Beyond the Gates: Cheesy Fun

Are you a fan of “Stranger Things” and “Jumanji”? Have you always wondered if there is more to board games than meet the eye? Welcome to “Beyond the Gates,” an entertaining and sometimes frightening low budget horror film that won the Audience Award at the 2016 Los Angeles film festival.

This film concerns 2 adult brothers whose father disappeared a decade ago who discover a strange board game he was playing before he died. Titled “Beyond the Gates,” of course, the game is an elaborate, mysterious concoction that threatens your mind, body, and soul and takes you to another dimension. In order to survive, you must listen to the game master (played on videotape by Barbara Crampton from “Re-Animator”) and win the game. The two brothers (who are hoping to save their dad from the other dimension( and their friends are affected by the game, and there will be much confusion and weirdness, a body count, blood and gore, and an ending that may not be what the viewer will expect.

I thought this movie was excellent, primarily because of its great premise and unpredictability. The actors are fine and the special effects are good. It’ll make you think twice about playing a board game! It is currently streaming on Netflix and is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Re: Autopsy of Jane Doe

If you’re disheartened by the overly commercial movies being put out by Hollywood and you like horror, I’ve got a movie for you. “The Autopsy of Jane Doe,” starring Emile Hirsch and Brian (Hannibal Lector in “Manhunter”) Cox, is a small-scale but very frightening experience. It is about a farther (Cox) and son (Hirsch) who work at a mortuary, and their new patron, “Jane Doe,” has died a very unusual death, and they can’t figure out what killed her. Is she even dead

This film has two things going for it: great acting and an incredible sense of mystery, atmosphere, and dread. Brian Cox delivers his best performance in years as the father, a decent man with dark secrets. The director, who made “Trollhunter,” has a field day with the possibly haunted mortuary. Not only do we get jump scares galore, but also some truly disgusting and disturbing scenes. It all builds to a satisfying, dark conclusion.

In short, “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” is a good sleeper horror film. Rent or stream it and turn off all the lights. You will definitely be scared!

Guardians is a Hoot

I assumed I would never like a movie with a talking raccoon, but “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is a blast. The secret, I think, is in the casting. I am not a big fan of Chris Pratt, but he is perfect as Starlord in both films. Zoe Saldana is also good, but the show is continually stolen by Bradley Cooper as a foul-mouthed talking raccoon. Throw in Dave Bautista and Vin Diesel as the voice of Baby Groot and you have a cast of outcast heroes worth cheering.

I liked this film better than the first because of the cast being so much fun to watch. Not only do we get Sylvester Stallone and (in a memorable role) Kurt Russell, but Michael Rooker gets to be the hero. The 3-D, surprisingly, is very good, and the film never seems stuck in Marvel Movie Formula. In short, the film is a hoot and will probably make a gazillion dollars. And, yes, Stan Lee and Howard T. Duck make brief appearances.

A Decent Circle

The new movie “The Circle” has the unearned reputation from critics and audiences of being a bomb. It’s a smart thriller that plays against audience expectations. Going in, we know that Emma Watson has to be the heroine and Tom Hanks, as a Steve Jobs-type guru, must be the villain. However, neither character behaves according to type, which has caused many people to say the film makes no sense. I urge people to reconsider. This movie is about people who are in the public limelight 24/7. Because the main characters are in the limelight all the time, there is no way they can tip off that their modus operandi may be masking deeper motivations and secrets. As a result, it is a genuine surprise when the characters are unmasked at the end as not being what they seem. If the director had played everything straight and square, with characters behaving in a more understandable way, the point of the movie would have been lost. The film is about how technology forces us to react in unnatural ways.

That established, this is a good movie, much better than “Fate of the Furious” and “Beauty and the Beast.” It asks important questions about technology, privacy, and where we are today and where we are headed. The music, directing, performances, and cinematography are first-rate. Most importantly, it tells you that if a company asks you to be monitored by millions 24 hours a day without big pay, just say no. See “The Circle” to see that the future is now.

