HORROR MOVIES: Best and Worst of 2015

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Here’s the list of horror movies I saw in 2015, from first to worst:

It Follows poster

IT FOLLOWS – *** – by far, the best horror film of the year.  If you see one horror movie this year, make it this one.  It plays like a John Carpenter film from the 1970s.  Probably my favorite thing about this movie by writer/director David Robert Mitchell is its plot which is unlike most other horror films.  Not gory at all, but suspenseful and captivating throughout.  Very stylish.

THE VISIT- *** – Who knew this M. Night Shyamalan movie about two children visiting their increasingly odd grandparents would be so good?  After a string of misfires, Shyamalan pushes all the right buttons with this one, capturing the perfect blend of horror and humor.

krampus-2015-movie-poster

KRAMPUS – *** – another flick I expected not to like that turned into one of the better horror movies of the year.  This Christmas horror movie in spite of its potentially ridiculous storyline gets the horror right and makes the most of its creepy images and suspenseful scenes.  It’s a holiday comedy with a serious horrific attitude.  Check this one out.

JURASSIC WORLD – ***- technically not really a horror film, but it does contain some angry hungry dinosaurs.  This one is mostly light in tone, but I found it entertaining throughout, and I really enjoyed Chris Pratt’s performance.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2:  THE ANGEL OF DEATH- ** 1/2 – I liked this sequel to the well-made THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012).  I enjoyed the atmosphere and the cinematography more than the story.  A Hammer Film.

UNFRIENDED – ** 1/2 – I thought I would hate this one, but the gimmick of having all the action appear on a computer screen actually works, mostly because audiences today all use computers/laptops/smartphones  and so watching this type of screen seemed perfectly natural, even if its story of high school friends tormented online isn’t very compelling.  Not half bad.

THE GREEN INFERNO – ** 1/2 – not my cup of tea, but this Eli Roth tale of cannibalism actually features likable characters and a decent story.  NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH.

VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN – ** – ultimately disappointing tale of Frankenstein, told from the perspective of Igor.  So why not call this one Igor?  Best part is Daniel Radcliffe’s performance as Igor.  Tries to be upbeat and action-oriented, a la the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies, but doesn’t really work.

MAGGIE – ** – Arnold Schwarzenegger in a zombie movie?  Is it full of brutal kills and big gun violence?  Not at all.  This is actually a low-key drama about Arnold caring for his teen daughter who’s slowly turning into a zombie.  Slow moving and quiet.  Worth it if you’re in the right frame of mind.

maggie poster

CRIMSON PEAK- ** – good looking horror movie is undone by a dumb story that ultimately makes little sense.  The main character in this ghost story is supposed to be a strong smart heroine, and yet she’s the only person in the movie who can’t see the danger around her.

INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 3- ** – didn’t like this third chapter in the INSIDOUS series at all.  I’m just not a big fan of prequels, especially when they’re as poorly written as this one.

THE LAZARUS EFFECT – * 1/2 -weak horror movie about a  “Frankenstein”- like experiment to reanimate the dead.  If only this movie could be reanimated.

SINISTER 2 – * 1/2 – utterly horrible sequel.    Story makes little sense nor is it scary.

THE GALLOWS – * – my pick for the Worst Horror Movie of the Year.  How dumb is this one?  Well, the main plot point is that in honor of the 20th anniversary of a high school play gone wrong— a student was accidentally hanged to death on stage- the school decides to put on the same play again.  Duh!  Needless to say, someone isn’t very happy about this decision, and once again more students turn up dead.  Unfortunately none of them were responsible for the script.

There you have it.  My list of horror movies from 2015.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: PROJECT ALMANAC (2015)

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project almanac posterHere’s my CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT review of the new time travel flick PROJECT ALMANAC (2015) which went up this past weekend at cinemaknifefight.com:

 

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  PROJECT ALMANAC (2015)

Movie Review by Michael Arruda

 

(THE SCENE: A basement.  A group of teenagers busily work on a piece of complicated machinery.)

 

TEEN #1:  We’ve done it!  We’ve built a time machine!

 

TEEN #2:  Awesome!

 

TEEN #3:  Hey, what do we do with it?

 

TEEN #1:  Let’s travel back to last week so we can go to that concert we missed because we had to study!

 

TEEN #2:  But, if we go to the concert, we won’t study, and if we don’t study, we’ll fail our exam!

 

TEEN #1: Well, after the concert, we’ll travel back in time again and this time we’ll skip the concert and take the exam.  This way everything will be back to normal.

