Super 8 (2011) – movie review

Summer blockbusters of years gone by:
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Super 8 – (2011)

super 8 posterThis movie is a cross between Stand By Me, and E.T. with a bit of Cloverfield thrown in for some intense action. It is just what you would expect from a collaboration between JJ Abrams (writer/director) and Steven Spielberg (producer). It has all the makings (and perhaps the pitfalls) of a ‘summer blockbuster’ hit – tense moments, high action, laughs, drama, and over-the-top special FX. At the center of the story is a group of young kids trying to make an amateur film for a film contest. I completely identified with this group of youngsters struggling for accomplishment and battling the forces that be to get it done. The young cast was considerably talented playing each of their characters to believability. Sneaking out of the house late one night to film a scene, the youngsters witness a terrible train wreck. Upon closer examination it is clear that something alive and quite unusual has escaped from one of the train cars. The military soon quarantines the small town as they prepare to hunt down the enemy life form.  Some viewers had questions and negative comments about the alien and its motives. I think they were perhaps expecting a Riddley Scott ‘Alien’ type of movie. This alien is more like the one in ‘It Came From Outer Space’ where its only concern is to procure the materials it needs to get home. In fact, the film seems to intentionally mirror a throw-back to older sci-fi films. Like all ‘fantastic story’ films, if you look too close you will find imperfections, that’s just the nature of the beast. In the end, this movie was really about a group of kids forced to grow up very quickly when faced with a serious situation. Make sure you sit through the end credits to see the completed ‘Super-8 film’ submission – an amateur zombie film.
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My Top 5 Found Footage Films, What’s Yours?

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My Top 5 Found Footage Films, What’s Yours?

Found footage, mockumentaries, reality movies, POV films, whatever you want to call them, are a style of filmmaking that will always be here. They are presented with most of the film and storytelling shown through the camera lens from one (or more) of the characters or by surveillance footage from multiple sources. Often the footage is found after the fact, when the characters are presumed missing or dead and the footage/movie is played back for the audience. Sometimes it is not “found” but being seen in real time. Sometimes they are set up as a news-story gone wrong. The success of 1999’s The Blair Witch Project birthed the modern popularity of FF films. There were a few previous to that date, most notably, Cannibal Holocaust, but the availability of affordable digital video cameras in recent years makes films like this more plausible. They are sometimes marketed as ‘true’ or ‘actual footage’ and true stories.

Like them or hate them, they are a permanent fixture in the horror movie genre. Some directors can make better FF films than others. Some of the films are total garbage. But get used to seeing them, they are not going to be removed from the film industry’s repertoire any time soon.

These are my Top 5 Found Footage/ Mock-documentary horror/sci-fi films.

Quarantine poster1) Quarantine / REC. (2008/2007)REC movie poster
Yes, I list these both together because, although they are basically the same movie, there are parts of both that make me like them for different reasons. If I had to pick just one, I would pick Quarantine, mainly because I don’t have to read the subtitles and because I like Jennifer Carpenter in this role. There are a few scenes that I like better in the Ameri-version, also. The scene with the CDC inspecting the bodies in the back room was one that I thought ramped up the tension more in the American version than the Spanish version.

the last exorcism movie poster2) The Last Exorcism (2010)
I know there’s a split in opinion about this one but I think the character of Preacher, Marcus Cotton, was fleshed out nicely and was the main reason I liked the film. The main story is about the preacher, not the exorcism and the girl.  There are some creepy as hell parts at the farmhouse and the realization of Cotton, about what is going on, was a well-planned mystery. I even like the ending and if you think of the film as a story about Cotton, it makes perfect sense. The sequel was terrible. Avoid it like the plague. See my full review, here: The Last Exorcism

cloverfield poster3) Cloverfield (2008)
The fact that this is a giant monster movie but completely filmed from street level is what makes this film so great. You never get a clear view of what the whole monster looks like and I think that works well for this movie. The going away party/drama at the start of the film is so dull, it feels like real life. Just when you think you can’t take no more, the sh*t hits the fan. That scene with the head of the Statue of Liberty rocketing over the character’s heads and crashing into the street behind them is jaw dropping. A couple of scenes may remind you of 911. I think sometimes it is good to be reminded. The characters feel real and in turn the situation feels real – you can’t help but root for the small band of friends to survive. More on Cloverfield here: Cloverfield

apt 143 pic 14) Apartment 143 (2011)
4th place was a toss up between this and Paranormal Activity. I think Apartment 143 won solely because it didn’t have a line of sequels, therefore, we didn’t see the same gags repeated four times. Strange things happen in a small apartment. A single father struggles to raise two children. His daughter hates him and we slowly learn the reason for such disgust. Watch it around Halloween with the lights off. Read my full review here: Apartment 143

Paranormal Activity cover5) Paranormal Activity (2009)
The 1st of the series is no doubt the best. Small nuances in their apartment cause Micah and Katie to set up surveillance cameras in their home. What the lens captures escalates into terrifying footage. Some of the creepiest parts are Katie getting up in the middle of the night and just standing there, staring at the bed. The film realistically follows how a paranormal event progresses, starting off with very minor incidents. It successfully creates atmosphere and tension. The dialogue between the couple sounds natural adding to the believability of the film.

