Category: Movie Reviews

Mission Park: Douglas Spain Discusses New Action Thriller

MissionParkIn today’s world, most independent films aren’t able to achieve independent distribution directly with an actual theater, but Mission Park is the proven exception. AMC Theaters loved writer/director Bryan Ramirez’s film so much that they decided to distribute the film independently in several of their big city theaters.

Mission Park will be released in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago on September 6th, 2013. The film has already won the Best Narrative Feature, Best Direct and Best Acting Performance (Walter Perez) awards at this year’s Boston International Film Festival and the Special Jury Prize at the World Fest Houston International Film Festival.

Mission Park stars Jeremy Ray Valdez (Walkout), Walter Perez (The Avengers), Fernanda Romero (Drag Me to Hell), Joseph Julian Soria (Crank: High Voltage, Filly Brown), and Wil Rothhaar (Battle Los Angeles).

Written by Bryan Ramirez and produced by Spirit Award Nominee Douglas Spain, Mission Park tells the story of the ambitions of four childhood friends who land on opposite sides of the law. Rookie FBI agents Bobby (Valdez) and Julian (Rothhaar) must go undercover to face their hidden pasts in an attempt to bring down their “best friends'” (Perez, Soria) criminal organization. The film also features performances by Vivica A. Fox, Will Estes and Sean Patrick Flanery.

Although made up of a predominantly Latino cast, it’s the storyline of Mission Park that takes center stage. One that will keep you on the edge of your seat right to the very end. It’s a testament to Ramirez’s creativity and the ambitious mind of Spain in helping to bring the vision to life. Mission accomplished!

I spoke with Spain about Mission Park and the film’s AMC distribution. He also lets us in on a surprise announcement for the people of San Antonio (where Mission Park was filmed).

How did you get involved with Mission Park?

I’m originally an actor and was working on a film in San Antonio several years ago when Bryan approached me with the script. It immediately caught my attention and after I read it, I fell in love with it. The fact that he had written these wonderful, rich characters that were both American and Latino just inspired me. It’s a rare piece of material that doesn’t come around very often in Hollywood. I gave Bryan a letter of interest as an actor and asked him to give me a call when he was ready to move it forward.

Unfortunately, he didn’t have a producer at the time, so the script sat around for a while. I had already done a few years of “behind the scenes” work producing and directing my own short films and since I really loved the piece and wanted to help Bryan execute his vision, I said “If you’re willing to give me a chance to produce, I’ll run with it!” And I’ve since been running with the script, story and movie all the way to the theaters on September 6th.

What are some of the challenges of being a producer as opposed to an actor?

There are so many because as a producer, you’re overseeing every single department. From casting to wardrobe to even the locations where you shoot. I already had experience with that from doing short films, but this was a hundred times more than what I had done previously. Doing those short films prepared me for what I had to do for this one. It came very second-hand, since I already had those skills in me.

What was the filming process like?

I loved being on set. The energy we created was amazing. We had a lot of wonderful moments and an amazing bond with the cast and crew. The thing is, we were all there collaborating on a movie to entertain the world, so we should have fun doing it.

How would you describe the story of Mission Park?

It’s a story between good and bad and the choices that we as individuals make in determining which path in life we choose. The four main characters in the film walk on both sides of the law and end up meeting when they’re older and confronting each other over the paths they’ve chosen. It’s an action/thriller with an indie infrastructure. It also has a mainstream flair because it was shot so brilliantly.

Tell me a little about the AMC Theaters distribution of the film.

There aren’t many proven successful films with a predominantly Latino cast, so it was difficult to find a distributor to take on the challenge of marketing this type of film. In the end though, it’s all about the story and avoiding stereotypes. Our co-producer, David J. Phillips had a contact over at AMC. They’re creating a division just for independent cinema. One where they allocate a certain percentage of their theater for screening independent films. They saw the film and knew that Mission Park had a winning chance and offered us this opportunity.

Douglas Spain
Douglas Spain

What’s next for Mission Park?

Because AMC only has one location in San Antonio [which unfortunately wasn’t available]; another theater chain local to the area, Santikos Theaters, has come on board to screen the film in four of their primary locations. So, as a gift to our fans in San Antonio, we’re opening the film one day before the rest of country, on Sept 5th.

We also have some screening interest from Maya Cinemas in Salinas, Bakersfield and Pittsburgh as well. It’s a moving train, but we’ve all done a lot of work to get it on the track and now it’s beginning to roll!

