Better Watch Out (2016) & Amber Lake (2011) Reviews

For October Horror Month, I’ll be re-posting some mini-reviews of horror movies that I watched in the past year. Here are my reviews for Better Watch Out & Amber Lake

Better Watch Out (2016)

Directed by Chris Peckover

Starring: Olivia DeJonge, Levi Miller, Ed Oxenbould, Aleks Mikic, Dacre Montgomery, Patrick Warburton, Virginia Madsen

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDb)
On a quiet suburban street, a babysitter must defend a twelve-year-old boy from intruders, only to discover it’s far from a normal home invasion.

My Brief Opinion:

This was an odd one. I was excited about this as I like a good Christmas horror comedy: Gremlins is an all-time favorite & I thought Krampus was a fun film. The marketing was strange for this… I got the impression that it might be another comedy horror such as Krampus but it’s nothing of the sort despite being listed as a “comedy crime horror thriller” on IMDb. Everything I read said to avoid spoilers for this so I’ll not say much about it other than that I absolutely hated the turn that this film took. As I’ve said before, it takes a hell of a lot to offend me but I didn’t like the creepy way this played out. And, as always, I hate movies filled with hateful characters (though the girl wasn’t too bad). I don’t know. This has an okay IMDb rating (as far as horrors go) so clearly some must like it but I can’t for the life of me imagine who as I can think of no one I would recommend this movie to.

My Rating: 4.5/10

Amber Lake (2011)

Directed & Written by Joe Robert Cole

Starring: Carmen Argenziano, Mekenna Melvin, Natalie Smyka, Melina Lizette, Polly Cole

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDb)
Three half-sisters, after being invited to their father’s lake house to meet him and each other for the first time, are each questioned by a local sheriff to explain the events that took place leading up to the discovery of their father floating dead in the lake.

My Brief Opinion:

This was one of those movies with a decent story idea but truly hateful characters. The low budget didn’t help either, I suppose. Actually, one of the Ambers was okay (Mekenna Melvin). The girls are all named Amber because their father is an asshole and you wouldn’t blame any of them for wanting to possibly kill him. The movie uses the Rashômon concept of telling the same story from different perspectives. But that of course worked in the hands of Akira Kurosawa as he was a genius and one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Amber Lake is no Rashômon! Obviously. Um… I don’t actually know what to say about this. Here’s the plot synopsis from IMDb: “Three half-sisters, after being invited to their father’s lake house to meet him and each other for the first time, are each questioned by a local sheriff to explain the events that took place leading up to the discovery of their father floating dead in the lake.”

It’s on Amazon Prime in the UK if you’re interested but do yourself a favor & watch Rashômon instead. Or any Kurosawa film. To be fair, though, I’ve seen worse “horror” films (well, this is more of a “mystery thriller”) with much bigger budgets. I guess Amber Lake did have some potential and it had a decent ending. And I hated the baddie in Better Watch Out FAR more than any characters in this.

My Rating: 5/10

Warrior (2011) IMDB Top 250 Review

The guest reviews have dried up so here I am again, finally reviewing another one of these for my own IMDB Top 250 project. You see, I’ve been super lazy on doing these reviews but not as lazy on actually watching the movies. So let’s discuss Warrior, which I watched on August 22nd 2015! This should be entertaining as I barely remember the damn thing… 😉

Warrior (2011)

Directed by Gavin O’Connor

Starring: Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Jennifer Morrison, Frank Grillo, Nick Nolte

IMDB Top 250 Rank: 153 as of 01/01/13

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
The youngest son of an alcoholic former boxer returns home, where he’s trained by his father for competition in a mixed martial arts tournament – a path that puts the fighter on a collision course with his estranged, older brother.

My Opinion:

I remember this film having very good performances, totally dysfunctional family relationships, lots of fighting, and me falling asleep several times (especially during the long mixed martial arts tournament at the end). This movie is good but it didn’t work for me. Hey, that happens sometimes. Any regulars here will know that I give ratings mostly based on my own personal enjoyment of a movie but do factor in a movie’s “worthiness” somewhat as well. Yes, it probably deserves higher praise than it will seem that I’m giving it. Let’s discuss the good things about it.

The performances. Most notably: Nick Nolte. He’s the best thing about this. He did get nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as the estranged alcoholic father of Joel Edgerton & Tom Hardy and I think that nomination was well-deserved. A lot of people might say that Tom Hardy is the best thing about this and, yes, he’s very good too but Nolte’s performance was more memorable for me. I think Edgerton was probably unfairly ignored in this as he’s the most “together” of this estranged family while Hardy’s U.S. Marine & Nolte’s recovering alcoholic are thoroughly damaged individuals. The truly damaged characters always get the most attention but I think Edgerton & Hardy are equally good in this.

