Fantasia Festival 2017: Dead Shack (2017)

Dead Shack (2017)

Dead Shack

Director: Peter Ricq

Cast: Lizzie Boys, , Lauren Holly, Matthew Nelson-Mahood, Gabriel LaBelle, Donovan Stinson, Valerie Tian

While staying at a run-down cabin in the woods during the weekend, three children must save their parents from the neighbor who intends to feed them to her un-dead family. – IMDB

Described as The Goonies meets Night of the Living Dead, Dead Shack comes as a fun zombie romp with a  young cast fighting to save their drunk father on a camping trip when they accidentally discover their neighbor and her undead family. This femme fatale next door does everything to make sure to keep her family safe and fed. With a runtime of 85 minutes, Dead Shack knows how to pace its movie to be fast and filled with moments of tension, comedy and action.

The young cast here creates a nice balance in characters. Matthew Nelson-Mahood playing the son’s best friend, Jason who is socially awkward as he tries to impress his best friend’s sister, Summer (played by Lizzie Boys) every chance that he has. He captures the role very well and in turn, with his awkwardness, brings in quite a bit of comedic relief along with the banter in moments of panic with the young trio. The three here create a balance of intelligence, common sense and spontaneous reflex and this leads them to really pull up a lot of strength and courage. Its also impressive to see that the story quickly shifts these teens, particularly Jason that starts the movie being told to toughen up and quickly does.

While the young cast is the focus here, the rest of the characters are well-used also. The father, played by Donovan Stinson is the most hilarious part of this movie. He starts off the movie with a lot of funny moments. However, even the supporting roles are there in their oddly disposable way but still have their value, mostly for comedy as well. Its realizes how to capture the humor in spite of the horror tension they want to create here. It also helps make the teens more useful and responsible than their parents.

The setting of the movie is in the middle of nowhere however fits perfectly. While Dead Shack feels like it is riddled with cliches, it uses them to their advantage whether by making some smart comeback in the dialogue or turning it into a comedic moment or adding some common sense that most horror movies don’t have. The music builds the moments really well also whether it is to create tension or the soundtrack that compliments some of the scenes. Along with some clever camera work capturing close-ups and angles, it works wonders for Dead Shack as a whole.

It is a shame that it feels that the enemy is largely underused. While it works because it helps create tension as to wondering when the undead or the Blonde will show up. This movie is definitely more a comedy in a horror setting. While there are more undead as the movie moves along and it never feels like we’re really invested into any of the characters, it still finds a way to make this into a fun romp that surprisingly works really well.

Fantasia Festival 2017: Vampire Cleanup Department (2017)

Vampire Cleanup Department (2017)

vampire cleanup department

Director: Pak-Wing Yan, Sin-Hang Chiu

Cast: Babyjohn Choi, Min-Chen Lin, Richard Ng, Siu-ho Chin, Susan Shaw

Tim Cheung joins the Vampire Cleanup Department which is a secret task force for dealing Chinese vampire Goeng Si. He is instructed by his uncle Chau and he saves a female Goeng Si, Summer from her evil lord Goeng Si who buried alive her. – IMDB

For those familiar with the Mr. Vampire series decades ago and their introduction to the hopping Chinese vampires, the recent years has seen a resurgence to seemingly revive or perhaps catch Hong Kong’s own wave of the vampire popularity. In 2013, Rigor Mortis saw the debut directing work of Juno Mak get the cast of the originals and create a serious horror full of gore and symbolism. However, Vampire Cleanup Department this year aims to do the same thing but uses more of the horror action comedy angle, in turns more in vein with the original series while still taking the familiar actors. It feels like a true revival or remaster or perhaps modernized reboot of this Chinese cult favorite and not only appeal to the fans of the franchise but also grab a new generation and educate them about these hopping vampires. Screened in Cantonese, the English subtitles were done well enough to still carry the humor it wanted for the most part. We always like to make sure that the jokes will still carry well to an international audience.

