Friday Night Flix: Belphegor: Phantom of the Louvre

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Welcome to Friday Night Flix, where there’s never a need to leave the couch or put on pants. Each week I’ll recommend an under-the-radar movie currently available on one or more of the major streaming platforms. They won’t all be classics, but every selection is guaranteed to be 100% watchable or your money back.

Just look at that ridiculous title, Belphegor: Phantom of the Louvre (Netflix). Sure, it’s a translation from the French but the original isn’t any less ludicrous. To my delight the movie completely lives up to its tactless, in-your-face box art. Neither is shy about giving away the store vis a vis the design of the creature. Belphy gets a full on money shot in like the first 15 minutes, then spends the rest of the movie zooming around the museum like Slimer and creepily inhabiting/perving on Sophie Marceau. (Side note: Where the hell has Sophie Marceau been since The World is Not Enough and Braveheart?)

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A few words about Belphegor, which is a real (well, you know what I mean) demon from Hebrew mythology. It is also an 80s German gothic band and a 2000s Austrian death/black metal band, the slash apparently being very important. The subtly of this distinction both confounds and amuses me. Coincidentally, according to some sources Belphegor (the demon, not the band) is at his peak power in April. Huzzah, timeliness!

Trouble is, Belphegor is not the name of the entity in the movie and the entity is a ghost, not a demon. So it has nothing to do with the Belphegor of legend. Nevertheless Belphegor is what the characters for no reason at all decide to call him, even though they know from the start he has a name and that’s not it. They might as well have called him Dracula.

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The other thing that’s weird is how busy this movie is, crammed with activity and events, but how little of importance actually happens. One minute we’re in a club, then we’re in an apartment, then at the museum, then in a graveyard, then back to the museum. That’s an awful lot of traveling between scenes. It gets to be a little wearying, especially since most scenes don’t drive the narrative forward at all. Belphegor (whose name is not really Belphegor) kills a few people over the course of just a few days, which should be some insanely motivating shit. Yet there’s shockingly little anxiety about these supernatural deaths. Except for Marceau, who is working way harder than everyone else in the movie, no one has the slightest sense of urgency. “Eh, well, anuzzah veecteem of za creature ‘as been killed. We must investigate. But first, let us ‘ave some more KWASSONT.”

This is a nutty movie that isn’t going to be much fun if you’re looking for scares or tension. But for some reason, I kinda liked it. It just barely manages to pull off the mysterious-nighttime-happenings-in-a-museum sub-subgenre I always enjoy. (I loved The Relic for reasons passing understanding.) Probably that’s because they got permission to film huge chunks of the movie in and around The Louvre, which can’t help but add credibility.

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Added Bonus: Though Belphegor is rather tame (as murderous poltergeist go), he shows his truly evil side late in the movie. Since things have quieted down a bit, the wise old police inspector takes the dignified head archeologist lady on a date. Just as these two senior citizens are about to knock some wrinkly old boots, Belphegor decides to raise a ruckus. Cock-blocked by a ghost!

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Friday Night Flix: Haunter

haunter6Welcome to Friday Night Flix, where there’s never a need to leave the couch or put on pants. Each week I’ll recommend an under-the-radar movie currently available on one or more of the major streaming platforms. They won’t all be classics, but every selection is guaranteed to be 100% watchable or your money back.

Somewhere between Groundhog Day, The Others and a very self-serious Beetlejuice lies perhaps the most derivative ghost story of the young 21st century, Haunter (Netflix). The copy-paste premise (Why am I reliving this day? Oh! I’m dead!) is only half the problem. More troubling, Haunter may well have been an attempt to capitalize on the bigger-profile releases of Stoker and Chloe Moretz’s Carrie, both of which are also 2013 thrillers starring mid-tier ingenues. While the hope might have been just to sell some easy DVDs, the comparison isn’t kind to Haunter. It is easily the least of the three and features the weakest lead. I’m not wild about Moretz but she looks like Lawrence Olivier next to Abigail Breslin, who has gotten progressively less watchable as she’s gotten older.

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But I’m not here to to tell you why you shouldn’t watch Haunter (because honestly one can only type so many words for free before one starts to resents oneself). I’m here to tell you why you should. Not surprisingly, my argument begins with, “Because there’s have nothing better on.”

