Monday, October 29, 2012

Paranormal Activity 4

Paranormal Activity 4 is actually the first entry in the series that I've seen thus far. And if the other three are nearly as funny as this one is, then I'm more than willing to go back and give them a shot as well! That's right, from start to finish, this movie is utterly and unintentionally hilarious. All of the "scares" left my theater laughing at the sheer cheesiness, and I at least had a good enough time that this movie's countless number of problems couldn't take away from my enjoyment.

Spoilers ahead, in case anyone honestly cares.

So after a creepy little boy's mother is taken to the hospital, the family who lives across the street takes him in as one of their own. Why this child is just randomly brought in, as opposed to being taken by child services, is beyond me, but let's just go with it! Anyways, after the kid moves in, more and more creepy things start happening at the house, and that's when the fun really begins.

The main girl starts noticing the creepiness, and so she brings aboard her appropriately creepy boyfriend (seriously, it's revealed that he's essentially been watching this girl sleeping via her web-cam, and yet even after this is revealed to her, she's still completely cool with the dude. What?!) to help set up cameras throughout the house to monitor the activity. The thing is, after they spend all this time establishing that they're setting all of this up with the intention to go back and watch the tapes, they never actually do that. The footage goes completely ignored, and for no apparent reason, rendering this major plot point entirely pointless.

Also concerning cameras, I understand the need for them in order to get the whole "found footage" aspect down, though there were several occasions where it just felt awkward. Like, when the girl is just shoving a camera in her mother's face while she's preparing a meal. It's as if everyone is completely cool with constantly being filmed, no matter how inappropriate the setting may be for it. But then, when shit starts to happen, despite it all being captured on film, the family wants to argue that the girl is crazy and just making things up, when they could just as easy watch the damn footage she's been filming and see that she's not lying. Hell, even after creepy crap starts happening to the other members of the family, they still don't wanna give the girl the benefit of the doubt. (Also, random, but I love how there was just a random cat in the movie that would run across the screen at times, who nobody in the family ever once acknowledges, almost as if someone on set just happened to bring their cat to work one day and let him have free reign.)

But going back to the camera, other than inappropriate family moments, there were also times when it was like, seriously, why are you still even holding this thing? Drop the camera and save yourself already! (Though there is one single scene where she actually does just this, as she attempts to break out of a garage.) And again, it's one of those things that's hard to pick on, because I understand the need to get it on film for the sake of making the movie, but still, it really kills any kind of believability factor.

I will say this though, the movie doesn't try to go the cheap rout and throw in jump scares around every corner (though, to be fair, this movie doesn't actually throw in any scares now that I think about it). And it even plays with your expectations of the trope. For instance, there are several times when a character will open the refrigerator, leaving the door blocking out the rest of the scenery. In most horror movies, you'd expect that once the door's shut, something or someone would suddenly appear there to provide a quick startle. However, to this film's credit, they never actually go through with that, which I honestly have to give them kudos on that.

As ridiculous as this movie is, the ending just left me dying with how out of nowhere it was. For one thing, the big finale is a total rip-off of The Blair Witch Project's conclusion, minus any sort of subtlety. And then the final shots turn this ghost movie into some sort of random as hell zombie apocalypse or some crap. Seriously, I don't even know, and the movie did absolutely nothing to suggest that this would be the final direction it was heading towards.

So yeah, technically speaking, this was a terrible movie. And yet, despite it's many, many flaws, I really can't find myself hating on it too much. Because in the end, it was still very enjoyable, even if for all the wrong reasons. Considering that it's supposed to be a serious horror movie, this is a complete and utter failure in that respect. But otherwise, Paranormal Activity 4 is probably the most unintentionally hilarious movie I've seen this year.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Avenged Sevenfold

Last year I wrote about Avenged Sevenfold, mildly touching on some of their older work, but mainly focusing on their latest album, Nightmare. But over the past few months, I actually went back and gave their prior albums a proper listen, and it has changed my perception of this band entirely. I mentioned in my previous post how I wasn't a fan of this band's older stuff due to them mainly just screaming a whole lot, and that opinion was based off of just a handful of songs I had managed to hear. But after sitting down and actually listening to the albums all the way through, I've found that that's not quite the case. And in fact, now I'd go so far as to say that Avenged Sevenfold is up there amongst the more brilliant bands I've heard, and it's mainly thanks to two of their albums that had gone ignored by me until just recently.

