Movie Review: The Voices (2015)

The Voices poster
The Voices poster

If Ed Gein and Henry Lee Lucas created a sitcom together, and David Lynch produced it, exactly what would that look like? Marjane Satrapi, the writer/director of the award-nominated PERSEPOLIS knows, and gives it to us in spades with THE VOICES, which is quite possibly one of the most disturbing first-person views of psychosis since David Cronenberg’s underrated SPIDER.

The entire movie is a vehicle for its star, Ryan Reynolds, but if you’re expecting him to reel in his target audience with his six-pack, sculpted pecs and insolent VAN WILDER-esque grin, be prepared for a considerable shock to your system. As normal, good-looking (but not GQ Magazine-ready), and somewhat reticent Jerry, he’s the ‘good guy’ who seems happier just going with the flow, but is almost pathetically desperate to please everyone and do well, whenever thrust into the spotlight.

Really, just an all-around ‘good guy,’ that Jerry. When he stays on his medication.

Which, for the most part, he doesn’t. And that’s where THE VOICES begin…literally.

Not to be remotely confused with any piddling reality shows that may KIND of bear a similar title, this one is all about drawing the audience into Jerry’s World; where pretty girls aren’t just pretty, but beauteous ‘angels from heaven’; where Jerry’s life of drudgery takes place in a bathtub-and-sink factory in the fictional town of Milton, (get it?), but everything is washed in beautifully soft pastels – even the uniforms. And he can talk to the animals.

Yeah, not a typo. Jerry talks to the animals, and as the title implies, they talk back. Said animals being his dog, Bosco and his cat, Mr. Whiskers. Oh, and they don’t just talk. They are the yin-and-yang components of Jerry’s conscience; Bosco, the gregarious, kind-hearted soul who tries to reassure Jerry that he’s always being a “good boy”, while Mr. Whiskers is an amoral, devious, cynical sociopath, with a Scottish brogue to make his insults even more stinging – think Billy Connolly with a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a machete in the other. After taking a good hit on a crack pipe. AND with a tail to complete the portrait.

Jerry’s real troubles begin (or so we are led to believe), when the girls “up in Accounting” at the factory start taking a shine to him, especially Brit transplant, the curvaceous Fiona (Gemma Arterton). It’s with their first ‘date’, that she begins to suspect that her sweetly goofy co-worker may be something more of a nutbar, and not in a GOOD way. She manages to stand him up for what he would have considered an official “DATE-date”, which sucks for her. “Unmedicated” Jerry just isn’t someone who takes to being intentionally snubbed kindly.

the Voices img oneAnd it should be noted here: this is where Reynolds really excels in this film, by underplaying the matinee idol looks, and giving us just enough crazy that we know he’s out to lunch, and yet find ourselves empathizing with him in a way that doesn’t compute with the principled side of ourselves – the conscience screaming at us that we are siding with a cold-blooded killer. And this dichotomy will not be easily reconciled, either. Ryan’s performance, Satrapi’s sure-handed direction and the script by Michael R. Perry have ensured it. Like the aforementioned SPIDER, this is a deeply immersive experience that ratchets up the unease factor that will stick with you, long after the jaw-dropping end credits have rolled. Even the revelation of the source of Jerry’s mental dysfunction doesn’t alleviate the discomfort, and if anything, makes it worse.

Equally great in their performances are Anna Kendrick (UP IN THE AIR) and Ella Smith, as Lisa and Alison, respectively, two of Fiona’s co-workers who are also sweet on Jerry, much to their future dismay. On the opposite end of things is the wonderful Jacki Weaver (SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK and Fox’s GRACEPOINT), playing the ineffectual Dr. Warren, Jerry’s court-appointed shrink, who always looks like she’s pretty sure that Jerry is going to pull out a running chainsaw at any given moment, and that SHE should be prepared to run, too! (Smart cookie, this one.)

Unlike your typical Tim Burton-esque confectionary fantasy, or the droll storytelling of Wes Anderson, there is nothing that Satrapi provides here to soothe your rapidly fraying nerves. On the contrary, enough reminders are dropped in at strategic moments to remind you that because you are stuck with a completely unreliable hero/’narrator’, that what you are seeing is an absolute lie: we know that dogs and cats don’t talk, serial murder is not justifiable to put people out of what might be perceived as “their misery”, and the relatively pristine apartment-cum-abandoned bowling alley where Jerry lives is nothing more than an abbatoir, revealing that he is not only insane, but has been for a very long time, with this devastating reality hidden only by his happily, pharmaceutical-free, psychotic haze.