In Haunter’s defense, it fully explores its roots in the movies it draws from within the first few minutes. So after you arrive at all the realizations The Others took a gloomy hour and a half to suss out, what happens next? Main character Lisa (Breslin) and her family are dead, now what? Bicycling through the fog only to find you’re unable to leave your yard? Sure. Cliche but charmingly nostalgic efforts to Ouija your way to answers? Sure. THEN WHAT? At least for a while the answer to that question is makes Haunter reasonably intriguing.

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Reducing the crux of the plot to mere backstory is nifty approach, though it’s one that occasionally makes the movie drag. Certain areas feel like filler to stretch the run time, in the vein of Insidious: the final destination is clear early in the third act yet the movie takes an unnecessarily circuitous path to get there. Still, through all the low points, you never lose your curiosity about how it will all come together in the end. So that’s something.

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Fortunately the ability to rouse moderate curiosity is not the movie’s strongest point, not even close. That honor goes to Canadian character actor Stephen McHattie. This is a man who got brutally killed shortly after his introduction in A History of Violence, yet still managed to steal the show. He was more enthralling than ANYBODY has a right to be in Pontypool, which, if you haven’t seen it, you must watch immediately. When he first arrives in Haunter, you only hear his voice. If you’ve ever heard it before, you know instantly that the gravelly baritone speaking from the other side of the family’s front door can belong to no other. He’s a magnetic actor who delivers some really phenomenal lines, including a piece of absolute poetry borrowed from Mark Twain:  “History doesn’t repeat itself. It rhymes.” (The script also features mind-numbing shit like, “We can send this bastard to hell, but we have to do it together!” Maybe McHattie wrote his own dialogue.)

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Added bonus: How does Vincenzo Natali go from the much hyped director of Cube and Splice — both of which are excellent — to this? Not that Haunter is horrible but it’s little more than a star vehicle for a marginal star. It’s nowhere near the sort of stuff a director this talented and should be working on, especially since after 2009’s Splice he was in talks to direct film adaptations of some major properties including Swamp Thing, High Rise and Neuromancer.

Judging a Man By His Strike Package a.k.a Thoughts on Call of Duty: Ghosts

The annual release of Madden ’13 Call of Duty is upon us and I, alongside approximately 1/3 of the planet pick up a copy. So how’d that work out?

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Promo image from Gravity 2: Cruise Control

My first impression of Call of Duty: Ghosts was: “Wow, talk about diminishing returns” and then a red wave of burning hatred blanketed my vision. I’ve never been a huge fan of any of the series campaign iterations* (* exceptions for Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and CoD: Black Ops) and this year seems especially dull & derivative. The shooting guns in space thing felt incredibly gimmicky and far-fetched.  YOU CAN’T SHOOT GUNS IN SPACE.  NOT NOW, NOT IN THE (not-too-distant) FUTURE, NOT EVER.  Yo, did you know you can shoot guns in space? That shit’s crazy.

I then made the radical, for me, decision to completely skip the campaign this year. Radical in the sense that every year I slog through the campaign as a way to become familiar with the weaponry and the terrain while at the same time retraining my twitch skills. Except it’s always an exercise in frustration, as all I really want to do is hop into multiplayer.  Plus, what am I missing? Another nonsense 6-10 hour series of set pieces, explosions and ludicrous plot jumps?  Who knows, ’cause I’m not playing it. Now that I no longer have the luxury of 6-8 hour after work gaming marathons (thanks, life), I’d rather spend my limited time on the aspect of the game that I truly enjoy.

Well, did truly enjoy. Becuase this year, Call of Duty multiplayer suuuuuuuuuuuuuucks.

Or rather, it did, but now I like it.

Or I suck and I’ve just accepted it.  I can no longer tell.

So first off, the complaints:

– The multiplayer maps are F’N HUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGE. They could have easily been split in half and they would still be large enough to run around in and not be on top of other people.  Not that it doesn’t stop me from spawning right in front of opposing players though.  Also, please make sure to make EVERYONE and EVERYTHING is dull brown/grey so it’s impossible to discern the enemy. Thanks.

– Speaking of spawning: I was playing last weekend and got shot, respawned on an exploding IED, then re-spawned right in front of an attack dog. 3 deaths in roughly 1.5 seconds.  FUN and not completely frustrating.

– I’m glad Infinity Ward made a SNIPERS ONLY map (the castle level). Don’t like playing a sniper? Tough.  Crouch in the corner and wait for the timer to run out. Just lie back and think of BLOPS II.

– If your main method of playing involves jump shooting & shotguns, you should be banned from playing forever.