Before we get into those, however, let's start from the beginning with their debut album, Sounding the Seventh Trumpet. It's admittedly probably their weakest album, as from what I've heard, there isn't any single song that really stands out and stays with you after it's over. But that's not to say that it's bad. It opens up on a really powerful note with the introductory track, "To End the Rapture", then unfolds with a variety of styles as this band really tries to find their footing. You can tell that it's this band's first album, and it's really one where they set out to establish an identity for themselves. At times it's more of a hardcore metal album, but then their sound changes up a bit into a more upbeat punk sound. So yeah, overall, it's a bit of a mixed bag, though nothing bad by any means, and if an album of this caliber is their weakest, then this band was already doing something right from the get-go.

Their second album, Waking the Fallen, is one of two albums from this band that I would describe as absolutely brilliant. I've even seen this album described by some as being Avenged Sevenfold's "magnum opus", and honestly, I can see where that sentiment comes from. In some ways, this album almost feels like a metal opera. Unlike any other album, this one isn't about the individual songs, but rather, the one experience as a whole that this album presents. Every song just has such a natural flow into the next, like one long, continuous stream, and they all compliment one another so well. That's not to say that there aren't standout songs, there certainly are. For instance, I just love the very blunt chorus in the song "Chapter Four", and the raspy singing portions in contrast to the screaming makes for a satisfying sound in songs such as "Desecrate Through Reverence" and "Second Heartbeat".

The band also at times appears to borrow sounds that are reminiscent to other bands such as Metallica, Misfits, Slipknot, and even Panic! at the Disco of all bands. Yet, they manage to do this while very much maintaining their own unique identity throughout. But where the first album saw the band trying to find themselves, with this album, Avenged Sevenfold has been found. It's actually fascinating listening to this album and witnessing the evolution in process as this band discovers the sound that would go on to define them, and by the end, as the album concludes in a very warped and distorted fashion, we can clearly see that this band is ready to move on to bigger things.

City of Evil, their third album, was my introduction to this band, which I spoke briefly of in my original post, and it was a fine introduction at that. It's probably more similar to their latest album than any other, with songs that range from powerful to somewhat forgettable, but there isn't a single bad song to be found on the album, so that's good. My favorite song is probably "Sidewinder", a longer, super-charged track that sticks out to me mainly because it happens to remind me of Sonic the Hedgehog, with its Robotnik-like military sounding drums and its mechanical guitars, a sound which has been present in a few other songs throughout this band's history, but really stands out in particular with this one. But yeah, I don't have much else to say about this album that hasn't already been touched on, so let's move right along to what I believe is the band's greatest achievement to date.

Avenged Sevenfold's self-titled album, Avenged Sevenfold, is truly just a work of sheer genius. The second album I alluded to that I would describe as brilliant, this album absolutely floored me. It's the album that changed my perspective on this band as a whole, and the album that opened my eyes to the musical genius that this band possesses. Essentially an experimental album, the first few songs are very much your usual Avenged Sevenfold songs, but it's not too long before you realize that this band is up to something different.

"Gunslinger" is the first track that really changes things up, introducing a bit of a country twang to their sound, and acting as a bit of a precursor to their big finale. They follow this up with "Unbound (The Wild Ride)", which immediately captured my attention with an infectious solo that you'd usually find on a guitar but is instead performed for us in beautiful fashion on a piano. In fact, this band uses several orchestral instruments throughout several of their songs, adding a new dimension that really heightens their sound as a whole.

I just love how they decided to change things up, have some fun, and play with so many different sounds with this album. Hell, they even use auto-tune in the song "Lost", and where I'm usually adamantly against the use of auto-tune since it almost always sounds terrible, in this instance, it actually works! And it works very, very well! All these different sounds just compliment each other so much, and it never feels like just a mish-mash of random styles. The album ends off on a high note with their second country rock ballad, "Dear God", but just before that, we're treated to something truly special.

