Ronny Yu’s Freddy Vs. Jason

Freddy Vs. Jason was kind of an inevitable thing as the two horror franchises paralleled and then gradually veered towards each other, it was just a matter of getting it right. Did they? Well.. yes and no. It’s better than Alien Vs. Predator, in case you were wondering, but in terms of doing a satisfactory collision and Mortal Kombat session between these two horror boogeyman, they could have done a bit better. Their first mistake is over plotting it; so much time is spent explaining how they both end up in Freddy’s hometown of Springwood that it seems redundant, who cares about specifics, any telling of it is going to seem silly anyways in a crossover like this, we just want to see the two of them kick the shit out of each other. Then there’s the painfully overdeveloped plot involving two ex Springwood teens (Jason Ritter and Brendan Fletcher) who escape the nuthouse and race home to try and warn everyone. By the time the two of them actually start physically scrapping, so much nonsense has come before that it’s almost too little too late. I say almost because the fight scenes are pretty spectacularly warped, from vicious hand to hand or glove to machete to Freddy launching giant oxygen canisters at Jason like torpedos. Choreography and effects are put to good use in these scenes, even if the filmmakers show a bizarre sympathy towards Jason that seems to come out of left field and paint Freddy as somehow more of a bad guy. There’s all kinds of stuff going on here from a cornfield rave that Jason interrupts in typical bloody fashion, a stoner character that’s a shameless ripoff of Jason Mewes’ Jay, flashbacks to Crystal Lake of yesteryear that get in the way and what have you. That’s the thing, there’d be space for all this random stuff in a film featuring only Freddy or only Jason, but in this collective dust-up there’s only really room for these two cooks in the kitchen. Still, we get plenty of deranged fight scenes between the two, Freddy utilizing his freaky dream powers and Jason swinging around that blade and any other large blunt object he can find. Who wins? Wait and see, but I’ll say it does have my favourite Freddy line of any Nightmare film: “How sweet.. dark meat!” He growls, approaching Kelly Rowland with razor glove at the ready. Fun stuff, if a bit too hectic.

-Nate Hill

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The Purge: Election Year

I love the Purge films, and I find the evolution of the franchise fascinating. Trust an Ethan Hawke home invasion horror show to spawn some inspired, stylish and whacked out sequels. As good as Hawke and the horror was, it’s the concept of the Purge itself that led to ignition on the rest of series. Where Anarchy broke free from the conceptual restraints of the first and burst into all out war as we got to see full scale just what a purge looks like, Election Year builds ideas upon the carnage and gets political, though no less visceral and terrifying. There’s just something so unnerving about the premise of it, the absolute extremes in human behaviour it brings out, accented by a wry, satirical edge that seems so disturbing to me and what makes these films unique from scores of other horror fare. Here we see the New Founding Fathers, originally responsible for inauguration of the purge, challenged by a fierce new independent senator (Lost’s Elizabeth Mitchell), who has survived a particularly nasty purge night years before and wants to abolish the night forever. The evil, bitter chairman of the Fathers (Raymond J. Barry, turning the creepy Machiavellian scumbag dial up well past eleven) slightly augments the newest purge night in hopes of eliminating her from the running. Frank Grillo returns as eternally badass Sarge, now on her private security detail, and they both are forced to run through the night from rabid purgers (who have now gone international, apparently) Barry’s lethal Neo Nazi special ops assassination squad and even a bunch of crips. Help comes from a salty old deli owner (Mykelti Williamson) who wont go down with out a fight and a badass anti purger (Betty Gabriel) with a triage van. It’s loud, mean, brutal stuff that, as Anarchy did, takes lurid advantage of the premise and shows some jarringly depraved human behaviour from folks in all classes and makes a strong point towards the purge being a pretty shitty idea to begin with, especially when ulterior motives of those in power become clear. Writer director James Demonaco always attracts interesting actors to these films and has carved out quite the little legacy here. This year saw another one, a prequel called The First Purge which I’m excited to see, and Amazon just announced their own small screen version, so bring it on.

-Nate Hill

Gore Verbinski’s The Ring

I remember the first time I saw Gore Verbinski’s The Ring back when I was eleven; broad daylight, started it at like ten in the morning, and got so scared I almost refused leave the house to go to the beach later with my family. Some films just stay with you if you see them at an impressionable age, and no matter how desensitized and thick skinned you get as your life goes on, you never lose at least a modicum of the raw terror you felt back then (don’t even get me started on The Grudge). Couple that with how beautifully dark the mood and aura of this film is thanks to nocturnally themed cinematography by Bojan Bazelli that turns Seattle and the surrounding rural areas into an eerie ghost playground, and you get something wholly memorable. By now the story is iconic; Naomi Watts plays a forlorn investigative journalist scoping out an urban legend in which people die seven days after they view a videotape apparently showing an experimental student film, which is tied to the backstory of the mysterious Samara (Daveigh Chase) a young girl with unholy supernatural tendencies. Edited together with a grainy VHS aesthetic contrasted by clearly lit, distinct nature and skyline shots, Verbinski gives the film an unmistakable visual element. co-starring talent is also provided by Martin Henderson, David Dorfman, Rachael Bella, Amber Tamblyn, Jane Alexander, Adam Brody and a haunting Brian Cox as Samara’s disconcerted father. I’m not sure how the plot mechanics of the original Japanese film play out, but here they make a wise choice by never divulging exactly *what* is wrong with Samara, just that there is something severely off about her, and it’s that ambiguity combined with Chase’s eerie waif performance that make the character so memorable. Everyone shits their pants at the infamous television scene, but for me the ultimate scare resides in the almost unbearably suspenseful opening prologue, and the quick, blood freezing scene of the aftermath, I’ll never quite be the same after seeing a certain expression on a certain girl’s face. A dime-piece of a fright flick, a fine piece of filmmaking and a horror classic.

-Nate Hill

Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born

My first thought a few moments after seeing Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born: Isn’t it so cool that one of the most poignant scenes in cinema this year is shared between Lady Gaga and Sam Elliott, two artists who couldn’t be more far flung from each other or born of different backgrounds within the industries. That’s a testament to the eclectic cast Cooper has rallied for this absolute fucking diamond of a film and as assured a director’s debut as ever. Filled with many more poignant scenes, instant classic songs, heartbreak that will have you bawling, beautiful direction, believable characters, naturalistic free flowing writing and at least three mega Oscar worthy performances, this is the best film of the year so far and will no doubt sweep said awards.

This story dates back a few versions to the 50’s, but Cooper makes the story seem so fresh and organic that one can hardly even call it a remake, especially when you consider how much brand new, totally inspired music composed and sang live. Cooper is Jackson Maine, an Eddie Vedder-esque rocker who discovers and falls in love with Lady Gaga’s Ally, a young waitress with the voice of an angel and a firebrand of a personality. While her star is on the rise with songwriting, performance and poise, Jack’s is falling from the heavens of fame due to alcoholism and drug addiction, fast approaching the nadir and eventual exodus of his career. Cooper and Gaga have chemistry that fills up every frame until it leaps off the screen, a warm, conflicted and symbiotic relationship blossoms, is put to the rest and weathers a very heavy storm as Jack drifts in a sea of his demons, struggling to hold on. They both give the kind of immersive performances that some actors strive their whole career towards; watching the film I believed that here was Ally and Jackson onscreen, two fully formed, human characters and not simply Cooper and Gaga in their respective roles. Their voices are magic too, especially in an earth shattering duet of one of Ally’s original compositions, a gorgeous tune that practically demands the Oscar for original song.

Cooper has carefully chosen his supporting cast and the result is some moving, interesting work from a troupe who are all cast refreshingly against type. I can’t speak highly enough of Sam Elliott’s work here as Jack’s older brother Bobby, a stormy yet compassionate fellow, this film gives the quintessential cowboy something to actually do with his role, the result being the best, most vulnerable work I’ve ever seen from the guy. Andrew Dice Clay is resurrected to play Ally’s father and brings both warmth and jovial comic relief, Dave Chapelle has a brief but very sweet bit as Jack’s friend and voice of reason. Even the smaller roles are brought to life well, from Greg Grunberg as Jack’s trusty driver to character actor Ron Rifkin, excellent as a kindly rehab counsellor.

Cooper should be proud of his work onscreen, and prouder still of that behind the camera. There is no showboating, no gimmickry, no bells and whistles or arbitration in his direction here, he’s crafted a passionate, heartbreaking, streamlined and beautifully character driven piece of work, full to the brim with love, music, conflict and ideas without seeming overstuffed or cacophonous. Coasting on the heights of the original music, sailing through the rivers of torment and turmoil between the two characters and walking the paths they walk through their relationship, Cooper’s eye captures this tale adeptly, doing things with the camera that seem fresh and different but never taking us out of the story. This is a film that will no doubt go down in history and, despite being one of several iterations, become a classic in cinema for generations to come.

-Nate Hill

Glenn Standring’s Perfect Creature

As far as vampire movies go, Perfect Creature is a virtually unknown entry, but the cool 1960’s setting and premise make it a gem buried deep beneath the radar. In an alternate future New Zealand called ‘Nuovo Zelandia’, vampires have advanced to become the next step in evolution and currently live side by side with humans in a hard won peace. Turmoil brews when a nasty rogue vampire (Leo Gregory) discovers an influenza and breaks the truce by preying on humans. This forces the powers that be to dispatch vampire operative Silus (Dougray Scott) and human police captain Lilly (Saffron Burrows) who must team up and stop the renegade bloodsucker before all out war and epidemic spread across the nation. The vampire genre has essentially been sculpted into a giant multiverse full of countless settings, timelines and concepts, and while this flick is nowhere near front and centre (while crap like the Underworld sequels get tossed heaps of money for marketing and distribution), it’s a quietly badass little piece with a well thought out concept and sly twist ending. Scott and Burrows are constantly undervalued talents whose looks and gravity always go a long way, and both of them are great here. The style is dark yet richly coloured, baroque sets with detailed chrome weaponry and lush costume design, it’s too bad there isn’t a decent BluRay, or even one at all. A solid gore fest with a brain in its head and artistic ambition to boot.

-Nate Hill

Bradley Cooper’s A STAR IS BORN

For a film in its fourth incarnation, Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born is an endearing and remarkable film that contains every familiar trope, cliché, and prepackaged plot narrative possible. It embraces exactly what it is, it is self-aware with both subtle and tongue and cheek nods to previous versions as well as to the rich ensemble of actors who bring their own homages to their own roles. The film is a triumphant spectacle; it is visually stunning by being shot and crafted with command authority and passion. The musical scenes, which were filmed with live singing, only add to the powerhouse of the film that ushers in urgency to its melodramatic plot. Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut is a beautiful showboat of cinematic achievement.

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The film is stocked with a wonderful ensemble who richly detail their respective characters. Bradley Cooper is the best he has ever been as the washed-up country auteur (not stadium popstar) who is hell-bent on destroying his life with pills and alcohol, as he is rapidly approaching the twilight of his career. He is in limbo between burning out and fading away. Lady Gaga is a marvel in her most mature screen performance to date. While watching her performance, it is insane to think that there hasn’t been a filmmaker prior to Cooper that has tapped into her raw talent and beauty on screen. Sure, her metamorphosis as a live performer is one thing, but her screen presence is something completely different; it is a sight to behold.

Aside from the two showstopping lead performances, Sam Elliot and Andrew Dice Clay are respective counterparts to Cooper and Gaga. Elliot is the older brother who is Cooper’s handler, and the Diceman is Gaga’s father. Both bring their own on-screen gravitas to the picture, Elliot commands the screen in sobering moments as Cooper’s firm-handed father figure while Andrew Dice Clay is the affable and warmly supportive father of Gaga, offering quite a few appropriately humorous moments to the film. Elliot gives one of the finest and most vulnerable performances of his career, while Clay is consistently becoming a formidable supporting player since his scene-stealing performance in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine.

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For all the conventionality to the film, it is rather perplexing with its unorthodox self-awareness of the casting of Andrew Dice Clay and Dave Chappelle (who gives a very sweet and touching performance). The musical performances feel genuine. They are photographed with a sense of urgency and emotion by cinematographer Matthew Libatigue (who also shot Sony’s Venom which bested A Star is Born opening weekend at the box office).

Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut is so grandiose, that he has poised himself to be the next Warren Beatty, Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson or Robert Redford, having the ability to direct himself while creating a magnificent film that will remain relevant for decades to come. When the awards season dust settles, there more than likely will not be a more nominated film, and could very well sweep all the major awards. Regardless of Oscar buzz and cultural momentum, A Star is Born will stand the test of cinematic time and be remembered as a film that is filled with boundless love and passion.

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Stan Winston’s Pumpkinhead

Stan Winston’s Pumpkinhead is the kind of giddy visual treat you get when you give a special effects wizard like him the director’s chair as well as animatronics duties. A kind of bizarre, atmospheric backwoods fable infused with slasher sensibilities, it’s gory, grisly with a hellish supernatural vibe and an eleven foot tall monster that makes a real impression. Before all that though, there’s a surprisingly touching setup that’s sees small town farmer Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen rocks it as usual) living the quiet life in rural USA with his dog and young son (Matthew Hurley), until a roster of big city punks show up and inadvertently cause the kid’s death via an idiotic dirt-bike stunt. Devastated and heartbroken, Ed turns to a local witch (Florence Schauffler, terrifying) who skulks around the bayou in hopes of retribution. He isn’t quite careful enough what he wishes for though, for the cackling old bitch unleashes aforementioned Pumpkinhead, a nigh unstoppable demon who hunts down the teenagers one by one and starts to tear them limb from limb. Ed, not being an evil man but blinded by rage and heartbreak, sees his fatal mistake, suits up with shotgun, flamethrower and true grit and aims to do a little hunting of his own, perhaps to put an end to Pumpkinhead’s teenage mutilation derby. The monster here is actually a really scary creation from Winston and his team, all gnarly clawed fingers, gaunt skin over a skeletal gargoyle frame and leering fangs, like a Xenomorph after six rounds of chemo as it butchers these hapless kids. Henriksen is awesome in a rare lead role and really kicks ass both physically and in terms of showing the smouldering emotion in Ed’s broken soul. The forests are filled up with eerie lighting and scores of smoke machines for the unmistakable 80’s atmosphere, while Winston & Co. ensure that not only are the special effects top tier, but setting feels authentic too, having its own personality. A horror classic. I won’t weigh in on the sequels as I’ve never really gone for the plunge, but from what I’ve read they seem like garbage for the most part.

-Nate Hill

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