What satisfies you the most about Mission Park?

Usually, producers will just see the film through to completion and that’s it. But for Mission Park, we’re all handling the marketing and PR ourselves because we really believe in it. It’s much more than just a “Latino” film. We never go out into the world and say “This a Latino project.” We go in trying to tell a story and do the best we can to convey that story accurately and entertainingly. Although we’re very proud to be Latino, it’s the story that really connects with people. It should always be about the story first.

Mission Park opens September 5th in San Antonio, TX at the Santikos Theaters and September 6th at the AMC Theaters in LA, Chicago and New York.

For more information on Mission Park, check out the official website and Facebook

Movie Review: The Rambler

TheRamblerWhen I was growing up in the 1970’s, I remember my grandfather taking us kids to the drive in movies on Saturday nights in his 1964 AMC Rambler. I have a lot of good memories of my cinematic experiences with my elderly patriarch; sitting within the confines of his green machine and gorging on buttered popcorn and Pepsi. So you can imagine the nostalgic glee I had when the time came to review the new Calvin Lee Reeder film “The Rambler”. But in this particular case, the title refers more to a drifter (Dermot Mulroney) and not to Granddad’s car.

The film begins innocently enough. “The Rambler” has just been released from prison and is waiting for his girlfriend to pick him up. After finding himself kicked out off her house and being forced to sleep in a junkyard, he receives a letter from his brother in Oregon asking him to join him as a farm hand on his ranch.

Thus, with nothing more than the clothes on his back, a pack of butts, guitar and a desire to start a new life, “The Rambler” begins  hitchhiking west. Which is pretty much where any sense of rationality seems to end.

Mulroney, who bears a striking resemblance to a young Mel Gibson with his cowboy hat and shades, is seemingly oblivious to the events he encounters along the way. Whether it’s becoming an assistant to a dream recording scientist (James Cady); hanging out with a woman who disappears over and over again (Lindsay Pulsipher) or being witness to exploding heads, blood, monsters and an obese boxer with a hook for an arm; he just goes with the flow. Where this sort of thing would be an obvious cause for concern to any rational person, “The Rambler” seems more content to just light up another cigarette.

At times, it’s difficult to describe what writer and director Calvin Lee Reeder had in mind for his dream-sequence movie. Instead of being a film with a set purpose, “The Rambler” feels more like several “Twilight Zone” short stories; none of which having any sort of beginning or finite end. Rather, the film feels like one big circle of itself from point A right back to point A again.

Reeder is known for his uniquely wild style of film making, but everything that “The Rambler” encounters just seems to happen, with no real reason or time for absorption. It’s this lack of continuity that left me feeling a bit empty.

Overall, the film combines elements of dark comedy, sci-fi and horror; and had a few sequences that really piqued my interest. In particular, the build-up to seeing if the dream recording machine would actually work and whether or not “The Rambler” could beat an alternate universe “Butterbean”  like boxer. But even when both of these issues were finally resolved, I was still left with more questions than answers.

I’d like to say that watching “The Rambler” made me long for those days when Granddad took the kids to the movies. Sadly, it did not. But if campy, over the top sequences of blood and apathy are your thing, and you enjoy watching multiple cigarettes being lit up then this film is certainly worth a view.

Depending on your interest and tolerance level for the aforementioned film types,The Rambler” will no doubt be a different experience for every viewer; which is perhaps what Reeder had in mind all along.

The Rambler will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on June 25th, 2013

Movie Review: Dark Skies

DarkSkies“Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”

Written and directed by Scott Stewart, Dark Skies begins with an eerie quote from British author and futurist Arthur C. Clarke and goes on to suggest that there is no pending alien invasion. The fact is, they’ve been here among us all along.

Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton play Lacy and Daniel Barrett, a suburban middle-class couple whose peaceful existence is shattered when their family becomes the target of a terrifying, unknown force.

Daniel’s been recently let go from his job as an architect and has been struggling to find work, leaving Lacy (a real-estate agent) as the sole bread-winner trying to sell houses in an already volatile market.

Adding to the stress, son Jesse (Dakota Goyo) is in full pubescent mode; dabbling in watching soft core porn and keeping company with an older malcontent. While youngest son Sam (Kadan Rockett) seems to be content with just trying to rehabilitate an injured lizard.

