Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Blu Ray Review: Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead

Chavez (Tamer Hassan) plans on soon leaving the pen, and he’s not waiting for the legal system’s go ahead. He’s got the men and the means, the grit and the determination. There are just a few things standing in his way: the feds, conspiring fellow inmates, and a very ruthless pair of cannibals.

In this third installment to the Wrong Turn franchise, word of a possible breakout reaches the warden of a maximum facility prison. Fearing Chavez will go through with his escape plan, the warden decides to have him relocated to another penitentiary. But en route, the transport goes awry and society’s worst soon find themselves struggling to survive the madness of a backwoods mutant family.

Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead features all the gory violence (and then some) that fans have come to demand from their horror films today, in addition to elements that are quite unusual to the genre. The plot is intricate and multi-faceted, Connor James Delaney provides an adequate script, and character motivations are steady and unchanging throughout.  An overall good ensemble performance is given by the cast (particularly Hassan and Gil Kolirin, who plays the white supremacist Floyd Weathers to a tee), and the flesh-eating locals are at once terrifying and eerily humorous (This last element is actually a running theme throughout the franchise and it is always handled well.).

For those unfamiliar with the Wrong Turn franchise, all three films come complete with plenty of gore, myriad mutilation, and an ever-present air of flesh-eating.  The first installment, released in 2003 and starring Eliza Dushku (Bring It On), centers on a group of young people fighting to survive the hunting games of three murderous backwoods mutants.  Wrong Turn 2: Dead End (2007) offered a similar plot, as the contestants of a reality television show are pitted against a family of cunning cannibals.

As almost all 92 minutes of Wrong Turn 3 take place in the woods and at night, the Blu-ray AC-3 format is ideal for viewing the third installment.  In this widescreen version, featuring an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, not one single gritty detail eludes the viewer, be it beheading or evisceration.  Every grunt and brutal hack of the ax is also splendidly captured by an audio that is presented in Dolby Digital.  DTS surround sound is included, with audio in English, French, and Spanish, as well as subtitles in Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Korean.

Bonus features of the Blu-ray version include both deleted scenes and a sit down with director Declan O’Brien as he talks about the filming of Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead.  O’Brien discusses the stunts in the film, on-set chemistry between cast members, and the series of gruesome traps laid by the film’s cannibalistic star, “Three Fingers.”

Fans of the Wrong Turn franchise will find the third installment to be quite faithful to its origins, while at the same time not being too afraid to venture out and search new ground.  I’d certainly recommend a viewing of this gory chronicle to followers of the franchise, or any horror fan just looking for some bloody good fun.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Movie Review: The Stepfather (2009)

Family is everything and without it we are lost. At least that’s what David Harris (Dylan Walsh) would have you believe. The quintessential family man, David wants more than anything to be a good father, and he will do whatever it takes to attain the perfect family — even if it means killing them.
In this modern-day reboot of the 1980s Stepfather franchise, we come face to face with our monster almost immediately. Within 30 seconds we have him sized up, we know exactly what he looks like. In a genre so heavily concerned with the unknown, The Stepfather and thrillers like it may seem out of place. There are no wretched creatures, no masked and mysterious madman.
No, the terror to be had in these films tends toward an unsettling familiarity. Their monsters are not grotesque, malformed abominations. Instead, they walk among us, wholly undetected, the better ones even managing to charm us. This particular fiend is so near to our common experience that it has readily embedded itself in our very home. Each day we can find it putting on a suit and tie, getting into its SUV, and driving off to the most inconspicuous of desk jobs. And therein lies the horror: it’s already with us.
Dylan Walsh simply embodies his role as the psychopathic everyman. His suspicious stepson is played to a key by Penn Badgley – a very talented young actor that should be looked out for in future films. In fact, the entire supporting cast does a bang up job in reacting to Walsh’s great eccentricities. The script is quality, the pace is good, and the camera work and lighting are spectacular.
For a horror thriller, the underlying theme of this movie was handled astonishingly well. This man is a straight up monster, and yet, for all his atrocities and malevolence, he never strays from his objective. Most horror directors in Hollywood today could really learn a thing or two from Nelson McCormick's work on this film and I highly recommend a viewing of it to anyone ready for a quality addition to the genre. By its end, you might never look at your dad the same way again.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

DVD Review: The Proposal

Facing deportation, a scathing, hard-nosed publicist (Sandra Bullock) and her passive-aggressive assistant (Ryan Reynolds) soon find themselves thrust toward the sacred bonds of matrimony. One needs a groom to stay in the country, the other needs a bride to keep his job. Their plan is simple enough: a quick marriage followed by a quicker divorce. While visiting the to-be in-laws in Alaska, however, these faux-betrotheds soon find themselves questioning their true feelings and the sincerity of this proposal.

