March 28, 2016


Hey there, person I made up. How ya doing? 

- Well, I'm pissed off. 

Why's that? 

- Critics, man. Fuck 'em. Did you see the reviews for BATMAN V SUPERMAN? They're total horseshit. 

How so? 

- They're overly harsh and completely out of tune with public opinion. Did you see the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes? Clearly, the critics are out of touch. When there's this much disagreement, what's the point of reviews anyway? 

Well, a review is one person's subjective opinion on a piece of media. It can be an in-depth critical dissection of how a film is constructed, complete with a discussion on subtext, cultural relevancy or philosophical underpinnings, or it can just be a simplistic overview on how the reviewer felt while engaging with the media. That's pretty much it. It's an elucidation of an opinion. 

- Yeah, but what good are reviews? 

I don't know about you, but I don't have an infinite supply of money or time. Sometimes it's helpful to read reviews so I can get an idea of what a film is like before I decide to make a ticket purchase. I can't always be sure that I will share a critic's opinion. They might hate it but I might like it or vice versa. But it's no different than if I asked a friend or a colleague for their opinion or recommendation. Reviews, especially when aggregated on a site like Rotten Tomatoes, can act as a buyer's guide. Plus, they're fun to read. 

- So I'm supposed to trust a person I don't know to tell me if I'll enjoy a film? 

A positive review is not a guarantee that you'll like a movie. That's not something that can ever be guaranteed. A review is just an individual's recommendation. Again, it's no different than asking your Facebook friends or neighbors. I can however guarantee that if you gathered up 100 people and asked them for their opinions on a film they have all seen, you would not get a 100% consensus. You would have, in smaller or larger numbers, a variety of opinions ranging from great to awful. And when someone asks YOU for your opinion on that film you just saw, your opinion would become just one more opinion in a great big stew of opinions. I mean, can you honestly guarantee me that I'll like the movies you recommend? No, but you liked them so I might like them too, right? So if we don't expect all people to agree on anything, why would you expect audiences and critics to completely agree on any given film? 

- Yeah, but the difference is so vast this time and I simply cannot fathom why that is. 

That's kind of tricky to determine. For example, look at two other movies recently released. MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2 is currently at a 24% critics score versus a 68% audience score. LONDON HAS FALLEN is also at a 24% critics score and a slightly less audience score of 61%. Going back a bit, TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION has a critics score of 18% and an audience score of 51%. Those are all significant differences. But TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION has 222,643 audience reviews and only 180 critic reviews. MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2 has 106 critic reviews versus 11,029 audience reviews. LONDON HAS FALLEN has 156 critic reviews versus 25,799 audience reviews. Maybe if there were more critic reviews, those numbers would be higher. Maybe not. But it isn't exactly surprising that audiences sometimes reach different consensus points than critics. Look at the horror genre. 

- But why is that? Why do critics and audiences disagree so much? 

I don't know. Maybe it's because people like different things. Though like I said, this kind of massive gulf isn't either unusual or unexpected, especially when it comes to a franchise films or adaptations. 

- I think the reason why critics scores are so low is because critics don't “get” these kinds of films. 

See, that's what I like to call Genre Apology. That specific line of reasoning is what I call the Argument from Faux Intellectualism. We live in the day and age of Marvel movies, which are well made and well received products. When DEADPOOL is sitting at an 84% fresh rating, you don't get to tell me or anyone else that critics don't “get it”. That's a bullshit rationalization that's been around for ages. “Critics don't get horror movies therefore they review them poorly”. I'm very sorry to burst your bubble, but critics DO get it. They just don't like it. I personally hate most of the FRIDAY THE 13TH films. Do I not “get them”? I assure you, I get them just fine. There's no deeper meaning to these films. This is Sean Cunningham for Christ's sake, not Antonioni. 

- Fine. But they're clearly not fans and this was a film made for fans. 

Let me put that to bed real fucking quick. There is no such thing as a 250+ million dollar movie made “for the fans”. No movie is made “for the fans”. Movies are mainstream products. They are made and marketed to all sectors equally. And besides, do you really think there were no Batman or Superman fans in that batch of critics? I've been reading DC Comics since I was a kid and I personally disliked BATMAN V SUPERMAN. Am I not a fan? This is analogous in a way to the “well, if you read the book...” argument, or what I like to call the Appeal to the Bigger Picture. I don't know how many times I've been told that if I just read the source material, all my complaints about an adaptation would disappear and I would recognize just how good a film was. 

