Dead Awake (2016)

One from the to watch pile…

Dead Awake (2016)

Film: This film shouted out at me from the shelves of my local store for one reason: how absolutely stupid the title is. I get that throwing the word ‘Dead’ into a title will make most younger (and this older) horror fan stop and check something out, and if it were a term that was actually used in the English language, you know, like Dead End, Dead Stop, Dead Tired, I’d be impressed, but Dead Awake was such a stupid combination I had to check it out.

Then I read the back of the Bluray slick and I find that it’s about sleep paralysis, which is something I find both horrible to think of, and an interesting idea for a horror film, especially when it’s mixed with a little American-styled post-millennial ghost story like Grudge/ Ring/ Darkness Falls/ Boogeyman films that haunted the cinemas in the early 2000s. I’m not really a fan of many films of this period, but for some reason I find I revisit these films occasionally.

This film was written by Jeffrey Reddick, the guy who came up with the concept of the Final Destination movies so it has some positive providence , and directed by Phillip Guzman, who directed A Kiss and a Promise.

When Kate Bowman’s (Jocelyn Donahue) recovering drug-addict sister Beth dies during a sleep paralysis episode, she discovers that perhaps her sister was being haunted by a creature who kills people in their sleep during these episodes.

She meets Beth’s doctor, Dr Davies (Jesse Borego) and at first isn’t convinced of this weird malevolent being bent on killing that he tries to tell her about, until she starts having episodes herself, as does her sister’s boyfriend, Evan (Jesse Bradford… remember Cliff Pantone from Bring It On? THAT guy!).

So Kate and Evan start a trail that starts at a sleep hospital run by Dr. Sykes (Lori Petty) to try and defeat whatever it is that haunts them, but how many people will die along the way, and can this creature, that appears to have existed for centuries, even be destroyed at all?

I really wanted to like this film. The cast are all really well picked, it’s filmed beautifully, the script is ok, but the premise is just so generic.

Dead Awake is a bizarre 80s-nightclub styled megamix of A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Grudge and Ring, that is, the male and female lead of Ring versus a dream monster, who moves like the ghost from The Grudge. It’s not that this is a bad film, it’s just been done before by other films that did it far better. Emulating something is fine, but doing so with no point of originality is detrimental to your product.

To provide a metaphor, this film is the nerd who desperately wants to be a cool kid, but ends up being the kid from the Pretty Fly for a White Guy film clip.

Score: **

Format: Dead Awake was reviewed with the Australian region B Bluray which runs for 99 minutes and is presented in a 2.0:1 image and a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Audio, both of which are immaculate.

Score: *****

Extras: The disc opens with trailers for Revolt, Faults, Eat Local and 13 Sins.unfortunately, that is it for the extras, but those last three films I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for… Revolt, not so much.

Score: *

WISIA: Probably not.

Don’t Knock Twice (2016)

One from the to watch pile…
Don’t Knock Twice (2016)


Film: After I watched this, but before I started the review I mentioned to a friend it was like all post-millennial ghost stories and wasn’t much chop, to which he pointed out two films, Sinister and We Are Still Here. I had to agree there have been exceptions, but in general, a good proportion of ghost stories at the cinema at the moment either riff in what we one called j-horror or borrow liberally, ie steal massively, from films like Insidious or The Conjuring… two series’ of films I have very little time for.

The best thing I can say about them is at least they aren’t Paranormal Activity films.

So why don’t I like these types of films? It’s quite simple: I don’t believe in ghosts, therefore the films hold no aspect of fear for me. Sure, there are scares I might flinch at, or at my wife’s scream when I watch them with her (which is why I see so many of them: she loves them), but outside of cinematic trickery, I just don’t find them scary!

This film also borrows a bit from the mythos of Freddy Krueger, with the concept of being taken to another reality where evil awaits. In this though the ‘other realm’ is on the other side of a door that has been ‘knocked twice’ upon, instead of Freddy’s distorted dream dimension, though both seem to be able to be manipulated by the ghost/ witch/ demon/ supernatural thingy.