THE VOICESTwo surprises that help catapult this into a great position to find ‘cult movie’ status with the audience that it’s meant for: how this film takes The O’Jays underrated classic, “Sing A Happy Song”, and hopefully gives it the same notoriety that Stealer’s Wheel’s one-hit wonder, “Stuck In The Middle With You” did with Tarantino’s RESERVOIR DOGS. And the ‘reveal’ of the voice actor(s) who provide the distinctive personalities of Bosco, the malevolent Mr. Whiskers and a doomed deer.

Here’s hoping that THE VOICES does find its mark with horror fans seeking out bracing originality, and that this marks a real turning point for Reynolds, breaking out of the ‘funny, pretty-boy’ casting straitjacket once and for all.

 

 

Check out the trailer:

Article: STORIES OF WOMEN IN HORROR

February is Women in Horror month, a concept designed to celebrate and assist female creators in the horror genre in gaining opportunities and exposure. Yes, there is a long history of talented women horror writers.

Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was born in London, England, in 1797. She married poet Percy Shelley in 1816, becoming Mary Shelley. Her iconic novel, Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus came about after a contest was proposed by the couple’s friend Lord Byron as to who could write the better horror story. The novel was anonymously published in 1818 as it was believed that no-one would buy a book written by a woman. Mary Shelley’s name appeared on the second edition printed five years later. Although she wrote several more novels, Shelley is forever remembered for Frankenstein.

           

Daphne Du Maurier
Daphne Du Maurier

Daphne Du Maurier was born in 1907, also in London, the grand-daughter of the famous Anglo-French writer, George L. Du Maurier. Du Maurier published her first short story in 1928. She published her terrifying story, The Birds in 1952; Alfred Hitchcock would direct the memorable film adaptation in 1963. For her life of service to literature, Daphne Du Maurier was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (the female equivalent of a knight) in 1969.

Shirely Jackson  Shirley Jackson was born in San Francisco in1916. She entered Syracuse University in 1937, where she published her first story.Jackson later began writing for The New Yorker, which published her disturbing story, The Lottery, in 1948. The story generated the largest volume of mail ever received by the magazine – most of it hateful. The Lottery has since been published in numerous languages and is still required reading in U.S. high schools. In 1959 Shirley Jackson published The Haunting of Hill House, a finalist for the National Book Award and considered one of the best literary ghost stories of the 20th century.

Anne Rice must be the most prolific female horror writer, with over 30 novels to her name. Born and raised in New Orleans, Rice holds a Master of Arts Degree in English and Creative Writing from San Francisco University. Her first book, Interview with the Vampire, began as a short story but was published as a novel in 1976. Rice has since created a rich cast of bloodsuckers in her best-selling Vampire Chronicles, witches in her Lives of the Mayfair Witches, werewolves in her Wolf Gift Chronicles, and even a mummy and a ghost or two.Anne Rice smaler

Born in Helena, Arkansas, multi-talented Mary Lambert is a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design who began her career directing music videos for artists such as Madonna and Janet Jackson. She is best known for directing the film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Pet Sematary in 1989, and its sequel, Pet Sematary II three years later. In 2005, Lambert directed the film Urban Legends: Bloody Mary, and in 2008, she wrote and directed seven episodes of the television series The Dark Path Chronicles.

Last but certainly not least, Philadelphia born Linda Addison is the eldest of nine children whose love of story-telling grew from listening to her mother tell bed-time tales to her family. In 1997, Addison published Animated Objects, her debut collection of short stories, journal entries, and poetry. In 2001, she became the first African-American author to win the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award for her collection of poetry entitled, Consumed, Reduced to Beautiful Gray Ashes. She has subsequently won the prestigious award three more times, most recently in 2013 for the collaborative work, Four Elements.

To commemorate Women in Horror Month, Examiner.com has published a list of 93 up-and-coming female horror writers. (Google 93 Horror Authors You Need to Read Right Now – Examiner.com to find it.) Truly, the future of horror is in women’s hands.

Movie Review: These Final Hours (2013)

These Final Hours. Director/writer: Zak Hilditch. Starring Sarah Snook, Jessica De Gouw, Nathan Phillips. Production company 8th In Line.

