Tag Archives: 1.5 Star Movies

The Ward (2010)

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I’ll admit, I kind of went out on a limb with this one. I had seen the theatrical trailer quite some time ago, and it didn’t look like my type of movie, which is a polite way of me saying it looked like crap-ola. But I had just seen John Carpenter’s Halloween for the umpteenth time, and I saw this on Netflix Streaming and decided to give it a whirl. How bad could it be, right?

Pretty bad, as it turns out. This ain’t no Halloween, and to top off a heaping shit cake is the king of all crappy twists. Did anyone actually think this was a good idea? The plot follows Kristen (Amber Heard,) a cute blonde who burns down a farmhouse and is taken to a sinister mental institution. She says she’s perfectly rational and sane; for some odd reason the shrinks overlooking her case disagree.

Kristen goes under lock and key in North Bend Psychiatric Institution, where she meets her fellow patients,  flirty, manipulative Sarah (Danielle Panabaker,) brainy Iris (Lyndsy  Fonseca,) who is rarely seen without her handy-dandy sketchbook, contrarian Emily (Mamie Gummer,) who picks fights with just about everyone and paints her mouth clown-red in protest at group meetings, and timid, infantile Zoe (Laura-Leigh,) who talks in a wittle bitty baby voice and clutches her stuffed bunny in protection against a world she can’t quite comprehend.

Little do these disparate band of loonies know that shit’s about to go down in a big way, when the ghost of a dead patient lurks around the halls of the spooky institution. Meanwhile, creepy nurses scuttle around menacingly, and Kristen tries to convince her shrink (Jared Harris) that something, er… not human is making it’s rounds around the psych ward, which goes over about as well as a fart in church.

The drab grey color scheme and the movies utterly self-serious delivery of campy situations and lines, without a smidgen of irony or humor, should single-handedly sink this enterprise, but it would almost just barely get by as a passable movie if it weren’t for the spectacularly dreadful ‘twist’ at the end. I won’t spoil the delight of this abomination for you here in my review, but let’s just say it’s been done in other movies, and done better, many times. I’m starting to think if you don’t have a truly innovative and interesting twist, you should just forgo the damn thing and stick with a straightforward plot.

The acting here is okay (‘okay’ in that I didn’t want to scratch my eyes out, but I still I still wasn’t overly impressed ,) The main problem (besides the super-hokey twist ending) is that the movie takes itself far too seriously without delivering any real scares. It lacks a real sense of purpose and terror, yet lacks the strength to go all the way as a satire or even a comedy-horror hybrid.Being simultaneously corny and grim isn’t a good position for a fright flick to take. And we never really care that much about Kristen, as Amber Heard’s performance lacks the ferocity or the plausibility to take her beyond the realm of poorly written heroines.

I highly recommend you avoid The Ward like the plague. In attempting to kick-start his career, John Carpenter has committed the worst of moviemaking vices- he’s wasted his time, and ours. A failure on almost every concievable level, The Ward is best forgotten and moved past as a regrettable misstep in Carpenter’s career.

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Life After Beth (2014)

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I didn’t expect much from this movie, but a family member rented it and I decided to watch in hopes that my fears would be unfounded and I would be exposed to a hidden gem. How very wrong I was. “Life After Beth” is dreadfully bad, an utter misfire on every level and a mediocre experience even if you lower your expectations exponentially.

“Life After Beth” is pretty much the 2004 horror-comedy “Zombie Honeymoon” except with the gender roles reversed and way, way worse. On paper it looks acceptable enough- what can go wrong with a cast like this? (I take that back, John C. Reilly was in the turd-tastic “Step Brothers.” But hey, “Magnolia!”) All I could think about towards the end was how surreal it was that Paul Reiser was in this and “Whiplash” the same year (the difference? “Whiplash” was actually good.)

Zach (Dane Dehaan) is an uninteresting young man whose girlfriend, Beth (Aubrey Plaza,) has recently died from a snakebite accident. So when Beth comes back with a voracious appetite for human flesh and a proclivity for smooth jazz (wait… what?), Zach isn’t ready to deal with the consequences.

While Beth’s mom and dad ( Molly Shannon and John C. Reilly) are determined to keep Beth’s death a secret from her (she doesn’t remember anything, and doesn’t show signs of decomposition immediately,) Zach’s parents (Paul Reiser and Cheryl Hines) and gun-toting security guard brother (Matthew Gray Gubler) are no help at all, and Zach is left on his own trying to reconcile his feelings for Beth.

“Life After Beth” could have been a devastating drama where the grieving Zach tries to cope with Beth’s rebirth, along the lines of the TV series “The Returned.”  Or it could have been a hilarious zomedy similar to “Shaun of the Dead.” Instead it is neither. It is nothing. It is obsolete. It walks the line between comedy and drama (cheesy, but with few real laughs) and accomplishes nothing. It makes no lasting impression except to remind you occasionally how painfully bad it is.