Can I just go off topic slightly & say that I’m always confusing Nick Nolte & Gary Busey? Like, I keep thinking “I really liked Nick Nolte in Point Break” then later realize that it was actually Gary Busey. Anyone else ever mix up a couple of actors? They were just in the same types of movies at the same sort of time and they look kind of similar. Busey was the crazy one, though, right? You know what Nolte movie I really like, though? Three Fugitives! I probably shouldn’t admit that… It’s one of my embarrassing guilty pleasures.

Where were we? Oh. Warrior. Yeah. As I said, it was almost a year ago that I watched it. Everyone in it was angry & depressed & damaged & had some sort of drama going on in their lives so the men relieved their stress by kicking each other’s asses. Edgerton was a lovely father & husband, though.

Okay – there’s no point in me rambling on as I’m just trying to tick these unseen IMDB Top 250 movies off my list. Watch them, write a tiny bit about each, and move on. Does this deserve to be in the Top 250 alongside some of the absolute classic films on the list? Of course not. It IS a very good film with fantastic performances but it’s no The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (the last Top 250 film I reviewed which, although also not my type of “thing”, I gave an extremely positive review as there was no denying its moments of pure genius).

I’d never disagree with anyone who does love this film as I can easily understand its appeal. I’d also most definitely recommend it to either gender but, yes, mostly to males who like movies such as Rocky as this is aimed more at them. I’ll admit this now: I also have yet to watch Rocky for this project but I’ve seen enough bits & pieces of that film over the years to know it’s not just about “guys beating each other up”. If it was, it wouldn’t be so highly regarded. Warrior is exactly the same: it’s a film about the characters, their relationships, determination, and overcoming the odds. The mixed martial arts is just the backdrop but, hey, that makes it a far more entertaining film for those who like that sort of thing. It’s predictable & there are a lot of clichés but they’re forgivable as the three central performances are so good. This is the equivalent of a chick flick for men although no one would probably dare say that as “chick flicks” get a bad rap. I like the occasional chick flick the same way I like any clichéd feel-good movie and Warrior is truly no different – it just transcends these faults thanks to the strong characters. Its IMDB rating is 8.2 so don’t let my opinion put you off.

My Rating: 6/10


Exam, Paul Williams Still Alive & The To Do List Movie Reviews

Happy Bank Holiday Monday to those in the UK who won’t be reading this since you’re not at work pretending to work while actually reading blogs! Then I think you Americans have next Monday off? So, since no one will be around the next couple of weeks, I figured it was time to do a few more mini-reviews of movies that I didn’t give enough of a shit about to review when I watched them a year ago. Sounds like fun, right?! 😉 Here we go…

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Exam (2009)

Directed by Stuart Hazeldine

Starring: Adar Beck, Chris Carey, Gemma Chan, Nathalie Cox, John Lloyd Fillingham, Chuk Iwuji, Luke Mably, Pollyanna McIntosh, Jimi Mistry, Colin Salmon

My Opinion:

Exam is the best of these three movies, which doesn’t say much for the other two. I’ll say that Exam had a brilliant concept and I did appreciate that. It started out pretty great but got too far-fetched & silly by the end, which was disappointing since it had a lot of potential. I’m feeling lazy today so I’ll let Wikipedia give you the set-up:

The film is set in present-time United Kingdom in an alternate history. Eight candidates dress for what appears to be an employment assessment exam; they enter a room and sit down at individual desks. Each desk contains a question paper with the word “candidate”, followed by a number, from one to eight. The Invigilator, a representative of the company named DATAPREV, explains that the exam is 80 minutes and consists of only one question, but there are three rules: they must not talk to the Invigilator or the armed guard at the door, spoil their paper, or leave the room. If they do, they will be disqualified.

That sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? And it is – it’s why I watched this movie. And it gets even more interesting when the exam starts and the candidates discover the one question. The state of the world in this alternate history, which we learn a little about as the movie progresses, does help to explain the lengths that these eight candidates are willing to go to in order to get this job. But not quite… As to be expected, there are a couple of pricks who you’re meant to immediately dislike but none of the characters are very well developed and you don’t care enough about any of them to really care who will get the job at the end.

Had the characters been better instead of so one-dimensional and had the story been less far-fetched by the end, I’d have liked this one a lot more. I did really enjoy the mystery involved with the whole thing. It was fun seeing the candidates trying various ways to figure out what the hell was going on with the bizarre exam. In a world (shit, did I just use the “in a world” phrase?) where times are desperate, as in the story’s alternate history, you can almost believe that these candidates will do anything to get this very important job. However, the movie doesn’t manage to make us believe that “this could really happen”, which sucks as I think it could. Exam reminded me a lot of The Purge, which is another movie that I thought had a brilliant concept & so many ideas to be explored but never were. Like The Purge, Exam feels like a wasted opportunity (although I really liked The Purge and find myself always sticking up for it).