 

TEEN #2:  Awesome!

 

TEEN #1:  Okay, guys, hold on!  Here we go!

 

(Teen #1 presses a button, there is a strange distortion in time and space, and the teens disappear from the basement.  As soon as they are gone, MICHAEL ARRUDA enters the basement.)

 

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Now I can review today’s movie.  Welcome to another edition of Cinema Knife Fight. Today I’m reviewing PROJECT ALMANAC, a tale of a time machine and some teenagers.  If this sounds trite to you, you’re right!  It actually sounds like the premise to one of those 1960s Annette Funicello/Frankie Avalon beach movies, only those films knew had to have fun.

 

This one isn’t much fun at all, and that’s because tries to be something it’s not:  a science fiction thriller.  Its story is just not that compelling, and so things never get as edge-of-your seat suspenseful as the film tries to be.  Most of the film is very light, but the problem with this is “light” translates into dull and uninteresting, as opposed to funny and quirky.

 

I’m reviewing this one solo today as L.L. Soares is off gallivanting through time somewhere.  See, he and I were goofing around with that time machine back there, and suddenly he went poof! Then again, maybe I went poof!  I don’t really know, other than one moment he was there, the next he was gone.  Or maybe I was gone?  Maybe I’m the one who went back a day or two.  No matter.  I’m here now, and so I might as well review today’s movie.

 

PROJECT ALMANAC is yet another of those hand-held camera films of the “found footage variety.”  Although this one isn’t about found footage, it is one where the characters in the movie feel compelled to film everything and anything.  These types of character have become increasingly annoying.  I mean, who does this?  Who films everything they do, even ridiculous things that should never be filmed, like when you’re cheating on an exam or breaking into your high school?  Duh!  It just seriously strains credibility.

 

(Two teens enter the basement, and one of them has a video camera.)

 

TEEN GIRL:  Do you have to film everything?  I mean, I’m just looking for a snow shovel, for crying out loud!

 

TEEN BOY:  Yes!  I have to film it all!

 

TEEN GIRL:  You’re really annoying.  (They exit)

 

MA:  Thank you!  It’s about time someone else realized this!

 

In PROJECT ALMANAC, high school senior David Raskin (Johnny Weston) is rummaging through his deceased dad’s stuff when he discovers his father’s old video camera.  While watching a video of his seventh birthday party, he sees himself as he is now– a 17 year-old— in the background at the party.  This is the best concept in the movie, by the way, and its most intriguing, but it says a lot that even this part of the movie falls flat.  This should absolutely blow these characters’ minds, and it does, but for a far briefer period than you would expect.  Also, when viewing this old video, David is able to freeze and enlarge the background image of himself with perfect clarity.  Really?  I didn’t really buy the fact that he’d able to capture that image from an old video with such high resolution.  It’s little things like this that this movie doesn’t really pay attention to.

 

David then searches his scientist dad’s basement and discovers instructions on how to build a time machine.  How convenient!  With his sister and his geeky friends Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista) he does just that.

 

David would like to use this time machine to travel back in time to save his father from the fatal accident which took his life.  First however, he wants to test it to make sure it’s safe, and so before you can say Scooby Doo, he and his friends and his new girlfriend Jessie (Sofia Black-D’Elia) use the machine to travel back in time to go to a concert, pass an exam, get back at a bully, and other trivial matters.

 

Soon, however, they realize that their time travel adventures have not been without consequence, as the small changes they made had a ripple effect that caused some major events to happen which didn’t happen before.  While they had agreed to always travel together, David breaks this rule and travels alone in the hope that he can undo the damage that they caused.  Unfortunately, he only makes things worse.

 

PROJECT ALMANAC is a rather weak entry in the time travel movie genre and is never as good as it should be.  The main reason for this is it’s never that clever or creative.

 

It gets off to a rather slow start, as it takes a long time for David and his friends to build their time machine, and the film drags early on, but even worse is what follows.  The decisions these teens make are— well, decisions that teens would make.  They travel to a concert, back in time a few days to do better on an exam they messed up.  If David really wanted to go back in time to save his dad’s life, he hardly puts any effort into coming up with a plan.  In fact, he doesn’t make the jump back to save his dad until the end of the movie, and by that point that’s not even why he’s going back, as he’s changed his mind about his motives.  The fact that he was being chased by the police at this moment had something to do with his change of heart, but my point is, David says early on that he wants to use the time machine to save his dad, and then the film never really follows through on this plot point.