I'm sorry but no. A film is a self contained entity. Appealing to source material is a weak argument. Would some critics have changed their mind if they had The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman committed line for line to memory? Maybe. Maybe not. It's irrelevant. A film stands or falls based on its own merits, source material be damned. And really, if we're going to be arguing about the merit and value of reviews, would you really want to read a review written by someone so completely blinded by fanboyism that they have no real critical ground to stand on? Reading that review would just be confirmation bias to a fanboy and useless to anyone else. 

- I just think the critics went into it expecting something different. I think their expectations were too high. 

You say that as if it's a bad thing. You bought your ticket expecting a decent time at the theater, didn't you? Are you seriously telling me you expected to be disappointed? Then why even bother going to see it? 

- All I'm saying is maybe they should have lowered their standards a bit. 

Fuck off with that. If I have to “lower my standards” to enjoy your movie, YOU HAVE MADE A BAD MOVIE. That is what I call the Argument from It's All Your Fault. BATMAN V SUPERMAN has been in pre-production since the days of Nolan's Batman trilogy. It boasts several Oscar winners and nominees. It cost over 250 million to make. It had ample time in editing to fix all the numerous plot holes and disconnects. It's a major release from a major studio. And it's a mess. How exactly is that MY fault? Why is it MY fault that I didn't like THEIR movie? Perhaps if we stopped lowering OUR standards and demanded that the studios raise THEIR standards, movies would be better. 

- Well, I liked it and audiences seem to agree with me, not you. 

And that's fine. I'm not the one ranting about this online. You are. So why exactly does it bother you so much that critics dislike BATMAN V SUPERMAN? Why are you not upset that critics seem to dislike MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2 or PAUL BLART: MALL COP? I would have to wager it's because you're a fan. There's an old saying that people will defend to the death that which they spent money on. Same goes for properties they really like. It's the reason so many people are upset whenever a remake is announced. They feel some kind of ownership of the property and when critics (or anyone really) rips it to shreds or just says “this is crap”, the gloves come off. Believe it or not, BATMAN V SUPERMAN does not need your defense. It's doing just fine. 

- Yes! It is! So again, what is the point of a review? That means the movie is good! 

Look, BATMAN V SUPERMAN was NEVER going to be a box office dud. Never in 250+ million years. But that's an Argument from Popularity (I didn't coin that one). AVATAR broke all kinds of records. So did THE FORCE AWAKENS. So what? That means a lot of people went to see it. It says nothing about how good a film is or how well it will be remembered. Also, just because someone bought a ticket, that doesn't mean they enjoyed the film. 

- But critics are smug bastards trying to tell me what I should or should not enjoy. 

No, they're really not. They're telling you what THEY enjoy. It's a recommendation, not a mandate. If a critic's review bothers you so much that it angers you, you might want to think about why that is. Because the problem is not with the critic. It's all you. 

- Well, I trust the audiences, not the critics. 

Isn't that just a reversal of your issue? Since when does audience approval mean that something is good? Are there not films in existence that are beloved by millions but you personally dislike? I can think of a ton them. I hated AVATAR, for example. I hated AGE OF ULTRON. Those have high critic scores AND high audience scores. So I guess I'm doubly wrong in my opinion. But please, use whatever reasoning or tool you want. Be an informed consumer. If you want to trust the audience score over the critic score, do it. That's what it's there for. But have a little consistency. When you go to see a movie with a 75% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and it sucks, rage about that too. 

- But I don't trust critics to tell the truth. They just want views. Panning a film is a way to generate interest in their review. 

Top critics are top critics for a reason. They're set. They're getting paid one way or another. Believe it or not, critics actually care about their reputation. They are not going to risk panning something just for clicks. Hell, MAN OF STEEL is sitting at an 84% critic score right now. You remember that movie, right? The one that caused a massive stink from comic book fans? If they cared at all about nerd cred or mainstream approval of their work, they'd be issuing apologies for that one right now. Only they have nothing to apologize for.

