Acts Of Death
Dead & Breakfast
Stir Of Echoes 2: The Homecoming
When one of the students at a drama class initiation ends up dead, the guilty parties frantically dispose of the body and then pretend nothing happened. Unfortunately for them, someone knows their dirty little secret and is picking off those involved one-by-one.
Acts of Death (aka The Final Curtain) is one of those movies that have an hour’s worth of material stretched out to ninety minutes or, in this case one-oh-three. The setup did not need to take as long as it did and there must have been at least twenty minutes of people wandering around the campus hallways. There are huge logic leaps and the movie isn’t helped by its ridiculous conclusion that plays out like a rejected Scream 4 screenplay. The movie isn’t all bad though. Director Jeff Burton knows what he’s doing visually, the score by John Roome is good and there are some decent gore set pieces, it just takes forever to get to them. Even the cast, for the most part, is better than you would expect and Reggie Bannister (of Phantasm fame) appears as the crusty campus security guard. At first I thought good ol’ Reg was hamming it up, but then character actors Glenn Shadix and Raimi cohort Billy Vincent came onto the scene. I swear I thought I saw bits of scenery in between their teeth. I pledge that the next time my boss asks me something, I will give him a cold stare and remark “It’s been -- (painfully long pause)
The DVD is a bare bones affair with no extras except for the requisite trailers of other Maple releases. Acts Of Death has a few nuggets of goodness, but is ultimately a letdown because of poor pacing and a lame conclusion.
When someone starts cutting out the hearts of women in a small town community, a deputy takes it upon herself to conduct her own investigation. Little does she know that she may have in turn, made herself the killer’s next target.
Looking at this box cover, I immediately thought ‘Oh crap, what am I in for now?’ You can imagine my surprise, when I was stunned to discover that, you know, Brutal isn’t half bad. It has an eighties slasher feel to it, with a pinch of comedy that even had me chuckling a few times. Brutal is, dare I say it, actually clever in some parts. The cast is good, as well. Jeffrey Combs is great (but then, isn’t he always?) as the town sheriff and looks excited just to be out of his lab coat. Angel fans will recognize Sarah Thompson as the naïve deputy and Michael Berryman plays a supporting role where he’s not only a good guy, but also kind of a hero! Now, I may be talking this film up because I had zero expectations, but I must say that while I was watching this so-called slasher, a strange thing happened. I found myself as interested in everything else as I was in the gore set pieces. Also odd was that the setups were more satisfying than the payoff itself. The DVD cover, which I might add looks like it’s for a completely different movie altogether, hails Brutal as “Hostel meets Silence Of The Lambs”, but that's not accurate at all. If anything, in story and structure Brutal reminds more of 1989’s The January Man, but gorier, of course.
For a direct-to-DVD release, Brutal has a quite a lot of extras. There is a lengthy behind-the-scenes featurette and a still gallery. There is also a commentary with director Ethan Wiley. It’s pretty in-depth and considering he is by himself, he holds his own. He talks at length about how wildfires threatened the shoot on several occasions and that Brutal is a prequel to his 2006 movie Blackwater Valley Exorcism, in which some of the same characters appear.
Agnes White (Ashley Judd) has her lonely and boring existence torn asunder when she strikes up a romance with a shy stranger. She is reluctant to believe his theories about government conspiracies and the bugs he sees everywhere… until she starts to see them herself.
Bug is a tight little character piece and its roots as a stage play are immediately apparent. Judd gives a flawless performance as the lonely barmaid that becomes the victim of extreme paranoia. Michael Shannon, who plays the mysterious male lead Peter (who also played the character in the off-Broadway production and was cast for the movie after much reluctance from the studio) is so totally invested in the character, it seems as natural as reality itself. As the insanity between these two escalates, so do their performances. Director William Friedman does an impeccable job of letting the material tell the story and keeps his presence to a minimum throughout. Bug is a perfect example of a film that does so much with so little. It has four characters - including Harry Connick Jr. in another stellar supporting role - all played beautifully and dialogue, rather than action, drives the film. It is a fine curiosity that paints a frightening picture of the infectious traits of fear and paranoia.
The DVD comes with two featurettes and a commentary with director Bill Friedkin. The first featurette is a fairly standard making of called Bug: An Introduction. It features interviews with the cast and crew and focuses mainly on the challenges of adapting Bug from the stage and working in a confined space. The second featurette is really what is worth watching. It is a lengthy sit down interview with William Friedkin. The interviewer asks him questions that run the gamut of his career and delves into his love of opera, how he picks his projects and what he really gets out of filmmaking. An important point Friedkin makes (one I’ve been saying for years) is how the pacing of films has changed over the years due to the shortening attention spans of not only audiences, but also filmmakers. After watching this doc, I was quite looking forward to the commentary, but it was not what I was expecting at all. Friedkin doesn’t really go into detail about the production, but rather gives us a running narration. It’s totally unnecessary and not what I watch a commentary for, so that was disappointing.
Cujo is the film adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel about a rabid St. Bernard run amok in a small Maine town.