I do have to give this film, Don’t Knock Twice, a little bit of credit in this department. At least director Caradog James has attempted something different with the script provided by Howl’s Nick Ostler and Mark Huckerby. It really does attempt for a different spin on the post-millennial ghost story, but unfortunately the trappings and tropes of those tales are so ingrained, and there is such apparent necessary visual and audio language now that it’s hard to avoid and still make the punter get what he’s seeing.

You know, because us fans of cinema are dumdums.

It also borrows quite heavily from the ideas behind Candyman and Urban Legend 3, you know, the ‘Beetlejuice’ effect: you do something a particular amount of times and it will bring about a haunting from a person, so whatever you do don’t say ‘whatever’ three times, or in this case, whatever you do… Don’t Knock Twice…


Recovering addict and scultptor Jess (Kate Sackhoff) is attempting to get her life and family back on track, which includes being reunited with her estranged daughter Chloe (Lucy Boynton) after she was put in foster care several years ago, but the reunion comes at a cost.

You see, Chloe and her boyfriend pissed off the spirit of a woman who was accused of being a child murderer by the local children, but did she do it, and how can our heroines undo the curse that has been done?


There is some elements of the ‘family drama’ aspect of this, and Sackhoff and Boynton are really good in their roles. In actual fact, Sackhoff proves herself to be somewhat of an amazing actress in this role of dubious mother figure, and her and teenage daughter Boynton’s relationship rings as true. Actually if this had have been a family drama about a mother/ daughter relationship and NOT a horror film it would have been cast perfectly, but it is a horror film, and the generic ghost aspects and tropes of the post-millennial ghost story are so apparent you could play bingo with it.

Urban myth: tick. J-horror look to the ‘ghost’: tick. Mysterious face at the window: tick.

BINGO!

To it’s credit the script does make attempts to twist the tale a couple of times, but the payoff of each twist doesn’t really work, and is telegraphed far too early and then fizzle out.

It’s well directed too and this is where the problem lies in reviewing such a film: well directed, well acted, but generic. I have to applaud the filmmaking and the performances but if what they are conveying as a story is very good, well why bother?

That, unfortunately, is where it stands: don’t bother.

Score: **


Format: This movie was reviewed on the Australian region B release BD, which runs for approximately 93 minutes. It being a modern film in a modern format, as one would expect, both the 2.40:1 image and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track are fantastic. The blue tone given to much of the film almost makes it cold to watch. 

Score: *****

Extras: No extras for YOU!

Score: 0

WISIA: I can honestly say I will never watch this film again.

Justice League Dark (2017) Review

 

One from the to watch pile…

Justice League Dark (2017)

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Film:  As a teen I read any comic I could get my hands on, and that evolved into me pretty much exclusively reading only Marvel comics. I stopped reading comics in the beginning of the nineties as basically, well, they sucked.

I started reading comics again in the early 2000s. I started with Marvel but drifted to DC, and now read a bit of both. Even though Marvel have nailed down the movies with their cinematic Universe, DC seem to be struggling. The interesting thing though in their animated movies, which are released direct to bluray, are amazing.

The reason is quite simple: there is an assumption that the viewer knows who the heroes are and they don’t feel the need to retell and retell their origin story every time a new one comes out.

I’ve pretty much enjoyed most of them, though their have been a couple that have meandered a little; this is one of them.

Justice League Dark tells of the darker side of the DC universe: when a villain of magical proportions threatens the DC Universe, Batman employs the assistance of those from the darker side of the DCU, including John Constantine and Zatanna, who bring along other magical beings such as Etrigan the Demon, Swamp Thing, Deadman and all the magical powers of the House of Mystery and Black Orchid.