This reminds me a bit of the whole shitting controversy caused by the Rooster Teeth podcast when the hosts lambasted Jeff Gerstmann of Giant Bomb over his “negative” review of the console edition of Fallout 4. Gerstmann spent some time in his review discussing technical issues the console editions had while praising virtually everything else, giving the game 3 out of 5 stars (unlike Fallout 4 on PC, which he gave 4 out of 5). The podcast hosts shit their beds over this. Why? Because to them, a 3 out of 5 was a “bad review”. It went against the trend of 4 to 5 star ratings. They attacked Gerstmann's credibility (which he has plenty of, by the way; he's been doing game reviews for years), accusing him of writing a negative review for publicity, accusing him of being some kind of fake intellectual game snob. Does that behavior sound familiar? 

- So the critics are not to blame for anything here? This is all about me? Is that what you're saying? 

Yep. I mean, seriously now… what could there possibly be to “blame” the critics for? Having the wrong opinion? Are you that insecure in your own opinion that you need it to be critically approved? To me, this is a great big "stop hating what I like!" internet moment. 

- I just think critics are done. They're obsolete. 

No, they're really not. There's a world of knowledge you can discover through film criticism. The day and age of newspaper-employed film reviewers might very well be done, but that isn't the end of film criticism. If you care at all about film as an art form, film criticism is your very best avenue towards a well rounded appreciation of cinema. 

- But I don't care about film as an art form. I just want to watch movies. 

Then go for it. Ignore the reviews. If you think film reviews are pointless, useless garbage, don't read them. But again, be consistent. Next time you watch a movie, keep your opinion to yourself. Don't type it up on Facebook or Rotten Tomatoes. After all, if you did, you'd be acting as a critic, right? The very thing you declare obsolete. I mean, you're not seriously going to argue that there's some intrinsic difference between an amateur critic and professional critics, are you? Because the only difference is the latter has a word quota and a paycheck waiting for them on Friday.

- So everyone is a critic? 

Fucking A. Your opinion is no more or less valid than mine. Try not to get so butthurt when people don't agree with you. Go enjoy what you want to enjoy. No one can stop you.

And with that, I'll be off now. I have reviews to write. Isn't that why you're here, after all? To read reviews? You know, those things you think are pointless wastes of time with no real relevance or purpose?

March 16, 2016


If FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER epitomized everything studio-released horror films were in the 1980s, the oddly named Argentinian slasher, CHARLY, DIAS DE SANGRE (which translates to the less exotic therefore more ridiculous title CHARLY, DAYS OF BLOOD), stands as a shining example of what a direct-to-video slasher film was in the 1990s. Everything you would expect from a title like this is here. The bad acting, the gratuitous nudity, the sloppy gore effects, a slew of lapse dissolves, stuttering post processing filters, corny in-camera transition effects and a shocking lack of overall professionalism are all present and accounted for. So what if anything makes CHARLY, DAYS OF BLOOD stand out from the majority of schlock shockers? Absolutely nothing. But this isn't a film trying to be anything more than what it is.

And what exactly is it, you ask?

For starters, it's a film entirely front loaded with plot. Charly is an introverted loner, eternally traumatized by the death of his brother when they were teenagers. Charly's uncle, a cop, asks Charly's good friend Danni to take his nephew out to the family getaway spot, a secluded summer home near the woods. The uncle thinks that getting Charly a girlfriend will help shake him out of his psychological funk (I guess it's cheaper than therapy). He even offers to pony up some dough if Danni needs to hire a prostitute or two. But that isn't necessary as Danni's friend Sandra takes an immediate liking to the nerdy, prone-to-vomiting Charly. Along for the ride are Danni's girlfriend, his chum Pablo and Pablo's main squeeze.

When they arrive at the summer home, the film descends into a mix of softcore sex and surprisingly not terrible scenes of goofing around, bonding and romance. While the film never rises above the level of TV episodic teen drama, the characters are all rather likeable. This, perhaps more than anything else, is where this film kind of stands out from the crowd. At the halfway mark of this mercifully short film, I didn't want to strangle a single character or ram a tent spike through their genitals. It was routine, comfortable, completely predictable fluff and fucking around. Again, surprisingly not terrible, even with the bad acting and Casio keyboard score.