 

I kept expecting bigger things to happen in PROJECT ALMANAC, but they never do.  These kids have a friggin time machine!  Use it for something interesting already!

 

(A dinosaur thunders by the cellar window.)

 

MA:  What the—?  Could it be that I travelled back in time all the way back to—?  Nah.  That doesn’t make any sense.  This basement wouldn’t still exist if that were the case.   Then again, that sure looked like a dinosaur.  Nah!  That’s impossible.  Right?

 

Anyway, speaking of things that don’t make sense, we’re supposed to believe that of all the characters in the movie, it’s David, who clearly is the smartest character in the group, who decides to jeopardize everything by travelling on his own to change what they had done, that he would think that on his own he could undo the things they did.  David’s the last person in this story who should be acting like this.  He’s the one who preached from the start about taking time travel seriously and being cautious and careful.  I didn’t buy his behavior at the end at all.  Sure, he’s doing all this because he doesn’t want to lose his girlfriend, and that’s a strong motivator, but even so, he’s portrayed early on as being smarter than this.

 

None of the characters did all that much for me.  David is likable enough, and Jonny Weston is fine in the role, but I just expected more from the character.  In the first half of the movie, he’s described as nearly being a genius, yet at the end, he’s the one making the stupidest decisions and continually messing things up.

 

Sofia Black-D’Elia makes for a very attractive Jessie, but she and Jonny Weston don’t   exactly light up the screen with their chemistry.  Sam Lerner and Allen Evangelista are sufficiently goofy as David’s buddies and partners in crime, Quinn and Adam.

 

PROJECT ALMANAC is another of those movies where the adults are practically nonexistent.  The teens blow things up, shout up and down the street in the middle of the night, they steal supplies from their high school, all without any adult noticing.

 

The screenplay by Andrew Deutschman and Jason Pagan is hardly compelling.  For a time travel adventure, it’s lacking in big ideas.  PROJECT ALMANAC was directed by Dean Israelite, and he achieves fair results.

 

I just wanted more time travel issues, and there weren’t many at all.  I expected David to put in considerable effort to go back and save his dad.  He doesn’t.

 

PROJECT ALMANAC is nowhere near as tight or intelligent as the recent time travel flick PREDESTINATION.  That one had a skintight plot throughout.  PROJECT ALMANAC is never as focused or as creative.  Its story of a group of teenagers who build a time machine should have been more fun, and if it really wanted to be a serious time travel thriller, than it should have given us some thrills.  It’s all rather flat.

 

It reminded a little bit of the movie CHRONICLE (2012).  That one was about a group of teens who discover alien technology which gives them telekinetic powers, and it also featured characters who filmed everything, but CHRONICLE was a much better movie.  It was more creative and it went to darker places than PROJECT ALMANAC does.

 

PROJECT ALMANAC remains rather tame throughout.  I expected a lot more from a movie about a teenager who constructs a time machine.  At the end of the day, it wasn’t much of a project.

 

I give it two knives.

 

Okay, I’m done here.  I’d better leave before those teenagers come back.

 

(There is another strange distortion in time and space, as things get all wavy.  Suddenly, MA disappears.  Moments later, he reappears, and L.L. SOARES is in the basement with him.)

 

LS:  So, it’s your turn to start this one.

 

MA:  Start it?  I just finished it.  (Scratches his head.)

 

LS:  What are you talking about?

 

MA:  I think I just travelled through time.

 

LS:  Yeah, right.  Let’s get this one started.  I still can’t believe I had to sit through this movie. I really wish I could have skipped it.

 

MA (looks at time machine behind them):  You know, where I just came from, you did skip it.

 

LS:  Where did you just come from?  You mean that machine back there really works?  Let me see that thing.

 

MA:  I don’t think you should be pressing buttons like that.  You really ought to be careful—.

 

(LS presses a button and both he and MA disappear again.  MA reappears to find himself watching a group of teens working on their time machine just before they disappear.)

 

MA: Now I can review today’s movie.  Welcome to another edition of Cinema Knife Fight. Today I’m reviewing PROJECT ALMANAC—.

 

—END—

 

 

 

WORST MOVIES OF 2014

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THE LEGEND OF HERCULES  wasn't so legendary.  This snoozefest is on my list for the Top 10 Worst movies of 2014

THE LEGEND OF HERCULES wasn’t so legendary. This snoozefest is on my list for the Top 10 Worst movies of 2014

WORST MOVIES OF 2014

By

Michael Arruda

 

Here’s my list for the Top 10 Worst Films that I saw in 2014.

