Tag: 3 stars

Festival Review: All Cheerleaders Die (2014)

All cheerleaders die

Seen: At the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, part of the Boston Underground Film Festival.

Maddy (Caitlin Stasey) is a grungy lesbian teen who catches the gruesome accidental death of her friend Alexis (Felisha Cooper) on film when she breaks her neck during a daring cheerleading stunt. Months later, Maddy enacts a revenge plot against her school’s cheerleaders and football players, whom she feels have trashed Alexis’s memory with their wanton ways. She joins the squad and sets to work clandestinely dismantling their relationships. Frenemy lines become blurred, however, when she starts to fall for new head cheerleader Tracy (Brooke Butler). After a party with the team goes horribly wrong and the cheerleading squad winds up dead, Maddy’s Wiccan ex-girlfriend Leena (Sianoa Smit-McPhee) brings the girls back to life, with bizarre, homicidal side effects.

So I basically saw All Cheerleaders Die because of how much I liked May, the only Lucky McKee film I’d yet seen. And it isn’t quite… that. It’s not a bad film by any means- it’s funny, violent, and a little kooky. The horror and comedy elements mix well, with a dark streak of humor running through every gory kill and squishy sound effect. You’re often made to laugh because something terrible happened and it took you by surprise. The main cast perfectly embodies that haughty teenage girl stereotype, all slender and beautiful with their long hair bouncing around like a commercial. Their paranormal experience is interesting as a combination of female empowerment and sexploitation, with their bodies and minds linked in sensation, feeling each other’s pain, sexual thrills, and homicidal successes. So, basically sisterly solidarity with bonus suggestive groaning and writhing.

This movie is as mean as it is ridiculous, but I’m not sure I can really pinpoint why I didn’t love it. I guess it didn’t feel especially original, it sort of hit all the beats you would expect it to hit, even throwing in a rape revenge angle towards the end. The script is good but not great, and like many other horror-comedies it doesn’t quite have enough of either. It definitely leans more to the horror side of things with all that bloody business, but not enough to be a really compelling horror in itself. I enjoyed it while I was watching it, especially the elements of female solidarity, boy-killing, and teen snark, but it’s not the kind of movie I would feel the need to watch again.


Pair This Movie With: I was definitely reminded of Jennifer’s Body, given the general storyline and tone. My friend who saw it with me said both draw from Ginger Snaps, which I’ve been meaning to see for a while and will hopefully get to soon. And of course, if you just want more high school snark, there’s Heathers, which I can’t believe I’ve never reviewed but know that I am a fan.

Movie Review: Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Seen: In 3D at the Capitol Theatre in Arlington.

Thor is never something I’ve had Big Opinions about but I like all those Marvel movies so I go to see them, you know? This time around the big guy (Chris Hemsworth) is hanging out in space or whatever, fighting aliens and sucking up to his benevolent dictator dad and pining for his brilliant earthbound girlfriend, Jane (Natalie Portman). Through the wonders of science she discovers a portal to other worlds and accidentally absorbs a destructive energy that makes her a target for a host of evil elves led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), who holds an old grudge against Asgard. Thor brings Jane to Asgard as Malekith is gearing up for war, planning to reclaim this mystery power from her. There’s lots of fighting and whizzing around in space. Also Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is really tortured.

This is the kind of movie that I know I enjoyed as I was watching it, it’s just mindless humor and action and I appreciated that about it. Just before heading out to the theater I’d received some bad news about my MA thesis and I was kind of freaking out, so a “shutting my brain off”-type of movie was actually just what I needed. In retrospect, while I don’t think it’s a bad film, Thor: The Dark World doesn’t really hold up as well upon further consideration. It just didn’t bring anything new to the table, aside from some interesting developments with Loki, so it’s ultimately forgettable. The general conflict isn’t particularly gripping, the character arcs are static, and the direction is competent but un-extraordinary. I liked that Jane Foster was given an important role in the overall plot, but she barely had any agency within that story so it wasn’t exactly satisfying.

There are some fun action scenes, but the final showdown felt anticlimactic. The best part was when Idris Elba single-handedly took down an enemy spaceship. Like, remember that? That was so awesome. But! Not enough Sif, she had one fight in the opening battle scene and then a couple of dramatic stares and that was it! Wtf? Also not enough Darcy, but I guess that’s just because I want to gaze at the drop-dead gorgeous Kat Dennings all day (though not enough to watch the uncomfortably racist Two Broke Girls). For me the major highlight was Loki. I’m not one of those people who is obsessed with his character, though I think Tom Hiddleston is a very good actor and has been so fun to watch in the role. But something about his broken-but-still-haughty demeanor and crafty personal revenge mission made me want the entire movie to be about him. He’s just more interesting than Thor, who is funnier and more compelling when working in a group as opposed to the title character. Admittedly, the film spread itself out among various characters but their many individual stories made the movie as a whole feel disjointed.

