunrise. Now they can say “It’s all over”. As they hug, something catches the Troubled Heroine’s eye. Whoa, is it Jason? Nope. It’s her dog, who we last saw on the boat. What a relief!!!! And then the credits role.

This is not a good film.  The story is muddled, the characters are light sketches even by slasher movie standards.

You might think Jason going to Manhattan is as an absurd concept as a franchise can get. Just remember…Jason has been to space.

The Walking Amended

So, yesterday brought news that Frank Darabont “updated” his wrongful termination suit against AMC and the Walking Dead.

Specifically, he has added Fear the Walking Dead (debuting August 23rd on AMC) to the suit (among other changes).

For the first time, the plaintiffs have called out the upcoming Fear The Walking Dead by name as “derivative productions” for which Darabont is due payment.“Plaintiffs are entitled to payments and/or contingent compensation under the terms of the Agreement for Talking Dead and any subsequent derivative productions, including the forthcoming scripted spinoff to The Walking Dead titled Fear The Walking Dead,” says the 30-page amended complaint put before the NY State courts Tuesday (quoted from Deadline Hollywood)

The whole concept of “derivative of” is a pretty hazy notion.  And as it applies to Fear the Walking Dead?  Unless we are about to meet the unmentioned Dixon Sister Cheryl, I see little ground to stand on.

Darabont did not invent or re-invent the concept of zombie survival drama.  He adapted Robert Kirkman’s comic book.  And while he created characters specifically for the show (the Dixon Brothers, for example), he did not invent the idea of “survivors of the zombie apocalypse”.  Fear the Walking Dead is derivative of the “zombie apocalypse genre”.  But that was not Darabont’s idea at work.

The Walking Dead is derivative of George Romero’s work, should he be suing Darabont? AMC? Kirkman?

If AMC broke their deal, they owe compensation.  But I have to be brutally honest here.  The portion of Season 2 that Darabont was a part of before being fired was the biggest stumble of the series…much of season 2 was rambling and dull, only getting interesting towards the end and after Darabont was out.  I have never found myself wishing to know what “Darabont’s season five” would have been like.  And unless he has some evidence that they followed his game plan (including the Fear the Walking Dead Spin-Off in some form) I cannot say I agree with the amended lawsuit.

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