"A Little Piece of Heaven" is unlike anything else this band has done before or since. The guitars go almost non-existent in this orchestrated song that sounds like something straight out of The Nightmare Before Christmas. And following in that style, they even went so far as to actually make an animated video to go along with it, which they play during live performances. Telling a very morbid love story with lyrics that possess a very dark sense of humor, this song is up there with "Save Me" as something I would describe as epic. But this is a different kind of epic entirely. As the story plays out, the song ranges from really dark and haunting, to almost heavenly and uplifting, with violins that really heighten the mood despite such horrible things being sang about. And their drummer even gets in on the singing action with vocals that sound frighteningly demonic. This song is just phenomenal, as is this entire album. It's really something that I never would have expected this band to be capable of, and one of few that I would describe as being a perfect album.

They followed this up with Nightmare, which I have already spoken quite a bit of, though my opinion of it has changed ever so slightly since listening to their other work. While I still maintain that "Save Me" is probably the best song that this band has produced to date, the album as a whole doesn't quite live up. It's still very good overall, with a strong opening and an awesome ending, but it's that middle portion that drags the album down a bit. It's not that it's anything bad, but it's just sort of forgettable is all. Still though, definitely a good album regardless.

So yeah, in case you couldn't tell by now, I've become quite a huge fan of this band. They've yet to release a single bad album, and throughout all the years, despite playing with different sounds, at no point have they abandoned their signature style that makes them who they are. And now I want to end this post by presenting my picks for the top 15 Avenged Sevenfold songs, listed in my preferred listening order as opposed to from best to worst. So check 'em out, and find out for yourself just how brilliant this band really is:

"To End the Rapture" - Sounding the Seventh Trumpet
"Nightmare" - Nightmare
"Beast and the Harlot" - City of Evil
"Unholy Confession" - Waking the Fallen
"Danger Line" - Nightmare
"Chapter Four" - Waking the Fallen
"Bat Country" - City of Evil
"Desecrate Through Reverence" - Waking the Fallen
"Unbound (The Wild Ride)" - Avenged Sevenfold
"Almost Easy" - Avenged Sevenfold
"Lost" - Avenged Sevenfold
"Second Heartbeat" - Waking the Fallen
"Sidewinder" - City of Evil
"Save Me" - Nightmare
"A Little Piece of Heaven" - Avenged Sevenfold

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Seven Psychopaths

Yeah, I wasn't expecting this at all. Seven Psychopaths is made by the same guy who brought us In Bruges, and as good as that film was, he completely ups the ante in every way with this one. Seriously, this film took me completely by surprise by just how good it was.

The premise sees us following Colin Farrell as he's trying to write a movie script about seven psychopaths. Only, he doesn't want it to be just any typical film about psychopaths, with lots of gore and violence, he wants to try to approach it from a different angle, a more peaceful angle. But as he writes, his script essentially begins to come to life, as he finds himself in the middle of an ongoing pursuit involving several actual psychopaths, and it's all over a little Shih Tzu.

The writing is very clever, and defies convention at every turn. The film even goes so far as to point out its own flaws, which in the grand scheme actually manages to strengthen the movie as a whole. The dialogue is just so well written, almost like something out of a Tarantino flick. And the way the story plays out, jumping between Farrell's movie script and the real world, was smoothly implemented, very stylized.

I also don't think I've ever laughed so hard at such brutal violence in a film before. This film gets really bloody really quickly, and yet almost every single time a gun is fired and leaves a bloody mess behind, it's done in such a hilarious manner that you can't help but laugh at it. This is a really dark comedy in that sense, but the comedic timing is just spot on throughout.

But more than anything, this film is a showcase of some phenomenal performances from its ensemble. Colin Farrell gives another good outing, but he's really overshadowed by the cast around him. Woody Harrelson was a blast, playing the main antagonist of the movie who is madly in love with his pet dog. And Christopher Walken delivers probably his best performance in years. But the real star of the show was Sam Rockwell, who just killed it in every single scene that he's in. He plays Farrell's crazy best friend, who wants nothing more than to see Farrell succeed in his endeavors, even if it means putting everyone in some ridiculously deadly situations. I mentioned the dialogue of this movie, but Rockwell definitely has the best lines in this thing, and a lot of that really comes down to his awesome delivery. He just gets so into his character, he's just an absolute nut.