But it’s not until something begins rearranging items in the Barrett’s kitchen, scaring Sam and setting off the burglar alarm that the family realizes something is wrong. This is followed by rumors of being visited by “The Sandman”, unexplained blackouts, bruises and flocks of birds dive-bombing the family home. Then there’s the discovery of a creepy child drawing which only reinforces the true horror of the unknown.

The question as to whether or not the family is alone is finally answered when the Barrett’s reach out to paranormal expert Edwin Pollard (J.K. Simmons), who himself has been tormented by the same alien beings.

There are quite a few homages to past horror/suspense classics scattered throughout Dark Skies: including kitchen rearrangement (Poltergeist); child communication with the unknown presence (The Shining) and cameras throughout the house (Paranormal Activity). But regardless of paying tribute to old hat, Dark Skies shines on its own by relying more upon the build up of tension and less on the standard “boo” pablum.

It’s the emphasis of the Barrett’s vulnerability that makes the supernatural events they experience all the more real. And as could be the case with any typical 21st century family faced with financial crisis, one has to take into consideration whether or not Clarke’s argument is really valid after all.

Dark Skies is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray. Special features include feature commentary with writer/director Scott Stewart as well as an alternate ending.

Beside Her: Watch Now and Vote!

BesideHerYou’ve been hearing me rave about Director Carrie Carnevale’s short film Beside Her; a love story and fictional portrayal of the true human condition. Now here’s your chance to see the film for yourself.

‘Beside Her’ is part of the FirstGlance Short Online Contest powered by FESTIVAL GENIUS.  A competition where YOU get to choose the winner.

34 short films are in competition for over $2000 in prizes and the opportunity to premiere at FirstGlance Film Fest Philadelphia in October 2013! Anyone who registers on the FirstGlance website is eligible to watch and vote. The contest runs April 15th – May 14th. You are limited to only vote per day, per short film.

I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Carrie as well as all of the actors from the film: Ashley Watkins, Erika Flores and Owen Conway. Check out my article below then head over to watch and vote for Beside Her!! Help support independent film making and the amazing cast and crew who did such a beautiful job on this short.

Click Here To Watch Beside Her


While watching “Beside Her”, you quickly forget that the lovers you see on-screen are female and become more enthralled with the deep love and connection they both share with each other.

Along with the amazing talents of actors Ashley Watkins , Erika Flores and Owen Conway, director Carrie Carnevale delivers a film that contains all of the elements that make up a great story: there’s love, tension, drama, passion, suspense and even a twist in the end for good measure!

But Beside Her is much more than a love story between two women. It’s a beautiful film about the human condition and the deep connection we all share but are often oblivious to.

Beside Her tells the story of Dr. Rachel Moretti (Ashley Watkins) and Sofia Rios (Erika Flores) and how, in one brief moment in time, their love for each other is measured beyond the norms of their everyday lives.

Carrie Carnevale 

Tell me a little bit about the film’s origin.

CC: I wanted to write a story about the human connection; about the ways in which human beings connect with each other. Whether it be someone you’re dating, someone you’re married to, family, friends or even strangers; we’re all connected all the time. The problem is we tend to get distracted by the hustle and bustle of everyday life, that sometimes we forget that.

I wanted to concentrate this story on two people who are in a relationship because I think that type makes for a very complex and compelling situation. There’s an unspoken connection that two people in love share with each other that makes the connection a lot deeper.

Were you concerned at all about the content and subject matter of a love story between two women?

CC: No, not at all. Even when people initially read the script, they were glad to see that it was a story about love rather than a story about being gay. Showing that gay or not, love is love and we all have those same feelings of connectedness.

The musical score for the film is amazing. It perfectly complements the love scene and the ending as well.

CC: It really does. The song we chose for those scenes are an absolute match. Lyrically, it’s great and the mood it sets is just so powerful and amazing.

How did you get started in film making?

CC: I’ve always had a love for film making. I went to film school and spent time in the independent scene in the San Francisco Bay Area. Because of those years of work, I was able to learn so much about day-to-day production. I learned what to do and what not to do.

Along the way, I met some fellow artists who would hire me to work on their pieces, which I was honored and proud to do. In the past couple of years I felt it was time to start telling my own stories and producing my own projects and Beside Her was my first and I could not be more proud.

