‘Holiday Hell’ is Entertaining, but Far from a Masterpiece (review)

A young lady named Amelia is looking for the perfect Christmas present for her sister. She pops into Nevertold, a store that sells oddities and curiosities. As the shop owner (Jeffrey Combs) tells her, every item he sells has a story behind it. I wrote a coming soon article about this movie a while ago, and again I can’t refrain from thinking about this Halloween episode of The Simpsons:

And as she considers various items, he proceeds to tell her the stories. Story one is “Dollface,” which follows a gaggle of teens partying in a house that belongs to the children of two notorious killers on Valentine’s Day. Story two is “The Hand that Rocks the Dreidel,” a tale of Kevin, a boy who on Hanukah is gifted with a golem (that looks more like a ventriloquist’s dummy) which is sworn to protect him. Story three is “Christmas Carnage,” in which a downtrodden pharmaceutical rep (Joel Murray) takes some of his own merchandise and does some bad things. Story four is “Room to Let,” Amelia’s own story about the origin of the ring she wears, which takes place on the winter solstice.

holiday-hell-lg

“This peacock was my great-grandfather.” “I say, that’s a fine how-do-you-do. And who’s that girl standing in the background?” “No clue. I suspect this is a publicity photo.”

The stories are liberally dosed with humor. Or at least I hope that’s on purpose. “Dollface” contains some of the dumbest underage drinkers you’re apt to see outside of a Friday the 13th movie. They spout dialogue like “Your hands are so soft. Literally, just like a baby panda,” and “You know you gotta be knee-high [referring to a blowjob] to get on this ride […] Yeeee-haw!” Not to mention the dumb blonde stereotype yelling “OMG!” every ten seconds. The only likable character is Julie, who can’t talk. At least with her mouth. She’s deaf, and uses sign language. She spends most of her time rolling her eyes and slapping a dude who gropes her. The ending is predictable if you’re paying attention. Actually, that goes for the whole movie. Some of the twists are clever, but for the most part you get what you expect.

HolidayHellDoll-600x325

Only a strange noise in the closet can stop a horror movie teen in the midst of booty

It’s been compared to Creepshow, which is a fair assessment, at least as far as philosophy (not quality). Besides the anthology style, it has at heart the same basic themes as the corny EC comic books from the ‘50s, which included Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror, that also influenced Creepshow. The villains are completely over the top. For example, story two; Kevin is being watched for the weekend by a babysitter who plans to rob his entire house. When he finds out, she imprisons him in his room and tells him how easy it is to cut children, as well as how much she’d like to decapitate him. At least she abstains from ethnic slurs. Naturally the unnecessarily evil villains earn a gory death, while the protagonist revels in their suffering.

The acting isn’t terrible, but a lot of the time the performances feel not quite genuine, a little off. Combs and Murray are seasoned pros, but much of the cast and even the crew are pretty new to filmmaking.

holidayhellbanner

A big sharp knife? How mildly disconcerting.

As far as diversity goes, it’s quite white (of course “Dollface” has a token Black couple), though Julie is a nice touch—her lack of hearing doesn’t advance the plot in any way, which is usually why filmmakers bother with differently abled characters. There is one gay character, Mandy–the one who tries to come on to her friend with the baby panda line–but Sandy (the blonde) reacts by crying OMG and calling her a dyke. It’s far from a sensitive portrayal of unrequited love, but at least Mandy isn’t portrayed as a predatory lesbian. Sandy aside, there are actually a couple of strong, intelligent female characters. Overall, I didn’t not enjoy it. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for something fun and silly.

 

Screen Rant’s “Pitch Meetings” Are Hilarious

Love horror movies, but hate plot holes? Do you delight in a loving parody? Check out Screen Rant’s “Pitch Meetings”! The premise is a screenwriter positing his new idea to a movie executive (both played by Ryan George). They’re movies that already exist, and the writer gets to playfully point out the flaws in said movie; when questioned by the always comically enthusiastic exec, his response is a lazy “I don’t know” or “So the movie can happen,” which is readily accepted as a legitimate answer. But enough jabber, just watch them! It’s super easy, barely an inconvenience! They aren’t limited to horror movies, but I’ve included my favorites: The Sixth Sense, The Ring, and It: Chapter Two.

‘Unfriended: Dark Web’ is Definitely Better Than its Predecessor *No spoilers*

Matias (Colin Woodell, Unsane, The Purge TV series) has a fancy new computer, and the first thing he does is contact his girlfriend Amaya and show off the sign language app he got to help communicate better with her. She blows him off, so he engages in Skype game night with their friends, engaged couple Nari (Betty Gabriel) and Serena (Rebecca Rittenhouse, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)–and yes, they are adorable,

udw1

Soooooo adorable!!!

