Excision Blu-Ray Review (Kirk Haviland)

Excision Blu-Ray

Starring AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords, Ariel Winter, Roger Bart, Jeremy Sumpter, Malcolm McDowell, John Waters, Marlee Matlin and Matthew Gray Gubler and Ray Wise

Written and Directed by Richard Bates Jr.

SPOILERS

New on Blu-ray and DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment comes the bizarre medical based thriller, Excision. On the surface the film shares a lot of similarities with the body modification horror film from the Soska Sisters, ‘American Mary’, but upon closer examination the two are very different. The Soska’s Mary is an overachieving and talented student while McCord’s Pauline is the ultimate slacker. So how does Excision stack up?

Pauline (McCord) is an 18 year old failing student with aspirations of a career in medicine. She fantasizes and is sexually stimulated by visions of performing surgery on her classmates and herself. Pauline’s younger sister, Grace (Winter), has cystic fibrosis and is the main concern of their parents (Lords and Bart). Pauline decides she wants to lose her virginity to one of the popular boys in school named Adam (Sumpter), and surprisingly Adam obliges. After the non-subtle Pauline causes the break-up of Adam and his girlfriend, Adam’s now ex and her friends vandalize Pauline’s family home. Pauline goes on an angry tirade at school, pushes Adam to the ground and slams his ex-girlfriend’s face into her locker which causes her to be outright expelled from school. This seems to set Pauline off the deep end as she decides she must pursue her potentially lethal dreams all the way, leading to a deadly outcome.

Excision is a smartly written and executed film that almost succeeds in delivering the goods. McCord’s performance is solid. She delivers a sullen, remorseless and goofy performance that works for most of the film. Lords and Bart are your typical demonized parental unit, they both still perform admirably with what they are given, though the dialogue given to Lords especially helps to lessen the cardboard cut-out feeling of the performance. The rest of the cast is really not given a lot to do here as the film rests mainly on the shoulders of McCord.  Most of the dialogue here strikes like a cross between Diablo Cody and Noah Baumbach, which is great in parts and a hindrance in others. Unlike ‘Mary’, where the surgical references and scenes are well researched and feel completely authentic, Excision is more concerned with shock and awe tactics and couldn’t care less about authenticity. The production is slick and the film looks great. Many of Pauline’s fantasy sequences are gory delights that will satisfy most genre fans. The biggest issue of the film is the end. In a either love it or hate it moment things go ridiculously wrong and even though she has been fantasizing about certain things throughout, you never quite get to the point where you believe that Pauline will go as far as she does. So because of this the end feels a bit forced and out of character.

The Blu-Ray is a bare bones disc without any special features attached, except for an audio commentary track with the director and star McCord, but the transfer looks and sounds great as the film’s colors are vibrant and loud. Sadly they have chosen a Blu-Ray cover shot that is less impactful when compared to the gorgeous theatrical poster.

Ultimately Excision is a film that toys will greatness throughout, only to be letdown by an ending that the film does not quite earn. That said, there is more than enough here to be able to make Excision a definite rental recommendation and a decent buy.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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The Barrens Blu-Ray Review (Kirk Haviland)

The Barrens Blu-Ray

Starring Stephen Moyer, Mia Kirshner, Allie MacDonald, Peter DaCunha, Erik Knudson, Chantelle Chung, David Keeley and Shawn Ashmore

Written and Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

New this week to DVD and Blu-Ray from Anchor Bay Entertainment comes The Barrens. This take on the classic campfire stories that have dominated family camping outings for decades comes from the enigmatic Darren Lynn Bousman, more known for his inconsistency than any one film in particular. So what does the director of Saw 2-4, the divisive Repo, The Genetic Opera and the outright abysmal 11-11-11 have in store for us this time?

It’s known as the Jersey Devil, the long rumoured winged beast spawned 400 years ago, supposedly by Satan himself. The stories claim it came about after a woman known as Mother Leeds had 13 children, but she offered up the 13th child to the Devil as a sacrifice. Some say this creature still inhabits the dense pine forests of southern New Jersey, where Richard Vineyard (Moyer) takes his family for a rustic weekend camping trip so he can spread his father’s ashes where he camped as a child. As the Vineyard family ventures further into the woods in search of the perfect campsite, at Richard’s behest, we see that Richard may have a hidden agenda, as his grip on reality starts to slip away. It would appear The Jersey Devil may not just be a story for Richard. With his paranoia growing he manages to put everyone he loves, wife Cynthia (Kirshner), daughter Sadie (MacDonald) and son Danny (DaCunha) in real danger. But when Sadie’s friend Ryan (Knudsen) goes missing, Richard is convinced it’s the work of the Jersey Devil. But is the legend of the Jersey Devil real, or is it just another of Richard’s growing delusions?