The humor is just awkward (involving Beth throwing things and growling a lot and undead sexual aggression- always a laugh riot) and the drama disappointingly half-baked. Despite the star-studded cast, the movie features half-assed acting jobs all around. Dane Dehaan was an outright bore. With a lead who doesn’t seem to take the movie seriously, why should we? As for the make-up, my dad did a better job on my Halloween costume using about $20 worth of resources.

“Life After Beth,” is quite simply a pointless waste of time. It’s impossible to care about any of the characters because they’re so one-dimensional and a ending that should have been tragic (or funny! Or interesting! Anything!) just falls flat. I wouldn’t even recommend for die-hard Aubrey Plaza fans to watch this. It’s shit, and that’s a shame because there are way better horror/comedy films out there and this could have been one of them. Avoid this suck-fest at all costs.

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Stephen King’s A Good Marriage (2014)

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What can I say about “Stephen’s King’s A Good Marriage?” Bad, bad, and more bad. Care to elaborate you say? “A Good Marriage” is exactly as cheesy and generic as you might expect. Sporting paper-thin characterizations and ludicrous plot developments, it tries to keep from going to complete shit by incorporating a good performance by Joan Allen as the  loving spouse turned terrified housewife.

I haven’t read the novella on which it’s based, but for Stephen King’s sake I hope this doesn’t do it justice. The plot is simple- middle-aged Darcy (Allen, whose character is either very stupid or very naïve but regardless not remotely likable) finds out that her husband Bob (Anthony LaPaglia, impossible to take seriously) is a sadistic rapist and serial killer.

Here’s where the plot goes seriously awry. Darcy doesn’t want her three grown-up kids to know Daddy’s a deranged murderer, so she comes up with a master plan and makes hubby promise not to do any more killing while she bides her time. Yes, you read that right.

Rather than calling the police, Darcy trusts her homicidal spouse not to kill any women for an expanse of time while she formulates a scheme. This seems more ridiculous the more you think about it, especially when you consider that Bob is out all day doing whatever (going to work, but do you really know for sure?) while Darcy stays at home, trusting on a sexual psychopath not to do any more killing or raping.

What Darcy doesn’t realize is, if Bob kills another young girl, it’s on her. She’s the one who didn’t call the police, although she had myriad opportunities to do so. She’s the one who took the evil bastard’s word for it. All for the sake of the children. Jesus Christ, will someone send us a heroine with a brain!

“A Good Marriage” slogs it’s way to a ludicrous confrontation and a bewilderingly obtuse ending, punctuated by spurts of terrible dialogue. The dialogue is awful, cheesy, dumbed-down gobbledegook, but even that isn’t bad enough to be truly funny, just painful.

Despite it’s pedigree of being based on a novella by ‘Master of Horror’ Stephen King, this disaster of a TV movie is a cut-and-paste, unspectacular, artless piece of rubbish. I would not recommend it to anyone.

Mrs. Joan Allen gives a halfway decent performance that is wasted on a terrible script, but nothing about the characters or plot development rang true, and this movie doesn’t deserve to be in the same sentence along with King adaptations such as Kubrick’s “The Shining” or “Stand by Me.”

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Axed (2012)

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As much as I would like to root for the little man, stick it to the Hollywood studios, and support this small-budget indie horror film, I cannot. All I can say is this- good God this movie is horrible. The budget is tiny, which shouldn’t be a problem, but it so much so that it becomes a distraction. The acting is mediocre. The plot is rife with holes. It’s a disaster. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but this movie isn’t really worth watching on streaming for free, let alone paying a rental price.

Middle-aged, venomously mean-spirited businessman Kurt Wendell (Jonathan Hansler) is fired from his job, much to his chagrin. At home, he’s making his family’s lives a living Hell- his long-suffering wife (Andrea Gordon,) who may be getting a little nookie on the side, his weak-willed, latently homosexual son (Christopher Rithin,) and his pouty daughter (Nicola Posener.)

To Kurt, his son is a pussy and his daughter’s a slut, and he detests his kids and his wife in equal measure. But Kurt has a plan- he schemes to take his family to a summer home for one last vacation, kill them, and then himself. The drama unfolds at the isolated house, where Kurt takes it upon himself to end his family’s complaints- once and for all.

Jonathan Hansler plays Kurt with manic chutzpah, but Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” he is not. Gordon comes off best as a wife and mother trapped in a loveless marriage. Rithin and Posener are tragically mediocre as beleaguered kids who are too stupid for their own good.

There’s a lack of logic in the script that becomes increasingly obvious by the 1/3rd point. In one scene, the daughter, Megan, unsuccessfully tries to untie a man her father’s taken captive while Dad’s outside. Earlier, her dad took her cell phone and made it all too obvious he was not going to let her leave alive.