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The problem with this story is it’s just not entertaining. The whole thing felt quite flat and dull, and at times I was struggling to maintain any sense of interest. Batman’s inclusion is strictly as lip service to the DCU and even he comes off like he feels like he shouldn’t be there.

That’s not to say the character design and the animation is great, because the film looks fantastic, and I’m really enjoying the character design in these animated features.

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Several of the voices will sound familiar as Matt Ryan, who plays the live action TV show Constantine, plays him here too! Zatanna is portrayed by Lara Croft (the video game) actress Camille Luddington and Jason O’ Mara returns as Batman. Most of the voice acting is pretty cool except for one glaringly awful choice which is Nicolas Tutturro as Deadman. I always expected Boston Brand to have an other-worldly voice, not that of an annoying stand-up New Yorker.

Unfortunately this was a big miss for me, but I do hope the JLD return for another adventure, maybe just with a better thought out story, and without the yoke of Batman following them around like a lost dog.

Score: **

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Format:  This Australian region B bluray release of Justice League Dark runs for 75 minutes and is presented in an excellent 1.78:1 image with a DTS-HD 5.1 audio track of similar quality.

Score: *****

Extras: This disc opens with a trailer for Wonder Woman (the live action one with Gal Gadot) before taking us to the menu screen.

As always with these DC animated films, we are treated to a look at the next film to be released, in this case it being Teen Titans: The Judas Contract. I love the Teen Titans so I for one can’t wait!

The Story of the Swamp Thing looks at the genesis of Len Wein’s creation of Swamp Thing, a DC muck creature created in the 70s who became a staple of DC’s Vertigo line in the 80s and beyond. This has interviews with Wein, artist Kelly Jones, writer Mike Carlin and others and is one of my favourite docos of this type on these discs. Still a shame Alan Moore wouldn’t make any sort of commentary on the character.

Did You Know? is broken into 4 mini docos ‘Constantine Origin’, ‘The Color of Magic’, ‘Black Orchid’ and ‘Deadman Casting’. These are just 30 to 60 second vignettes talking about various aspects of the movie and it’s characters. Interestingly, the casting of Deadman is talkied up when in fact I think his vocal casting was the worst.

Justice League Dark at the New York Comic Con 2016 sees the creators and cast of the film talking about the film. It’s a pretty interesting look at the challenges of making the continuity of these new ‘animated universe’ features. It ends with a pretty good Q and A session too.

There are two other ‘sneak peeks’ for previous releases of Justice League: Doom and Justice League: Gods and Monsters, as well as episodes of Batman: The Brave and the Bold guest starring Deadman and The Demon.

There is also trailers for the DC All Access App and Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders.

Score: *****

WISIA: Whilst it’s not my favourite one of these DC animated features, I’ll probably watch it again just because of Jack Kirby’s Demon making an appearance.

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Nerds of Oz: week ending 10th February 2017

Week Ending 10th February 2017
Mini-haul…
Blurays

This week I grabbed a couple of new releases: the animated Justice League Dark and Ouija Origin of Evil.


Bust/ Statues

Grabbed this cool Harley Quinn (yes, again) Mugshot bust. Normally I’d do a YouTube opening, but I couldn’t resist getting stuck into this straight away!


Board/ Card Games

Picked up a copy of Games Workshop’s Space Hulk. I had this years ago, and saw one quite cheap so I jumped on it. I loved this game in my twenties, this and another called Talisman, and I’m glad to have it again.

The Forest (2016) Review

One from the to watch pile…
The Forest (2016)


Film: I’m no fan of the cinematic ghost story, mainly due to the fact that I don’t believe in ghosts, so unfortunately with no threat, comes no horror.

That’s not to say that stupid jump scares don’t momentarily frighten me, it’s just the idea of impending doom coming from spiritual vengeance holds nothing over me.

My family, however, love a good (or bad) ghost story so I do on occasion find myself stuck in a darkened cinema being insulted by a Paranormal Activity or a Conjuring or one of their kin.