DJ Lexx, paranoid activist A.J., and British guy Damon (he doesn’t have much character development aside from his country of origin). Meanwhile, Matias finds out that the laptop he “bought on Craigslist” (actually stole from the lost and found box from work) belongs to Charon IV, a kidnapper and snuff filmmaker for hire on the dark web. Charon is not too keen about an interloper using his laptop, so he ensnares Matias and his friends in a deadly game.

It was written by Stephen Susco, who penned The Grudge, The Grudge 2, and the Lucky McKee-directed Red. This is his directorial debut, produced by Blumhouse. The filming is done entirely by webcam, as with the original movie, which I critiqued very grumpily here:

‘Unfriended’: Can I un-pay the money I spent to watch this? (Review)

udw2

Me while writing that review

I found myself liking this one almost right away. Possibly because they didn’t stick to the person-of-color-dies-first trope. Or because Betty Gabriel. Or the diverse characters, whose ethnicities include Black, Indonesian, and Puertorriqueña. I’m also impressed that Stephanie Nogueras, who plays Amaya, is deaf in real life; it’s rare that filmmakers actually bother hiring someone who is genuinely differently abled.

udw3

This one is less disturbing than the first in terms of methods of deaths (no hands in blenders), but I didn’t give a shit about the characters in the original, so in this one the deaths are actually more agonizing. There’s one scene when Matias is afraid of losing Amaya, and he’s frantically signing to her in his crappy ASL, and she can’t understand him, and it’s pretty intense. Also, the action is not supernatural, which, if you skipped the link I put up there, was much of the base of my animosity, because I feel that it’s very hard to make ghosts that use technology anything but ridiculous (except The Ring). This movie feels pretty realistic, actually, because of how topical it is (unlike The Ring). For example, one character gets SWATted–a SWAT team is called to his house after the killer uses recordings of his voice to make a terrorist threat.

Of course the first movie meant to do the same, and it does make some good points about cyber-bullying, but the effect is much diminished by the wackiness. GHOSTS DO NOT MAKE MEMES! Dark Web really hits home about what people are capable of online. Charon frames the main characters (*NOT a spoiler—obvi this killer isn’t dumb enough to lose such an important piece of equipment in a coffee shop) entirely by using their online activity against them. It’s an extreme case of identity theft. He also watches and records them, including an intimate scene between Nari and Serena from before they start the game night, when they discuss how to tell everyone they’re engaged and how their families feel about it.

 

udw4

Good horror makes you paranoid that what’s on the screen can happen to you–hence, it is scary. I am nowhere near concerned that a Facebook-savvy ghost is going to haunt me and my friends, but I might be moved to be a little warier about identity theft or the concept that it’s possible to watch people without their knowledge. (Then again, what I know about hacking into computers you could put in your pocket; it might all be bullshit.) Anywho, check it out if you’re in the mood for hi-tech hijinks, found footage style.

Top Ten Most Ridiculous “Sexy” Halloween Costumes

When you’re a kid, Halloween is all about the (literal) candy. When you’re an adult and can no longer trick-or-treat without facing severe social stigma for not having kids with you, it’s all about the (eye) candy. Women especially are encouraged to show off the goods, with costumes that vary from skimpy to WTF?! I’ve scoured the internet for the latter.

10. Buzz Lightyear

Nothing’s more alluring than a toy who thinks he’s real! If the costume designers are set on binding the woman’s arms to her body, I hope those wings are functional.

costume 2

Image courtesy of forplaycatalog.com

 

9. Jason Voorhies

This one reminds me of the Halloween costumes of my youth, which were plastic smocks with the character’s face on them. I would love to see a foot race between this lady in those go-go boots and Jason, to see who’s faster.

costume 3

Image courtesy of pinterest.com

 

8. Fake News

That dress looks extremely uncomfortable, even if it’s not actually made of newspaper. Interesting placement of the word “Fake.”

costume 4

Image courtesy of themarysue.com

 

7. Poop Emoji

Why? Just…why?!?! If the intent of the sexy costume is to instigate arousal…I can’t even finish this sent—

costume 5

Image courtesy of thispuglife.com

6. Lobster

Outside of a Yorgos Lanthimos movie, lobsters aren’t a desirable form to take. Though she can probably find something interesting to do with those giant fuzzy mitts.

costume 6

Image courtesy of foodandwine.com

 

5. Mr. Rogers

Nothing like a beloved childrens’ icon wearing booty shorts. I can’t decide if this is creepier with or without the wig.

