Cabin In The Woods (2011) a (mildly) belated review

So.  Cabin in the WoodsJoss Whedon’s long on the shelf (made in 2009, released in 2011) horror film about…horror films.


Clever satire?  Pointed critique?  Loving tribute?

I suppose the film has it all.

With a few exceptions.  Like interesting characters.  A scenario that, clever as Mr. Whedon and company made it, also expected the audience to accept our villains were also incredibly, mind-numbingly stupid.

But let’s back up for a moment.  The film starts with two seemingly divergent sets of characters.  On the one hand we have a bunch of office drones in some strange, undefined worker setting complaining about your typical office drone problems with management or the job itself.  Then, you have a group of five rather old looking “teens” (I suppose the satire element has begun!) who are about to embark on a vacation.  Their destination?  A…cabin in the woods…

Strange stuff subsequently happens and our two seemingly divergent sets of characters are slowly brought together into a single gory (but not too gory) story.

As a fan of horror films and the horror genre, Cabin In the Woods sounded like something in my wheelhouse.  Early word was that this was a clever deconstruction of the modern “slasher” genre, and I was certainly game for a clever horror film.

As the film played out, it was hard to miss the references to other famous (and infamous!) horror films like Evil Dead, Friday The 13th, Hellraiser, Psycho, etc.  And that’s not even mentioning the very obvious shout out to Scooby Doo via the group of teens themselves.

But, but, but…

As clever as all these little tips of the hat were, as the movie went on, I found myself less and less engaged in what was going on.  Yes, there were moments I chuckled.  But there were very few moments I actually felt any horror.  After a while, I realized that part of the problem was that as clever as the script was in riffing off other films, the characters we were suppose to sympathize with were simply…flat.

In many ways, Cabin in the Woods seems to be trying, more than anything else, to be this generation’s version of the 1981 film An American Werewolf In London.  Both films featured clever (and plentiful) riffs on other films, but An American Werewolf In London worked better, to my mind, because the characters were far more genuine and interesting.  Thus, the shocks, the gore, and the laughs were that much bigger when they came at you versus Cabin In The Woods.

In the end, Cabin In The Woods winds up being a disappointment.  It’s not a bad film, mind you.  It is perfectly watchable to any horror fan out there.  But by the same token it never quite reaches the heights of what I felt it was trying for.


Bridget Bardot…today and yesterday

Of the many, many beautiful women who have appeared in film, one of the most beautiful, to my mind, is Bridget Bardot.

In the following link, photographs are presented of Mrs. Bardot’s “Style Evolution.”  What was most depressing to see was that in her most recent photographs, on what I’m assuming is her 78th birthday, she is using crutches to get around:

Time ultimately catches up to us all, but the memories (and film) remain.

Her’s to you, Mrs. Bardot.  I hope your golden years are as pleasant as my memories of your smile on the big screen.

Alternative Mona Lisa?

Fascinating article about the controversy regarding the “Isleworth Mona Lisa” a painting very similar to what is perhaps the most famous painting in existence, the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci.

It would appear the people who own the Isleworth Mona Lisa claim that extensive examination of the painting suggest to them that Leonardo Da Vinci did this painting as well, perhaps as an “early draft” of the more famous painting that followed.

Others aren’t quite convinced:

For what it’s worth (what am I, an art expert?!) in looking at the two portraits side by side, with the original Mona Lisa on the left and the Isleworth Mona Lisa on the right, it appears to me the Isleworth Mona Lisa, while obviously very similar to Da Vinci’s painting, also appears to me a much simpler piece.  That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that it wasn’t made by Da Vinci, but it does plant a seed of doubt in my mind.

As for the actual experts presented in the CNN article linked to above, it would appear those who may have an interest in the painting being declared a Da Vinci obviously stand to gain a lot of money if such a declaration is valid…which unfortunately further raises suspicion in my mind.

The fact is that the Mona Lisa has been a very famous painting for many, many hundreds of years, and therefore it seems more likely that a painter with some undeniable skills decided to make their own version of the famous painting.  Maybe, just maybe, they even did it concurrently with the Da Vinci piece (a student in his studio?).  Or maybe a decade or two after the fact.  Maybe even a century later.