But then the horror elements started leaking through and any good will the film accrued went right down the toilet.

Random POV shots start cropping up, all accompanied, for some unexplained reason, by the sounds of whining cats (or rather, humans imitating the sounds of whining cats). Speaking of cats, Danni finds one strung up from a tree and given the budget of this film, I really wouldn't be surprised if director Carlos Galettini actually killed a real cat to save a peso or two. Charly begins having nightmares, someone tries to attack Sandra and finally, in a plot development so out of nowhere that it literally upends the entire film, Charly's brother (I think; more on that in a moment) shows up, his face looking like someone glued bacon all over it, and people start dying in rapid succession.

It's the horror elements that really sink this otherwise not-so-terrible ship. Aside from an opening sequence of three buck-nekkid bubble bath babes being brutally butchered by a mysterious mouth-breathing maniacal murdering madman, CHARLY, DAYS OF BLOOD plays hard to get with the horror for well over 45 minutes. Yes, the standard horror movie POV shots are there and a few bits of hallucinatory weirdness crop up to remind us that this isn't going to have a happy ending, but the full blown descent into slasher movie conventions at the end feels awfully abrupt. In fact, it feels outright forced, like the director forgot he was supposed to make a slasher film and quickly tried to rectify the situation by typing “and then they all die. The end”.

Worse, there's absolutely no attempt to tie the slasher side of the film into any kind of logical framework. Who is our bacon-faced killer? Is he the ghost of Charly's brother? Did his brother never die in the first place? Pablo notes that the killer is wearing Charly's clothing so maybe the killer is just Charly in disguise? That certainly seems the most probable, but the film never bothers to hint that Charly, traumatized though he may be, is actually capable of murdering half a dozen people. And what's the deal with the three dead chicks from the beginning of the film? It doesn't seem to tie into the film at all. Is it relevant that the cop in charge of the crime scene investigation is Charly's uncle? Was that whole triple homicide scene only in the movie to bump up the amount of full frontal nudity?

I don't know the answer to any of those questions. The film simply doesn't care about closure or explanation.

But really, does it matter? Does it matter if nothing here really makes sense logically or narratively? No, not really, because CHARLY, DAYS OF BLOOD is a paycheck movie. It has no higher artistic motivations or desire to be taken seriously. It offers up exactly what horror fans would want from an impulse rental at their local Blockbuster. Moreover, it's an “in the moment” film, one where individual elements need not fit into any kind of larger framework because the film simply isn't concerned with anything more than grabbing your attention and holding it just long enough for you to not turn it off.

With its near constant parade of jokes and exposed breasts, the film managed to keep me watching, even if it had no real sense of scene-to-scene progression. The slasher film attached to the end had a few interesting bits (Sandra, the final girl of the piece, is brutally murdered early on, an oddity in these kinds of films, and the reversal from “slasher trying to kill teens” to “teens trying to take down slasher” was a welcome change of pace), but it really does feel like an afterthought. The only reason I made it that far into the film was because the moments that worked overshadowed the moments it fell flat. When the credits rolled, I didn't feel angry or pissed off that I wasted my time. I didn't feel blown away or impressed either. CHARLY, DAYS OF BLOOD is not bad or good. It's serviceable and really, that's all it wants to be.

March 10, 2016


How 1980s is that title? 


You can almost smell the hairspray.

Anyway, let's jump in. Joseph Mangine's turd of a film follows Natalie, a pretty, well-off blonde and her reluctant beau, Steven, the middle class son of a deli owner. One night, Natalie and her friends decide to joke around, screw and play some football in a park near the Golden Gate Bridge. Their night time frolicking is interrupted by the titular Maniacs, a group of about a dozen mutants(?). They make short work of Natalie's friends before being chased off by a thunderstorm. Natalie tells her story to the cops but they don't bite, writing it off as a joke.

Meanwhile, Paula, a horror nerd and classmate of Natalie's, learns of the attack and decides to do some sleuthing. She manages to sneak a peek at the Maniacs as they emerge from a maintenance shack at the bridge and even learns their weakness. One of the Maniacs slips and falls, it's hand landing in a puddle of water. That's right. Just like the aliens in ALIEN NATION (you thought I was going to say SIGNS, didn't you?), these creatures are water-soluble. After the Maniacs fail to kill Natalie and Steven a handful of times, the end game is set. The Maniacs invade a high school during a Halloween costume/battle of the bands concert (headlined by Steven's rad new wave band) and face off against Natalie, Steven and a fire hose-toting Paula.