costume 7

Image courtesy of scarymommy.com

 

4. Jellyfish

Nothing says sexy like a cold, gelatinous sea creature. With boobs for eyes.

costume 8

Image courtesy of vox.com

 

3. Crayon

This model is clearly not enjoying impersonating a drawing tool. I don’t know which bothers me more, the off-center hat or the idea that making a short dress out of any random object qualifies it as arousing.

costume 9

Image courtesy of halloweenboom.com

 

2. Beyond Burger

This gal looks like a Dr. Seuss character wearing a fringed potato sack. I’ve looked into the abyss, which is looking back at me–I’m complaining that a woman doesn’t look like a hamburger.

costume 10

Image courtesy of eater.com

 

  1. Gumball Machine

Words fail me.

costume 11

Image courtesy of mtl.com

The Lighthouse is a Seriously Good Watch (review) *No spoilers*

It’s the late 1890s, and Ephraim (Robert Pattinson) is signing up for a one-month gig assisting at the titular (cockular?) lighthouse. Boss of the operation Tom (Willem Dafoe) is a cranky former seaman who’s jealously protective of the light tower. When they’re trapped together by a storm long after Ephraim’s stint is supposed to be over (or not?), rations run low, tempers flare, and the two go mad in spectacular fashion.

1

Epic drum circle time!

 

As I was watching, I thought to myself that a lot of people are going to hate it. It’s written by Robert and Max Eggers, who did The Witch, a challenging and sometimes loathed film. (I liked it. You can read my review of it here: https://addictedtohorrormovies.com/2016/02/19/the-witchis-scary-but-requires-patience-review/.) Like The Witch, it’s a fairly slow burn; much screentime is devoted to showing how repetitious the job is. You can summarize the first half of the movie thusly: Ephraim drags heavy stuff around all day, masturbates. They eat dinner, with Tom insisting on the same toast every night. Tom drinks, passes gas, gets naked on the top floor of the lighthouse. Also, it’s artsy (fartsy, in the case of Tom). For starters, it’s in black and white. There are some scenes that are just plumb off-putting, like Ephraim’s vision of a nude Tom shooting lasers out of his eyes. Or the scene when Ephraim thinks he’s banging a mermaid, but then she suddenly becomes Tom dressed as Neptune–complete with tentacles.

3

Then there’s that

As I was leaving the theatre, I heard someone remark sarcastically, “You’re welcome for me making you go!”

I read on Wikipedia (my go-to for plot summaries to make sure I didn’t miss or misunderstand something) that the critics at Cannes loved it, in particular the cinematography. Eggers used cameras and lenses meant to evoke old-timey photography (thank you, IMDb, my go-to for movie trivia), and the scenery is just gorgeous, especially Robert Pattinson’s ass–sorry, I meant the mermaid boobs–ahem, the ocean. Critics also loved the performances. Actually, both Pattinson and Dafoe are hitting up the Oscars for Best Actor (Pattinson) and Best Supporting Actor (Dafoe). I  was blown away. Dafoe is of course a seasoned professional. I was awed by his soliloquy about how Neptune is going to strike Ephraim down, and also the scene when Ephraim throws him in a hole and starts shoveling dirt on him. Tom is ranting the entire time, and he gets a remarkable amount of dirt in his mouth. And he just eats it and keeps talking. (Dafoe also learned to knit for a scene showing him knitting for maybe a minute.) I knew from Little Ashes (and from never having seen a Twilight movie) that Pattinson has serious acting chops, but he shows here that he’s not afraid to look grizzled, have a mustache full of puke (hopefully fake, but he’s a pretty serious method actor), and slow-dance with Willem Dafoe.

img_2030

Ain’t no sparklin’ here

 

The filmmakers do an excellent job of building tension and creepiness. The score is very primal, with its thumps and whines. Composer Mark Corven used a number of exotic instruments to evoke the sea, including a glass harmonica and a waterphone, as well the technique of friction rubs (even the soundtrack is full of friction!). The ambient sounds, like the foghorn, the whistling wind, and crashing gears, work well to build up the tension. Sometimes the sounds are so loud they’re actually painful. In one scene there’s sudden silence, and I was relieved. The lighthouse set is small, and the shots are tight, often close-ups or medium shots at the most, so the sense of being trapped builds up. The two men share a single (tiny) bedroom. There’s not much of a distinct sense of time. Without much indication to the audience, two weeks have passed. Tom is unreliable, telling Ephraim that he’d been there for much longer than a month. Tom lies, and Ephraim hallucinates, so neither of them are reliable. We hear at the beginning that Tom’s last second in command died, suffering from “doldrums,” thinking he saw mermaids and that the lighthouse was enchanted. Ephraim is not well, and we’re stuck with his perspective, hallucinating along with him. What seems to be reality in the movie is always shifting. The mens’ mental health is symbolized both by the sea, which goes from calm to roiling, and by the state of the lighthouse, which starts off tidy and clean, but when the sea bursts in, becomes flooded and nigh unlivable. By that point, neither man is cleaning; in fact, Ephraim attempts to empty his bladder in a chamber pot floating on the ocean water, misses, then falls in the urine/water and throws up.

