Years ago on the Simpsons, Homer was wondering aloud what his middle name might be. He jokes it might be M. Night Shyamalan, saying “That would be a twist worthy of his increasingly sucky films.” If I remember correctly, eerily enough, that episode aired before Lady in the Water debuted, which is the first film of his I truly disliked. Next came the Happening, which apparently was so bad some referred to it as The Crappening. After that was The Last Airbender, possibly his most critically panned film. I never saw his last two films, but it seemed this once promising career fell into oblivion.

So this past summer when the trailers were out for The Visit, they looked quite interesting, until it revealed it was directed by Shyamalan. However, it turns out The Visit was very effective, marking a comeback to form for M. Night Shyamalan.

The premise is these too pre-teen kids Rebecca and Tyler go to visit their grandparents for a week. Their mother, Paula, had longed been estranged from her parents, dating back to an incident that happened in her younger years that nobody talks about.

Both child actors are very good in their roles. Tyler is annoying at first but grows on you. He’s a young budding rapper who comes up with his own rhymes throughout the film. Rebecca is wise beyond her years with a superb vocabulary. She is a young filmmaker, and wants to make a documentary about this weekend trip and possible reconciliation between her mother and grandparents. Hence, both herself and Tyler have cameras through which we see the events of the film. The use of two cameras adds some nice touches to the found footage genre. The kids also comment a lot about how they will make the film. They discuss the different shots they can get and musical choices.

Things are very happy in the visit at first. Slowly a few things come up that appear strange, but can be dismissed as mere symptoms of old age. As events unfold there is tension at first between the siblings, as Rebecca is less open to the idea that something very strange is happening than Tyler is.

There is a subplot about the grandparents helping out at a local hospital that adds to some mystery. Eventually Rebecca agrees that something is amiss and things build to a pretty tense third act.

The Visit provides some very effective scares and tension. The two kids also have personal demons involving being abandoned by their father. They both must overcome these issues if they are to survive the situation.

After the climax come a very moving denouement. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a movie that was so generally scary and then so generally touching. Props to Shyamalan for making a comeback and here’s to hoping for more great Shyamalan films.








Spectre Film Review

Posted: November 14, 2015 in Movies
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Spectre is the newest James Bond movie of the Daniel Craig series. The previous three films built up to everything we know about Bond, the last one finally introducing Moneypenny and a young Q. This one finally introduces the classic Bond villain Blofeld and his organization Spectre.

This entry relies heavily on prior knowledge of the previous three entries. I’ve seen the other three when they came out, but while watching Spectre I found myself not remembering certain characters or other things mentioned in this film. The plot is topical for today, with a theme of surveillance/security vs privacy/individual freedom. It’s execution is rather simplistic with little insight into the issue. On a side note, interestingly enough, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which sought to emulate espionage films like James Bond, tackled this topic with much more interest and insight. There’s also a character that turns out to be working for Spectre, but it’s so obvious I don’t know if it can even be considered a plot twist.

WWE star Bautista stars as a henchmen of Blofeld. He’s naturally imposing and only has one line in the movie. However is first interaction with Bond is during a rather uninteresting car chase. Both Bond and Bautista have these super cool sports cars. However, while racing through the streets of Europe, I don’t know if it’s something about the way it was filmed or what, but on the big screen it looked like a low speed chase. It just didn’t look exciting.

By the end we find out Blofeld’s personal connection to Bond.  In this rebooted Bond world Spectre is not an acronym, it’s just a name. It does have a logo, that of an octopus. Again going back to Captain America, this may remind viewers of Hydra, the terrorist organization from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Towards the end it explores the theme of choice, James Bond believes he doesn’t have a choice to be anything other than who he is, and is challenged in this assumption. By this point it’s too late though. Spectre overall is just not interesting.