The Barrens is a low budget indie horror that wears this fact proudly on its sleeve. Using cost effective locations like the forest and a minimal amount of Computer Generated Images (CGI), using the practical effect of a man in a rubber suit for the Devil, you can see how the production was able to come in at a reasonable cost. Getting Moyer, straight off of HBO’s True Blood, is probably one of the most costly expenditures the production had. And Moyer was definitely wise choice, for the 85% of the film where he is allowed to show some range and depth he does well, but it really falls apart for Moyer towards the end. The beginning is actually quite slow, so thankfully we have Moyer there, but as the films ramps up the writing for Richard gets more tedious and ridiculous. The rest of the cast are decent enough, Kirshner may have been coasting a bit in parts and the kids aren’t going to win any awards in the near future, but their work is solid enough. The script is hardly original, the cursed creature in the woods attacking people, is it real or just the paranoid guy’s mind, we’ve seen this before. This time around it works, for periods at a time, but not the whole way through. When the Devil attacks come (when the CGI creeps in) it looks like a Scy-Fi network film. And the suit looks great on angular shots, but very underwhelming in up front shots.

For Blu-Ray extras we get barely anything here, an audio commentary with director Darren Lynn Bousman and director of photography Joseph White and a trailer.

Overall The Barrens is much like eating at a buffet, not all the offerings look appetizing and others leave a bad taste in the mouth, and you usually leave full but not 100% satisfied. While I cannot endorse a buy, a late night cheapie rental may be in order. The Barrens gets a very mild recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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Chained DVD Review (Kirk Haviland)

Chained DVD

Starring Vincent D’Onofrio, Julia Ormond, Eamon Farren, Gina Phillips, Evan Bird and Jake Weber

Written by Damian O’Donnell and Jennifer Lynch

Directed by Jennifer Lynch

After her trials and tribulations in India directing the film Hisss, documented in the excellent feature documentary Despite the Gods, with her next effort Jennifer Lynch wanted to get back to the friendly confines of small indie horror that spawned her, the result is Chained. Armed with a script she adapted herself and a stellar lead actor in D’Onofrio, Lynch set out to once again carve out her unique vision with the level of creative control only an indie film can provide, although it should be mentioned that the title was changed from Rabbit to Chained.

Coming home from a routine trip to the movies, eight-year-old Tim (Bird) and his mother, Sarah (Ormond), are picked up by a psychopathic cab driver named Bob (D’Onofrio). Bob murders the young boy’s mother and keeps Tim as his unwilling protegee, making him clean up the mess following each murder he commits. After a couple of aborted escape attempts, Bob chains Tim, now renamed Rabbit, to the inside of the house allowing just enough length to move freely within. As the years pass, Bob starts instructing Rabbit, teaching him anatomy and human behavior. Now a teenager, Rabbit (Farren) is slowly being pressed by Bob to start his own homicidal spree. Slowly but surely, he must eventually choose whether to follow in Bob’s serial killer footsteps or make one final, desperate attempt to break free from his long captivity.

D’Onofrio’s Bob is a menacing, grimy and remorseless beast of a man with no redeeming characteristics at all. Through flashback sequences we see the violence and degradation he went through that led him to become the man he is today. Lynch’s script pulls no punches in showing us exactly what Bob is capable of as we are taken right into his “killing room” and shown exactly what becomes of the girls he brings home. D’Onofrio’s performance is unflinching and fascinating to watch, he truly is one of the finest actors we have working today. Sadly the film is basically a two man piece, and our other lead Farren is way out of his league here. Left to sullen blank stares and random fits of screaming and moaning, one in particular is pretty laughable, Farren isn’t awful here, he’s just vastly overshadowed and the film suffers because of it. The story is passable here, though there are plot holes and an ending that is completely unearned and quite frankly terrible. The twist we are presented with is not only implausible but it’s also so bad that even M.Night Shyamalan at his absolute worst could do better in his sleep. That said, Lynch shows strength behind the camera as her lens is unforgiving, exploring every inch of the excellent set and setting, and the film has a great feel and pacing to it. Clearly Lynch is evolving into a solid, style based director, but it’s just too bad the script was her downfall on this one.