Still, it is undeniably intriguing to think that Da Vinci might have made another version of what is without a doubt the most famous painting on the face of this planet.

Hard Rain (1998) a (very) belated review

The last time I saw Hard Rain (which could well be called the wettest movie ever) it was during its 1998 original theatrical run.  Though overall I felt the film was a disappointment, unlike many films I see and promptly forget about, the movie’s setting stuck with me over all these years and, when the film played on cable the other day, I couldn’t help but revisit it.

So, did my opinion of the film change in the fourteen or so years since its initial release?

Alas, not all that much.

Hard Rain, as already mentioned, could well be the wettest film ever made.  It involves a town that is facing a flood, a security truck filled with loot, thieves (and other unsavory types) using this disaster to enrich themselves on said loot, and the honest security truck driver who tries his mightiest to thwart the crooks from getting the loot.

The honest security truck driver, Tom, is played by Christian Slater in a role very reminiscent of his straight arrow (ouch) role in the John Woo directed Broken Arrow, released only two years before this film.  In fact, it doesn’t surprise me to much to find, while investigating this film, that John Woo was in fact originally slated to direct Hard Rain but ultimately, obviously, didn’t.

The director of this film, Mikael Salomon, does a good job presenting the incredible flooding sequences and semi-submerged buildings.  His action scenes, on the other hand, don’t have the zip of a John Woo, and one can’t help but wonder if this movie might have worked better had a more established action director taken the helm.

For you see, the movie’s main problem, the one that had me leaving the theater disappointed when I first saw the film all those years ago, remains:  The script is simply lackluster.  Yes, there are attempts to create interesting drama by shifting character’s loyalties.  However, the fact remains that the characters in this film are all…characters.  Not for a second did I feel we were watching anything but a film.  Thus, there was never any sense of dread or danger, something we should obviously have felt.  Or, to put it another way, the movie’s many sequences (action or otherwise) play out one after the other and while there is some suspense, there just isn’t enough.

So what remains is what stayed in my mind all these years:  Those incredible water filled sets.  I can’t even begin to imagine the misery involved in making this film.  I can’t imagine the number of hours the cast and crew had to spend soaked to the bone while wading through all that water and being drenched in all that rain.

Hard Rain is a truly unique film to see.  I can honestly say you will never see the likes of it on almost anything else out there.  Unfortunately, as an “action” film it fares less, raising just a little above mediocre but not all that much more.  Given the unique setting, I would recommend this film to anyone curious to see a truly staggering water logged set.  It is impressive as hell.  But realize that the film itself isn’t the action and suspense classic it could have been.

I’ve presented the movie’s trailer below.  However, be forewarned:  One of the film’s bigger plot twists is revealed within it!

Safe (2012) a (mildly) belated review

If there seems to be one thing you can expect to find every few months in the theaters is a Jason Statham action/adventure film.  You have to admire the man’s ability to find steady work.  In 2011, for example, IMDB lists four films he appeared in…though at least one, Gnomeo & Juliet, only featured his voice work.

2012 was a little “slower” a year for him as he appeared in only two features, Expendables 2 and the film that’s the focus of this review: Safe.

Like too many of Mr. Statham’s latest films, this one seemed to come and go rather abruptly from theaters, yet I recalled reading several positive reviews and decided to give it a try.

Did I waste my time?

As it turned out, I didn’t, though as good as I ultimately felt the movie was, it had the potential to be a truly great film…and just fell short.

Safe treads plenty of familiar ground.  We have Mr. Statham playing the role of Luke Wright, a moody fellow who somehow got involved in an MMA fight that went horribly wrong and put him on the bad side of some Russian mobsters.  They killed his wife and effectively (so it seemed!) shut his life down.  The Russian mob warned him they would constantly watch his movements and anyone he got to close to would be killed.  Likewise, he was told he could not put down any roots, as any home or apartment he tried to live in would be destroyed and anyone living near him would be killed.

Meanwhile, the mob in China has sniffed out a gifted young student named Mei (Catherine Chan) and transferred her to New York, where her incredible gift for mathematics allows them to use her to keep track of all their numbers.  As the leader of the Chinese mob notes, he favors using this gifted girl as that way there is no “paper or electronic trail” to point incriminating fingers toward his organization.