Ashley Watkins (Dr. Rachel Moretti)

It’s a project where it was the right time and the right place. Everything about it just felt natural!

ashleyHow would you describe Beside Her?

Ashley Watkins (AW): It’s a story about love and that intuitive connection we all have and listening to it.

We all go about our lives every day not really paying attention to that “little turn in your stomach” or the “ring in your ear”. It’s instinct.

What attracted you to this role?

AW: I’m very supportive and totally believe in equality for everyone. As an actress, there are no limits to the types of roles that I’ll play as long as I’m portrayed respectfully, and/or not exploited. If I can play something that emphasizes the common good for people and it’s something that I believe in, I love to do it. I was fortunate to get the opportunity to do that with this project and Carrie just has so much passion for the film.

Erika Flores (Sofia Rios)

It’s a story about two people who have a strong connection and in the end, there’s a twist. You don’t expect the ending at all.

erikaWere you concerned at all about the subject matter?

Erika Flores (EF): No, not at all. I like portraying raw, challenging characters. I loved the idea of being connected and really showing the relationship.

What was it like working with Carrie on her first short film?

EF: It honestly didn’t feel like it was her first film, because the entire process was professional and handled so well.

What did you like most about the experience of filming Beside Her?

EF: Challenging myself with this role was fun. I also loved the location in Malibu where we shot my scene. That was beautiful.

If you had to briefly describe the story of Beside Her, what would it be?

EF: It’s a slice of life between two people and the relationship that they share. How their connection is so powerful that they can actually feel each other.

OwenConwayOwen Conway (Jeffrey)

What attracted you most to the role?

OC: It was a role that I really wanted to play. Jeffrey is a heavy character with a lot of desperation. It’s not something that you get to play very often.

Tell me a little bit more about Jeffrey.

OC: Jeffrey is a “street” person who definitely has some issues.

But the thing that struck me the most about him was the fact that he’s so young. For him, it’s just about survival.

What was the experience of filming Beside Her like?

OC: The entire shoot was fantastic. I remember seeing the final product for the first time at a screening a few months ago and being really moved by it. The whole thing came together beautifully.

For more info on Beside Her, check out 17films Facebook page.

Movie Review: The Frankenstein Theory

FrankensteinPart found footage, part documentary and part Paranormal Activity meets Blair Witch, ‘The Frankenstein Theory’  uses the monster story as the backdrop for an expedition into terror.

Based on the assumption that the classic Mary Shelley novel was really a work of non-fiction, John Venkenheim (Kris Lemche); a descendant of the scientist involved in the original project and now a disgraced and desperate intellectual, funds a quest to the Arctic Circle in an attempt to locate the long lost creature.

Together with a documentary film crew (Heather Stephens, Brian Henderson and Eric Zuckerman), the team meets with a French-Guide (Timothy V. Murphy) who takes them deep into the arctic wilderness where below freezing temperatures, night vision cameras and malevolent cries in the night are just the beginning of the horror that’s in store for them.

Although the notion of the Frankenstein novel being a work of non-fiction may seem a bit far-fetched, by the time the real expedition begins, you as a viewer have already become so caught up in the characters that not only does the idea suddenly sound plausible, but any doubt you have about the creature’s existence is quickly forgotten in your own quest to learn the truth.

Writer and director Andrew Weiner has spent a tremendous amount of time researching the subject and the results show. “If we’re going to operate under the assumption that this event actually happened” Weiner says, “then the question becomes, how could it have happened? I spent a lot of time studying both the novel and Mary Shelley as well as researching 18th and 19th century medical books. Much of what you see in this film (in terms of the research I introduce) is real.”

The characters within the film are believable. From the obsessed and oftentimes whiny Venkenheim to the comedic antics of the film crew on their journey to the North Pole, there’s enough humor mixed in with the horror to keep the story interesting and moving.

Frankenstein purists who might see this film as “blasphemous” should keep in mind that even Shelley herself rewrote several parts of the original story in subsequent editions and often referred to it as the progeny she gave to the world. But “The Frankenstein Theory” is not a remake; it merely uses the classic novel as the backbone of the story.

Horror films are designed to be scary, but aren’t very interesting if that’s all they have to offer. Where ‘The Frankenstein Theory’ really succeeds is by taking the idea of a mundane existence and posing the question, “What if?” By the time you realize the truth, you’re so heavily invested that the answer no longer really matters.