Gender is a topic of interest in the movie. Eggers is repeatedly quoted to have said regarding his characters, “Nothing good can happen when two men are trapped alone in a giant phallus.” Indeed, there is a battle for dominance right after Ephraim sets foot in the door. Tom treats him as a subordinate, making him respond to commands with “Aye, sir,” and criticizes his cleaning skills, making him swab a floor twelve times. He also forbids Ephraim from touching the light tower or even going on that level of the lighthouse (despite Ephraim’s manual stating that both wickies tend to it). (So Ephraim respects his wishes and puts it out of his mind. Kidding! Of course he spends much of the movie trying to figure out what’s so great up there, and before long, so do we.) The upper hand is consistently changing. Tom is in charge, but he performs a lot of traditionally feminine habits like knitting, cooking, (nagging) in the traditionally feminine space–indoors. Meanwhile, Tom does all the hard labor outside (the traditional masculine space). During a bout of drunken cuddling, Tom rests his head on Ephraim’s chest. Tom’s shorter, older, and an old leg injury makes him physically weaker.

img_2029

“How’s the weather up there? Still colossally stormy?”

 

The Eggers brothers (and crew, of course) did a massive amount of research to correctly capture the time period. For example, poring over books on seaman slang like, “Well, I’ll be scuppered”. Even the accents–Tom the salty sea dog and Ephraim the Maine native–are painstakingly precise. (When Ephraim hollers at Tom that he hates his flatulence, it comes across as “Goddamn ya faaahhhts!”) Even the lenses on the lighthouse and the use of kerosene lamps to light the set are historically accurate. (Both the tone and the lighting are quite gloomy–in the photo of Pattinson following the third paragraph, that’s not a poor-quality movie still–that’s how dimly lit the shot actually is.) Another antique aspect of the movie is when Ephraim kills a seagull that annoys him. In the sixteenth century poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the narrator kills an albatross out of meanness while at sea, which causes the breeze to die and leave him and the rest of the crew stranded. In the movie, right after the seagull dies, the wind changes and the storm comes. (A slightly newer homage comes in a later scene, when a la Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Tom chases Ephraim with an axe, limping and screaming unintelligibly.)

There are unexpected moments of humor–and not humorous like a talking goat. In one scene, Ephraim drunkenly muses that he’d like some beef: “If I had a steak, I’d fuck it.” Tom replies, “You don’t like me cookin’?” This is moments before Ephraim launches into his Neptune speech and ends with Ephraim, unruffled, stating, “All right, have it your way. I like your cookin’.” Overall, I liked it. I actually couldn’t think of any gripes). Give it a look if you’re in the mood for something thought-provoking and mysterious.

 

The Dead Don’t Die is Darn Delightful! (review)

A small town is forced to deal with a zombie apocalypse. We have the law: Chief Cliff (Bill Murray), Ronnie (Adam Driver), and Mindy (Chloe Sevigny). We have the store owners: hardware guy Hank (Danny Glover) and gas “and stuff” proprietor Bobby (Caleb Landry Jones, here not playing one of his racist-with-a-man-bun characters). We have a trio of kids in juvie: Geronimo (Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Proud Mary), Olivia (Taliyah Whitaker), and Stella (Maya Delmont). We have wacky locals Farmer Frank (Steve Buscemi), Hermit Bob (singer Tom Waits), Danny (genre icon Larry Fessenden), and new coroner Zelda (Tilda Swinton). We have delivery guy Dean (RZA), news anchor Posie (Rosie Perez), waitress Fern (Eszter Balint), and cleaner Lily (Rosal Colon, Orange is the New Black). Plus out-of-towners Zoe (Selena Gomez), Zack (Luka Sabbat), and Jack (Austin Butler, Yoga Hosers. [Wipes sweat from brow] Did I forget anyone?

ddd6

Oh yeah, this guy!

