Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Son of Celluloid Picks the Top 13 Flicks of 2014

A couple of notes before we get started here.  First of all, this year I opened up the countdown to non-horror movies.  A lot of the best flicks this year danced around the edges of the genre; not really horror but somehow horrific.  Those classification defying films deserved a spot, so no more genre limitations.  Second of all, a couple of these movies were out before this year but were not widely available until 2014.  If I saw it this year, it’s fair game.  Let’s see, anything else…oh yeah.  If I had seen Found this year, it would have been an easy #1.  Ok Cellmates, I present to you my top thirteen films of 2014…

Honorable Mention: Purge:Anarchy, Proxy, Godzilla, American Muscle, Tusk, Collar, Deadly Virtues, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, The Hornet’s Sting and The Hell It’s Caused

13. Cross Bearer 
I’m keeping Cross Bearer at the bottom only because of questions over which year it should count as.  While the majority of horror flicks this year was concerned with exploring the edges of the genre and being so called “high concept,” Cross Bearer wallowed in sleazy slasher excess and was a blast to watch because of it.  Bloody, booby, and brutal goodness.  Adam Ahlbrandt has a definite handle on the basics.


 12. Tie - Captain America: Winter Soldier / Guardians of the Galaxy 
Even the Son of Celluloid needs a non-horror palate cleanser now and then.  Superhero movies are just what the doctor ordered, and this year Marvel released their two best films to date.  CA:WS introduced something new to the Marvel flicks; a real, honest to goodness plot.  It was a political thriller with the usual comic book movie  “bang pow boom” as an accoutrement.  Guardians of the Galaxy was just a fun as hell sci-fi romp.  While I can’t in good conscience give Marvel two spots on the countdown, these were my favorite theatrical releases of the year.

11. Time To Kill 
Don’t get me wrong, some movies are supposed to hurt, but the majority of the time the number one thing a movie should be is fun to watch.  I give Time To Kill the title of “Funnest Flick Of 2014.”  Plentiful tits and blood, a killer soundtrack, and a breakout turn from rising star Ellie Church make Brian Williams’ debut feature a neo-exploitation gem not to be missed.  Just don’t make an “all shots no beer” drinking game out of it.  Bad things happen.  I learned that the hard way.

10. Babadook 
Forget for a minute that this flick was ridiculously overhyped.  Is it the best horror flick in years?  No.  Is it a really good one?  Yep.  If I were giving out a Best Actress award, Essie Davis would have it hands down.  Child actor Noah Wiseman killed it too.  Add in great production design (am I the only one who thinks the monster looks like a caricature of Coffin Joe?) and a well-built pace and you have an effective little thriller. 

9. Morris County 
Matt Garrett’s Morris County is either the most depressing flick of the year or a pitch black comedy (or both) depending on how twisted you are.  It’s well acted, well written, contains some really good practical makeups, and has a deliciously grim atmosphere that I’ve heard compared to Happiness.  The third segment can completely bum me out or have me in stitches depending on the mood it catches me in.  That kind of tonal complexity is a rare achievement.

8. Cold In July 
You had me at Lansdale.  Cold in July is a little bit of everything.  It’s a revenge story.  It’s a hard boiled noir.  It’s Don Johnson being a cowboy badass.   It’s a character study.   It’s a gripping look at how violence affects our lives.  And in the last half hour, it’s a balls to the wall violent slaughterfest.  In other words, this one’s got something for everyone.  Between this, We Are What We Are, Stakeland, and the flick at #6, I will now officially watch anything with Nick Damici in it.

7. I Am No One 
With his first feature, Jason Hoover has recreated the serial killer movie.  Mix the style of Man Bites Dog with the spirit of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and you have I Am No One.  Foregoing Grand Guignol excess in favor of chilling, quiet moments with violent punctuation, Hoover uses the faux-documentary style to its full potential.  Mike Nall is brilliant as the killer, always seeming a little too calm not to be coiled to strike.  Through interviews and observation, the human face that hides the mind of a maniac (doomed to be a killer since he came out the nutsack?) slowly cracks and falls away until a climax that is one of the best single scenes the underground has produced in a long time.  The true horror comes after the movie when you realize just how many people like Charles Lake you might have known.  This is grown up horror, and it’s a direction I hope the serial killer sub-genre continues following.