Ultimately, Mei is tasked to see and recall a series of mysterious numbers for some mysterious purpose.  She does as asked, but before she can use the numbers the Russian mob (the same individuals that crossed Luke Wright) kidnap the girl.  The police get involved, but it turns out they’re just as corrupt as both the Chinese and Russian mobs, and a three way power play results when Mei escapes her captors and is loose on the streets of New York.

While loose, who do you suppose she happens to run into?

What follows are some good stunts and bone-crushing (yet not overwhelmingly bloody) violence as the damaged Wright takes Mei under his wing and tries to skirt the minefield erected by the various corrupt officials…including, as we soon find, the mayor of New York himself.

It is at that point, I felt, that the movie was at its best.  When the revelations were made about who exactly Luke Wright was and what his place in this chain of corruption was, I found myself quite excited.  Though the movie isn’t exactly the most original thing I’ve seen (the 1998 Bruce Willis/Alec Baldwin film Mercury Rising had a very similar plot), the revelations regarding Wright were intriguing and produced an almost Yojimbo-like sequence where our anti-hero began playing the players against each other.

Add to that a very intriguing (and surprising!) main villain showdown in the later stages of the film and there were certainly the potential for this film to really knock it out of the park.

But what was the potentially strongest part of this film, the surprise main villain, unfortunately played out a little too quickly for my taste.  I wish more time could have been devoted to explaining who this person was and why he and Wright were destined to collide.

Having said that, Safe is one of the better of the more recent Jason Statham vehicles.  Despite some flaws, I would certainly recommend it as a good action time-killer.

Why PC Companies Fear Amazon

Fascinating article from Time Magazine regarding something I find fascinating:  Views on the general direction of technology and retail sales, and how is rapidly becoming something other large technological companies fear:

I’m fascinated by Amazon.  Yes, my novels are available through the service, and I will forever appreciate the fact that they allowed people like me to have an avenue for promoting and selling our works.

I also admit to having some trepidation about the company.  I’ve always felt that competition in the marketplace results in the best products, and one fears that will eventually become the one-stop be all and end all of purchasing almost all products, from music to books to clothing to electronics.

I suspect the people at Amazon are working on doing just that!

The reality is that Amazon is successful because it is so damn good.  I have purchased many items either directly through them or used through a second hand seller operating within Amazon’s structure.  To this day and after many purchases, I can honestly say that I’ve never had a bad experience.  The closest I came to a “bad experience” was when purchasing a used book via a second hand seller through Amazon and, after waiting two plus weeks without receiving it, I sent an email to said seller asking if the book was on its way.  That same day I received a reply email from the seller saying they were sorry but they could not fulfill my order and would immediately refund my purchase charge.  This was done right away!

So, yes, I’m a fan of Amazon beyond even my own personal (and modest) for sale items present on the service.

I just hope that Amazon maintains its thus far high level of customer service and broad range of available items.


Absolutely fascinating article from Stylelist about Jack Zyklin, an individual who has taken old, obsolete typewriters and allowed them to “interface” with computers, thus giving writers the old time feel of typing on a typewriter while being able to simultaneously use the latest computer technology.

The article can be found here:

There is an included video in the article, which I’ve embedded below:

There is a certain whimsy to Mr. Zyklin’s work that appeals to me, as unlike him I can recall the time when typewriters were still the way to write.  By the time I reached High School, personal computers were just starting to come out and the concept of a word processor, introduced to me in my sophomore or junior year of High School, portended the demise of the typewriter.

As an author with seven novels and one graphic novel behind me (and more to come!), I’ve thought long and hard about how fortunate I was to be born when I was.  As a young child, I was completely fascinated with writing and by the time I was in third or fourth grade knew that I wanted to be an author.

However, I quickly realized I was a perfectionist and whatever I wrote needed to be refined before it was “good enough” to satisfy my taste.  Early writing was frustrating because this meant that whatever I wrote needed to be completely re-typed (and re-re-typed and re-re-re-typed) whenever it was revised.  Depending on the length of the original story, this could mean many hours of grueling and tedious work.  It was hard enough to get the original first draft typed out, but the idea of returning to the draft and re-typing it as many as five to seven times (or more!) made the task all that much more daunting.