Later, she reveals to her mother that she has a second cellphone, which is later taken from her and smashed by her murderously irate dad. The question I have is, why didn’t she call the police while her father was distracted rather than spending 10+ minutes trying to uselessly untie the prisoners constraints with her ineffectual soft little girly hands?

In another scene, the mother gets her kids in the car and tries to drive away but the car doesn’t start. Okay, we’ll accept the oldest horror cliché in the book, but not this- Mom, in all her infinite wisdom, has not locked the door to the driver’s side, leaving it all too easy for Kurt to pull it open and drag her out. I guess she thought her car was going to zoom off like “Need For Speed” and leave her homicidal hubby in the dust.

Grainy photography, poor effects, gaps in logic- “Axed” has all the telling signs of a first feature. A victim’s black eye looks all too fake, while the blows inflicted on the said prisoner are woefully artificial. Last but not least, we have Kurt himself, who is too vile and reprehensible to be a remotely likable or even empathisable character.

What are we supposed to say about a movie that features as one of it’s final plot points a teenaged girl flashing her bra and panties at her murderous father to distract him from killing her (can we say anything?) I think her exact words were “Come and get it, Daddy.” With a script this sad, I bet the filmmaker wishes he could  miracle himself into a time machine and undo the whole thing. I certainly would!

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Wake Wood (2010)

Wake Wood starts out with an unnerving premise and goes downhill as the film’s tyke goes on a killing spree. Her name is Alice, and she has had a happy life. Why does she kill?

Well maybe if you were resurrected during a Pagan ritual, you’d have problems too. After Alice (Ella Connelly) is killed in a dog attack, her parents Patrick and Louise (Aidan Gillen and Eva Birthistle) would do anything to have her back.

They move to Wake Wood, the kind of community that exists primarily in horror movies, cloistered and isolated, with weird locals who come into the house uninvited.

“How would you like to get you daughter back?” asks creepy villager Arthur, played by Timothy Spall (not a direct quote). “That’s not funny,” replies Patrick. a believable response. But conveniently, Louise caught a glimpse of a resurrection ritual. She believes him.

The ritual can bring the deceased back for three days, so the bereaved can say their goodbyes. It requires that another person’s body be used in the process of resurrecting the girl. Conveniently (or not so conveniently), an older man in the village was recently crushed to death by a cow.

The ceremony is prepared, but the child’s parents lied about one important detail — Alice has been dead for more than a year, which creates a rift in the Pagan magic. Will Alice come back a normal little girl? Or the bad seed reborn?

You should have been able to figure out the answer to this question without my little commentary in the first paragraph. And forgive me, but I don’t buy that a seven-something year old girl, albeit an undead one, could rip a woman’s heart out of her ribcage. Which also happens in the movie. Keep up with me, folks!

Notice how I’m using the word “convenient” a lot? “Wake Wood” runs on unlikely occurrences, close calls, and horror cliches, like “car breaks down,” “woman runs into *gasp* her husband,” and the inevitable “child kills animal” archetypes. All this and a scene pulled straight from Carrie.

Ella Connelly, as the girl, has all the cuteness and wide-eyed sincerity of a young Dakota Fanning, but Dakota Fanning she is not. Although she could act happy and sweet, she wasn’t really convincing as an infernal child-gone-wrong.

Which brings us to the ending. Eva Birthistle is the highlight of this film, portraying grief and distress naturally. Timothy Spall is a great actor in an underdeveloped, criminally underwritten role, therefore hindering his capacity for greatness.

Aidan Gillen, who did a commendable job playing a mentally ill stutterer in the indie Buddy Boy some years back, practically sleepwalks through this role.

His apparent mindset: play the part, jump the hoops, collect the paycheck. There’s little passion or commitment to this role. Now that I think about it, his character in Buddy Boy was a bit stiff, a little under-reactionary.

But it fit the character, and Aidan Gillen had some spark playing the nervous wreck. Gillen now plays Patrick as detached to the extreme, facing horrific and astonishing occurrences with mild anxiety. He plays a concerned husband, but that’s about it. Despite it’s initially chilling premise, Wake Wood fails to deliver. Although it has potential as a thriller, it ultimately fails as a movie.

Orphan (2009)

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Filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra knows the steps but not the music, and therefore lacks the ability to make “Orphan” great, or even good, for that matter. I was startled by myriad similarities to “Joshua,” a psycho-child thriller I really liked, but while “Joshua” showed restraint and a gift for nuanced dread, “Orphan” delivers it’s shocks with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

I became wary when “Orphan” opened with a nightmare sequence involving a bloody squalling fetus-monster coming out of Vera Farmiga (who plays an almost identical role in “Joshua,” wouldn’t you know?) We soon find out that the reason for Kate (Farmiga)’s nightmares is a recent miscarriage and an alcohol problem that’s the proverbial ‘elephant in the room.’