These Final Hours posterThese Final Hours is an Australian post apocalyptic end of the world film that was released in 2013 and after acclaim at Cannes, the film is finally being given an official USA theatrical release on March 6, 2015. An asteroid capable of destroying all life on the planet has crashed in the North Atlantic and created a blast wave that will cover the entire planet and incinerate all life as know it in the process.

In Perth, the citizens have been notified that they have 12 hours of life left to live. James, a troubled twenty-something man, just wants to numb the pain by taking as much drugs and booze as he can and spending his final hours with his girlfriend. However as society begins to fall apart around him he saves a young girl named Rose from being raped. With no one else to take her to her family, James keeps her in tow and together they realize how they want to spend their moments.

 

Directed by Zak Hilditch and filmed on location in Perth, These Final Hours covers familiar ground covered in other end of the world thrillers, but unlike some movies which tend to focus too much on a few characters without giving any sense of the greater picture at hand, Hilditch manages to pull off both with clever editing, a good use of radio voice over and an excellent cast of Australian actors. The film has a very natural feel to it, too. Characters lament about how painful being incinerated alive will be, which while morbid it is still something I have never heard any characters address in a film like this. Besides the fear of death, the possibility of it being a painful one is never once mentioned in most end of the world movies, but I think it is something we all have in our minds.

 

“Even if it were for just a second, would we feel anything?” Like getting a shot at the doctor’s office where despite having received vaccinations and having blood drawn from us many times, once in a while we feel that pinch from the injection and it hurts. The film also does not try and candy coat the bleakness of the situation and yet it doesn’t dwell on it. The characters we meet are well developed even if they only get a few minutes of screen-time. Like most films in this sub-genre, the story is about redemption, but unlike many others it does not feel preachy and despite the bleak situation. There is a certain human comfort reached by the viewer as though one were watching another’s journey in the face of death and because the characters are very human and are largely neither good or bad, the film accepts the human condition as the individual presents his or herself and allows the viewer to do the same and have empathy for them.

I liked this movie a lot more than I expected. Would I want to watch it over and over again, no.

However I would not mind sharing the experience of seeing a screening of These Final Hours with one who has not seen it yet. Then be thankful and hope nothing like that ever comes to pass.

Once again These Final Hours will open in the USA on March 6, 2015. Additional information can be found at www.wellgousa.com.

Check out the trailer:

Article: Shirley Jackson

Shirely JacksonAs it is “Women in Horror” month, I wished to share my enthusiasm for an amazing, versatile author, Shirley Jackson.
Her amazing short story “The Lottery” provided my introduction to Ms. Jackson’s writing when I was but an enthusiastic junior high student. Setting a brutal ancient rite in small-town America haunts me to this day. “The Lottery” appeared in the “New Yorker” in 1948 and created an unprecedented stir. It was named the O. Henry Prize Story in 1949.
hill houseShirley Jackson’s body of written work is varied and plentiful. Her hundreds of short stories found homes in most of the magazines of the time. Subject matter varied from “real life housewife” stories to thrilling horror tales. “Louisa, Please Come Home” earned a nomination for the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1961. In 1966, she won Best Short Story from Mystery Writers of America for “Possibility of Evil.”
She penned children’s literature including The Witchcraft of Salem Village (1956), Nine Magic Wishes (1963), and The Bad Children, based on Hansel and Gretel, which was adapted as a play. She wrote what she called “disrespectful memoirs of her children” called Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons.
Her novels include The Road Through the Wall, Hangsaman, The Bird’s Nest (1954), and The Sundial. Her We Have Always Lived in the Castle garnered the accolade “One of ‘Time’ Magazine’s 10 Best Novels in 1962.” The story was successfully adapted for stage.the lottery
Stephen King and Neil Gaiman acknowledge her influence on their work. Mr. King calls her novel, The Haunting of Hill House (published in 1958 and adapted for the silver screen at least twice) “one of the best ghost stories.” It was nominated for the National Book Award.
On 14 December, 1916 Shirley Jackson was born in Burlingame, California. She attended school in Rochester, New York, where she met her husband, literary critic Stanley Edgar Hayman. The couple moved with their family to North Bennington, Vermont. She died on 8 August, 1965 of heart failure at the age of 48.

Article: THE NOT-SO-SWEET HISTORY OF VALENTINE’S DAY

ghost valentineRomantic greeting cards, chocolate hearts, red roses, and wine come quickly to mind when we think of Valentine’s Day. Sadly, February 14 has a long and not-so-sweet history dating back over 2000 years.