6. Late Phases 
The first great werewolf movie since Dog Soldiers.  Late phases takes the flavor of an old school creature feature and, as many of the best horror flicks from the past few years have, added a double shot of genuine pathos.  Nick Damici is wholly believable as a gruff, blind Vietnam vet dealing with his new life in a retirement community, a deteriorating relationship with his son, and the werewolves that make monthly attacks on his neighborhood.  A supporting turn by Tom Noonan as a priest and practical creature effects by none other than Robert Kurtzman are both worth noting.  The CGI blood is worth ignoring.

5. Come Back To Me 
I figured that a movie based on Wrath James White's book The Resurrectionist had zero chance of not disappointing. The source material is extremely graphic, and with the current lack of balls in the horror movie game, I knew the flick wouldn't match the book's intensity. I was pleasantly surprised by this one, though. Come Back To Me did omit the over the top violence, but still found a way to capture enough of the story's original tone to make it palatable to both fans of the book and mainstream horror without it feeling neutered.  It’s genuinely eerie, builds the tension well, and the finale is a straight up kick in the balls.  If you haven’t read the book, the twist will get ya.

4. Blue Ruin 
This is what would happen if some everyday schlub like you or me tried to pull off some one man army, Death Wish vigilante type of shit.  In a year with multiple well done revenge flicks, this is the best.  It’s got some satisfyingly bloody set pieces, but writer/director Jeremy Saulnier makes sure they are felt and actually have an impact.  Moments of comedy weave in and out of the tragedy of a man obligated to do a job he’s nowhere near ready to carry out.  That man’s journey is made all the more gripping by a tour de force performance by Macon Blair.  It’s the second best (behind only the masterpiece that is Found) movie everyone could have gotten at Wal-mart for ten bucks this year that no one bought.  

3. Nightcrawler 
The best way I can describe Nightcrawler is “exactly what 4amin a big city feels like captured on screen.”  It shows a deftness and confidence behind the camera that is surprising from a first time director like Dan Gilroy.  The entire cast is on point.  Jake Gyllenhaal (who looks terminally ill in this flick) is immensely creepy and practically oozes sleaze all over the audience.  If he and Rene Russo don’t get Oscar nominations, the terrorists win. Bill Paxton is awesome as a total dick.  The flick looks absolutely gorgeous, exhibiting the best cinematography of the year.  While the story works literally, everyone I’ve talked to sees something different in it metaphorically.  That kind of multi-level filmmaking is refreshing.  Since it’s 2014 exposure was limited, I expect the February DVD drop date to ensure this one makes it on a multitude of “Best of 2015” lists.

2. Starry Eyes 
Worst casting couch ever!  Part biting show business satire and part body horror, Starry Eyes is the story of an aspiring actress who just may have gone too far in the pursuit of a role in the film The Silver Scream.  I’ve heard it compared to the work of both David Lynch and Roman Polanski, and I can see the best of both influences in it.  I see a lot of Cronenberg too, especially the superb use of (well done) makeup as character development ala The Fly.  Alex Essoe puts in a great performance, showing the chops necessary to be a possible future genre mainstay.  The gore is practical and suitably gooey.  Starry Eyes seems to exist between eras; with a 70’s Euro-horror feel, an 80’s score, and a bleak as hell millennial nihilism.  I would give anything for the people behind this to go the Found/Headless route and actually make The Silver Scream