The disc itself is practically bereft of special features as we get an alternate cut of one of the death scenes and a trailer for the film. The saving grace here is the audio commentary with Lynch and D’Onofrio. Lynch is her usual self-deprecating, open book that she is known for and a charming D’Onofrio provides a great play-by-play as the two show they have a natural chemistry moving the commentary along.

Despite the great performance from D’Onofrio, Chained doesn’t quite satisfy due to a weaker second lead and an ending that ruins any goodwill the film had before. Sadly I cannot recommend a purchase of Chained, but if you can get a cheap rental or attach it to your Netflix cue, you could do far worse. Chained is a mild non-recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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Magic City Season 1 Blu-Ray Review (Kirk Haviland)

Magic City Season 1 Blu-Ray Review

Starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Olga Kurylenko, Steven Strait, Jessica Marais, Christian Cooke, Yul Vazquez, Taylor Blackwell, Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Elena Satine, Michael Rispoli, Kelly Lynch and Danny Huston.

Series created by Mitch Glazer

New this week from Starz Network and Anchor Bay Entertainment comes the first season of the acclaimed series Magic City. The lavishly conceived and staged production set in 1959 Miami Beach is a crime ridden gangster drama with a gloss and charm set to draw you in and make you stay a while. Producer Mitch Glazer used recollections, both fantasy and fact, to craft this series based on the Miami Beach he knew growing up. But does Magic City hold up with the quality of other contemporary cable shows?

As Ike Evans (Morgan) rings in the New Year, with the Chairman of the board himself Frank Sinatra crooning in the Grand Ballroom at his luxurious Miramar Playa Hotel, Castro’s rebels seize Havana just 200 miles offshore.  Miami is turbulent but the Kennedys, the mob and the CIA all hold court here. Evans must deal with the Mob, his complicated family and a city in the midst of dramatic change. Ike is the King of the beach and the Miramar is his crown jewel, but everything comes at a price. To finance his dream, Ike sold his soul to mob boss Ben “The Butcher” Diamond (Huston). Ike’s wife Vera (Kurylenko) and his three kids, Stevie (Strait), Danny (Cooke) and Lauren (Blackwell), all think he’s an honorable man, but he can’t break his pact with the devil. In fact, nothing at the Miramar Playa is what it seems. The days are sunny but the nights are full of intrigue, excess and bad decisions that come with a price. As Ike’s world threatens to implode, he fights for his family, and the Miramar Playa, in Magic City.

The strength of Magic City is the layered universe it has created. The main plot playing out is the struggle of Ike to stay afloat and ahead of the Mob and a Bulldog District Attorney determined to go through Ike to Ben Diamond. But all around this we get the sub plots of Stevie getting involved with the “most wrong woman possible” played by Marais, The D.A. trying to pit the ambitious Danny against his family with the promise of a prestigious Assistant D.A. position once out of school. Also, a call girl by the name of Judi Silver (Satine) who manages to be in the wrong place at the wrong time many times over, Ike’s General Manager Vic (Vazquez) tries to liberate his wife who is trapped in Castro’s embargoed Cuba and Ike’s new bride Eva tries to prove to everyone that she does have a place in the business and the family. These storylines bleed and thread themselves throughout the fabric of the main story and enrich the final product as a whole.

Morgan is fantastic as Ike, he carries an old school swagger and charm about him that just oozes onscreen, and his charisma is a perfect fit for Ike. I’ve been listening to people tout Strait as a talent to watch ever since 2005’s Undiscovered and Sky High, but this may be the first time I have started to agree with them. His Stevie makes bad decision after bad decision, but you see that even he knows he is making the wrong decisions he is smart enough to realize them for what they are, though his nature prevents him from passing on temptations. Olga Kurylenko is a bit of a revelation here. I’m not sure I have ever seen her so confident and in charge of herself onscreen. She seems to have melted into Eva effortlessly and the show is all together better not because of her sex appeal but her acting ability. You can tell Huston loves being the scenery chewing, cigar chomping mobster for whom violence is reactionary and without remorse.