The two leads work great together on screen, Bullock dishing out causticity left and right, Reynolds eating it up and resending it with droll subtly (a recurring element in the film which owes to both good writing and a quality performance by Reynolds, himself). Craig T. Nelson and Mary Steenburgen also offer quality, emotional performances as the future in-laws, and Betty White is endearing as wacky grandma Paxton. Some of the lesser supporting roles in this film turn out to be comedic gems and leave the viewer wanting more. Aasif Mandvi, for example, delivers that classic befuddled character we’ve come to know and love from his correspondent work on John Stewart’s The Daily Show.

Bonus features on this DVD version of The Proposal include an alternate ending and deleted scenes with optional commentary by director Anne Fletcher and writer Peter Chiarelli, as well as a funny outtakes-and-antics feature hosted by Mandvi. Viewers are also treated to a sneak peek of numerous productions, including Lost: The Complete Fifth Season, the tenth anniversary special edition of 10 Things I Hate About You, and the upcoming movies Cheri (starring Kathy Bates and Michelle Pfeiffer) and Old Dogs (starring Robin Williams and John Travolta).

This film features everything fans of romantic comedy have come to love about the genre, in addition to dog-hungry eagles, a grammy who is a little too in touch with nature, and one very busy island dancer. I recommend The Proposal to all fans of the genre or anyone just looking for some good laughs.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Movie Review: The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)

In 2004, the action adventure film Flight of the Phoenix was released, starring Dennis Quaid and Giovanni Ribisi.  For all its inadequacies and its rather lowbrow approach, this movie did what it set out to do: excite, thrill, and pepper the screen with a few good-natured laughs.

            All said and done, however, this viewer was disappointed by how embarrassingly short the film fell from its 1965 predecessor, an underrated tour de force starring Jimmy Stewart and Richard Attenborough.  This is the true flight.  This is the proper Phoenix to be regarded by film history – a film that paradoxically threw romanticism into a corner and beat the living daylights out of it.

            As in the 2004 remake, the plot centers on a downed aircraft in the Sahara.  Though most of the dozen or so passengers survive the crash landing, they must face the dire elements of starvation, dehydration, and madness.  Indeed, no contact can be made beyond the dunes, rations are diminishing, and the men are growing volatile, slipping in and out of reason.  Just as hope begins to fade, a member of the party suddenly announces that he is an airplane designer, and he believes the craft can be rebuilt.

            Stewart is captivating as Frank Towns, a disenchanted pilot weighed down by his duty to lead the weary survivors.  All about him in the sand lay examples of just how fragile the minds of men really are.  Hardy Kruger spellbinds in his role as the airplane designer; there is a distance felt between this stoic German figure and the other survivors.  It’s reasons (for the most part) go unsaid, but we know them, all the same.  Lastly, there is Richard Attenborough, whose reaction at the film’s climax, alone, evoked in this viewer a wild cocktail of emotions – humor, hopelessness, disbelief, and outright horror – that is rarely elicited by a film.  Indeed, all three leading cast members offer stellar performances, but the supporting cast should not go without mention, boasting such acting talents as Peter Finch, George Kennedy, and Ernest Borgnine.

This film stands as one of the brightest shining examples we have of action adventure done right. It proves the genre can be an art form.  It can rein in all the fantastic elements that comprise it, that make it what it is.  Ultimately, we are called to regard these men as men, not the heroes of some illustrious desert voyage.  They are painfully mortal and remind us that the mind is perhaps not so strong as we may assume.  Anyone ready for a most undervalued classic simply must watch The Flight of the Phoenix (1965).