Brittany Runs a Marathon
John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
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Dawn of the Living Dead (David Heavener, 2004)
NOTE: the following review (well, the first paragraph) contains a major spoiler for this movie. Be warned.
Is there anything more satisfying in low-budget horror these days than watching Joe Estevez die horribly? And the best part is, it's so easy to find. Per IMDB, Mr. Estevez (who, in case the look and the voice didn't tip you off, is Martin Sheen's brother, Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez' uncle) appeared in sixteen movies in 2010 alone. Without actually investigating, I'd say, simply judging by the titles, a little over half of those are horror movies. I'd further say, given my recent experiences with flicks in which Joe Estevez appears, he probably died (and horribly) in three-quarters of those. I mean, you can't really go wrong with a Joe Estevez movie, as long as you're only looking for "Joe Estevez Bites It. Horribly.". If you're looking for a good movie, on the other hand, you're almost certainly better off looking elsewhere. Estevez, over the past quarter-century, has made some choices that would have been career-killers for just about anyone else. Soultaker. Sigma Die!. Legend of the Roller Blade Seven. (And a sequel!) Zombie Farm. I Got the Hook-Up (which I think actually did kill a number of careers). Dawn of the Living Dead, which was originally titled Evil Grave: Curse of the Maya. Subsequently retitled, one assumes, to appeal to the Romero-loving crowd.
Plot: A former mental patient, Renee (Things You Don't Tell's Amanda Bauman), and her doctor, Jeffrey (Estevez), with whom she has fallen hopelessly in love, move out to the middle of the Arizona desert, presumably to continue her recovery. While wandering through the desert one afternoon, she comes upon Michael (martial artist Heavener), a caretaker for the surrounding windmills, and his mentally-challenged assistant Herardo (Todd Bridges... yes, that Todd Bridges). Since they seem to be the only people within hundreds of miles, Renee invites Michael back to the house for dinner, where he tells them that the house (which Jeffrey got on ebay, sight unseen) was the site of the recent murder of a family of illegal immigrants; immigrants, it seems, had been using it as a safe-house for some time. The dead are restless, and Renee finds that she must figure out who the killer is before they devour everyone in sight.
David Heavener's acting is... indescribable. Suffice to say that in the scenes they have together, he makes Joe Estevez (by far the best actor in this joint) look good. As Joe was never, shall we say, blessed with the talent of the rest of the family, that takes some doing. And then there is Bridges, who seems to have taken every emotion from the "I'm a mess" years and channelled them into this character, about whom nothing politically correct can be said (he is, in the classical sense of the phrase, a low-functioning moron). There are actors who have made careers out of effectively playing the mentally challenged, Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade) and Leonardo di Caprio (What's Eating Gilbert Grape?) being two modern examples. Todd Bridges will never gain that kind of recognition based on this performance. And, as Captain Peacock was wont to say, "thank heaven for that".
Heavener's IMDB page notes that, in addition to being a martial artist, he also composes and performs Christian music (whether contemporary or gospel is not specified). Judging by this movie, at least, he should abandon the film career and take up music full-time. It can't be any worse than this. A much better take on this same basic idea, though with ghosts instead of zombies, was released the same year, called Kucuk Kiyamet, in Turkey. Much harder to find in America, I'm sure, but a much, much more rewarding film than this. (half)
Paranormal Activity 3 (Henry Joost and Ariel Schulamn, 2011)
I was a big, big fan of the first two Paranormal Activity movies. The first one dropped like a bomb from out of nowhere-it was one of the first found-footage films since The Blair Witch Project that actually looked like a found footage movie (probably because of Oren Peli's lack of budget). The second was slicker, but it went places, emotionally, that the first hadn't dared to go, and it succeeded in doing something that no movie has done to me since Candyman twenty years previous-it scared the pants off me in a crowded theater. So of course I had high hopes for the third installment in the franchise, and the first trailer that came out seemed pretty nifty. How much did I like Joost and Schulman (Catfish)'s first entry in the series? I'll put it this way: I've had Paranormal Activity 4 on my Netflix Instant queue since the day it appeared there...but I haven't watched it yet.
NOTE: the plot synopsis necessarily contains spoilers for the first film in the series. Proceed with caution if necessary.
Set in 1988, Paranormal Activity 3 purports to tell the story of how poor Katie (Up All Night's Chloe Csengery) and her little sister Kristi (Wiener Dog Nationals' Jessica Tyler Brown) first met up with the demon that has haunted Katie throughout the series. The movie focuses more on Katie and Kristi's mother, Julie (Bride Wars' Lauren Bittner) and her boyfriend Dennis (Little Children's Christopher Nicholas Smith), as well as Dennis' friend Randy (Sky High's Dustin Ingram), a videographer Dennis brings in to help document the weird things going on in the house when they start getting out of hand. We first learn something is amiss when Kristi started talking to an imaginary friend she has named Toby. While that doesn't seem out of the ordinary at the beginning, Dennis starts to realize that Toby may not be entirely imaginary after an earthquake-he captured a few frames of video that night where the settling dust outlined a human-shaped figure, otherwise invisible. It's at this point he calls Randy in, and the movie begins to look like PA2, with cameras everywhere in the house. It would be a spoiler to say whether or not that mystery is ever revealed in this film (but as I mentioned in the first paragraph, there is a PA4, and a "related" movie, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, came and went in January 2014 with almost no fanfare).
The main thing about PA3 that contrasts with the first two entries in the series is how forgettable it is; the setup is basically the same, the execution is the same, the only differences are the actors and directors. And both come off here as pale imitations of the original. (There is also some debate over whether the final sequence of this film breaks canon. I originally thought so-actually, I think the phrase that went through my head as I was watching is "this makes no friggin' sense given the first two movies"-but I'm willing to be convinced otherwise by someone with some evidence.) Still, for all that, it's not a terrible movie; it has the weight of the two movies that came before it shoving it down in my estimation. Had it been a standalone Satanic Panic movie, I probably would have liked it more; it's not The House of the Devil, but then few things are. Still, I would have liked to see these directors-who have been noted widely for being so avant-garde in Catfish-to do something, anything, here that defied convention. **