I would consider the Top 5 as ‘5 star’ rating in the subcategory of FF films.

(0 stars = unwatchable, 3 stars = good movie, 5 stars = best in class)

Considerations and my star ratings (0-5)

The Bay – 4 stars
As Above, So Below – 4 stars
Chronicle 3 stars
The Possession of Michael King – 2.5 stars
Alien Abduction – 3.5 stars

Apollo 18- 4 stars
The Fourth Kind– 4 stars
The Blair Witch Project- 1 stars
Buried Alive – 3 stars
Legend of Boggy Creek- 0 stars
Paranormal Activity 2- 2 stars
Paranormal Activity 3- 4 stars
Paranormal Activity 4– 1 stars
The Devil Inside- 1 stars
Rec. 2- 4 stars
Diary of the Dead- 3 stars
Death of a Ghost Hunter– 1 stars
Monsters  – 3 stars
Monster- 1 stars
Evil Things- 0 stars
The Troll Hunter– 4 stars
Grave Encounters– 3 stars
Grave Encounters 2- 1 stars
VHS 3 stars
VHS II – 4 stars
VHS Viral – 2.5 stars
Behind the Mask:the Rise of Leslie Vernon– 4 stars
Hollow  – 0 stars
The Last Horror Movie- 2 stars
Cannibal Holocaust- 3 stars
The Curse- —
The Frankenstein Theory- 1 star
The Dinosaur Project- 0 stars
The Last Exorcism part II -0 stars
The Amityville Haunting– 0 stars
Paranormal Entity- 0 stars
Amber Alert- —-
District 9- 3 stars
Lake Mungo – ——
The Tunnel – ——
Chernobyl Diaries – ——
Greystone Park- —–
In Search of Lovecraft – 0 stars
Noroi – —–
Ghostwatch – —–

If I missed anything please let me know…

Still want to see:
The Poughkeepsie Tapes
War of the Worlds, the True Story

Television Mockumentaries:
Mermaids: The Body Found (2012) Discovery Channel
Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives (2013) Discovery Channel

What’s Your Top 5 Found Footage films?
List them below in the comments

Return of the Giant Monsters

Return of the Giant Monsters

Note: I consider giant monsters to exclude dinosaur films, King Kong/giant ape films and Godzilla/Toho/Japanese films because they garner their own classifications.

The 1950’s seemed to be filled with movies about giant monsters. Spurred by advances in special-fx and filming techniques, giant monsters hit the big screen with abandon. Ray Harryhausen led the way with his stop-motion animation in films such as, It Came from Beneath the Sea, Twenty Million Miles to Earth, and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Masking and rear projection techniques also produced impressive results with Them, The Deadly Mantis, Tarantula, War of the Colossal Beast, and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.

In the 1960’s with Hollywood turning completely to color films, these techniques seemed less impressive. Aside from Godzilla movies, there were very few giant monster films produced with major studio distribution after the 1970’s. A couple of notable ones include,  Q – The Winged Serpent (1982) and Tremors (1990). Recently, with the aid of digital-fx, more realistic monsters could be brought to the screen with impressive results. More dynamic and convincing, these new monsters interact with humans on a level never before seen in film. Recent successes have brought the giant monsters back from the brink and they have once again become a viable movie topic.

Here are some of the best of the last decade:

Cloverfield (2008)

I’m still hard pressed to tell you what ‘Clover’ looks like but this was one of the first giant monster films to be completely shot at ground level – like what we would actually see if we were there. Impressive action from the moment the Statue of Liberty head lands on the city street and giant monster destruction ensues. Also includes military battle for containment, a staple in giant monster films.

The Mist (2007)

Someone (the military) opened a door to another dimension and some gargantuan creatures came through it. We have some unique looking giant beasts in this one. However, the real horror of this film is not what the monsters do, but what the humans do to each other. Love the flying pteradactyl looking creatures and there is a giant praying mantis beast, too. The ending is a shocker to everyone that sees it.

Monsters (Beware) (2010)

This film didn’t have as much action as I wanted. It was more about the journey our two main characters had to face struggling to get out of Mexico and the strong commentary of social issues facing Mexican illegals. But the payoff at the end was big as the two goliath octopus creatures (very Cthulhu -like) cross the border into US territory for a brief liaison. (Let’s see ya’ ask them for ID.)

Troll Hunter (2010)

Who here, thought trolls were small elf-like creatures, raise your hands? Well this film will put you straight once and for all. It seems some giant creatures have been coming out of the mountains and eating the Norwegian farmer’s livestock. The government cover-up includes killing some bears and taking photos of supposed hunters who have saved the day. The real story is about the government employed troll hunter who lets some college news reporters follow him to track down the real culprits. (Subtitled in English)