Thus, the arrival of computers and the word processor couldn’t have come at a better time for me.  I still longed to be a writer and hadn’t yet given up on that dream.  The word processor allowed me the freedom to write longer and longer works.  After reviewing the printed versions of them, all I had to do was make the necessary revisions without having to completely re-type the entire manuscript.

Had I been born even five years earlier, I suspect none of my works might have ever come to light and I might have drifted into a different career.  My latest novel, Nox, required seven full revisions and a whopping eleven revisions of Chapter 50 (the BIG chapter, storywise) before I was satisfied enough with the manuscript to go ahead with publication.  Needless to say, I’m happy with my computer and its keyboard, though the thought of getting one of those USB typewriters does seem attractive…in a retro kind of way!

Green Lantern (2011) a (mildly) belated review

I’ve mentioned before my love for what is arguably the first -and equally arguably the best– “modern” superhero film, 1978’s Superman.  This is a film that offered viewers an incredible array of material.  You had drama, you had tragedy.  You also had slapstick, romance, and (of course) high adventure.  Heck, there was even a quasi-musical/dance number thrown in, to boot!

What is most amazing is that with all those different elements, tones, and styles, the movie worked.  Through clever writing, directing, acting, and editing, all that stuff came together into a wonderful whole and the film never felt excessive or overwhelming (In the theatrical print…I’m not quite as enamored of the “extended” cut released to DVD).

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the 2011 film Green Lantern.  As I finally watched the film a couple of days ago, I couldn’t help but feel that the people behind the cameras were hoping to match Superman‘s mojo.  They offered a big story that featured a big cast and took you to quite literally the ends of the universe.  The movie also features a hero that would prove his worth before an awesome foe, all while re-connecting with the love of his life.

Unfortunately, all those ideas are thrown at the viewers without the skill of a Superman.  Instead of a fascinating whole, the film works only in spurts and seems content to throw out comic books characters after characters and hope that that alone makes the film interesting.

It doesn’t.

Now, I’m a fan of Green Lantern, particularly the silver age iteration as illustrated by the incomparable Gil Kane and, just a little later, Neal Adams.  I think the character’s back story and supporting cast are interesting and naturals for film.  However, did the film really need to have Dr. Amanda Waller in it?  Worse, given all the things thrown out (including Waller’s character herself!), did we also need to spend precious screen time showing her “origin”?  And while the character Tomas Kalmaku, unlike Dr. Waller, was a big part of the early Green Lantern comic books stories, he was mostly irrelevant in the film and did nothing more than take up screen time that could have gone to Blake Lively’s Carol Ferris.

The movie offers us two big villains, but given what ultimately happens with Hector Hammond, the Earth-bound villain, I can’t help but wondering if it might have been better not to have Hammond appear at all and instead focus the main conflict entirely on Parallax.

Or, even better yet, why present Green Lantern arch villain Sinestro in his “pre-evil” form at all?  He would have made a far better villain instead of being shown as a noble member of the Green Lantern Corps that (inexplicably) succumbs to evil after the credits roll.  That’s like giving us a new Batman film with the Joker featured prominently within it as a good guy and then teasing us only at the very end that he’ll be the bad guy next time around.

Sometimes, the next time doesn’t come around.

As for the acting, the two leads, Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan/Green Lantern and Blake Lively as Carol Ferris, are…ok.  While they didn’t display the charisma Christopher Reeves and Margot Kidder had in Superman, I thought a better, clearer, and more focused story might have helped show them off much better.

In sum, count me among those that cannot recommend this film.

Wrecked (2010) a (mildly) belated review

I first heard of the movie Wrecked back when it was nearing release in 2010.  Then, nothing.

In fact, the film seemed to so effectively disappear that I couldn’t help but wonder if it was released at all.  I guess it was.  IMDB lists the film as having made a paltry $4821 in a two week run on a single screen.  Considering the film starred Academy Award winning actor Adrien Brody, that alone is stunning if not unusual in this day of modest or direct to video releases.

Nonetheless, when I spotted the film airing on IFC, I set the DVR to record it, sat back, and gave it a whirl.