Don’t let my negativity discourage you if you like the sound of this movie. I think I may just be too picky in always expecting movies to have some deeper sort of meaning. If you don’t think about it too hard & are able to suspend disbelief, you may get some enjoyment out of Exam.

My Rating: 6/10

Paul Williams Still Alive (2011)

Directed by Stephen Kessler

Starring: Well, mainly just Paul Williams, his wife, and the director but there’s plenty of old footage with famous celebrities to watch. 

My Opinion:

What a shitty documentary. Hell, I think I could make a better documentary. The trouble isn’t the subject as I think Paul Williams is fascinating enough to make for an interesting documentary. But god the director, Stephen Kessler, is annoying! This reminded me a bit of the John Hughes documentary, Don’t You Forget About Me (which I reviewed HERE). In both films, the makers almost feel more like stalkers than like proper filmmakers.

I’ll say that Paul Williams comes across a bit grumpy in the documentary but that’s probably understandable as the director pretty much spends the whole film talking about how Paul Williams used to be a pretty big star but now he’s nothing (which isn’t true at all, especially since Daft Punk soon after declared their love for him & worked with him on their amazing Random Access Memories album). It’s ridiculous as Paul Williams has had a longer and FAR more successful career than Kessler (his only other movie you’ll have heard of is the crappy National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation).

As for Paul Williams, I know some people here probably know nothing about him although you may recognize his face. He was (well, still is) mainly a singer-songwriter but also an actor whose most famous work was in the Seventies. He wrote songs for people such as Barbara Streisand (Evergreen) and The Carpenters (We’ve Only Just Begun & Rainy Days And Mondays). Perhaps his most famous song, though, is The Rainbow Connection from The Muppet Movie (it’s certainly my favorite & in my list of My Top Ten Happy Songs). He was also in Smokey And The Bandit and the spectacularly mad Brian De Palma film Phantom Of The Paradise, which I reviewed HERE. Williams plays an evil record executive in Phantom, which is a mental “horror musical” that I enjoyed so much that I decided to watch this documentary soon after. Bah! Rubbish. Watch Phantom instead.

It’s hard to know what to rate this as it IS worth checking out if you’re interested in Paul Williams and don’t know much about him. There are plenty of old clips with lots of famous celebrities & the film is almost worth watching for that alone. Don’t expect the most in-depth documentary ever, though, and be prepared to feel as annoyed by the director as Williams sometimes clearly is. I’m glad I watched it but would like to see a better documentary about Paul Williams.

My Rating: 6/10

(okay rating more for the fact that Williams is an interesting character than for the quality of the documentary)

The To Do List (2013)

Directed by Maggie Carey

Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Rachel Bilson, Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat, Sarah Steele, Andy Samberg, Scott Porter, Connie Britton

My Opinion:

How can a totally filthy sex comedy be so BORING and completely unfunny in any way? What a load of shit.

I’m thinking that maybe I truly don’t like Aubrey Plaza. I don’t have much experience with her (she’s in that Parks & Recreation thing, right? Never seen it). I didn’t mind her in the slightly pretentious Safety Not Guaranteed but then she mostly just got on my nerves in the disappointing Life After Beth. Well, I’d have to say I pretty much hated her in this. I don’t know if that’s entirely her fault, though, as I can’t say I liked anyone in this plus the movie is just plain bad. I honestly can’t think of a less funny “comedy” that I’ve seen in recent years. It’s almost as bad as a Jason Friedberg/Aaron Seltzer “parody” movie.

(Just go play with yourself instead of watching this movie – you’ll have way more fun)

So, in this movie, perfect student Plaza decides she wants to lose her virginity & do every sexual thing that she can before heading off to college. Or something like that – I don’t remember much of this movie now. Anyway, here’s her sexual “to do” list:

I wouldn’t call myself a prude so my issues with the movie have nothing at all to do with the subject matter. I do enjoy the occasional sex comedy. But what I require is for them to actually be funny. I mean, WTF is this shit?:

Aubrey Plaza’s character is beyond annoying in this movie & I can’t imagine anyone wanting to do any of the things on that above “to do list” with her. The only funny thing, looking at that list, is how it says “British?” next to “teabagging“. lol. Okay – that’s kind of funny. But the rest of this movie is NOT. This movie can go do all of the above things to itself. Yeah… Go fuck yourself, movie!