Vampire Cleanup Department does many things right. It is hard to say that anymore in terms of comedy or horror. Two things the Hong Kong industry in general seems to have hit a snag as it settles for ineffective and trope-y horror or dumb and nonsensical humor. However, this movie is littered with clever jokes and puns and most of all, actors that deliver them seamlessly and perfectly. It also uses the CGI that they have access to in order to make these vampires and other action/horror effects feel more authentic and less campy. Its a re-skin and one that is done tastefully. For those who were too young when this released or never quite had access to it before or simply the new generation, Vampire Cleanup Department never forgets to educate its audience as it educates and trains its long awaited new blood. Using this story line works in this situation because we as the audience will also learn about how hopping vampires came to be, how to get rid of them as well as how this secret department originated as a new vengeful vampire is unleashed into the city accidentally.

Another great aspect of Vampire Cleanup Department is its veteran actors. Siu-ho Chin and Richard Ng are the main characters in this as they take a supporting role that links to the past. They are fun and entertaining. Siu-ho Chin contributes to a lot of the action as he is the younger of the original crew. Richard Ng brings a lot of the humor. Its truly hard to not feel nostalgic when watching them on screen as they have both been part of memorable films aside from the Mr. Vampire movies. They are the anchor of this film and despite the younger actors seeming to be a focus of the film. The scenes they are in keep the movie grounded as their opposite personalities in their characters also create a nice friction.

The one downfall of this flick truly goes to the young romance, Tim and Summer, played respectively by Babyjohn Choi and Min-Chen Lin. This factor is less to do with their performance but more with the more than familiar romance. Its sappy and redundant. In fact, the humor elements added into their budding romance makes it fun and cute however never lets us feel too invested either, at least not enough to feel emotional about their outcome. Sadly, the romance does take up a decent portion of the movie. While still successfully entertaining us for the most parts, it falls short from what the rest of the movie creates and could of been done a little more concisely.

Vampire Cleanup Department is a treat. Despite its rinse and repeat romance that doesn’t have the connection with the audience it is meant to have, everything else is done very well. It creates a beautiful balance of action, comedy and horror. It revives and reboots this Geong Si, aka hopping vampires, from the late 80s to 90s from the Mr. Vampire series. It also brings in some new blood to possibly (and hopefully) continue the franchise in a modern way. This film has found a way to keep itself self-contained while remembering to honor its predecessors by creating a link of the world the earlier movies created. It brings back the atmosphere those movies had while giving it a fresh look successfully.

Fantasia 2017: Tilt (2017)

Tilt (2017)

Tilt poster

Director & co-writer: Kasra Farahani

Cast: Joseph Cross, Alexia Rasmussen, Jessy Hodges, Kelvin Yu

An unemployed documentary filmmaker’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic in the months after his wife becomes pregnant. – IMDB

A mind’s control over a chaos. Tilt is a movie about exactly that. Also, it stems from possibly the main character, Joe’s first documentary called Tilt and its tagline about control and chaos and skill in regards to pinball which could easily be carried forward to how we watch him slowly spiral towards his urge of becoming someone that he doesn’t recognize. The best way to describe Tilt would be a slow-burn character study of a person who slowly changes as perhaps their subconscious desires take a path they try to resist.

Tilt is an interesting one. We love horror thrillers and slow-burn movies and honestly, those types of movies are possibly the hardest to get right. Tilt does a decent job at setting up the stage. The technicalities from sound design to production set to the cast were done very well. It was captivating in parts and intriguing in others. Tilt’s first and third act were all of these things, wrapped up in a lot of questions and slowly gives the audience pieces to put together and wonder whether our main character Joe, played by Joseph Cross, will eventually spiral to. Where the film may fall a little short is in the incredibly dragged out second act that we can understand the purpose of watching our character, his observations and his resistance come into full force however, it also was a grinding experience to get through falling into the tedious territory for a few brief moments. What does redeem this movie is the unknown and the unsaid. Things happen and we can only wonder and link and imagine some, (at times) disturbing ideas.