The ancient Romans celebrated the fertility festival of Lupercalia annually from February 13 – 15. In a sacred grotto in Rome’s Palatine Hill, priests known as Luperci sacrificed two goats and a dog to the god of agriculture and shepherds, Lupercus (“he who wards off the wolf”). The priests’ foreheads were touched with blood, then wiped clean with wool dipped in milk. The men proceeded to run through the streets whipping women and crops with thongs made from the hides of the goats to promote fertility. This continued until approximately 498 C.E., when Pope Galesius I finally supressed the pagan ritual, turning February 14 into a Christian feast day in honor of Saint Valentine.

According to Catholic tradition, there were three early Christian saints by the name of Valentine, all of whom were martyred on February 14 in various years. The most famous of these was a priest who lived in 3rd century Rome, and attracted the disfavor of the current Roman emperor, Claudius II. Saint Valentine – although of course not yet a saint – was holding secret marriage ceremonies for young lovers, in opposition to the emperor’s decree prohibiting marriage for young men (he believed that marriage made soldiers weak). Valentine was arrested, beaten, stoned, and condemned to death. Legend has it that while awaiting execution, Valentine healed the blind daughter of his jailor, Asterius. Before his death, Valentine wrote a farewell letter to Asterius’ daughter, to whom he had become somewhat attached, signing it, “From Your Valentine.” It is believed that Valentine was executed on February 14, in the year 270 C.E. His flower-crowned skull now resides in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome.

More recently, February 14 became infamous for Chicago’s 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. A gang war between Al Capone and Bugs Moran ended violently with Capone’s men lining up and shooting seven of Moran’s men. On the seven year anniversary of the massacre Jack McGurn, one of Capone’s hit men, was killed by machine gun fire in a Chicago bowling alley.
Allied Air Forces dropped more than 3900 tons of high explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the German city of Dresden between February 13 – 15, 1945, killing an estimated 22,000 – 25,000 people. On that very February 14, the U.S. Army Air Force carpet-bombed the city of Prague, apparently by mistake (they were supposed to be aiming for Dresden). Many homes and historical sites were destroyed. Over 700 people were killed, nearly 2000 injured. All of the casualties were civilians.

As for the romantic Valentine’s Day greeting card? One of the earliest on record was written in 1415 C.E. by Charles, Duke of Orléans, to his wife, Bonne of Armagnac, while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. She died before they could be reunited.

Article: The Mütter Museum

The Soap Lady
The Soap Lady

Medical abnormalities can provide horrific materials for fertile imaginations. The Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians on 22nd Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is designed to enhance appreciation of the mysteries of the human body, the museum explores the history of treatment and diagnosis of diseases and disorders. Still, the scope of its offerings could offer any horror fan heart palpations.

Speaking of the heart, need an off-beat outing for celebrate St. Valentine’s Day? The Mütter Museum displays human hearts for up-close inspection. Get under the skin while exploring skeletons, including the tallest male skeleton in North America displayed beside the remains of a dwarf and a two-headed baby, and a wall of 139 skull specimens. The Mutter Museum hosts preservations and casts of body parts, both healthy and abnormal. Wet samples and models. Human hairballs. Slides with sections of Albert Einstein’s brain. 5,500 types of medical instruments and apparati spanning centuries. Cabinet-style displays and presentations allow an appreciation for the human condition otherwise unavailable.

Visitors can meet the Soap Lady, named because a fatty substance called adipocere encases the remains. Authorities exhumed the body in Philadelphia in 1875. (Adipocere does not commonly form. It may form in warm, alkaline, and airless environment like this body’s burial site.)

Mutter Museum 1Exhibitions explore hot button issues like an exploration of vaccinations and medicine in times of war. On-line, the museum offers a look at astronomy in medicine from the 15th and 16th centuries and other topics.

Be sure to stop in the delightfully off-color gift shop. Along with glass skull steins and an “I heart guts” plush, some of the less-tasteful items for sale include “soap lady on a rope” and conjoined twin cookie cutters.

Established in the 19th Century, the museum continues to dedicate itself to providing in-depth research opportunities for physicians, but the doors open to the layman daily, except holidays. It is, however, open for visits on Halloween.

Movie Review: The Remaining (2014)

The Remaining Poster
The Remaining Poster

THE REMAINING  Directed by Casey La Scala. Writers: Casey La Scala and Chris Dowling. Starring  Johnny Pacar, Shaun Sipos,  Bryan Dechart, Alexa PenaVega. Production companies: Affirm Films and Cinematic.