1.Pieces of Talent 
I just noticed that my top two movies both involve struggling actresses and the world of filmmaking.  Interesting.  Anyway, If you pay attention to the underground horror scene at all, there’s no way Pieces of Talent flew under your radar.  Joe Stauffer’s flick got a lot of buzz, and every bit of it was deserved.  Charlotte toils away at a seedy strip club where she meets David, a filmmaker who adopts Charlotte as his leading lady and muse.  But just how far will David go to realize his artistic vision?  The first thing I loved about this flick was David Long as, um… David Long.  It’s so hard to get a read on his character.  He definitely plays him weird as hell, but it’s not quite an endearing weird and not quite a menacing weird.  It’s that kind of “there’s something wrong with that dude, but I’m not sure what” weird.  I’ve never seen a performance like it before.  Kristi Ray brings a likable vulnerability to Charlotte as well.  Another thing that blew me away is how the film played with tone and form, veering between different styles of horror to weave an intricate stylistic patchwork and keep the audience on their toes.  It’s alternately subtle, creepy, funny, bizarre and dreamlike, and brutal and bloody (with practical effects I might add) when it needs to be.  First person “found footage” style footage is used in conjunction with standard third person style in a way that is far more effective than any full on FFF.   The final, lingering thing that stuck with me was the feeling that, if I were just a little crazier, David could be me.  Any creative type, from a filmmaker to a painter to a writer, can understand David’s motivation to some extent.  It’s a look at the state of independent horror filmmaking through a prism of madness, and it leaves that sickly feeling that you might not be as different from the villain as you would like to believe.  The fact that it’s miles ahead of the majority of similarly budgeted films on every technical level (sound, editing, cinematography, etc.) is just icing on the cake. Pieces of Talent is an impressive and truly unique film.  Stauffer and Long are currently raising funds for a sequel.  I hope to god that it happens.

 Starry Eyes, Blue Ruin, Come Back To Me, Late Phases, Cold In July, Babadook, Captain America: Winter Soldier, and Guardians of the Galaxy are available on Amazon either on DVD/BR or streaming.
CROSS BEARER is available HERE 
TIME TO KILL is available HERE
I AM NO ONE is available HERE 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Son of Celluloid Picks The 5 Worst Movies of 2014

This is where I usually say “Oh, come on guys.  This year in horror wasn’t THAT bad.”  I won’t be saying that this year.  Why?  Because it was.  In 2014, the good was great.  Unfortunately, despite my Best Of list being the longest it’s ever been, a higher percentage of the year’s releases were pure crap.   So…much…crap.  To be honest, there was a long period of 2014 where I didn’t watch any new stuff, only my old favorites.  My need to see everything wasn’t as strong this year, therefore I avoided a lot of stuff that I knew was gonna be rotten.  Had I been more of a cinematic masochist, the ratio of badassery to sucktitude might be even worse.  However, in an attempt to be positive about the year, I’m doing a Top 13 instead of a Top 10 while keeping my Worst list at the same number.  So let’s rid ourselves of these five cinematic turds before we celebrate the killer flicks that came out last year, shall we?

Note: I couldn’t bring myself to watch Ouija, Annabelle, or As Above So Below.  I’d be willing to bet that my list may look different if I had.

Dishonorable Mentions: Leprechaun Origins, SX Tape, Camp Dread, Deliver Us From Evil, Stage Fright, Housebound, all of those flicks in the found footage resurgence.

5. Tie: Sharknado 2/Sharktopus vs Pteracuda

It happens all the time on sitcoms; a character does something that catches on with the audience so the writers then zero in on it, overuse it, and make it annoying.  Such is the case here.  I liked the first Sharknado, and I LOVE me some Sharktopus.  Hell, I love most of Syfy’s intentionally bad movies.  The problem with the follow ups to their two most successful shark flicks is that they were too self-aware.  These types of movies are usually so much fun because, despite the ludicrous situations, they’re played straight.  The movie doesn’t acknowledge that it’s bad.  These two traded that deadly-earnest delivery for a whole lot of “wink-wink-nudge-nudge.”  They veered off into spoof territory and lost all of their bite in the process.  It’s a damn shame too.  I was pretty damn excited for a second helping of ‘Pus.

4. Devil’s Due

Facebook: Early January

 Me - The trailer for Devil's Due looks terrible. I have a feeling it's gonna suck.

Everyone else - Shut up Nathan. It looks great. You're just a horror elitist. You don't want to like it because it's a Hollywood flick.