It is hard to do a film like Tilt where it combines the thriller genre with a character study. For all its intrigued and ideas executed well most of the time, perhaps one of the harder things to invest into would be the characters themselves. The cast did incredibly well with how these characters are scripted, particularly our main couple, Joe and Joanne. We see the stress and the sacrifices and the tears that the pregnancy and upcoming addition to their family has caused. Perhaps this is what causes these issues to arise subtly in Joe’s personality as he spends many hours by himself.  However, as impressive as Joseph Cross and Alexia Rasmussen portrayed their characters, it is hard to be rooting for any one of them in particular. Perhaps that isn’t the point because it does feel like these characters were created to not truly be likable as they struggle with this new stress that has entered their lives as they have to face a new reality.

With that said, Tilt does a lot of technical aspects right. The scenes, moods, atmosphere are done incredibly well. They help create that sense of fear and dread as well as danger and intrigue. The script itself tells just enough to make us wonder and link things but never truly know if our guess is correct or not. That is what makes a thriller fun as the finale pulls together masterfully. It has some disturbing scenes and ideas and all this is thanks to a great performance by Joseph Cross. However, the downfall of this film lies in characters we can’t seem to get behind and that make sit harder to truly feel invested into their outcome and also a second act that could’ve been perhaps executed a little better in various parts. Not a perfect thriller, however one that executes many things well enough to deserve a watch.

Flesh for the Zombies (short story) by Anthony Renfro

Reading has been a tad slow these days and I’m kind of feeling like I’m cheating on this Goodreads challenge because I’ve been reading a lot of short stories and comics/graphic novels but I guess this does work because its really been a whole new adventure. However, the world is much better in smaller doses especially when I finally got around to checking out Anthony Renfro’s new short story Flesh for the Zombies. For those who don’t know, Anthony is one of us bloggers and he is also a writer. You can find him at Haiku, Poetry and Occasional Hullabaloo and his newer blog, One Writer Ranting. Over the years, Anthony has been great and its always great to get a free copy of his book because I do love his writing a lot. Flesh for the Zombies continues with the story of Mike Beem which is a pretty cool character that has been around for a few short stories already.

Flesh for the Zombies
by: Anthony Renfro

flesh for the zombies

When Mike Beem’s community is savagely attacked, he must exact revenge on those who wronged him. He must put aside all the good he has ever accomplished in order to become someone else. A man without a moral compass. A man without right or wrong. A man who is a cold blooded killer. Will he get his justice or will he die trying? The answers lie within the pages of this short story. – Goodreads

What started with A Zombie Christmas turned into A Zombie Christmas 2 and now we have Flesh for the Zombies which follows a very cool bad-ass with quite a soft heart who makes the best out of a sudden zombie apocalypse. Mike Beem is a great character created by Anthony Renfro for these stories and despite these only being short stories, the events Mike Beem goes through and the way he talks and his actions truly allows the readers to see who he is. With Flesh for the Zombies, the story dives a little deeper as the community he built is not destroyed by a group of people who has taken the zombie apocalypse and gone the different direction of how he chose by making things a living hell and when they choose to destroy his community that he’s built with positivity and create a safe(r) haven for what is going on outside, it turns a side of Mike Beem and makes not only us but the character itself question the limits of his actions especially in the face of hard choices. Its not to say that in the face of a zombie apocalypse there won’t be hard choices even before but the tone of Flesh of the Zombies has matured quite a bit from when we first saw Mike Beem and his desire to bring Christmas from the survivors of his neighborhood. To me, that shows improvement and character depth all of which makes me happy to see that the author has chosen this new path. For those who have read A Zombie Christmas, we already know that the author likes to take a different approach to this zombie apocalypse business and its quite creative. The most impressive part for Flesh for the Zombies is it takes it down a very different path with very intriguing results making this a very fulfilling short story.