So, did the film deserve a better fate?  Was it unjustly dumped?

The answer, frustratingly, is yes and no.  Wrecked concerns a man (Brody) who awakens to find himself sitting in the front passenger seat of a very bad car crash.  The car is at the bottom of a forest ravine.  In the back seat is the corpse of one of the other passengers of the car.  Several feet before the remains of the vehicle lies the body of the presumed driver.

The lone survivor has no memory of how he came to be in this predicament nor who the corpses of those around him are.  He too is injured, and his leg is pinned down hard under the car’s dashboard.  For the first half of the film he drifts in and out of consciousness and tries to recall who he is and what he was doing before the crash while trying to simply get out of the wreckage.

Soon, ominous hints as to who he might be appear.  He finds a handgun under the driver’s seat and has flashes of memory of a possible robbery.

Is he a bad guy?  Did he kill someone?

The questions haunt him even as he tries to escape the wreckage of his vehicle.

I won’t go into too many more details, but suffice to say the film does  hold your attention for most of its run time despite the fact that what we have here is for the most part a one person/one setting story with very little actual dialogue and plenty of symbolism.  Some of the symbolism, I felt, worked well while others left me more confused than illuminated.  Unfortunately, the movie also runs out of steam after a while and, particularly in the later part of the second half, becomes something of a chore to sit through.

However, where the movie fails the most is when it finally does offer a resolution and explanation as to who our protagonist is and why he was in the car.  The explanation, unfortunately, is quite banal…almost too simple.  It makes you think that this film could have made a good one hour episode of a mystery TV show rather than a 91 minute full theatrical feature.

There is one other thing that I found very bothersome, but to get into that requires SPOILERS.  They follow the movie’s trailer…


As the movie progresses, it is clear our protagonist is having hallucinations.  While the dog he encounters may or may not actually be with him (I believe it to be a hallucination, too), he also sees a woman in and around his immediate area…a woman he slowly begins to think might have been a victim of his (possible) crime.  Considering the film’s eventual resolution and the woman’s actual identity, the way our protagonist deals with this hallucination is very bizarre, to say the least.

Regardless, Wrecked is an intriguing film that, unfortunately, ends with a whimper rather than a bang.  Too bad.

Daybreakers (2009) a (mildly) belated review

An interesting attempt to create a vampire “culture” while adhering to vampire lore, Daybreakers is nonetheless a disappointment despite some pretty good ideas.

The movie cleverly examines a world where vampires are at the top of the food chain and humans a rung below.  Unfortunately, the vampire race is immediately presented as being in danger.  Their main source of food, human blood, is rapidly running out and vampire scientist Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) tries to find an “artificial” blood which could be used to feed the vampire culture’s voracious appetite while keeping humans alive.  Dalton, as presented, is a conflicted character.  While being a vampire, it is clear he has sympathy towards humans and realizes the vampire culture is corrupt and in decline.  Later in the film, we also discover that he longs to return to his own humanity.

The vampire culture within the film is well thought through.  The vampires drive cars that offer protection from the daylight and they live in appropriately dark abodes.  Child vampires and vagrants run along the streets, their souls obviously much older than their outward appearances.  All long for blood, and the deprivation of their source of food turns these vampires into hideous creatures who cannot be controlled.

Into this milieu Dalton finds Lionel Cormac (Willem Dafoe), a man who was a vampire yet somehow was able to turn back to human.  It is this search for the cure to vampirism that forms the bulk of the second half of the film.

The movie’s main problem, however, is that it was clearly intended to be a much longer, much more detailed work than what we ultimately see on the screen.  Indeed, watching Daybreakers is like reading a CliffsNotes version of the same…so many characters and situations are thrown at you and dealt with so quickly that you can’t help but wonder how much of the original screenplay was left behind or on the cutting room floor.

I suspect that the original concept and story was much better fleshed out.  Had the film been, say, a half hour or so longer and allowed more time for story development, we might have felt more sympathy for some of the characters and their fates (whether good or bad).  Instead, we have a film that feels like it rushes through what it wants to present to us and never allows us the opportunity to fully immerse ourselves into what we’re seeing before reaching the inevitable end.