Category Archives: Film and Television

The Staircase – A Horror Short

The Staircase (2017) was created and directed by Mario Flores, a photographer from Baja California, and stars Irauaddi Fuentes. Flores has appeared as an uncredited extra in Dirty Love (2005) and Resident Evil: Extinction (2007). The Staircase is a typical short suspense video punctuated by a jump scare.

We see a woman relaxing at home, answering text messages. Suddenly, a sound directs her attention to the second floor. A shadowy figure peers over the balcony, then a plastic ball comes tapping down the wooden stairs. She slowly ascends the staircase, until another noise sends her scurrying back down. She waits, then screams as–well, I won’t spoil the ending. But the short film ends there, at 2 minutes and 50 seconds.

The trailer on YouTube is actually more well-made and suspenseful than the movie. The “horror” element doesn’t work partially because of atmosphere (or lack thereof). It’s just way too bright. Second, the creature (or whatever it is) appears too early. There’s no way someone would go upstairs after seeing that thing looking over the balcony. It’s just not believable.

The Staircase is a decent first effort, but there’s nothing to capture your attention. It is available to rent on Amazon.com for $1.99.

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A Little Halloween: A Charming Halloween Poem

This short film by iLL WiLL PrEss creator Jonathan Ian Mathers came out last October, and is a charming addition to the holiday. Mathers is the brains behind Foamy the Squirrel and Neurotically Yours. He began created flash cartoons in 2002 and has spun that into a steady gig.

I loved these cartoons when I was in college, but lost track of them over the years. I was surprised/delighted to see this Halloween short on Amazon.com.

A Little Halloween is an animated poem about a goth girl named Pauline who tries to cast a spell to make Halloween last year-round, the only time she feels accepted.

Instead, the spell spawns “Pum’Kin Guy,” an anthropomorphic pumpkin with an attitude and a Brooklyn accent. Pum’Kin Guy is Pauline’s only friend and constant companion, listening to her and protecting her from other people’s taunts and jeers.

You can rent the video on Amazon for $1.99 or watch it for free on YouTube.

Grindstone Road: A Forgettable Canadian Horror Film

A young couple moves into an old farmhouse, only to experience a series of strange events. Is the ghost of a missing child reaching out for help from beyond the grave? In capable hands, Grindstone Road (2008), written by Paul Germann and directed by Melanie Orr, had the potential to be an entertaining (if not very original) horror film. Unfortunately, it doesn’t even rise to the level of a made-for-TV movie.

Melanie Orr is a script supervisor (oversees a film’s continuity) who has directed episodes for a number of television shows. Grindstone Road was her sophomore effort. Paul Germann is a sound effects editor who has written a grand total of one film. Grindstone Road must have been so bad he never got another script optioned. It was like he had a weird dream and decided to make a movie out of it.

Somehow they tricked Fairuza Balk into starring in their cliched and mediocre Canadian horror film. Balk appeared in some popular movies in the ’90s, including The Craft (1996), American History X (1998), and The Waterboy (1998), then dropped off the public’s radar. She always embraced “alternative” roles, and wears a goth-ish outfit for one scene in this movie, but otherwise plays a conventional housewife. That’s like asking Jackson Pollock to paint an idyllic country cottage. It’s just not right.

As bad as Grindstone Road is, at least it has an interesting story. Wracked with guilt over a car accident that left her son Daniel (Felix Pennell) in a deep coma, Hannah (Fairuza Balk) begins having strange experiences in her new home. Her husband, Graham (Greg Bryk), is oblivious and blames the antidepressants she takes to help ease the pain. Their neighbors, an elderly couple named Ted (Walter Learning) and Linda (Joan Gregson), alert them to the possibility their house is haunted.

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The Limehouse Golem: A Ghoulish Portrayal of Victorian London

Based on the 1994 novel Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem by Peter Ackroyd, The Limehouse Golem (2016) is a ghoulish portrayal of a Victorian London slum and the stone-faced detective trying to solve a series of grizzly and sensational crimes. It was directed by Juan Carlos Medina and adapted for the screen by Jane Goldman.

Medina is an inexperienced director, having only four films under his belt since 2001, and only two were full-length. Goldman wrote screenplays for The Woman in Black (2012), X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), and Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014). Her talented script shines through.