There’s a lot of nuance and details about movies that can easily be missed, and if you’re an observant watcher of ‘The Frankenstein Theory’, there are a few little gems hidden within that can be found with subsequent viewings.  It’s something I  highly suggest you do.

Movie Review: Shadow People

ShadowPeopleThe phenomenon of SUNDS (Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome), and the belief that malevolent creatures may be to blame is the basis of the new film, Shadow People. Written and directed by Matthew Arnold, the film stars Dallas Roberts; whose current tenure on the AMC hit TV show “The Walking Dead” is sure to garner interest from horror fans, and rightly so.

Roberts plays Charlie Crowe, a small town radio personality and divorced father trying to juggle his fledgling radio career while attempting to re-establish a relationship with his estranged son.

When Crowe receives a strange call on his radio program one night from a young man fearful of the Shadow People and subsequently dies, it sets into motion the possibility that not only could these manifestations be real, but the story itself could also be news worthy enough to be his golden ticket to the big time. Together with CDC Agent Sophie Lancombe (Alison Eastwood), the pair begins an investigation which ultimately uncovers a dark world and decades long cover-up.

Shadow People explores the actual historical evidence of SUNDS and the real phenomenon of an inverse placebo effect, where the mind can actually kill the body through false belief. Backed by real archival footage from a suspected outbreak which occurred in Kentucky, it uses the “found footage” approach to film making in a new and exciting way by intertwining the story along with actual, real-life participants.

“Shadow People” also stars Anne Dudek (“Mad Men,” White Chicks), and Mattie Liptak (Quarantine 2, The Candy Shop).

What I liked: I enjoyed the mixing of news footage with real world interviews within the context of the story. The combination worked well in not only establlishing the possibility that Shadow People might actually exist, but also calls into question the true power of the mind.

The SUNDS  phenomenon and Shadow People are both interesting topics that have been around for centuries. In Persia they’re called “Bakhtak.” In Japan, they’re the “Kanashibari.”; and in Mexico they’re called the “Subirse el Muerto”. Victims have reportedly been awoken from their sleep to find themselves paralyzed and a noise buzzing in their head while a shadowy figure stands and watches them. Some experts believe that these “appearances” may be tied to SUNDS.

What I didn’t like: Although the combination of footage and interviews is both welcome and appealing, it’s over saturation tends to become confusing and drawn out after a while.

Bottom line:  Although the film tends to drag a bit at times, Shadow People is a film which nicely brings to light the subject of SUNDS and has enough scares and mystery to hold your interest for it’s 88 minute run time.

Shadow People (Rated PG-13) will be released on Blu-ray / DVD on March 19th.

“Mimesis” Pays Homage To Zombie Classic

mimesisIt was English cleric Charles Caleb Colton who once said, “Imitation is the sincerest of flattery”. Truer words could not be spoken, especially when it comes to horror films.

In “Mimesis”, a group of die-hard horror fans attend a horror convention and are subsequently lured to an “exclusive party” at a remote farm.  While there, the group is drugged and upon awakening find themselves smack dab in the middle of a reenactment of one of the greatest genre films of all time: a real life version of the classic 1968 George Romero film, “Night of The Living Dead”.

As the “movie” plays on, a group of psycho villains (dressed up as the walking dead) keep the seven unwilling participants terrorized inside of the farmhouse and kill them if they try to escape.While the original black and white version of the film plays in a non-stop loop on a small television set, it quickly becomes a battle of survival as the group tries to plot their escape. Mimesis stars Allen Maldonado, Lauren Mae Shafer, Taylor Piedmonte and Jana Thompson. Directed by Douglas Schulze, the film also contains original music composed by Diego Navarro.

As a “mid-tier” horror fan myself, I especially enjoyed the fact that the film also featured genre favorites Courtney Gains (Children of the Corn) and Sid Haig (Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, House of 1000 Corpses). Both actors have small roles in this film but none the less bring “street cred” with their performances. In fact, it’s Haig himself who actually explains to us the definition of Mimesis (“imitation, mimicry”).

The film also contains a cameo by original “Night of the Living Dead” star, Bill Hinzman bringing the elements of the past and present together nearly forty-five years after the original film.

“Mimesis” may be an odd title for a horror film, but it’s a fun ride that pays homage to a classic, and that makes it a ride worth taking.

“Mimesis” releases February 12th, 2013. Bonus features include audio commentary with Director/Co-Writer Douglas Schulze and Co-Writer Joshua Wagner.