So why did I end up watching something that on the surface has all the hallmarks of a bad western remake of a j-horror classic? Well, that answer can be summed up in two words.

Natalie. Dormer.


Yep. Call me base. Call me sexist, but that is the sole reason why I wanted to see this film. The weird thing is, I haven’t actually seem her in anything else’ I don’t watch Game of Thrones, I never watched the Tudors and the only Hunger Games films I haven’t seen are the final two…which happen to be the ones she’s in!

Heck, I didn’t even know she was from the UK until I heard her real speaking voice in the sole extra on this disc.

I’d only ever seen images of her in magazines or the Internet, and have been fascinated by her half-smirk feline look…they should make her Ben Affleck’s Catwoman in the new DC cinematic universe… So when I saw her name appear as a cast member of a horror film, I decided to give it a go, even though normally I wouldn’t touch something like this with the pointy end of a P.K.E. meter.

Anyway, The Forest tells of Sara (Dormer) who has been informed by the Japanese police that her twin sister Jess (also Dormer) is dead. The police don’t actually have a body, but she went alone into the Aokigahara Forest, which is known for two things: legends of ghosts and demons inhabiting it, and the large amount of suicides that coincidently take place there.

So Sara goes to Japan to search for her sister and quickly learns of the local legends that the forest is haunted by yūrei, demons of the forest. At her hotel, she meets a travel journalist Aiden (Taylor Kinney) who offers to introduce her to a local guide Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa). Michi goes into the forest to look for bodies so he can report them to the police.


The three set off and they find one body, which he makes a note of and then a tent. He informs Sara and Aiden that people who take a tent into the forest are usual not sure about committing suicide, and he acts as somewhat of a councillor to them as well.

Towards the end of the day, the three find Jess’s tent. Sara insists on staying overnight even though Michi insists she doesn’t. Aiden offers to stay with her, but after a while she gets the idea that maybe Aiden had something to do with Jess’s disappearance…

Did he, or are the yūrei, ghosts of the forest, attempting to deceive her… If they even exist, that is…

Unfortunately this film never really stood a chance. The direction is ok, and director Jason Zada has created a wonderfully cold environment. The actors are mostly fine, though not much has been given to Dormer to really differentiate Sara and Jess from each other other than hair dye, and Kinney’s portrayal of Aiden can be somewhat pedestrian at times.

The problem with this film lies in how damned generic it is.

Several years ago, j-horror was huge, and quickly after that, the American’s started remaking every single one of them. Soon the entire horror market was flooded with this sub genre of films where’s blonde female American (usually TV) star would be terrorised by a little black haired ghost girl… Usually set in Japan so the whole stranger-in-a-strange-land alienation angle could be played to its fullest.

I thought those days were gone, but apparently the writers of this film, Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell and Ben Ketai, have decided they are still with us, and every single stereotypical beat made within those films is back with vengeance. Japanese schoolgirls, flickering lights, old white haired Japanese women appearing out of the darkness, the whole nine yards.

It’s for this reason that I just can’t think too highly of this film. I believe you could almost sit down with a checklist of supernatural j-horror impersonator tropes and tick every single one as you watched the film. At no time do I feel like I am seeing a new movie, rather a highlight reel from 10 years ago.

Score: *1/2

Format: The review copy of The Forest was presented on a multi-region Australian release bluray. The image is presented in an amazingly crisp 1.85:1 widescreen with a perfect, and moody DTS-HD 5.1 audio.

Score: *****


Extras: Stupidly, there is only one extra on this disc and that’s something called Exploring the Forest which basically takes everything you want to know about this place, mixes it with the making of the movie and compresses it to barely 7 minutes. The idea of the REAL forest is so fascinating you could have done a 90 minute doco just about that, but no… At least it’s not a stills gallery!

Score: **

WISIA: Like I said before, I’m not really a ghost story fan, and it’s difficult to want to rewatch something that is so generic. Even Dormer can’t help with that!