In the opening act, Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke) is arrested on suspicion of poisoning her husband, John (Sam Reid). Meanwhile, Inspector John Kildare (Bill Nighy) is tasked to solve the “Limehouse Golem” murders, which have become sensationalized in the press. He enlists the help of a Limehouse bobby George Flood (Daniel Mays).

They discover the Golem’s diary written on the pages of “On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts” (1827) by Thomas De Quincey in a library and narrow the suspects to four men: philosopher Karl Marx (Henry Goodman), writer George Gissing (Morgan Watkins), comedian Dan Leno (Douglas Booth), and John Cree.

Inspector John Kildare is not an adept detective and even refers to himself as a scapegoat. Focusing almost entirely on handwriting analysis to whittle down a list of four suspects, he misses obvious clues like the fact that no new murders occur after the death of John Cree and the imprisonment of Elizabeth. The Limehouse Golem made it clear he was seeking fame above all else; he would not let someone else take the blame while he quietly slipped away, meaning the murderer had to either be John or Elizabeth.

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Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016) is one of the funniest comedies I’ve seen in a long time. I try to watch anything with Aubrey Plaza in it, but didn’t catch this one in the theater. Not only is it hilariously improvised, it’s also based on a true story. The unbelievable misadventure of Mike and Dave Stangle, who were instructed to bring dates to their sister’s wedding in Saratoga, New York, inspired the film. They posted an ad on Craigslist in February 2013, which went viral. Real life Mike and Dave, from Albany, even have a cameo in the film.

In the movie version of events, Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave (Zac Efron) face an ultimatum from family members over a history of hard partying and ruining family gatherings. Their parents, Burt (Stephen Root) and Rosie (Stephanie Faracy) Stangle, insist they bring dates to their sister Jeanie’s (Sugar Lyn Beard) wedding in Hawaii. She is marrying Eric (Sam Richardson), who is grounded and emotionally reserved. After their Craigslist ad goes viral, they run through a series of hilarious dates before meeting Alice (Anna Kendrick) and Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza), another pair of hard-partiers who pretend to be nice girls to get a free trip to Hawaii.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates was written by Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien and directed by Jake Szymanski. Szymanski has directed dozens of video shorts and a few television episodes and TV movies, which might explain why the film felt like a series of skits seamlessly woven together. Make no mistake, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates not only has a plot, it also has character development, two things often missing from other recently-released comedies.

The film is simply about four shallow, emotionally juvenile people maturing and finding happiness. Dave learns he needs a separate identity from his brother and decides to pursue his talent at drawing, Alice finally gets over being left at the altar and pursues a relationship with Dave, and Mike and Tatiana go into business together. They patch things up with their sister after derailing her ceremony, and use their talents to make sure Jeanie gets the Hawaii wedding she deserves. Even Eric gets to show he’s not as straight-laced as he appears. It’s not a complex story, but what else can you expect from a raunchy romantic comedy?

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The Lost City of Z

Written and directed by James Gray, The Lost City of Z (2016) traces the life of British soldier and explorer Percy Fawcett. Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is compelled to scour the Amazon for evidence of a lost civilization. Along the way, he’ll repeatedly abandon his wife Nina (Sienna Miller) and his children and overcome resistance from skeptical colleagues, all to ultimately come up empty handed. It is based on a book of the same name by David Grann.

I’ve been looking forward to seeing this film since its release, because it’s one of those real life stories more incredible than fiction. Percy Fawcett’s adventures inspired both Indiana Jones and Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel The Lost World (1912). Unfortunately, The Lost City of Z was less an adventure film and more a plodding, meandering biopic that never quite finds its footing.

As the film opens, we see Percy Fawcett at the cusp of the British upper class. He is a major in the army, but has no medals; he goes on a hunt and kills the stag, but is not invited to dine on it. We see he’s skilled, daring, and willing to take risks. However, this isn’t quite an introduction.

The film makers assume their audience already knows who Percy Fawcett is, but he is a relatively obscure historical figure, especially to American audiences. It’s crucial to quickly establish the identity of the main character and why he is important. Otherwise, you lose the audience’s attention.

Thirteen minutes into the film, a plot finally appears. We learn Fawcett’s father was a gambling drunkard, and he is told that if he completes his mission to map the Bolivian border it will redeem his family name.

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