The Remaining may be the first Christian faith based horror film ever produced in so far as it appears to have been funded by Affirm Films, which is a division of Sony Pictures Worldwide dedicated to producing, acquiring, and marketing films which inspire, uplift and entertain audiences. So as a result this film features theatrical quality special effects and working actors even if the only name I recognized was Alexa Vega from Robert Rodriguez’ Spy Kids franchise and that is solely based more so on the name recognition that Rodriguez has garnered from his El Mariachi Trilogy as well his frequent collaborations with his friend and Master Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. Now it may be the first Christian faith based horror film to be produced by what appears to be in my humble opinion a specialized sect of Christianity and not like anything I was taught attending a Roman Catholic Middle and High School, I do not think it is the first Christian faith inspired horror film to have been produced at all. I mean no offense to anyone, but while you can become a professor of theology at just about any accredited university in the United States, I do not think the Bible as it exists today after many edits over centuries can be considered a history book anymore than epic tales of antiquity told over and over again and ranging up through the present can be considered historical fact. They are largely derivative stories intended to teach right from wrong, however there are those who will disagree with me and that is fine. Faith based cinema is actually the basis of most stories of good versus evil whether it is Bram Stoker’s Dracula or William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist. Faith is often the greatest shield the protagonists are required to have against the enemy.

 

The Remaining challenges the viewer to put themselves into the shoes of the protagonists, who while attending a wedding reception for their bride and groom friends, suddenly witness the rapture first hand. Select people start dropping cold and dead to the floor, their eyes turning a mix of gray and white as though they have become lifeless because their batteries cease to function as if someone shut the power switch off on them. Sometimes scenes of this occurring actually come off unintentionally comical like a video clip of a guy calling his dog over to him and then just dropping over to the side dead as the dog arrives wagging it’s tail. Then in one of the film’s most frightening recurring sequences, the first horns of angels unleashing the biblical plagues are heard followed by devastating effects that include planes falling from the sky, lightning, earthquakes and giant boulders of ice raining down upon a scared and confused humanity running in all directions and this is not even the first fifteen minutes of the movie. It gets worse, much worse. Ultimately it all comes down to a choice each character must make. Do they have faith in God or not. Faith however does not guarantee survival in the physical world. Faith is the possibility of their souls being saved in the final judgment to come. In that respect the film’s co-writer and director Casey La Scala openly admits that the film is a Trojan horse to get across a religious message to the masses from a sect of Christianity that does not represent the beliefs of all Christians. I feel that is important to point out lest non Christian viewers think that all people of the various denominations of the Christian faith believe in the exact same thing.

 

The RemainingWhile the cast is capable, they are somewhat ambiguous as to whether or not their sudden conversions can be believed enough for the viewer to suspend their disbelief and buy into the situations presented here. The film was originally intended to be shot as a found footage film and there are scenes that clearly demonstrate this, but when the world comes to an end and all life as we know it is gone, who is left to view this and why would God need a video camera or a smart phone if he is an omnipotent being beyond any mortal’s true understanding?  In the featurette included on the disc the director somewhat ruins the mysterious nature of the film that would garner it multiple viewings by explaining too much about what is happening in certain parts of the film. Sometimes less is more. I think it would have been more effective if he had not revealed certain aspects and instead left it to the viewer to consult a Bible or theologian and ask for guidance in understanding what has transpired on screen. Yet despite whatever problems the film has, I do think it is an amiable effort even if I do not share the filmmaker’s point of view. Despite a PG-13 rating, I would caution parents to see the film first for themselves or be present if a child is watching because this film has the power to give kids nightmares and that is counterproductive in my opinion regardless of where one stands on the film’s dramatization of the end of days. That noted, despite my critiques above I actually liked The Remaining enough to recommend checking it out so long as you know what you are getting yourself into. Besides the behind-the-scenes short, there is one deleted scene and trailers for other films distributed by Sony Pictures under the Affirm Films banner.

Remaining pic 2The Blu-ray Disc itself delivers a spot on 1080p high definition (1.85:1) picture presentation as well as a very detailed English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround Soundtrack. A French Language DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround Soundtrack as well as a Spanish Language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Soundtrack is also provided along with an English Descriptive Audio Track and English Subtitles for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired as well as French and Spanish Language Subtitles encoded as options. The Remaining is available now on Blu-ray Disc at retailers on and offline courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

 

 

 

Check out The Remaining trailer: