The House That Jack Built (2018)

One from the to watch pile…

The House That Jack Built (2018)

Film: It is a strange thing that sometimes, the viewing of a film makes you realise that you haven’t experienced a particular director’s work at all. Before starting the review on this film, The House That Jack Built, written and directed by Lars Von Trier, I looked at the directors filmography and discovered that even though I have both volumes of Nymphomaniac and Antichrist, I don’t remember actually watching them.

This is why this is called the To Watch Pile: too many movies, too little time.

Von Trier originally perceived this film as a television series, which it would have possibly suited considering it is played out episodic in a series of 5 ‘Incidents’ that take place over a 12 year period from the 70s to the 80s.

The House That Jack Built tells the story of architect, engineer and serial killer, Jack (Matt Dillon), and a discussion he is having with Verge (Bruno Ganz), a disembodied voice whose identity we eventually discover, but to share here would be to spoil the ending.

The two are looking over a series of incidents, in reality murders, that Jack has committed on various victims (played by Uma Thurman, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Sophie Gråbøl, Riley Keough and others) that Jack attempts to justify as psychological soothing acts which result in art. Jack and Verge explore Jack’s origins as well as his state of mind during the acts, and the highs and lows of the act of murder itself.

This is a quite fascinating look at the functions of a serial killers mind, and Von Trier has done his research. Von Trier doesn’t just reference psychology though, as Jack finds justifications for his ‘art’ everywhere, and his fractured thought process is shown through archival footage from hunts, World War 2 newsreels, cartoons… everywhere really, and it represents the state of mind perfectly.

One thing I can say is that even though its a discussion on serial killers, their acts and their origins, it certainly doesn’t mind showing you the acts of violence and the ensuing gore or the results of the violence, and even though it appears to be practical special effects, some of them aren’t necessarily great… but that also might be the point: it’s hard to tell whether Von Trier’s restrictions are deliberate, or an accident of budget or lighting. There is also a little bit of animal violence, both in the afore mentioned archival footage of hunting and special effects, so if that’s something that completely and utterly repulses you, this film definitely isn’t for you.

Von Trier’s camera style is unusual too. The whole film is told in this almost voyeuristic news camera-styled look that perpetually moves and keeps every scene, no matter how static, interesting.

The casting is fantastic too. It’s easy to forget just how good an actor Dillon is, and he both recounts his tale to Verge, and acts like a psychopath with such a lack of enthusiasm that is comes across as very real. The other cast are fantastic in their roles too, a highlight being Thurman playing quite possibly one of the most horrible human beings ever put to film, which in a movie about a serial killer is saying something, and is an interesting juxtaposition on character.

It’s a long film, but there is always something happening, and it is constantly saying something about the psychology of killers, and also how societal norms have changed the regular human being into a lamb, and there are very few tigers.

Score: ****

Format: This film was reviewed with the Australian Umbrella Entertainment release, which is apparently the complete and uncut version, which runs at about 2 hours and 32 minutes and is presented in a fines 2.35:1 image with a deep Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track.

Score: ****

Extras: Nothing.

Score: 0

WISIA: Whilst this film is both interesting and provocative, I am not sure if it does hold itself up to repeat watches.

Saw (2004)

One from the rewatch pile…

Saw (2004)

Film: The genesis of Saw came from two young Australian writers trying to overcome the main problem of limited budget independent film-making: an interesting story utilizing a small cast. Sometimes, as in the case of this story by James Wan and Leigh Whannell, the story can be so good that it gains the attention of Hollywood producers. With that kind of interest it’s only a matter of time before you get a decent cast, including Cary Elwes (Twister), Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon), Monica Potter (Along Came a Spider) and Shawnee Smith (The Blob) and Whannell himself, and you have a serious movie on your hands, though it has been suggested that the inclusion of names like Glover and Elwes were working of a contractual obligation.

The Saw films became an impressively successful series that saw one being released every Halloween until 2010, and the sequels, which revelled in their love of the torture devices, became a part of the ‘torture porn’ titles named by critic David Edelstein (apparently: he is regularly cited as the one who coined the term) in 2006. People got up in arms over the whole ‘torture porn’ thing, but splatter movies had been around from the sixties, so they all needed to cram the Hell down.

The story of Saw is simple: two men wake up chained by their legs to pipes on either side of an abandoned men’s room. A doctor, Lawrence (Cary Elwes) and a young photographer, Adam (Leigh Whannell) have to sift through a series of clues and lies, to figure out how to get out, but the clock is ticking. As they discuss previous experiences that may have led to their imprisonment, including Lawrence’s being pursued by an obsessed ex-cop (Danny Glover) who believes him to be a violent criminal; they slowly start to realise the truth of their terrifying predicament.

The performances from all the actors are impressive, although Leigh Whannell’s character has more whine than the entire Hunter Valley, and it tends to become a bit annoying at times. I honestly not sure if it’s Whannell’s This film is powerful and has many moments where you really cannot begin to guess the outcome.

In a time when the average viewer expects twists and turns, it is hard to come up with new ideas, but Wan and Whannell delivered the goods, enough so to be some of the ‘pioneers’ of torture porn, if that’s something they want to own up to… I know I would as I enjoyed the whole sub genre. Unfortunately, the story does rely occasionally of coincidence or for characters to do specific things for Jigsaw’s plan to work, but I guess that’s cinema, isn’t it?

A really good film let down by a poor extras package. Saw deserves a lot more respect than what it gets from this release. On it’s own however, it is certainly worth all of it’s hype, make sure you see Saw.

Score: ****

Format: This is a real interesting film to watch. Using everything from an Argento-ish palette to CCTV style images, Saw is very nice to look at, especially on bluray, coming in on the a]Australian multi-region release at a 1.78:1 image. It has a sharp image and even treats its ‘total darkness’ scenes with a nice lighting style. There are only two choices for sound: 5.1 Dolby Digital EX and 6.1 DTS ES (which was not reviewed.. The sound have great depth to them and each echo lingers and creates a truly spine-chilling atmosphere.

Score: ****

Extras: The old DVD release had some pretty poor extras on it but that’s NOTHING compared to this BD release, which has nothing on it but a bluray trailer which talks about the format, and what releases are coming. This release of Saw did come out fairly early in the Bluray lifecycle, to the point it even has a ‘this is how bluray works’ feature on it!

Score: *

WISIA: Oh yeah, I dig this film and some of its ever-unfolding sequels.

R.I.P Ernie Colón: Comic artist

Was very sad this morning to find out that comic legend Ernie Colón had passed away.

Colón was born in Puerto Rico in July 1931, but lived in the US until his passing on the 8th August 2019.

Colón started as a letter for Harvey Comics working on Richie Rich before working as an artist for the same Company.

Throughout his career, he worked for Dc Comics, Marvel Comics, Warren Publishing, Eclipse, Atlas Comics and Valiant, on characters like Amethyst, Dreadstar, Damage Control, Red Sonja, Magnus Robot Fighter and many others.

Tragically, Colón passed away, aged 88 after a year of fighting cancer, but his legacy of over 60 years working in the comics field, not to mention painting, sculpting and other works, has left an indelible mark on the industry.

Rest In Peace, Mr. Colón.

All images (c) copyright their respective owners

Piranha 3D (2010)

One from the rewatch pile…

Piranha 3D (2010)

Film: The remake debate of today is as boring as the sequel debate of 80s and 90s. It is said it shows that Hollywood has run out of ideas and needs fresh blood, and this review will not enter into it other than to comment that this film, Alexandre Aja’s Piranha is a remake of the legendary Joe Dante film Piranha from 1978 albeit with a lot of changes.

A lot of sexy changes.

Unfortunately, I was unable to review this film in 3D, due to the fact that I don’t have the equipment, but what I do have is a decent Bluray Player and a nice big TV so I can at least review the film in 2D. While I am not a huge fan of 3D anyway, I admit I was disappointed to not see naked chicks, eyeballs and vomit in the third dimension.

Piranha tells this tale…

A subterranean quake causes a fissure to open beneath the waters of Lake Victoria, a quiet town that becomes are Mecca for drunken, carnal pleasures (aka fun) during American spring break. Problem is though the fissure has released prehistoric piranha into the otherwise calm waters. Our story follows several of the townsfolk and a few of the spring break visitors and how they survive – or don’t survive – the attack of these flesh eating beasts.

Elizabeth Shue plays Sheriff Julie Forester, a member of the local constabulary who has never really had to face more in the town than drunk and disorderly charges, but who has to rise to the occasion when her town and family is threatened. After the quake she escorts scientist type Novak (Adam Scott) and his assistants (played by genre stalwart Dina Meyer and Ricardo Chavira) to explore the crack but after two of the team are eaten, they realise the entire occupants of the lake are in danger, and need to clear it immediately.

Steve McQueen’s grandson, and Vampire Diaries actor Steven R. McQueen plays Julie’s son, Jake, who is supposed to be babysitting his brother and sister (played by Brooklynn Proulx and Sage Ryan) but instead decides to play tour guide on the lake to Girls Gone Wild wannabe director Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell, his assistant (Paul Scheer) and his two stars (played by super hot duo Kelly Brooke and Riley Steele) so they can film heaps of titty shots in beautiful locales. His NOT-girlfriend Kelly (Gossip Girl’s Jessica Szohr) tags along which spoils Jake’s plans of porking a hottie, but she finds perhaps she could be one of these types of girls herself.

Of course, like everyone in the water, they run foul of the fish, and need to be rescued. Mucho bloodshed ensues…

Like all 3D films watched in 2D, a visual problem is revealed. When in 3D, one manages to overlook any dodgy effects as you are apparently dumb-founded by the visuals, but some of the effects in this film are deplorable, and while they are supposed to ‘pop’ in 3D, they just look out of place and tacked on in 2D. Haters of CGI will feel justified in their loathing with how poor some of the fish effects are.

In the August 2010 issue of Vanity Fair, James Cameron said that films like this “cheapen the medium and reminds you of bad 3D horror films of the 70s and 80s”. Now while I think that Cameron can pull his head in for casting hate towards films from the 70s and 80s, I think that this would have been a much better film if it had not been in 3D as more of the budget could have been spent on the actual effects instead of the 3D gag. The ultimate scene of carnage was one of the bloodiest of its type and probably couldn’t have been much better, but some of the more quiet scenes, like our first proper look at one of the piranha in a fish tank, were terrible. All of this is quite a shame as Aja’s abilities as a director are spectacular, and the cinematography, especially of some of the landscapes are beautiful.

One last note I should make is that horror fans need to look hard at this film as there are cameos aplenty, some more obvious than others, and the name of Richard Dreyfuss’ beer is a classic.

Boobs, blood and a collection of movies ‘legends’ make for an enjoyable experience, but not the greatest horror film ever made. As a tribute to eighties horror flicks, it is a fun distraction, but not a great rewatcher, and certainly not a classic of the horror genre. After Aja’s previous output, including impressive remakes of both The Hills Have Eyes and Mirrors, I expected more.

Score: ***

Format: The film is presented in 2.40:1 1080p widescreen and is fantastic. I don’t think I have ever seen a horror film set in such a bright daylight setting, and the colors are fantastic. Boobs in hi-def are a blessing from the home entertainment gods as well! The sound is presented in DTS HD 5.1 Dolby Digital and is loud and aggressive.

Score: ****

Extras: This Bluray has four extras on it:

The Making of Piranha Documentary is an extraordinary complete and interesting doco, and all involved talk of all aspects of making the film, even the legalities of location filming.

Deleted Scenes: Usually deleted scenes don’t add much extra, and essentially these don’t either, but they do complete some of the stories of which you only saw a part, like the male and female leads relationship, and there are additional scenes of boob manipulation, so winners all round.

Theatrical 3D Trailer: My favourites of all extras are trailers of the film. After one has watched a film it is interesting to see how it was marketed.

Audio Commentary with Director Alexandre Aja: The commentary is actually by Alexandre Aja, and producers Gregory Levasseur and Alix Taylor. It is a really nice commentary that is wholly informative.

Score: ***

WISIA: Like I said in the body of the review, it’s not a great rewatcher, but it does however, have a couple of good points that make it worthwhile… and I’m not talking about the ones on pornstar Gianna Michael’s chest either… so I have to admit to multiple watches.

To Watch Pile Podcast Episode 2 Transcript

Here we go, readers and listeners, the second episode of the To Watch Pile After Dark Podcast, and the first episode counting down my top 50 favourite horror movies. Attached is a link to the Anchor FM version of the podcast, but the podcast is also available at Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and wherever good podcasts can be heard. Here also, we have a transcript of the podcast as well.

The To Watch Pile After Dark Podcast Episode 2

Hello there, horror fans, and welcome to the To Watch Pile After Dark Podcast. I’m your host, Justin McNamara and whilst this isn’t the first episode, it is certainly the first episode where I’ll be counting down my top 50 favourite films.

In other words, this is number 50 in the top 50 countdown.

(Play Blob Trailer)

The Blob tells of the quiet town of Arborville, California, a town whose normal winter season has been delayed and still the town prepares for it as it appears the town may come alive in the snow.

In the hills behind the town, a vagrant witnesses a meteorite fall to earth, and upon investigation, a weird, seemingly intelligent blob type object attaches itself to his hand. He panics and runs into local ne’er-do-well Brian Flagg (Kevin Dillon) and a young couple on their first date, Meg Penny (Shawnee Smith) and Paul Taylor (Donovan Leitch Jr) who upon seeing the ‘thing’ on his hand, take him immediately to the local medical centre where whatever it was on his hands consumes both him, and Paul.

Of course, Meg is disbelieved when she tells of Paul demise, and Brian is suspected in the disappearance of him but very quickly, with the appearance of a scientific team arriving in the town, everyone believes them when they say something is not right.

The Blob continues to abSorb every living creature in its path, and it’s revealed that it’s not some weird creature from another world, but a horrifying weapons experiment gone horribly wrong.

Will Meg and Brian survive, or even more importantly, will the town survive.

Chuck Russell, directed an co-wrote this film with Frank Darabont, with whom he had previously worked on A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 with, and has a soundtrack by Michael Hoenig and J. Peter Robinson. The special effects, which for 1988 are pretty kick arse, are done by Tony Gardiner.

My earliest memory of this remake of The Blob is the VHS packaging; bright pink and it stood out on the video shop shelves covered in black video cases. I have faint recollection of the cover of Fangoria that had this story in it, but I’m not sure I got that issue on release, and that I may have missed it and had to catch up by buying it from a second hand retailer on George St in Sydney.

Russell and Darabont’s script has a few hokey attempts at being cool with a few wisecracks, but the story is solid and thrilling. For the most part, the cast are great, with the highlights being Shawnee Smith from the first Saw films, who makes for a delightfully scrappy and resourceful hero, and Meg’s father, played by Art LaFleur, whose ‘ribbed’ line cracks me up every time.

It’s funny, you can also tell that Frank Darabont has something to do with this story as the ‘town under siege’ tale was one he perfected with his adaptation of Stephen Kings ‘The Mist’.

Honestly, Gardiner’s special effects have a lot to do with my affection of the film. Yea\s, there’s a clunker or two, but Paul’s demise and a few others are sights to behold, and worthy of a little of the admiration bestowed upon the great special effects that John Carpenter’s The Thing special effects crew gets.

As far as being a remake goes, and if my withered brain serves me well, letters to every movie magazine of the time shouted down this remake as being somewhat creatively corrupt, but it’s not an issue to which I subscribe. I like remakes. I like to see what different creative teams offer the same story. I find the same appeal with comics even though comics are a more character driven commodity, I do like to see direct artistic takes on an origin, or an aesthetic. A creatively corrupt remake is one that either echoes the original absolutely like Gus Van Santa’s redundant Psycho remake, or when it goes so far off script that it doesn’t reflect the original at all, like the 2005 House of Wax remake that was more a Tourist Trap remake that did itself a disservice by taglining/ advertising itself with the line ‘see Paris Die’ in reference to seeing the heiress, who had decided to be an actor this week, get butchered by the killer who owned the titular premises.

The Blob sat that fine line that, and I shall use John Carpenter’s The Thing again as a point of reference, it used the original as a kick off point and then both modernised and deliberately subverted it to make it something different, and it really works all the way though.

The unfortunate thing for this film is that it was unsuccessful. With a $19 million budget, it required far more than its $8.2 box office to be deemed a success. Lenard Maltin gave The film a mere 2/4 stars and described it as an unnecessary remake, and it wasn well received by others either. Thankfully, it has reached somewhat of a cult status as the years have gone by, not just for its violent special effects, but also for some of the minor characters who are as quirky as quirky can get.

Box office and critical reviews be damned, though, I really like this film, and I honestly couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it. In Australia at the moment, the current release is a two pack from Umbrella Entertainment which has the original film and this remake, but you’ll only put the original in for one spin and this will be revisited several times.

Thank you for listening to this second episode of the To Watch Pile After Dark, see you next episode…