Seriously, Rockwell deserves an award for his performance. And in fact, I really hope that this film doesn't go overlooked come awards season, because this was definitely a legitimately great movie, and one that deserves some recognition. From start to finish, this film impressed, and everything gets tied neatly together by the movie's end. So yeah, this definitely shouldn't go missed.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Velcro's Leviathan Giveaway!

So I'm running a book giveaway where you have the opportunity to win Scott Westerfeld's entire Leviathan Trilogy in addition to an autographed copy of my own book, Velcro: The Ninja Kat.

I feel that fans of the Leviathan series would find much to like about Velcro: The Ninja Kat, and so I'm giving you all the chance to check it out and see for yourself. 10 winners will receive their choice of any 1 book in the Leviathan series, along with a signed copy of Velcro: The Ninja Kat, and one grand prize winner will receive all three books in the Leviathan series to go with their signed copy of Velcro: The Ninja Kat!

To enter, simply visit and follow the instructions. I hope you do enter, and please pass this along to anyone you feel would be interested in this giveaway!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Resident Evil: Retribution

Oh my, this movie was special. Paul W.S. Anderson has quite the imagination, and he lets it go wild in this latest Resident Evil movie. Tying in ideas from the previous four movies and improving on them in inventive ways, this is probably the most creative entry in the series to date.

Warning, there'll be a few spoilers in this review.

The movie starts off in style as it opens with an action scene played out in super slow motion. But wait, it gets better. Not only is the scene in slow motion, but it's also presented to us entirely backwards. Because why not? But it's quite the spectacle, and it's especially neat to then see it played out like normal just moments later and watch as it all unfolds in just a matter of seconds.

Picking up right where we left off in the last movie, Alice, played by Milla Jovovich (aka, Mrs. Paul W.S. Anderson), is trapped inside a secret base where the Umbrella Corporation (ie, the most pointlessly evil corporation in the history of anything) undergoes various scenarios to try and keep the zombie outbreak under control. It's not too long before Alice is forced to make allies out of enemies in order to escape, and interesting secrets begin to emerge around every corner as they make their way through the base.

Where the last movie kind of abandoned the idea of a clone army that was introduced at the end of the third movie, this one resumes that idea and uses it to bring back characters who had been previously killed off. It was especially nice to see some of the characters and sequences from the first movie revisited. And likewise, fixing more issues from the last movie, the use of slow motion is much more reserved this time around. The opening scene aside, there aren't any action scenes that are shown entirely in slow motion just to try and show off the 3D effects, which is something I was a little worried about going in.

Really, this movie just makes me want to go back and rewatch the other movies. For instance, the opening sequence from the last movie is redone here in the form of a simulation, which results in the first major martial arts sequence where Alice gets to show off her moves (you'd never know that she supposedly lost her powers in the last movie!). The action scenes are impressively shot and a whole lotta fun, even if they do tend to go on a bit too long near the end. But really, this movie doesn't play around. There were more than a few instances where I was caught off guard by something, which I'm definitely able to appreciate nowadays.

I love how this movie just gives no shits when it comes to the absurdity level of the action scenes. It really is almost like watching someone playing a video game at times, which is very appropriate. Alice is flipping around all over the place, laying waste to zombies left and right, and by the end of the movie, everybody gets their shot to show off their guns. Hell, there's even a scene where Alice instructs Michelle Rodriguez's character on how to point and shoot a gun, and follows it up by proclaiming that she's now a bad ass. This movie is just so satisfyingly self aware in that respect.

I also got a huge kick out of the musical choices at times. Barry gets to go out to random Inception music, and we get to hear a very familiar sounding kung-fu western type of music during the final duel between Alice and Jill. In anything else, these musical choices might have irked me, but their cheesiness complimented the cheese on screen so well that it just worked.

So yeah, Resident Evil: Retribution was a fun movie, and as I've said, I loved the way that it played with ideas introduced in prior movies that had previously felt like missed opportunities. I haven't even begun to scratch the surface with the way the story plays out due to not wanting to spoil too much (hell, what little I've already explained almost feels too spoilerish), but I'll just say that this movie really impressed me with its creativity, and actually left me itching to get started on another new movie project of my own. So if you liked the other movies, then there's definitely something here for you to enjoy. And if not, well, lets face it, you were probably never gonna watch this movie anyways!