If I had to describe the tone of NEON MANIACS, I would probably say that it's a bit like FRIGHT NIGHT or MONSTER SQUAD but without any of their charm. It's a film that drunkenly veers constantly between comedy and horror, never staying in one lane long enough to make any sort of meaningful progress. FRIGHT NIGHT works because of its self aware attitude. MONSTER SQUAD is full of personality and wit. NEON MANIACS is just sort of there, on screen doing its thing, periodically offering up some funny throwaway lines or chuckle worthy sight gags (I'm pretty sure the whole “water kills 'em” thing was included just so Mangine could shoot a bunch of cops pulling squirt pistols out of the trunks of their cars). What this film desperately needed was some level of conviction or steadfastness. It never achieves a singular identity. It's just a bag of mixed nuts and bolts.

It's also terribly inept in almost every single way. Imagine if the Village People all had cameos in Michael Jackson's Thriller video. That's basically what we're dealing with here. Seriously, replace Doctor Moreau with Doctor Wily and this is what you would get. There's a pasty faced Samurai who uses a sword. There's a pasty faced Indian who uses a spear. There's a pasty faced Doctor who uses a scalpel. There's a mummy character, a werewolf character, a lizard man character… See what I mean? They're as generic as Metal Man, Heat Man or Air Man.

The opening murder scene is one of the single worst slaughter set pieces I've ever seen in my entire life. Even the lowest of low budget films manage to get “actors” capable of screaming or running away. The characters in this film literally stand still with blank expressions on their faces as the terrible, unconvincing Maniacs shamble over realllllll slowly, barely batting an eyelash when swords are raised and axes are brandished. It takes a special kind of bad movie to make the deaths of close to nine characters in the space of two minutes this incredibly boring.

Oh, would you like some narrative cohesion to go with your melting mutants and disembodied limbs? You would!?

Well, fuck you, you can't have any.

Nothing makes sense in this film. For starters, how old is Natalie? She looks 30. And is Paula, the mid-20s tomboy, supposed to be a freshman? Are they even in high school? They have to be, right? Otherwise why would Steven's band be playing a concert in a high school gym? And is it Halloween? It has to be, otherwise a costume party wouldn't make much sense. And why do the local police not seem at all concerned about the disappearance of over a dozen people in their city? Where are Natalie's parents this entire time? Why doesn't anyone seem bothered by the fact that there are Mutant-Maniac-Monsters trying to kill them? When not hallucinating blood showers or dodging Maniac assassination attempts, Natalie just relaxes all day by her pool and Steven moans about his oh-so-rough life delivering groceries. And why the hell are Natalie and Steven the main characters in this movie anyway when it's Paula, the Tommy Jarvis of this film, that does all the damn work in moving the story forward?

Seriously, how useless are Natalie and Steven? During the attack on the school, the lovebirds decide to hunker down behind a door fitted with a very large, easily breakable window and have sweaty, noisy sex on the classroom floor while Paula - you know, the only person on the planet who believed Natalie's story, went out her way to confirm the existence of the Maniacs, single handedly killed one of them in her bathroom and just saved dozens of lives by whipping out a fire hose in the gym? - is left alone to save the lives of her fellow students. Screw, Paula. Fucking try hard.  

But I know what you're really wondering about. How the hell are there mutants living under the Golden Gate Bridge, where did they come from and why are they killed by water? Want to know the answer? 

Well, fuck you, you can't have it.

Look, I'm not playing hard to get here. The film doesn't explain a single thing. Mutants live under the Golden Gate Bridge and they can be killed by water. It's just a brute force fact. There you go. Enjoy the movie. I dare you.