Overall, Flesh for the Zombies takes a turn down a deeper and darker path for an impressive character that gives it some character depth. Packed with vivid description and some hard choices for the protagonist to make, this short story is a page turner and one that stands together well with the Mike Beem stories from before, A Zombie Christmas 1 & 2 but also should stand well enough by itself as it is self-contained.

Links to buy the short story (if you are interested)

Double Feature: Wait Till Helen Comes (2016) & Final Girl (2015)

Another double feature has arrived.

We have a mix of horror and thriller (?). The first one is one that I rented on Google Play store and the other was on Netflix, a new addition of sorts. Two more obscure titles, I would imagine. And no, this is Final Girl and not Final Girls.

Lets check it out!

Wait Till Helen Comes (2016)

Wait Till Helen Comes

Director: Dominic James

Cast: Sophie Nelisse, Maria Bello, Isabelle Nelisse, Callum Keith Rennie, Abigail Pniowsky, William Dickinson

When a reconstructed family moves to a converted church in the country, 14-year-old Molly, must save her new troubled step-sister from a dangerous relationship with the desperate ghost of a young girl. –IMDB

Wait Till Helen Comes is an indie horror. There are quite a few charms to it such as some scenes are directed really well and the set was suitable and worked to give an isolated/secluded perhaps abandoned area. That is always good for horror. Moving to a new home and families coming together also gives a lot of mystery to the characters and gives them a chance to develop. In concept, Wait Till Helen Comes has all the typical ingredients to make it work fine as a horror however perhaps because it uses such normally seen pieces that it becomes slightly more predictable. For the record, this is based on a novel however I have not read it so for myself this is a standalone piece with nothing to compare to.

Wait Till Helen Comes

Wait Till Helen Comes has some decent performances. Maria Bello is there as the mother and an artist. Her character works hard to create a balance in the new family put together because of her marriage. In many ways, she fits a mold also because while she starts off thinking her daughter is making up things and suspecting she went off her medication, she does come around. As for her teenage daughter Molly, a young actress Sophie Nelisse, does a convincing job of learning how to be a bigger sister. Although subtle, the change in her character happens gradually throughout the story as she tries to protect (in her own way) her younger sister Heather , who is the daughter of her stepfather recently picked up from a home to hopefully rehabilitate her after her mother’s death. Heather, played by Isabelle Nelisse, is rather unsettling to watch as well.

While the story does have a decent turn of events in the final act and some well-executed scenes to build up the atmosphere, it is hard to not completely feel involved because it lacks a bit of originality as it falls into a lot of horror troupes from moving into a run-down home to a rather typical ghost story. However, this one is still alright.

Final Girl (2015)

Final Girl

Director: Tyler Shields

Cast: Abigail Breslin, Wes Bentley, Logan Huffman, Cameron Bright, Alexander Ludwig, Reece Thompson

A man teaches a young woman how to become a complete weapon. Later she is approached by a group of sadistic teens who kill blonde women for unknown reasons. The hunting season begins. – IMDB

I like Abigail Breslin a lot. I probably talked about it when I wrote up my TV Binge for Scream Queens Season 1 and probably for The Call recently. I love a ton of her movies when she was younger: Nim’s Island, Zombieland, Little Miss Sunshine, etc. Then she makes these really odd choices in movies now. Final Girl is a thriller that falls apart so fast that it never really creates any fun. Its tacky and pretty stupid. It tries really hard to be stylish with these cool scenes as they present each of the guys in the rich kids that have secret killing fetish in the woods to hunt down defenseless girls, particularly blondes. Abigail Breslin for some odd reason is trained as a child by a man who lost his daughter tragically on a journey to revenge. What does these two things have in common: nothing much from what I saw. I can’t say that the performances are bad because I feel that the story is the main problem. Its just so poorly constructed. Its disjointed and pointless and in the end, we really don’t care too much about any of these characters.

There’s some stylish shots and perhaps in a biased way, Abigail Breslin does okay. But seriously, nothing saves a movie with a story that takes itself far too seriously in light of some bad dialogue and poor story. Unfortunately, this one didn’t have any thrills.