Sci-Fi Roundup

This movie is not the Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence jail comedy. Its about a crew fighting a killer amoeba. Although the overall quality of films the last five or ten years has spiked downward, sci-fi has spiked upward in quality with some wonderful films that haven’t gotten the attention they deserve. The current film “Life,” for example, is a very interesting “Alien” knockoff about what would happen if we discovered alien life on Mars. The answer: nothing good. We think we’re getting “E.T.” and instead we’re getting something worse than The Thing. This film has interesting characters, some believable science, and is a tremendously inspired production. The director uses long, painstakingly crafted sequences to draw us in and (hopefully) make us forget we’re watching a movie. The performances of Jake Gylllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds draw us in, and, although the film is similar to “Alien,” it scares us.

The new film “Phoenix Forgotten,” produced by Ridley Scott, is a found-footage film in the style of “The Blair Witch Project” about the Phoenix Lights UFO incident from 1997. A group of teens witness the event and decide to investigate further and film what they find. Bad idea. It turns out that the incident is much more sinister in nature than they thought. Will they survive? Maybe not, but their quest proves somewhat compelling as all of us are curious about UFO’s. The film is well-made, acted, and scored and delivers some terror on a low budget. It’s not great, but you could do worse.

Ghost in the Shell is Deep

I thought I knew what to expect from “Ghost in the Shell.” I assumed it would have great visuals and a mindless plot. I was right about the visuals. Although the futuristic city portrayed in the film looks a little too close to “Blade Runner,” overall the film is convincing and occasionally mind-blowing in terms of its visual impact. The surprise about the new film is that director Rupert Sanders has a story to tell, and tells it well. What would it be like to be an android (or, actually, a cyborg) with no body to call your own and memories you can’t trust? This film tells you.

I was very impressed with the cast that this film put together. It is true that Scarlett Johannson is rather miscast as the heroine, but this is only because her character is supposed to be Asian. She should have asked for rewrites to tailor the part more to her. However, “Beat” Takeshi Kitano (the Japanese action star), Juliette Binoche, and Michael Pitt are excellent in their roles.

The film is getting a lot of flack for supposedly “whitewashing” Japanese material. On the contrary, the film is very respectful to the magna and anime series, and to such a degree that I’m rather stunned. The scenes where the protagonist discovers the truth about herself are rather affecting. This film succeeds in capturing the essence of the film series, and I would not mind a sequel to this film. If you like science fiction and especially if you like anime, check it out! – CoolAC

Cop Car

Currently showing on HBO and available on Blu-Ray and DVD, “Cop Car” is a terrific thriller that you probably haven’t heard about or seen. It’s about two child runaways who find an abandoned cop car in a remote location. They decide to break into it, explore, and take it on a joy ride. Little do they know that someone’s in the trunk, and that corrupt cop Kevin Bacon will do anything to get his car back.

The first thing I noticed about this film is how well it portrays children; the kids seem like real kids. Between saying swear words for the first time and being totally unaware of the danger of driving an apparently empty car, their naivety is stunning and believable. Secondly, Kevin Bacon’s performance is one of his very best. He doesn’t overact. and so he creates suspense about how dangerous he is. The third thing is how well-crafted this film is; it takes a simple scenario and creates a Hitchcockian level of suspense around it.

In short, “Cop Car” is a great thriller that is well worth your time. The performances are great and the suspense is real. Don’t miss it! –CoolAC

More Dystopian Cinema

Love him or hate him, Donald Trump has irrevocably altered the American political landscape. That can clearly be seen in two new low-budget horror films, Roger Corman’s “Death Race 2050” and Greg McLean’s “The Belko Experiment.” Although neither of these films is a cinematic masterpiece, they are both worth seeing because they perfectly show the fractured political landscape America is in right now.

“Death Race 2050” shows how we live in a very violent society presided over by a very strange man (Malcolm McDowell at his most outrisageous) who resembles Donald Trump. In the society portrayed in the film, nothing seems to matter except getting good kills. The film brings back the Frankenstein driver character from “Death Race 2000” as well as the dystopian future where nothing matters except hedonism and violence. The film attempts to make its low budget a virtue with deliberately cheesy special FX, but the concept of a deadly car chase is what works particularly well here. The point seems to be that our society is headed in a more nihilistic direction, and it is a point I do not disagree with. The film is new to DVD and Blu ray and is streaming on Netflix.