Undoubtedly there will be more James Bond movies. The credits do end with the standard “James Bond will return.” However, if this particular series ends here, it does end in such a way that wraps things up for this version of the character. Spectre does provide a solid ending for the Daniel Craig version of James Bond.

The Ghost Dimension is the latest entry of the Paranormal Activity series of found footage films. This one focuses on the husband and wife of Ryan and Emily and their daughter Leila, along with Ryan’s brother Mike. There’s a lot of references to the third Paranormal movie, in fact it opens with the end of part 3. In this newest film  they find the VHS tapes from the third movie and watch a few of them. There’s also additional tapes of the young twin girls from prior installments where their seen being trained by an adult male. This character is never named and I don’t recall him appearing in prior films. Throughout the movie the idea of supernatural time travel is used. In fact while watching the VHS tapes the girls from the past seem to interact with the characters watching them in the then present of 2013.

The main new conceit of this film is that along with the video tapes this old camera is found. Some technical aspects of the camera are explained as it has extra lenses and other special parts, modified in a way that is very unique. This camera is able to record the presence of supernatural elements. When they first start using the camera they noticed what look like wisps of smoke in certain areas, and when they stand inside the wisp area the sound gets distorted. As time goes on these wisps get darker and take more shape and eventually form demonic forces. Ryan and Mike at first presume that this is a mere camera glitch, but as other strange events unfold they come to understand they are witnessing supernatural phenomenon.

This leads to more special effects than previous entries, and at first is effective at delivering frights. Towards the end when the visuals are more pronounced and violent it at times resembles a video game and is not as effective in delivering scares.

In this entry the spirits are targeting the young Leila. There’s a great special effect near the end where a rocky corridor to another realm opens above her bed. Also, this story takes place around Christmas time, which was a nice change although I felt Christmas motif’s were underused.

Like a lot of entries in this series, there is the question of why the people don’t just get out of the house. This issue is pronounced in this entry as they can now visually see the demon on film. Early on a spirit breaks a mirror and a ghostly hand appears in the reflection. This is a good scene but apparently the characters in film never watched it.

In the third act a priest appears (Emily is Catholic). He notes that an Exorcism is not needed, but instead the demon must be sent back to hell. So we get a different ceremony not seen as often on film to serve as the climax.

Throughout this series the humans that serve the demonic forces seemed to have an end game in mind. This entry delivers on this end game. Overall this entry is not as effective as previous entries, but still provides some items of interest. I’d still be curious to see how future installments play out, now that the end game is realized. I also want to know who made the camera.

This makes the list if nothing else for the incredible amount of work that must have went into this. It’s various clips from the Star Wars films edited so it goes through the song Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen. There’s a few different versions but I liked this one the best. Other versions used clips from video games but this was taken straight from the 6 movies. The beat isn’t bad either. Enjoy!

The Martian (Film Review)

Posted: October 4, 2015 in Movies
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The Martian is a film where Matt Damon’s character Mark Watney gets stranded on Mars. Mark is part of a manned mission to Mars, and in the opening scene Mark’s crew mistakenly believe Mark has died in a sandstorm. The crew leaves Mars and heads back to Earth in their ship, called the Hermes, not realizing Mark has survived. Frequently throughout the film Mark records video logs explaining his situation. It would take four years for a ship from Earth to come to Mars and rescue him.

The first part of the film focuses on his basic survival. He manages to produce water, and grows potatoes using his own feces as fertilizer. Despite the harrowing circumstances, Mark in the first act seems to solve his immediate problems with ease. Things start to go wrong later in the film, bringing some tension in as he struggles to survive. Meanwhile back on Earth, NASA learns that he is alive and struggles to figure a way to both keep him alive and rescue him. Various characters are introduced throughout the course of the narrative offering solutions to the various problems that come up. The Chinese Space program ends up giving some assistance, marking the first time in modern American cinema the Chinese have come to save the day.