March 4, 2016


If you're expecting anything remotely Lovecraftian in Juan Piquer Simon's CTHULHU MANSION, forget it. This film has nothing – absolutely shitting nothing – to do with the Cthulhu Mythos. The only reason this movie was titled CTHULHU MANSION was to trick Lovecraft fans into renting it at their local Blockbuster. Simon's slice of low budget excrement was released in 1992, right in the middle of the direct-to-video Lovecraft boom, and it sits nicely alongside THE CURSE, THE UNNAMABLE and THE RESURRECTED as movies that make the bold artistic decision to adapt Lovecraft by not really adapting Lovecraft at all. To be fair, even RE-ANIMATOR has as much to do with Lovecraft as, say, any given episode of Animaniacs, but at least Stuart Gordon's film had a whiff of inspiration from the grand old master. Your typical Lovecraft adaptation from the 80s and 90s was just a bottom of the barrel, low budget clunker masquerading as an adaptation, usually only worth watching if the movie you really wanted to see was out of stock.

How low budget is CTHULHU MANSION? The opening credits play over the exact same “haunted house sounds” cassette tape my mom bought for me at a Woolworth's when I was a kid. When we finally get music, it's just Toccata and Fugue in D minor, the go-to choice for generic horror films the world over. The opening scene sets the tone for the bullshit to follow. Frank Finley (a damn fine British actor who must have had one hell of a rough patch in 1992 if he signed up for this garbage) plays a stage magician named Chandu. Chandu's opening act requires the assistance of his wife, Lenore. Their performance hits an unexpected snag when Lenore suddenly bursts into flames.

Decades later, Chandu is still at it, performing with his daughter Lisa (oddly enough, Lisa and Lenore are played by the same actress, Marcia Layton). A bunch of hoodlums rip off a drug dealer, get into a scuffle with some cops and then run off when their getaway driver, Chris, gets shot in the leg. These two story lines intersect when the thugs take up residence in Chandu's creepy old mansion, terrorizing Lisa, her father and their mute servant. And by “terrorize” I mean “force Chandu to patch up Chris, eat some of their food and periodically act a bit rude towards them”. There isn't much tension here and things only pick up when one of the thugs accidentally opens a door in the basement, unleashing a deadly evil force that bumps them off one by one.

Sounds like it could be fun, right?

Well, no. No, it isn't. Not even a little bit. The demonic shenanigans are exactly what you would expect from a dark and evil power so unbelievably strong it can be contained by a rickety old basement door. Vines entangle and drag one of the thugs (played by William Shatner's daughter) through a second story window. A man is drowned in the shower. Muppet hands emerge from a refrigerator. Slices of bread fly across the kitchen. Spooky sound effects from that cheap-o cassette tape drives one of our leads into a hyperbolic fit of panic. Wind machines come roaring to life off camera. Just when you think this couldn't get any more generic, all the dead thugs come back to life and Chris begins melting into goop. With their bag of haunted house tricks empty, Simon and his co-writer Linda Moore just start ripping off other films. The main antagonist gets Piper Laurie's death from CARRIE and the film ends with a scene lifted directly from THE EXORCIST.

Thanks for reminding me of the better films I could be watching!

But really, what do you expect from Juan Piquer Simon, a man whose chief claim to fame is that his film POD PEOPLE was skewered by the Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang? Personally, I was hoping for a bit more PIECES-styled insanity. That's a film where Simon really did manage to not just live up to his outlandish premise but dance wild, gonzo circles around it too. PIECES has a real energy and willingness to say fuck you to anything resembling logic. CTHULHU MANSION on the other hand feels like it was made to be “scary” or “serious”, like Simon and Co. actually thought they were making a respectable film.

But they didn't. What they made is a film that is overlong, completely devoid of any momentum thanks to poor utilization of characters (Lisa spends nearly the entire movie “locked” in a room with the unconscious Chris and I say “unlocked” because no one ever locks the damn door. She just never tries opening it.) and is lacking any kind of self awareness. Look, this is silly shit. When you write a movie where a woman is literally dragged into a fucking refrigerator by Wampa hands, any semblance of seriousness goes right out the window. So why not have fun with it? Why not chop out the ten unnecessary pages of characters sitting around and use that bit of production money to build a few exploding heads? Why not reward the audience with something clever rather than trying to make art out of dog shit? What this movie needed was a little more fun and a lot less tired, boring fuckery.

Oh and a change of name. Seriously. If your movie contains the word Cthulhu in the title and you can't even be bothered to, at the very least, include a single scene of tentacle molestation, you have no business making movies in the first place.