“The Belko Experiment,” which just opened in theaters., is written and produced by James Gunn, who gave us “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Slither.” The director gave us the “Wolf Creek” films. This film is about American employees at a corporation in Colombia who get locked into their workplace and forced into the ultimate corundum: kill or die. The film is about how the previously friendly employees at the corporation deal with the fact that to survive, they will apparently have to kill each other. This film is more disturbing than most horror films because:

1. The reasons for this deadly corporate psychological experiment are never explained.
2. The most likeable characters generally die first. I particularly felt bad for the black security guard who ends up getting killed for doing his job of holding onto the keys to the armory. Rarely have I seen a more likeable character bite the dust in a horror film.

This film will be criticized for being too cynical and having no apparent point, but in fact it shows the arbitrary divisions that are springing up between us in America right now, and how violence is being shown as a solution to our problems in some parts of our society. If you doubt this, look at the vitriol on both sides of the political aisle right now. This film shows us that we need to be careful before signing our rights away to a corporation (or, for that matter, the government) because the people in charge cannot be trusted.

These films will be regarded as exploitative trash by most people, but I found them to be well worth watching. They both show the consequences of a violence-obsessed society. I recommend them as good beer-drinking drive-in movies and as food for thought. Until next time… –CoolAC

America Needs Steele Justice

This film gets three out of four grenades. Steele Justice is a great Rambo and Missing in Action rip-off.  It is a must-see for every Vietnam action film buff. Martin Kove stars (the Cobra Kai karate instructor from the Karate Kid I and III) as a vet who has never gotten over Nam’. He reencounters the General who ran his POW camp again, who has since become a drug lord. This element adds a trashy Scarface 80s cliché element, enhancing the film.

Kove lacks any really convincing karate moves. Never-the-lesshe does have a badass air to his persona, especially how he manages to wear a nose bandage for most of the film. He treats his women really badly, darkly and comically unable to decide whether to bother saving his wife from the drug lords.

Ironically, Kove has a Vietnamese friend. This is probably in order to avoid the type of controversies the Year of the Dragon encountered at the time with some Asian communities. Its hard to say. Perhaps his friendship was more sincere.  Kove shows his soft side when his Vietnamese buddy dies at the hands of the kingpins, whereupon Kove befriends the  daughter and demonstrates some sincerity.

The highlight of the film is when he shows up (suicidal) to a drug deal gone wrong with a military vehicle and a Gatling gun, and wreaks havoc and destruction upon the enemy. On a side-note, Bernie Casie and Ronny Cox play policemen with their thumbs up their asses.

Sometimes when the law doesn’t care and the bad guys are winning all too often – there must be Steele Justice!!

 

Logan’s Fun

*Trailer was too ISIS-y for me. I dissent. 3 Year old girls should not be encouraged to leap around with metal claws, slicing necks. Nor can they physically do so. To think they could is too much of a stretch. – Deplorable Steve

Ok, so the third and final “Wolverine” movie, and how does it stack up?  Well, it’s a damn sight better than “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and “The Wolverine,” not to mention the atrocious “X-Men Apocalypse.”  The best thing about it is how it takes place in a plausible future world where the last surviving X-men are struggling to take it day by day.  Logan and Professor X, played very well by Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, are off the grid and disinterested in the world until Xavier senses a young girl mutant who may be key to mankind’s and mutant-kind’s survival.  They also discover an organization that has used mutant experimentation for extremely nefarious ends, and only they (or really only Logan) can prevent a catastrophe.

Let me be clear about something: this is the greatest Wolverine movie of all time.  Jackman gives a persistently top-drawer performance as the burned-out but not yet down for the count Logan.  We feel his pain and his sadness at the way the world has turned out.  He and Stewart have great chemistry and seem more Shakespearian than Marvel-ian.  I also liked how the film combines elements of futurism, neo noir-ism, and especially the western, with “Shane” being explicitly referenced.  There is no CGI in this film, and it resembles “Unforgiven” more than it does the Marvel canon.

 These attributes, along with a clever gimmick that I won’t reveal involving the villain’s experiments, are enough to make Logan a good film.  But it misses greatness because it spends too much time pleasing the fans.  We don’t need the decapitations and heavy gore because they don’t further the story and remind us that it’s just a movie.  And we REALLY don’t need the teaser for a new “Deadpool” film before this one starts which made me think I’d paid to see the wrong movie.  The movie is also too long at 2 hours and 21 minutes. All in all, though, “Logan” is worth the admission price, as it gives us a better Wolverine story than we’ve seen before, as well as approximating a real movie rather than comic book crap.  I’d say if this looks like your kind of thing, go for it; it’s smart enough and done with gusto. -CoolAC