Ultimately Mark’s crew decides to disobey NASA and rescue Mark themselves. The situation of the crew of the Hermes in a way was more interesting to me than Mark’s. We get some lip service on what they are risking, court martial, never being sent in space again, and additional time for this mission that will keep them from their families. However the crew decides to help Mark with no hesitation.

Tense moments aside there is room for some humor as Mark jests about his situation, as well as other small anecdotes such as how the only music he has to listen to is his crew mates 1970s disco collection.

The final two acts provide a lot of tension as various things go wrong right up to the very end. The Martian tells a very satisfying story. Although I do enjoy the action/franchise oriented films of our day, The Martian is a breath of fresh air that tells a pure science fiction story for our time.

One of the standard videos on Youtube is a song mixed with Movie/TV/Game footage. There’s lots of videos of the classic 1980s song “Holding Out for a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler (or it’s assorted remakes) set to movies, superhero cartoons, video games, etc. It was hard to pick among all of them, but being a child of the 80s this is my favorite. I’m biased obviously, feel free to share any you enjoy.

Here is is at #9.

Grendel vs the Shadow pits the 1980‘s independent comics character against the double pistol wielding pulp hero of the 1930’s. The two characters meet via mystical time travel. In the Shadow’s time, the last descendant of Genghis Khan (The Shadow’s traditional arch enemy) smuggled a sacred burial urn into New York. The Shadow shut down the operation and the urn sank to the bottom of New York Harbor.

Decades later some treasure hunters find it and sell it to Hunter Rose/Grendel. For those unfamiliar with the character, Grendel is like an evil version of the Green Hornet. Grendel wears a black mask and fights the mafia, while actually running a crime syndicate himself.

The scene where the treasure hunters meet Hunter Rose has some Easter eggs, but they’re Easter eggs relating to history. Hunter Rose has collected various items from history such as a Hemingway typewriter, Jesse James’s gun belt, Al Capone’s cigar, and the armor worn by Australian outlaw Ned Kelly.

Once Hunter obtains the urn he finds a Chinese scroll inside of it identified as the Eternity Codex. Hunter reads the incantation and finds himself sent back in time to 1932 New York. One of the first things he notices is that the Twin Towers aren’t visible, so Rose’s “present” in this story is presumably before 2001. A movie theater marquee advertises the 1932 film Boris Karloff’s The Mummy.

Realizing his situation, he decides to make the best of it. Knowing that prohibition is about to end the next year, he starts his own criminal organization that focuses on gambling, prostitution, and narcotics. While on his crime spree he attracts the attention of the Shadow, who upon hearing the name Grendel notes the connection to the famous Beowulf poem.

Meanwhile Grendel’s civilian identity establishes himself as a literary figure. At fancy parties he drops several names from literature and jokes that Hemingway might kill himself.

Issue one of the series ends with the two costumed characters about to meet. Issue two opens with their battle as Grendel manages to overcome the Shadow’s hypnotic powers. The Shadow gets bloodied during the fight but wins the encounter as Grendel runs away.

Later they both meet in their civilian identities and recognize each other instantly. As the conflict carries out Hunter Rose gets a new love interest, the daughter of a mafia don who provides her own plot twist (Grendel’s lost love Jocasta is mentioned). Meanwhile there’s a subplot between the Shadow and his assistant, Margo Lane. Margo comes across a means to do something else with her life, which raises the question of whether or not Margo and the Shadow need each other.

One issue with any Shadow story is that he never seems to be in any real danger. He laughs, comes out of the darkness, and shoots everyone with the greatest of ease. Grendel is not superhuman, but is at least able to give the Shadow a bloody nose, which is more than most gangsters had been able to do. He also is able to disarm the Shadow, forcing him into an interesting backup plan.

With Grendel the Shadow faces the idea that crime will never be wiped out. The story ends with things returning to normal for both characters. The future existence of Grendel does not discourage the Shadow, rather it strengthens his resolve to stamp out the bitter disease that is crime.