This wraps up the Double Feature!
Have you seen these two movies? What did you think of them?

A Good Marriage & 1922 by Stephen King

The original plan for Stephen King readings was to read his books or short stories in chronological order of release. Seeing as I read Carrie first. I even have Salem’s Lot sitting on my shelf. However, that other day that I forgot my Kindle at home and remembered that I picked up this one on sale during the holidays drove me to read it. For those who didn’t read my review, you can find it here.

This book includes two novellas. It starts with A Good Marriage and follows up with 1922. Let’s check it out!

A Good Marriage

A Good Marriage

A Good Marriage is an absolute page turner. The writing and suspense and thrills carries and builds at a great pace. We pretty much follow the voice of a wife that finds out a horrible secret of her husband. She has to choose to survive and make choices that can get her through it. The agony and conflict she feels along with the eventual disgust and all those feelings are captivated so well to make us feel what she is feeling. Her husband although is the source of the issue here also has chilling moments where we truly can feel why. Spontaneous coincidences are the unexpected factors in life and sometimes it leads to the events in A Good Marriage.

This novella excels in being able to communicate the inner feelings of our characters. For the first bit of the novella, we are only reading Darcy and the feelings she gets as she discovers that there’s something her husband is hiding. However, curiosity in the end does kill the cat. We learn a little about the marriage that how Darcy and Bob get together and their 25 years of marriage. We are acquainted with these characters quickly. The reveal of the secret is slower as well as we are deceived into a little secret that when Darcy chooses to let go momentarily results in consequent actions dealing with something much more unforgivable.

Its a little twisted and puts morals on the table as to how far you’d go to protect yourself. When does doing what everyone perceives as a bad thing become a good thing for the right reasons? So many layers and such brilliant character development, A Good Marriage is a great read.

1922

Very opposite of A Good Marriage, it is hard to pinpoint what makes 1922 feel much lesser in the Stephen King collection. I guess I can’t quite say that seeing as this is just the third work that I’ve ever read. However, it was a somewhat painful experience that seemed to only come to fruition at its finale. There is a lot of detail and skill in putting together this character Wilfred as we see his slow descent into madness and obsession probably driven by the metaphorical skeletons on his closet.

1922 is shown as a letter of confession, many years after he’s actually gotten away. Wilfred recounts the story in detail from his sentiments to telling about what happens to lead up to his decision to kill his wife. The characters here are not likeable. Wilfred is a little off-putting. Henry has a rather odd turnout and his wife particularly doesn’t exactly encourage or make us feel like she deserved a lot better although for her husband to kill her is also an extreme. However, the star here is Wilfred and in the incredible detail of what happened in 1922, the entire year of 1922 literally, it gets a little long and slow and unrewarding in many ways. The ending does pull everything together if the readers haven’t gathered already that Wilfred is greatly affected by murdering his wife and the consequent events. His obsession over believing that she was still alive after she was absolutely dead physically had a cloud over him (which is pretty understandable). In many ways, we can question whether Wilfred was as bad as he seems, perhaps the events of 1922 and the fact that he realized the obvious that if he didn’t do anything, things might not have been so extreme caused him incredible regret also. There are a ton of reasons and what-ifs.

While descriptively and character building wise, there is a haunting and disturbing feeling every once in a while, the story is very slow and feels not too engaging. However, if you do stick through it, the ending does have a resolution, that was surprisingly worth it (at least to me).

A Good Marriage and 1922 both are novellas focused on a psychological change in its main character and honestly focuses on the one voice and a particular situation.
A Good Marriage was definitely the superior one. Have you read either of these before? Thoughts?