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This x 1,000 every single game

– Falling right back into CoD speak while playing. Don’t worry, you do it too.  See if this sounds familiar:  “Oh, ok…OH, OK…WHATEVER DUDE. DUDE!!! WHATEVER!!!…the fuck…fuckin’….goddamn it….I FUCKING SHOT YOU….DUDE WHAT THE FUCK…..i totally shot him….YEAH, FUCK YOU DUDE! RIGHT IN YOUR FACE!!!…how the fuck did he even see me?…YOU ARE SHOOTING BULLETS HOW DO THEY GO AROUND CORNERS???….i shot that guy right in the head and he didn’t die!…glad that i’m apparently using rubber bullets today….HOW DID YOU NOT DIE?……these fucking dogs….FUCK.THIS.GAME” 

I am sure my downstairs neighbors love hearing me invent, loudly, new phrases involving grief, disbelief and swears.

Things that used to be complaints but I’m now coming around on:

–  Menus & navigating: While I can appreciate the attempt at the depth IW has attempted to add to MP, the menu structure is a NIGHTMARE. But now that I’ve played for 20+ hours, I’ve finally got the hang of it, so I’ve (mostly) made peace with its terribleness. Mostly.

–  Are the weapons kind of shitty this go ’round? They seem interchangeable and boring. Which annoyed me at first but now that I’ve found a weapon I can actually kill people with, I’ve settled down a bit.

– At first glance, the perks and killstreaks were weird and different and I did not like them at all.  And those damn dogs deserve a special place in video game hell, preferably the same place as every terrible water level I’ve been forced to play. But now?  RECON HELO MOTHERHUMPERS. Related: Annoying that it’s so difficult to shoot down the enemy’s flying killstreaks.

– The field orders. Such a weird touch!  I don’t go out of my way to complete them but if I do, i generally end up with a SATCOMM.  Thanks guys.

Things that are good!

– I actually like the extinction mode.  The Treyarch zombie modes NEVER  made sense to me (ok, shoot zombies, yes, but everything else attributed to that mode? Total mystery). I think it helps to play with people who know what they are doing and don’t dies inside of 5 minutes. I don’t think I’ll be playing this all the time, but I’d pop in for a game or so.

– The SA-805; there are many like it but this one is mine.

– The unexpected but delightful team killing & stage altering K.E.M. Strike killstreak reward. I got one from the first crate I ever called in; imagine my dismay when all I’ve ever gotten after that was Satcomms.

– 20+ hours in, and my reflexes are somewhat starting to get back up to snuff. So instead of awful 4 kills/29 death performances, I’m back up in the 13 kills/13-15 death range.

Ultimately, Call of Duty: Ghosts is … a very workman like version of Call of Duty. Maybe next year Treyarch will shock and delight us all with whatever next-gen (when can we stop using that phrase to describe the PS4/Xbox1?) iteration they come up with. Call of Duty: Appomattox? Call of Duty: Das Boot? Call of Duty: Behind the Green Door? Dazzle us, Treyarch!

Leave a comment below if you want to join our clan, the Red Right Hand.  More than just a stolen Nick Cave song title!

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I AM AN ASSHOLE

Friday Night Flix: The Awakening

awakening2Welcome to Friday Night Flix, where there’s never a need to leave the couch or put on pants. Each week I’ll recommend an under-the-radar movie currently available on one or more of the major streaming platforms. They won’t all be classics, but every selection is guaranteed to be 100% watchable or your money back.

As I’ve said before (at length) my goal in this column is to highlight readily streamable movies from outside the mainstream. Any idiot can recommend a big budget movie like Super 8, or suggest a well known cult fave like Evil Dead 2. I aim for things you might not otherwise give a second look. Still, I would be remiss if I didn’t point this out real quick: The Avengers is now available on Netflix Watch Instantly. It has plot holes big enough to drive a flying whale through but I can’t stop smiling every time I watch it. I think I am not alone in wanting to kidnap Joss Whedon and make him love me forever.

awakening4Enough PSA. On to this week’s feature, The Awakening (Netflix, $2.99 on Hulu). I hate to be the bearer of bad news but this is NOT an adaptation of Kate Chopin’s groundbreaking tale of modern feminism. This Awakening has nothing to do with that book at all. The heroine does some pretty sweet Victorian era ghost hunting though, so it’s not a total loss.

awakening1The Awakening is a generally wonderful haunted schoolhouse yarn, made infinitely more appealing by the classiness of its location sets and excellent British cast. (McNulty!) It’s probably because I so rarely leave the confines of ‘Merica (GREATESTCOUNTRYEVER) but somehow British accents make everything more respectable. Real British accents, that is. Elijah Wood and Sean Astin fucking RUINED Lord of the Rings. I bet they both did the St. Crispin’s Day speech for their screen tests.

awakening2In general I had very few complaints. The denouement is a talky, drawn out affair, but completely in keeping with the movie’s emotionless aesthetic. Like most British movies about the paranormal, The Awakening makes blatant overuse of whatever genre tropes happen to be at hand. While mostly inoffensive, in this case that translates into a blurry nine-year-old popping into frame from ever more improbable angles. Surprise! He’s on the ceiling!