 

10- OCULUS – another muddled tale of the supernatural, this one has flashes of creativity, but they’re ultimately lost in a smoke and mirrors gimmick about— mirrors.

 

9- A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST – I’d settle for just a couple of ways to laugh in the west, in this very uneven Seth McFarlane comedy.

 

8- SEX TAPE – this comedy starring Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel about a married couple’s efforts to reclaim a homemade sex tape they mistakenly shared with family and friends sure tries hard to be funny, but ultimately the writing and the jokes just aren’t there.

 

7- THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 – this awful rebooted series continues. Somebody make it stop!

 

6- 22 JUMP STREET – This Jonah Hill/Channing Tatum sequel is nowhere near as funny as the first film.  Lots of jokes- most of them misfire.

 

5- THE LEGEND OF HERCULES – zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Coming in at #5 is the terribly mediocre THE LEGEND OF HERCULES starring Kellan Lutz as Hercules.  This one was so bland Hercules could have been some guy name Joe, for all we care.  There was nothing blatantly wrong with this movie, but it was all just so very— average.  Nothing stood out about this one.  There weren’t any memorable action sequences, no crowd pleasing moments, no excellent performances, no memorable dialogue, it was all just— there.  Not very Herculean when you think about it.

 

4- NO GOOD DEED – Not even Idris Elba can save this silly implausible thriller.

My Number 4 pick is NO GOOD DEED, a silly thriller where Idris Elba plays an escaped convict who terrorizes a young mother and her child.  This one went south for me as soon as the mother agreed to let the character played by Elba into her house, even though she’s alone with her child, and she doesn’t know this guy from a hole in the wall.  Who does that?  Not someone I want to watch a movie about.  As much I like Elba as an actor, he couldn’t save this movie.  He’d make a helluva James Bond, though!

 

3-OUIJA – who’s moving that planchette?  Come on.  Someone’s moving it, right?

My pick for Number 3 is the awful horror movie OUIJA.  This is one of the movies I did detest this year.  This one was so bad it completely wasted the talents of Olivia Cooke, a fine young actress who I enjoyed in both THE QUIET ONES and TV’s BATES MOTEL.

 OUIJA is so by-the-numbers it’s ridiculous.  It’s just an excuse to build a movie around a group of teenagers and throw them into some scary scenes, because as soon as you think about what’s going on, the story falls apart.  All the main characters are teenagers, and it’s one of those movies where all the adults conveniently disappear, and so any credibility the story could possibly have immediately goes out the window.

OUIJA is a terrible horror movie.  Go buy the silly board game instead.

 

2-DEVIL’S DUE– who’s your daddy?  Could it be— Satan???

My pick for Number 2 is another horror movie, the one horror movie I liked less than OUIJA this year, and that is DEVIL’S DUE.  This lame-brained horror movie about a demonic possession was so bad that the audience I saw it with at the theater laughed throughout the entire movie.  This was another of those hand-held camera movies, where the main character, in this case the husband in the story, is obsessed with filming everything.  People like that sure are annoying!  Hubby should have paid more attention to his young wife instead of his camera because she gets raped by Satan and then has Satan’s baby.  Yup, that’s the premise of this ill-conceived (heh, heh!) horror movie.  Gee, where have I seen this storyline done before?  A lot of places, and much better too!

 

1-BAD WORDS – I can think of a few bad words to properly describe this “comedy.”

Okay, my pick for Number 1, the worst movie of 2014, is the odd Jason Bateman comedy BAD WORDS.  Now, I realize I may have missed the boat here, because Bateman’s character Guy Trilby is supposed to be an unlikable jerk, but I despised this guy so much I was sick of him within the first five minutes of the movie and could barely sit through the remaining 84.

BAD WORDS is about a bitter forty year-old man Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) who enters a middle school spelling bee with every intention of winning it and then moving on to win at the national level, which he does.  Why?  He has his reasons, and when you learn what they are, you’ll no doubt  think the same thing I did:  so what?  That’s the big the reason you’ve become a jerk your whole life?  What a loser!  Show some backbone, you wimp!

BAD WORDS is one of the oddest and most unlikable movies I’ve seen in a long time.

Ugh!

So, there you have it, my picks for the worst films that I saw in 2014.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE BAY (2012) – Found Footage Horror Film Frightens

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TheBayPosterStreaming Video Review:  THE BAY (2012)

by

Michael Arruda

Keep away from the bay! —- the body of water, that is, not the movie.