Me - No, it just looks like a bad movie.

Facebook: Two Weeks Later

 Everyone else - Devil's Due sucked! I can't believe I spent money on that!

Me - I tried to tell...

Everyone else - Shut up, Nathan.

For the third consecutive time (Texas Chainsaw 3D - 2013, The Devil Inside – 2012), the first major horror release of the year has made my worst list.  Woman in Black 2, this does not bode well for you.

3. Dracula Untold

More like Dracula Unwatchable.  Am I right?  Let’s see, where to start?  The laughable acting?  The hilariously melodramatic atmosphere? The hordes of CGI bats?  Dracula suddenly being able to control the weather like a Halle Berry?  Drac’s lore being shat upon by adding a silver vulnerability?  Oh, I know.  How about the horribly lazy script?  For example:  in one climactic scene, when he is called “Impaler” Vlad screams “That is no longer my name!  I am Dracula, son of the devil!”  Minutes later, he impales someone and says “You forget who I am.”  But didn’t you just say… oh, forget it.  This just sucked.  Not in the way the King of the Vampires is supposed to suck either.  The Twilighting of Dracula.  Ugh.

2. I, Frankenstein

I get that some of you are into that Underworld “loud, dumb CGI action flick with horror elements” thing.  Good on ‘ya.  Just leave classic, beloved, complex characters out of your mindless fun.  I’ve long held the belief that there is no such thing as a movie with no redeeming value.   I may have been wrong.  I cannot, for the life of me, find anything to like about this shitfest.  It’s too bad to even be unintentionally entertaining.  Even Aaron freakin’ Eckhart was bad in this.  With the announcement that Universal wants to take their classic monster franchises in a more action oriented direction, I, Frankenstein is exactly what I’m afraid of.  This tale told by an idiot proves that a flick doesn’t even need to be all that loud or furious to signify nothing.  If you have no idea what I just referenced, you probably dug I, Frankenstein.  Hell, Dracula Untold too for that matter.

1.The Sacrament

Did you hear that?  That was all of the horror hipsters mustering up just enough anger to be pissed at me but still look cool and unaffected.  Sounded a lot like a tape getting eaten by a VCR, didn’t it?  Anyway, just about every Top 10 Of 2014 list I’ve seen has contained the worst flick of the year.  I’ll try to be brief about why this movie is 2014’s epitome of suck here since I’ve already gone on lengthy rants on the Picking Brains Podcast (check out those episodes HERE and HERE).  Basically, the film begins as a found footage film, then proceeds to do a multitude of things to betray that setup; including but not limited to dolly shots, lighting tricks, multiple camera angles occurring simultaneously when there is only one camera present, a shot/reverse shot conversation, and half of the movie consisting of footage from a camera that was destroyed on screen.  It completely fails as a movie through a complete lack of any continuity or logic.  Ti West was either too lazy and sloppy to fix the obvious issues with his film or insulted the audience’s intelligence by assuming that they wouldn’t notice.  To me, neither of those things are forgivable, especially from an indie horror darling who is supposed to be the future of the genre.  What perturbs me more than the actual ineptitude of The Sacrament, however, is the fact that no one seems to have noticed.  The two good performances and glacially slow pace (aka what passes for suspense these days) seem to have been enough to throw the majority of the horror audience off the trail of West’s inability to hold the film’s basic premise together.   Ask any of the Westophiles about the glaring lack of attention to detail and they either respond with an Idiocracy-level “Uh, I didn’t notice” or a passive-aggressively accusatory “I didn’t nitpick and let it ruin the movie for me.”  Yet these were the same people lambasting TCM3D for its screwed up timeline.  The Sacrament is the worst film of the year not only because it displayed a complete disregard for the art of filmmaking, but because it brought me to the realization that quality truly does not matter to the majority of moviegoers anymore and that horror fans, as a whole, are deserving of the insult that Ti West hurled at them.  We have been force fed crap for so long that most moviegoers consider it the standard.  THAT, Cellmates, is the true horror of The Sacrament.
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