It had probably been at least ten years since I’d seen Cujo and am pleased to say that it still holds up beautifully. Unlike some previous films of King’s, Cujo utilizes the subplots of the book well and they don’t feel abbreviated or glazed over. The three leads give great performances, especially then five-year old Danny Pintauro. He gives a beyond-his-age portrayal that rivals that of Miko Hughes in Pet Semetary. What I am old enough to fully appreciate now is the brilliance of the dog effects. I had to look into how they performed some of these stunts because they all looked so real. I figured there MUST be some sort of puppetry or animatronics somewhere, but I couldn’t pick them out. It turns out they used a mix of ten dogs (provided by renowned animal trainer Carl Miller), a man in a dog suit and a mechanical dog’s head. I think when it comes down to it, what makes Cujo such a great movie is the reality of it. When it comes to King stories, we have to suspend our disbelief to get behind possessed cars, kinesis (tele and pyro) or haunted hotels, but being attacked by a rabid dog could happen to any of us, at any time. Cujo is an eighties horror film well worth revisiting and one of the best King adaptations out there.
The DVD sports a worthwhile commentary with director Lewis Teague. He covers many aspects of the film, including the many types of fear, his collaboration with Dutch filmmaker Jan de Bont and how his earlier creature feature Alligator prepared him for this project. There is also a three-part documentary called Dog Days. It is mostly Teague reiterating all the stuff he spoke about in the commentary, but there is some really cool stuff about the dogs. Also, there is some interesting talk about how Charles Bernstein scored the film and how much of an influence Jaws was – thematically and musically – on the movie.
Dark Wolf is a testament to how bad CGI can destroy a movie. I watched Cube 2: Hypercube right before this and thought some of the CGI in that was a little shoddy, but compared to Dark Wolf, Cube 2 looks like The Matrix. Seriously, the transformation scenes look worse than the stuff on early episodes of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. The only reason I really picked this one up at the video store was because of Samaire Armstrong. She caught my eye in a ninth season X-Files episode, so I remembered the name. She has a Rachel Leigh Cook-like quality to her. Kane Hodder also makes an appearance as the human form of the Dark Wolf. It’s been so long since I’ve seen Hodder, I almost didn’t recognize him. There was just enough T&A and gratuitous gore to keep me from reaching for the eject button, but this movie isn’t fit for man or beast.
Even though there are several special features on this DVD, I had to pack it in halfway through the making-of featurette. The enthusiasm of the crew made it sound like they had reinvented the wheel. Did you SEE the finished product?? Loyal readers, you’d be better served by watching American Werewolf In London or Ginger Snaps again rather than wasting your time on this.
Angela Bridges (Rachel Nichols), after having worked late, accidentally gets locked in an underground parking garage on Christmas Eve. To make matters worse, she soon finds herself being stalked by a maniacal security guard (Wes Bentley).
I walked into P2 knowing very little about it except that Alexandre Aja and Greg Levasseur, the pair behind High Tension - a film I’ve always had a soft spot for – were involved. In fact, the director is Franck Khalfoun, who you may remember as Tension’s ill-fated gas station attendant, Jimmy. P2 is a simple, taut and bloody thriller that was much better than I was expecting. At its core, it’s still a fairly standard thriller, but it also has a sprinkling of black comedy that the two leads play completely straight. This makes for a weird mix and the only reason I think it works is that Nichols and Bentley are fully invested. There are several cool little bits – a lot of which are glimpsed in the trailer unfortunately – that make it a fun ride. P2 is also surprisingly gory. I suppose I should have expected that considering the source, but its handful of set pieces will certainly keep the gorehounds contented. P2 is a solid renter. It is nothing spectacular, but definitely better than some of the stuff I’ve seen in wide release in recent months *cough Captivity cough*.
The main strength of Rhinoceros Eyes is that it is perfectly cast. Michael Pitt - who up until this point I always thought of as a poor man’s DiCaprio - really comes into his own as the protagonist Chep, mixing good comic timing with the sincere awkwardness of an introvert. Paige Turco is as lovely as ever as Fran, the object of Chep’s affection. The comic relief side story provided by Bundy (Matt Servitto), Hamish (James Allodi) and Sweets (Victor Ertmanis) is amusing and succeeds in breaking up the strangeness that marks the rest of the film. The most fascinating character is the sprawling prop house itself. The countless relics that stock the shelves come to life with the use of stop motion animation, growing larger and more human each time they appear to Chep. These exchanges are very reminiscent of the giant bunny sequences in Donnie Darko. The inclusion of the Toronto movie house The Royal in the film is also a stroke of genius as the ultimate festival moviegoer in-joke. Another great thing about the film is that you never really know where it’s going to take you. There were several occasions where I thought to myself, ‘where did they come up with that?’ The influence of David Cronenberg (who is actually Eyes director Aaron Woodley's uncle) cannot be missed here, particularly Naked Lunch and eXistenZ. The decision to use both digital film and 35mm is an interesting one. Although this is largely a dimly lit film, the colours of the prop house still come through beautifully. To my knowledge, Eyes is also the first film to combine stop motion animation with the digital format. Rhinoceros Eyes is an imaginative effort that is never pinned down to a single genre.