An enjoyable enough film, fun to a point and with a strong cast that makes up for the less-than-impressive direction and script. That’s about it I guess. Loved the Benecio Del Toro bit, though.


Pair This Movie With: I guess the first Thor makes the most sense, or The Avengers.

2013 Coolidge Corner Horror Marathon, Part II

Near Dark
Seen: At the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, all on 35mm. But first! Read Part I!

We’re getting into the very wee hours of the morning now, and there’s always this hump I have to climb over where I’ll be drifting off but then I’ll get my second wind. For this line-up I was dozing a bit during the fourth film, but woke up and was fine for the fifth and sixth. The fact that it was FREEZING in the theater probably helped me stay awake, but also made me uncomfortable! The seventh and final film, Brain Damage, was one I really wanted to see and I was totally awake for it, but I started freaking out about homework and a freelance project I had to finish and decided to check out early. But Brain Damage just arrived from netflix so I’ll be watching it soon! Anyway read on for the last films I DID watch at the Horrorthon, it’s an interesting mix.

4 13 Ghosts (1960)
This is a great example of the ridiculous gimmicks William Castle would get up to with his films, introducing “Illusion-O,” a use of 3D that revealed ghostly images when seen through a red lens and hid them when seen through the blue. Instead of the original visor-type of viewer we had red/blue glasses, so it was kind of annoying to look through one eye during all the Illusion-O moments, but I have to say the effect did look really eerie as the three-dimensional red ghosts moved through a 2D black and white space, I dug it. Unfortunately the movie itself is kind of dull, or at least it was for a sleepy audience in the early morning. I definitely nodded off a few times but got the general idea of the story (family inherits a wacky relative’s mansion, discovers he was a weirdo who collected ghosts, are subsequently haunted by them). I appreciated the at-times weird visuals (wtf was with that headless lion tamer? And the mustachioed chef ghost?) and the self-aware characters, but the little boy was irritating and the whole subplot about the hidden money and the duplicitous attorney was just whatever.

5 Quella villa accanto al cimitero (The House by the Cemetery) (1981)
I woke up for the Fulci, which is good because last time they showed a Fulci at one of these things I slept through most of it. In learning my own horror tastes I’m realizing that I really like the idea of a haunted house movie, so I think that’s why I was more engaged by The House by the Cemetery than The Gates of Hell. Focusing on a family that moves into a creepy New England mansion haunted by the experiments of its previous tenant, “Dr Freudstein,” it’s half a hilariously bad movie, half a creepily good one. So there were a lot of emotions going on between the outrageously-dubbed child, stilted acting, melodramatic zooms, and genuinely spooky ghosts and wonderfully gory kills and freaky monster men and whatnot. Also what the FUCK was up with that doll-face babysitter? I fell asleep for like 5 minutes and maybe I missed her reveal, because she definitely had a mystery but I could not figure out what it was. She was helping Dr Freudstein sort of but then she got killed? And she reminded the mom of a doll? Or something? Maybe it was never explained.

6 Near Dark (1987)
I saw this years ago at the Somerville Theatre Horror Marathon when they had a “From Dusk to Dawn” vampire night, and I remembered really liking it but wasn’t too clear on the details. Look back on what I wrote then I think my feelings are basically the same- overall I’d say it’s a fun movie but the female lead is weak and the happy ending feels like cheating. That being said, Near Dark is just cool, I mean Bigelow is so good at making characters seem cool, you know? You’ve got an assholey Bill Paxton chewing all the scenery, smoking-hot couple Jenette Goldstein and Lance Henricksen, and a cowboy Adrian Pasdar, and everything’s just so slick and stylish. Also something I don’t think I put together last time: Adrian Pasdar’s character is turned basically as punishment for being pushy and sexually demanding on his date with Jenny Wright (he won’t drive her home until she kisses him, even though she seems anxious to get home), and the rest of the movie is hell for him, so that’s appropriate.

Anti-Gravity Double Feature: Jason X (2001) and The Pacifier (2005)

Seen: Both on our projector set-up, streamed from Miles’ harddrive.

Last Saturday my companions and I incorrectly assumed we could catch a 7:30 screening of Gravity at the Somerville Theatre. SILLY US. It was sold out at least a half hour in advance and so we walked back to our apartment. We decided to watch another space movie that Miles had recently acquired, a little something called Jason X. I haven’t actually seen any of the other Friday the 13th movies so this was an interesting experience. After that we wanted something more and after making a Jason xXx joke we realized that this could be the night we finally watch The Pacifier, a family comedy starring Vin Diesel that most people probably try to forget existed but had been on my to-watch list for a while. I must tell you though that after spotting the German dvd in a video store in Stuttgart, I can only think of it as Der Babynator. Maybe my favorite film title ever, to be honest.