Triple Feature: Captain Fantastic, Justice League Dark & Havenhurst

Its been a while that I haven’t done a triple feature. For some of you that drop by That Moment In, you know that while the podcast has stopped, we are still recording audio discussions. Starting back in December, I had done a few of these movie review bits and to be honest, when I have already discussed a movie (and not in writing), I don’t feel like writing about it again. Not sure why. However, there were some titles that I wanted to share some quick thoughts on, so from now on, I’m going to do group them together and do triple features. These aren’t exactly in the order that we’ve recorded and released them. I still have probably another post or two to cover the rest of the movies. I’ll also include the audio so you can listen to it if you haven’t or would like to.

Here we go!

Captain Fantastic (2016)

Captain Fantastic

Director and writer: Matt Ross

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks, Charlie Shotwell

In the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education is forced to leave his paradise and enter the world, challenging his idea of what it means to be a parent. – IMDB

Captain Fantastic is a quirky movie. In fact, its incredibly quirky that at some parts, it seems to go a little over. The best part of it is definitely Viggo Mortensen’s performance. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the best performance I’ve seen of his. The opening showed so much potential from his own way of bringing up his kids in the wilderness and learning to take care of themselves physically and intelligently. His kids themselves also have great character and showed a great sense of disconnection from the real world when events we would have disregarded triggers much bigger (and possibly awkwardly hilarious/absurd) reactions. The youngest two kids definitely steal the show with their direct attitudes and smart answers. Captain Fantastic is a good movie with great performances, however sometimes it does take its quirky indie side and goes a little far in certain parts. However, this does turn into a rather heartfelt and emotional experience as the exposure of the real world somehow causes conflicts and disagreements to arise.

Justice League Dark (2017)

justice league dark

Director: Jay Oliva

Voice cast: Matt Ryan, Camilla Luddington, Jason O’Mara, JB Blanc, Ray Chase, Enrico Colantoni, Roger Cross, Jeremy Davies, Rosario Dawson, Alfred Molina

Beings with supernatural powers join together to fight against supernatural villains. This team of supernatural beings include John Constantine, Zatanna and Jason Blood also known as the demon Etrigan. – IMDB

I’m not a comic book aficionado or am I versed in anything superhero other than the recent TV series or Batman movies from the 90s till recent. My first DC animated film is this very movie, Justice League Dark. Filled with magic and many fun characters and charged with great dialogue and impressive visuals, this animation is enjoyable and fun. Constantine, voiced by Matt Ryan, comes to life as well as the quiet and subtle Batman that makes suitably short responses to a great female action hero, Zatanna, voiced by Camilla Luddington. There are also familiar names with voice from Rosario Dawson in a cameo of Wonder Woman. There are some back stories from various characters that help move the current investigations of the devil appearances causing harmful acts across the DC universe. Some characters would have benefited from having more emphasis however, as a first animated film, this one felt well  written and never felt like I was jumping in during an intermission and got lost by the characters. Justice League Dark is a fun animated film with good characters and a well-written script.

Havenhurst (2017)

havenhurst

Director and co-writer: Andrew C. Erins

Cast: Julie Benz, Belle Shouse, Josh Stamberg, Danielle Harris, Fionnula Flanagan

A troubled young woman takes up residence in a gothic apartment building where she must confront a terrifying evil. – IMDB 

Horror thrillers are usually my cup of tea. I love them but they also are incredibly hard to nail down perfectly. Havenhurst starts out with all the right tones. Its setting in a huge apartment complex reminds us right off the bat of the eeriely isolated Overlook Hotel in The Shining. The performances here work for the most part. However, the environment does feel wasted when only one floor of this complex is shown and the limited inhabitants revolve around only a few people. The mysteries aren’t revealed well enough to make it worthwhile and the final twist feels like a cheap effort to just make our watch feel unique. However, Havenhurst does carry a lot of the atmosphere for most of the movie and keeps up the suspense and mystery and keeps us guessing for half of the movie before the much too early turn of events causes it to lose momentum. Plus, it does feel like there are nods to various successful horror films. Not to mention that there are also some familiar faces from TV and perhaps the most renowned being Fionnula Flanagan who plays the landlady which had a fantastic performance as the housekeeper in The Others (at least thats my highlight role I remember her in).