The other star of the film is the Miramar Playa. Meticulously planned and executed to resemble the posh and opulent hotels of Miami Beach’s yesteryear. You can tell that creator Glazer has spent hours upon hours of research on the setting, making sure everything is just right. From the pool to the Atlantis Bar, complete with windows into the bottom of the pool outside, where naked women often casually swim by, the lobby, and Ike’s suite and office,  no detail is too small to be out of place and the show often takes minute rest stops in plot to emphasize these details. The amount of smoking going on here could give Mad Men a run for its money and ashtrays, as the late 50s would dictate, are everywhere.

Where Magic City loses its luster a bit is in the dialogue, which at times goes too far into Soap Opera territory, and a couple of side stories involving an ex of Eva and a burglar and his clumsy ransom demands. The actor portraying the cat burglar is pretty awful and the role of Cliff, Eva’s ex, forces actor Steven Brand to try and execute the duality of a charmer with impure intentions towards Ike’s wife, something he does not quite pull off.

The Blu-Ray comes equipped with a good handful of special features. Six behind the scenes featurettes that explore the cars, style and music of Magic City as well as other Starz specials about the creation of the series and the history behind it. The Starz Studio feature is a 15 minute behind the scenes piece with plenty of info about the series and its creation. The rest of the features are two to five minute segments about various aspects of the production.

Magic City may not be one the best shows on TV…yet, but it’s addictive as the nicotine, narcotics, booze and women who inhabit it. Magic City is a strong recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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New to Blu: Halloween 4 and Halloween 5 Reviews (Kirk Haviland)

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

Starring Donald Pleasence, Danielle Harris, Ellie Cornell, George P. Wilbur, Kathleen Kinmont, Sasha Jenson and Beau Starr

Written by Danny Lipsius, Larry Rattner, Benjamin Ruffner and Alan B. McElroy

Directed by Dwight H. Little

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers

Starring Donald Pleasence, Danielle Harris, Ellie Cornell, Wendy Kaplan, Jeffrey Landman, Donald L. Shanks and Beau Starr

Written by Michael Jacobs, Dominique Othenin-Girard and Shem Bitterman

Directed by Dominique Othenin-Girard 

New this week from Anchor Bay Entertainment are the Blu-Ray reissues of Halloween 4 and 5, the re-introduction of serial killer Michael Myers after the Myers-less Halloween 3. Varying in quality the films are eternally linked as they feature almost identical lead characters, are set only one year apart in movie time (and the same in production time) and Halloween 5 actually picks up from the very end of part 4. So are they each worth your hard earned dollars or is one simply leagues ahead of the other?

BEWARE SPOILERS AHEAD.

Halloween 4 takes place 10 years after the incidents of the first two films and introduces us to the Carruthers family and their two daughters: Rachel (Cornell), their biological daughter and  Jamie Lloyd (Harris), their adopted daughter. As it turns out, Jamie is the niece of Michael Myers, daughter of the damsel in distress, Laurie Strode from the first two films played by Jamie Lee Curtis. Strode’s absence is never explained, while the young Jamie has very little knowledge of her uncle other than the legends and a photo. Upon learning about the existence of a niece during a hospital transfer, Michael (Wilbur) predictably wakes and leaves a bloody swath in his path back to Haddonfield. Michael’s nemesis, the well weathered Dr. Loomis (the late Donald Pleasence), is hot on his trail as he closes ground on the formerly sleepy little town that has never managed to fully forget the events of 10 years prior.

Arriving in Haddonfield, Loomis goes directly to the police station and manages to convince the new town Sheriff, Ben Meeker (Starr), that he needs to get on the streets and search for Jamie and conversely Michael. Meanwhile, Jamie is out trick or treating with Rachel and the two end up separated when they knock on the door of a scantily clad Kelly (Kinmont) with Rachel’s boyfriend Brady (Jenson) with whom she had broken off a date in order to take care of Jamie. After almost running directly into Michael the two are reunited and Sheriff Meeker and Loomis find them right in the nick of time. All mayhem breaks loose as Michael destroys the entire Police Station and its occupants causing the formation of a lynch mob, the massacre at the Meeker house (and of course Kelly’s last name is Meeker) by Michael and the calling in of the National Guard. Eventually Michael is defeated in the remains of a mine shaft. We are left with a cryptic ending with an attack from an unlikely source.