So Jason was this guy who killed hundreds of people over the course of several movies, and when they finally caught him they found he himself couldn’t be killed (IRONY), so he was locked up for a while and eventually cryogenically frozen. Hundreds of years later he wakes up on a spaceship full of trigger-happy soldiers and hormonal college students, so, you know, one thing leads to another. I don’t think there’s much more exposition than that, really. I mean he kills a lot of people, and he’s in space, and eventually he gets super-powered because of technology. There’s a perky android in the mix, too.

Ok, I mean, OBVIOUSLY this movie is ridiculous, and like, what is even happening here. I don’t know, but it is pretty gosh darn entertaining. I mean, you’ve got goofy “futuristic” costumes (which basically means a lot of netting and bellyshirts), sexy times at inappropriate moments, gruesome senseless violence, horrific dialogue, and SPACE. There’s a surprisingly badass lady-action moment when Lisa Ryder’s “Kay-Em 14” is weaponized and just unleashes hell on Jason 1.0, so that was cool. And Jason X himself is kind of weird and awesome, all glowing metal and gross veins and shit, but he’s only there for the last 15 minutes or so, which felt like a cop-out. Overall it is not a very good movie, like at all, but I can’t say I wasn’t taken in by the grisly murders and hokey outer-space antics- it’s just dumb fun. Also: David Cronenberg is in this movie, presumably because he’s like best friends with director James Isaac.

As a movie: 2/5
As entertainment: 3/5


Hopefully you all know how I feel about Vin Diesel. I feel pretty strongly. Because he’s so great, you guys! I knew The Pacifier would probably be dumb, family-friendly comedy and might feature a lot of Diesel embarrassing himself for the sake of the children, but I couldn’t stay away. The story revolves around Shane Wolfe (Diesel), a Navy SEAL who is forced to guard (and essentially babysit) a family after he loses their scientist father on a mission. Through discipline and a little bit of love he helps these kids get through a few weeks of school while also looking for some secret technology their dad presumably hid in their house. Also I guess they’re in mourning? I don’t know, they never talk about their dad dying but also maybe I wasn’t paying attention to most of the narrative exposition. I had a few drinks, ok?

Directed by Adam Shankman and written by The State members Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, this movie is a lot better than you’d think it is. It’s extremely silly, of course, and generally nonsensical, but whatever- that’s basically the point! And it made me laugh! It helps that the cast is pretty strong, including Brittany Snow, Lauren Graham, Brad Garrett, and Carol! Kane! (!), but naturally this is all Diesel’s show. He’s doofy and over the top as this military dude out of his element, and it works. The script is decent, filled with unexpected situational humor and a few good one-liners, and there’s even some good action thrown in. Also: a Sound of Music musical number! Eep! It’s stupid, yes, and it has too many children, YES, but The Pacifier is basically a funny movie. THERE I SAID IT.


Movie Review: Treasure Planet (2002)


Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from netflix instant.

I caught a chunk of this on tv years ago and always meant to revisit it, mostly because I remembered the lady captain being cool. As its name implies, Treasure Planet is a futuristic re-telling of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novel Treasure Island, following young upstart Jim Hawkins as he unexpectedly receives a map to the fabled title planet, where space pirates long ago stashed all of their loot. His astronomer friend Doctor Doppler commissions a ship for them to travel there, but most of the crew turn out to be vengeful pirates who plan to mutiny and take the treasure they believe is owed to them from past treacheries. Now Jim, Dr Doppler, and the formidable Captain Amelia must fight for their lives on an unfamiliar, booby-trapped planet.

With beautiful, inventive animation and a few cool futuristic twists, Treasure Planet has a lot going for it. Unfortunately, its story is by now too familiar to me, and the writers do little to spice up the narrative. It’s also very clearly aimed at kids, resulting in more cheese than I needed, and it’s a bit mired in its early-2000s time. It’s got montages set to original Johnny Rzeznik songs, for god’s sake. I enjoyed the side characters of Dr Doppler (voiced aptly by David Hyde Pierce, meaning I could pretend he was some alternate-future version of his astronomer character from Wet Hot American Summer), and of course, Captain Amelia, who is a badass British ship captain voiced by Emma Thompson. Their parts are often funny and a bit more adult in tone, but most of the film is more juvenile and without the charm one usually expects from a Disney animated movie. I was very into the look and design of everything, especially the gorgeous watercolor backgrounds on Treasure Planet itself, and the fun mash-up designs of all the 19th-century-inspired technology. But pretty visuals and some great side characters don’t quite carry the whole movie.


Pair This Movie With: There are several similar movies out there, but I’d say this reminded me the most of Titan, AE, a movie I unabashedly love. And of course the Treasure Island-ness of it all put me in the mood for my most-watched adaptation of that classic, Muppet Treasure Island.