My Rating: 3/10

Now here’s the rather epic, totally 70’s prog rock-y Touch, Paul Williams’ song with Daft Punk on Random Access Memories:

Bernie (2011) Review

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Bernie (2011)

Directed by Richard Linklater

Starring:
Jack Black
Shirley MacLaine
Matthew McConaughey

Running time: 99 minutes

Short Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
In small-town Texas, an affable mortician strikes up a friendship with a wealthy widow, though when she starts to become controlling, he goes to great lengths to separate himself from her grasp.

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My Opinion:

I wrote a review for this trying to remain totally spoiler free and giving no more information than what’s showing in the above plot synopsis. Well, this is one time that was pretty impossible to do so I’ve had to start over. I think most people know what this movie is about anyway as it’s based on a true story plus it was in the news again recently. So, to more easily discuss this, I’ll include a more detailed plot synopsis. So…

***Spoilers if you know nothing about the real life story & don’t want to***

I don’t think it spoils the movie as I already knew all this before seeing it and it made me more interested anyway. I’ll of course not say what happens at the end for anyone who doesn’t know the outcome. Wikipedia plot synopsis:

Bernie is a 2011 black comedy film based on a 1998 Texas Monthly magazine article by Skip Hollandsworth, “Midnight in the Garden of East Texas,” that chronicles the 1996 murder of 81-year-old millionaire Marjorie Nugent in Carthage, Texas by her 38-year-old companion, Bernhardt “Bernie” Tiede. Tiede proved so highly regarded in Carthage that, in spite of having confessed to the police, the District Attorney was eventually forced to request a rare prosecutorial change of venue in order to secure a fair trial.

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As I said in my review of Boyhood, I’m a Richard Linklater fan. Not sure why it took me so long to get around to watching this one as I also love Jack Black. I know he’s a “love him or hate him” kind of guy but he’s perfect in this and he’s NOTHING like he is in other roles so, if you like the sound of the movie but don’t like him, you really should still check it out. Plus – Shirley MacLaine! I love her too! I wish she’d been in this one for a bit longer but it was still a big role. Matthew McConaughey is in the film less than I expected him to be but he’s also absolutely perfect as the District Attorney. All three are perfect – I honestly don’t think they could have done a better job choosing the cast for this film.

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This movie is indeed a black comedy. It’s weird to think that they made a black comedy out of a real-life murder. I can’t say I know how the real-life residents of the small town in which this occurred (Carthage, Texas) really feel about the movie (it’s touched on a little in the above Wikipedia link) but, as a form of entertainment, I think it works really well how they chose to present the story. Throughout the film, people from the town are “interviewed” about the murder and their thoughts on Marjorie Nugent & Bernie Tiede. Some are actors (including McConaughey’s real-life mother – she’s hilarious!) but apparently some are real people from Carthage. I loved these “interviews”, which were really just gossipy chats with small-town people. Being from a VERY small town myself, I could totally relate to these bits as everyone reminded me of various people from the little community where I grew up. I think adding this to the movie was a brilliant idea and it really made the film for me – they were quirky, likeable characters and they actually made me a little homesick. (Although I’d NEVER want to live in a small town again!). This movie captured small town life perfectly and I found it very endearing in a way (considering, you know, that it’s about a woman being murdered).

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The way people feel about Jack Black is the same way they’ll feel about this movie: You’ll like it or you’ll hate it. If you don’t like black comedy, it’s best to avoid this one. It’s also very slow and there’s a lot of talking so it’s not for the impatient. I was a little worried at how they’d portray Marjorie Nugent as, after all, she did get murdered and there’s no excuse for that but, luckily, I think MacLaine did a good job showing a controlling woman but never going overboard and actually making us “hate” her. Although it’s told more from Bernie’s side, you feel for both of them as they’re clearly just two lonely people who happen to form an unusual friendship. It’s really a very sad but fascinating story (even more fascinating if you know the current outcome!). I think the movie handles the story well & I didn’t feel it was disrespectful – the comedic elements are mainly the “interviews” I discussed before.

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Summary:

Black & MacLaine are absolutely fantastic in two very understated roles and, along with Linklater, deserve all the credit for making a black comedy about a tragic real-life murder actually work as a film. I thought Bernie was very good but I often like movies that are slightly more unusual. I doubt I’d ever watch it again as it’s not exactly a “re-watcher” like something like Dazed & Confused (which I’ve watched loads of times) but is more like Boyhood in that it’s more of an “experience”. I’m glad to have finally seen it. It’s definitely not for everyone but, if it sounds like your type of film, definitely give it a watch! It’s well worth your time. Then make sure to look into the real story if you don’t know the current situation – I’m still a bit amazed by that myself…

My Rating: 7/10

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