I was pointed in the direction of THE BAY (2012) by some folks at NECON who spoke very highly of it.  THE BAY is a found-footage horror movie by acclaimed director Barry Levinson, and after catching this one on streaming video, I’d have to say that I agree with my NECON friends that THE BAY is definitely a movie worth viewing.

THE BAY recounts events from a 2009 4th of July festival in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, in which hundreds of people died and all video footage of the tragedy was confiscated by the government— of course—until now.  That’s because former reporter Donna Thompson (Kether Donohue) has put together documentary footage that will reveal the truth from that day for the first time.

Thompson provides the narration which pieces the story together in an interview where she looks back at the events of that day, when she was a young reporter on her first assignment, a human interest story covering the Fourth of July celebration, and so much of the footage comes from her cameraman.  But there are other sources as well.

There’s footage of two marine biologists who are investigating a strange parasite found inside the fish inside the bay.  The bodies of these two biologists turn up dead, victims of an “apparent shark attack.”

Things begin on the 4th like any other day, except that soon people begin to break out in horrendous rashes and boils, and they grow violently ill.  The perpetrator here is the parasite discovered by the biologists, and what it does is enter its victims’ bodies, and then eat them out from the inside, feasting on their internal organs until they eat their way out of their victims.  Nice!

The reason this is happening is the unscrupulous mayor (Frank Deal) has carelessly allowed a humongous chicken plant to dump its chicken feces into the water, feces that are chock full of steroids and growth hormones intended to produce ultra plump chickens, but the unintended side effect is that they also produced monstrous parasites which now infest the bay.

THE BAY is a satisfying thriller for several reasons.  The number one reason, and the reason I liked this movie as much as I did, is the strong central performance by Kether Donohue as reporter Donna Thompson.  While she’s okay as the frightened newbie reporter in the found footage scenes, she knocks the ball out of the park as the seasoned survivor of the ordeal looking back at it several years later.  Her performance as the narrator is first-rate.  She’s the glue that holds the movie together.

I also liked that THE BAY was based on truth.  Unless you’ve had your head stuck in the sand the past few years, you’re probably aware that the food industry in the United States has been under heavy scrutiny, and rightly so.  The back story of the chicken plant comes off as plausible, mostly because plants like this exist, and the idea that they would allow contaminants into the water is not unrealistic.

And THE BAY is also a decent horror movie.  There are some neat, nail biting scenes and plenty of scares throughout.  The scenes showing the parasites eating their victims from the inside out are wince inducing.  I also liked the scenes where young Donna is reporting from the empty dock and suddenly screams erupt in the distance all around her.  It’s very very creepy.

The found footage style works here, and it’s a nice job by veteran director Barry Levinson, who’s not known for his genre work.  Levinson is best known for his early films, DINER (1982), THE NATURAL (1984), and RAIN MAN (1988) to name a few.

Michael Wallach wrote the believable screenplay, and it works as well as it does because in addition to the necessary thrills and chills, its background story is a credible one. Even though the horror elements of THE BAY are all there in their gory glory, the film plays like a documentary and so the thrills are all the more disturbing.

While Kether Donohue steals the movie as reporter Donna Thompson, there are a couple of other notable acting performances as well.  Robert C. Treveiler stands out as CDC Dr. Williams, who listens in disbelief and helplessness as he receives reports from the local doctor about what’s going on in Chesapeake Bay

And Frank Deal makes for a slimy Mayor John Stockman, a character who know doubt went to the Murray Hamilton school for mayors.  Hamilton of course played Mayor Vaughn in JAWS (1975), the guy who wanted to keep the beaches open in spite of the fact there was a 25 foot great white shark in the water constantly seeking its next meal.

Speaking of JAWS, while that classic frightened moviegoers everywhere and took the fun out of swimming, after watching THE BAY, you’re not going to be too keen on swimming either, nor drinking water or eating seafood— or even eating chicken for that matter!

If there’s anything that hurts this movie, it’s the fact that the parasites remain mostly unseen.  The film could have used a more tangible threat.  I think this is one reason why the movie may have flown under most people’s radar.  It comes in so strongly on the documentary side, that it almost masks its horror elements, which is too bad, because the horror elements are all there.  THE BAY is quite graphic and scary to boot.

All in all, I liked THE BAY a lot and highly recommend it.  If you’re in the mood for some summer thrills, and want something a bit more realistic than SHARKNADO (2013), take a trip to THE BAY.

Just don’t stay for dinner.  Because if you do, you’re the one who will be on the menu.

—END—