Added Bonus: This is my last week serving up the Flix for a spell. I have some vacation time coming to me so I won’t see you bozos again until August. Luckily my MB colleagues have you covered for the next four weeks, starting with good ol’ Kentucky Jay. God help you.

Bedlam: Season 2? Great Britain, You Are On My List.

Oh for crap’s sake. I knew it was coming but I still wasn’t prepared. Sky Living, the British channel devoted to importing the worst American tele-trash, has announced that Bedlam, one of the worst shows I’ve ever seen, is coming back.  I wrote about this show last year and I was really sorry I picked it because after two episodes the rigid formula had me ready to tear my eyes out. It goes something like this:

  1. Introduce ghost of the week.
  2. Introduce random hot 20-something.
  3. People have sex.
  4. Ghost stalks said 20-something.
  5. More sex.
  6. 20-something almost dies but is saved at the last minute by the main cast.
  7. Ghost and 20-something leave never to be seen again.
  8. Repeat.

Then I read that the ENTIRE original cast is gonesville this year, and I got a little hopeful. Those clowns sucked lumpy balls. Their only selling point was frequent bra-and-panty shots and/or rock hard abs.  But look at the top image above – two of the new cast members are slightly less than perfect looking! It’s like a whole new show! PUKE.

What really gets me is not that this is bad genre television (and that it’s still on TV while fantastic stuff like Survivors gets canned). I see that kind of thing all the time without getting my knickers in a twist. What kills me is that this is England’s idea of what it means to make American style television. Every interview series creator Neil Jones gives has some reference to Lost, which is fine and dandy, unless you think that the chief appeal of Lost was a cast of tanned and toned models constantly fighting and fucking one another. It wasn’t, was it?

Then again, maybe the problem is just that Brits suck at judging quality TV just as much as we do. Sky Living’s top shows, quoting the infallible Wikipedia, are:  Ghost WhispererCougar TownCriminal MindsAmerica’s Next Top ModelHot in ClevelandGrey’s Anatomy and Private Practice. A lineup that makes even the most violently unemployed redneck xenophobe sit up and realize there’s far more bringing our two cultures together than keeping them apart.

Sigh. 

 

Olivia Munn Has Tits (And Little Else)

Ostensibly I’m linking to the above video because A) it’s a spot-on spoof of every supernatural thriller trailer from the last five years and B) it’s funny as shit (especially the male lead). But really I’m doing it because I’m a slut for Aaron Sorkin and I have come to love The Newsroom despite its flawed execution, hit-and-miss casting, and over-reliance on its creator’s trademark hyper-intelligent dialogue.

While I’m always delighted to see an FHM-caliber celebrity appear in a whimsical, no-budget genre short, this is really just an excuse to vent about my absolute loathing for poison pill Olivia Munn. This woman, stunning though she is, has zero sense of humor and all the acting ability of a Miss Teen USA contestant. Casting directors need to stop listening to their dicks for once.  American men (myself included) will watch anything that fills out a sweater and skirt combo but gorgeous and game does not a comedic talent make.

Miss Munn has exquisite posture and a Baywatch body. Her face should be carved into marble. But I’ve watched her pretend to be into video games on Attack of the Show and pretend to understand satire on The Daily Show. Now, on Newsroom, I get to watch her shit all over some of the finest writing on television. Munn playing a PhD economist is something akin to Denise Richards playing a nuclear physicist. I’m not buying it. This woman is no C.J. Cregg. Of all the casting errors in Newsroom (sorry, Sam Waterston, I have no patience for whatever’s been going on with your jaw control for the past 20 years) Munn is by far the worst. She is where punchlines go to die. She is the very antithesis of what her character is meant to be. Whereas Sloan Sabbath first and foremost is a brilliant mind that vastly outshines her supermodel looks, Munn’s theatrical abilities are utterly insufficient to escape the black hole of her beauty.

But yeah, the YouTube thing is funny. And, tits.