 

The film is written and directed by auteur Jim Jarmusch, best known for his dramedy Broken Flowers. However, he has dabbled in the genre with his vampire love story Only Lovers Left Alive. The trailer for the film is a bit disingenuous; it makes the film look like a frenetic laugh-a-minute like Shaun of the Dead. It isn’t (not that there’s anything wrong with Shaun of the Dead). Which has garnered a few complaints about the movie being boring. The humor is very dry, and the delivery is often deadpan. For example, in one scene, Cliff and Ronnie watch Zelda dispatch zombies with a sword, and comment almost disinterestedly: Ronnie–“Darn, she’s really good with that thing, isn’t she?” Cliff– “She sure is.” Ronnie’s un-profane reactions to surprising situations is one of my favorite things: [Upon seeing an especially gory crime scene] “Oh, yuck.” It takes some getting used to, but it’s worth being patient.

THE DEAD DON'T DIE

This has gotta be cultural appropriation, but Zelda is so damn cool

 

It’s certainly thought-provoking. Zombie movies tend to have, at their heart (and spleen, liver, and various other body parts) something to say about how in some way humans are the real zombies. This film is no exception. The zombies gravitate to the same things (often shallow and unhealthy) that they clung to in life: free cable, candy, wi-fi, Xanax. There’s a memorable cameo by Carol Kane as an undead Chardonnay fan, and one by Iggy Pop as a living dead coffee fiend. Also to be expected in a zombie movie is an environmentalist bent, which this film ddd1

has as well. Fracking is to blame for the dead coming back to life, as well as for animals fleeing and daylight hours becoming erratic–the earth is off its axis. I read on IMDB that Jarmusch believes that teenagers are the future, so one can read a message in the CDC logo on Stella, Olivia, and Geronimo’s jackets, which in the reality of the movie stands for the correctional facility they start the movie in (for reasons that are never explained). Frank (though I don’t understand the symbolism behind making him a farmer) is a dyed-in-the-wool Republican nightmare, complete with a “Make America White Again” hat and a dog named Rumsfeld. When zombies show up at his house, he calls them “goddamn refugees” and hollers, “Get off my property!”

The movie is quite diverse, especially for that fact that it takes place in a Midwestern town with a population of 738. My only gripe about the movie is that everyone in law

ddd4

For every couple of ungodly pale people, there’s a person of color

enforcement is white, and that Mindy is totally useless. All she does is whine and cry and give up. Otherwise, I very much loved it. Check it out if you’re in the mood for humor so dry, the zombies don’t even bleed–they emit black clouds that look like toner. And watch for a cameo by Sturgill Simpson as the guitar zombie–if you don’t know his name now, you will by the end of the movie.

ddd5

 

Top Ten Cutest Halloween Costumes for Babies

It’s tough raising a baby. They cry constantly, eat constantly, and poo constantly. A parent takes one’s joys where he or she can. Like dressing the little bundle of joy in a crazy costume! I’ve scoured the internet for the most adorable ones.

10. Caterpillar

This little love is conveying both confusion and a deep sense of betrayal. But that costume is too sweet!

costume 1

Image courtesy of heavy.com 

 

9. Bob Ross

Now this is a happy little baby! That giant wig is just delightful! I hope no one lets him eat that paint brush.

costume 2

Image courtesy of countryliving.com 

 

8. Avocado

This chap looks as though he or she is deciding whether being a green oversized fruit is pleasing. The exposed tummy standing in for the seed is a nice touch.

costume 3

Image courtesy of todaysparent.com 

 

7. Eleven from Stranger Things

I could do without the fake bloody nose, since babies already have plenty of unwelcome stuff coming out of there as it is, but otherwise how cute is this?! If she’s teething, she can gnaw on frozen Eggos.

costume 4

Image courtesy of coolmompics.com

 

6. Spider

This itsy bitsy spider is so fuzzy wuzzy! And that little pink bow!

costume 7

Image courtesy of demilked.com

 

5. Super Mario

I know I did a cat Mario already, but the baby carrier/portal is too sweet! It must be comfortable; this gent looks pretty peaceful.

costume 5

Image courtesy of tiphero.com

 

4. Narwhal

I’m a sucker for babies with tails. And a horn. This little darling seems to be digging the outfit!

costume 6

Image courtesy of carters.com

 

3. Taco

I love how the costume accommodates this little one’s posture. It doesn’t seem to be slowing her down!

costume 8

Image courtesy of stylemotivation.com

 

2. Black Panther

And you thought Chadwick Boseman was cute! That little hood with ears is just too much!

costume 9

Image courtesy of etsy.com

 

  1. Rosie the Riveter

This little lady looks more interested in her toes than making planes for the war effort, but she certainly is riveting! Ha-HA!

Image courtesy of firstforwomen.com