However, Kate and her loser husband, John (Peter Sargaard,) want to bring light and joy into an orphaned child’s life, so they adopt Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman,) a prim and unnervingly precocious girl with an annoying Russian accent, and bring her home to their nice house and two children, Maxine (Aryana Engineer) is the youngest, a sweet girl who has suffered almost complete hearing loss in an accident, and Danny (Jimmy Bennett) is somewhat of a punk, who fancies himself a bit of a ‘bad boy’ at his school.

The reactions of the two tykes transpire much as you might expect. with Maxine (‘Max’) immediately accepting the strange child and Danny balking at the girl’s presence. But Esther isn’t who she wants you to think she is, and she soon causes chaos and bloodshed in her adoptive parents’ household.

Fucking jump-scares, man! Let me just say up-front, I have watched a LOT of horror movies. I can usually predict when a jump-scare’s going to happen. And this was no exception. Like in the scene where Kate’s gobbling pills in the mirror, I can safely say, “Someone’s going to pop out in the mirror when she closes it.” You know why? Because it’s been done a million friggin’ times before! If I could describe “Orphan” in three words they would be “Cliché, cliché, cliché.”

“Orphan” tries to compensate for it’s utter predictability by tacking on an insanely ludicrous twist ending and some deliberately, self-consciously ‘shocking’ scenes involving young children. Guess what? I did not find these scenes ‘horrifying.’ I found them skeevy and lurid, as I would guess most people with a social conscience would, but certainly not as ‘horrific’ as the filmmaker intended.

When a young child puts on a low-cut dress and make-up and puts her hand on a grown man’s crotch are we not supposed to be a little… concerned? And I know what you’re going to say, “Well, it’s really not any worse than the violence.” Well, let me just say this- pervs aren’t going to be wanking to the violence.

Some beautiful films have been made about blossoming sexuality. Some timely films have been made about child sexual abuse, which transcend the yuckiness of the subject matter. “Orphan” is neither. It is a cheap attempt at shock value. And that ending! Jesus! Could it have been any fucking lamer if it tried? I laughed out loud when the evil little bitch came popping out of the hole in the ice like Michael Myers or something.

Also, most of the good parts of this movie had been taken almost directly from “Joshua.” The way Esther pits her ‘parents’ against each other has been done better in movies like “Joshua” and Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel, “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”

I didn’t really care about any of the characters, except maybe Max, and while I liked Sam Rockwell’s similarly dispositioned character In “Joshua,” I found John (Sarsgaard) to be a weirdly ineffectual dweeb. while the kid actors (especially Ariana Engineer, who is hearing-impaired in real life) were decent, the movie was a total fail.

Note- On the other hand, I did get a laugh out of an ad for adoption at the beginning of this movie. Do you back the SPCA before a showing of “Cujo?” There’s a time and a place, people!

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Nice Guy Johnny (2010)

I picked this film after being impressed by director Edward Burns’ “Newlyweds,” which I found to be well-acted, involving, and true to life. Wow. What a mistake. Not only does “Nice Guy Johnny” suffer from a complete lack of likable characters, it rings totally false, and fails to come up with a valid point for its entire duration.

The movie is all about a guy named Johnny learning to stand up for himself and following his dreams. The problem is that Johnny is so bland and boring (and uninterestingly played by Matt Bush) that it’s hard to care what a ‘nice guy’ he is.

Johnny is faithful to his bitchy fiance Claire (also poorly played by Anna Wood), despite unsavory encouragement by his lecherous uncle (writer/director Edward Burns), but finds himself attracted to a dull ‘free-spirited beauty’ (Kerry Bische.)

The beauty, Brooke, is sending him the signals loud and clear, but Johnny’s too much of a ‘nice guy’ to do anything about it. Or is he? The answer lies in annoying scenes punctuated arbitrarily with dull indie songs and stilted dialogue.

Here’s the problem- the characters are so mind-numbingly one-dimensional that there is no reason to vouch for or care about any of them. Johnny and Brooke have NO chemistry whatsoever. We don’t understand why one likes the other. We know that Brooke has only been with jerks in the past, and that she sees a sensitivity and candidness in Johnny that floors her. Too bad we couldn’t care less about either of them.

Also, the dialogue is bad, especially compared to the unforced naturalness of the dialogue in “Newlyweds.” The predictable falling-out between Claire and Johnny seems neither real nor interesting — when she tells him she wishes his pencil dick would fall off, it seems like something a naive pre-teen would have written.

“Nice Guy Johnny” is uninteresting and lame, with a lead performance that seems mediocre at best, and characters who behave in increasingly stupid ways. My recommendation: skip it.