Halloween 5 starts with the bottom of that mine shaft as Michael (this time played by Shanks) crawls to safety and ends up passed out in the shanty shack of a man by the river. One year after the events of the closing part of Halloween 4 Jamie is now institutionalized, no longer able to speak, and under the care of Loomis. Rachel and Tina (Kaplan), Rachel’s friend who is clearly designed after Lindsey (a miniscule part in 4), visit the silent Jamie and she has developed a friendship with a fellow patient with a crush on her Billy (Landman). We are shown a man in a black coat and black cowboy boots, complete with spurs clanging, who is never shown by face and just appears at random spots throughout the film. Michael awakes, from what I guess is supposed to be a yearlong coma, in his same clothes and mask and immediately dispatches the man who apparently has been keeping him alive for a year now. Jamie this time around sees exactly what Michael is doing as they are now apparently physically linked and somehow Loomis already knows it. After dispatching Rachel, the only member of the Carruthers family in the film, Tina, a random character with no family relations to Jamie, immediately starts acting like she’s her child and she tries to protect her. The silliness continues with extremely poor comic relief from junior deputies, a party on an isolated farm which provides Michael the perfect hunting ground and a final showdown in the now dilapidated Myers House.

We know what Producer Moustapha Akkad was shooting for here. After the success of Halloween and its immediate follow-up set on the same night, Halloween 2, then the disappointment of part 3, Akkad wanted to re-launch the Myers character with a splash. Halloween 4 is a solid entry into the series and introduces us to someone who was a fabulous child actor in Harris. Her Jamie in part 4 is believable and grounded when it could have been so far over the top and awful.  The story of part 4 is developed well and harkens back to the Carpenter scripts of the first two as it takes its time to develop and unfurl throughout the film. Michael actually shows evidence of a plan of attack as he takes out the power for the whole town and attacks the police station. He’s meticulous and strategic in his pursuit of young Jamie and the film benefits from it. The Director, Little, uses Carpenter’s directing style here very well with lingering shots and things happening in the extreme background that may or may not be a part of the plot. The camera work is also great and staged very well in this one. Halloween 4 is a solid entry in the series and a very flattering return vehicle for Myers, sadly the same cannot be said about Halloween 5.

Obviously hurriedly put together to capitalize on the success of the better than expected part 4, the script for 5 is lazy and really makes no sense whatsoever. The Rachel character is a mess, after Jamie’s attack on her own mother she still visits Jamie constantly and then is inexplicably killed off immediately. Tina all of the sudden acts like Jamie is her own damn child, though she barely knows her. Myers is apparently after Jamie but after Tina delivers him straight to where she is institutionalized he opts to follow Tina to some secluded party and kill drunken teenagers instead. Then there’s the never explained man in black. I could go on and on over the poor script choices but the real result is that they destroy any chances of the actors we liked so much in part 4 performing adequately. They replace the watchable Cornell with the sometimes downright grating Kaplan and don’t allow Harris to talk for the first half of the movie, only to use her to simply cry and scream for the entire second half. The directing is poor and the supporting characters laughably bad. Halloween 5 is one of the worst in the series.

The Blu-Rays do not contain much in the way of special features. Part 4 has a panel from the anniversary convention with Jenson, Harris and Kinmont talking about the film, a trailer and two commentaries: one from the two female leads of the film and the other with director Little. The convention footage is fun if too brief. The disc for Part 5 features an original set visit featurette from 1989, an original Halloween 5 promo, a trailer and two audio commentaries: one with Shanks, Harris and Landman and the other with director Othenin-Girard. The set visit is nothing but an extended interview with Kaplan that is very hard to get through, interspersed with behind the scenes footage and the original promo is very brief.  However, despite the extras being rather sparse I will say that the Blu-Ray transfers on both discs look fantastic!

So in the grand scheme of things we have a tale of two extremes with two films that are intrinsically linked. Halloween 4 is a very solid recommend as it actually stands as one of the better films of the series, while on the opposite end of the spectrum Halloween 5 is one of the worst and may be worth a pass. That said, as a pair they do work well enough to recommend, though it gets progressively silly the longer the double bill goes.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films and festivals in Toronto, as well as our expanding Home Video coverage.

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