Actress Lindsey Shaw Discusses New Film, “Love Me”

love meSixteen-year-old Melissa Kennedy has been missing for almost three months, and the town of Ridgedale is starting to become unglued. Meanwhile, Sylvia Potter (Lindsey Shaw) wants badly to be in love. That’s when quiet, rich kid Lucas Green (Jamie Johnston) transfers to Hampton Prep and sparks begin to fly. But, what begins as a simple love story soon takes a major twist as police begin investigating Lucas’ involvement in the Melissa Kennedy case.

“Love Me” stars Lindsey Shaw (“Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide”, “Pretty Little Liars”), Jamie Johnston (“Degrassi: The Next Generation”), Jean-Luc Bilodeau (“Baby Daddy”), and Kaitlyn Leeb (Total Recall).

Aside from the mystery and intrigue involved as we discover what’s happened to Melissa, it’s the little things in “Love Me” that actually make this film work for me. Whether it’s the “old fashioned” elements like Sylvia working at a classic movie cinema, friends hanging out on campus or at a diner, the longing to find a meaningful love or the relationship Sylvia shares with her mother, there are human qualities to the characters that make them easy to relate to.

Its also worth noting Shaw’s amazing performance in the film. Her portrayal of Sylvia Potter is refreshing as she runs a roller coaster of emotion as a girl who yearns above all else to be in love. “Love Me” only solidifies Lindsey as an actress on the rise and one that can easily carry a film.

I had the chance to speak with Lindsey about her role and what she liked most about “Love Me”.

What attracted you most to this role?

I really like the genre. When I was younger, I liked a film called “Fear” with Mark Wahlberg and Reese Witherspoon. I loved Reese’s character and that’s what I saw Sylvia Potter as in this script. Along that same story line. There’s something about the twist of love story that really gets me. There were also so many unique elements that you don’t see in teenage love stories. It’s old-fashioned in a way, which was something that I really loved.

There was a lot of chemistry between you and Jamie Johnston (Lucas Green).

Jamie and I are total opposite people on every single front, but I think that helped each of our characters. We really took the time to get to know each other and some of that “first phase” awkwardness really comes across well on-screen. In the movie, Sylvia and Lucas are nothing alike and yet, as soon as they see each other something sparks within them. It was very cool.

How would you describe the story of “Love Me”?

It’s a love story that takes a really dramatic turn when you realize that one of the lovers is actually caught up in his own love triangle. It’s a crazy love story with some murder on top.

Several of your scenes are very emotional. Where do you draw inspiration from for those kind of moments?

It comes naturally. Just being there in the moment and breaking down the scene and the elements. Those kind of emotions are things we all can go through inside. 

What did you like most about the movie?

I really liked the anticipation and the intense feelings before the drama occurs (like the scenes where she’s at the diner). That whole “first love” feeling. It’s naive but beautiful at the same time. That was fun to portray.

What’s next for you?

A horror film called “No One Lives”.  It’s directed by Ryûhei Kitamura and should be released in the next few months.

“Love Me” is available now on Blu-Ray and DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment and include the following featurettes: “Behind the Scenes” and “Stories from the Set.”

Article first published as Actress Lindsey Shaw Discusses New Film, “Love Me” on Technorati.

Movie Review: The Hobbit

hobbitI need to let you know ahead of time that there may be a bit of bias in this review. I will try to be as objective as possible but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t already a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings. It’s fair to say that Peter Jackson’s three prior films were the best telling of the trilogy that I’ve ever seen. Just the mere fact that The Return of The King garnered the Oscar for Best Picture tells you that I’m not alone in my way of thinking.

So needless to say, when it was FINALLY decided that Jackson would be directing The Hobbit the little boy inside of me was overjoyed. All of my days of playing Dungeons and Dragons were coming back again! YAY! And when Ian McKellen signed on to reprise his role as Gandalf The Grey well, this movie immediately became a must see for me.

The Hobbit tells the tale of Bilbo Baggins, a halfling who gets recruited to go fight a dragon and reclaim a lost treasure. A simple story yes, but one that also prefaces one of the greatest trilogies in literature.

If you’ve never seen nor read any of Tolkien’s books, I’d urge you to watch the Lord of The Rings trilogy before seeing The Hobbit. Not only will you have a better understanding of this film, but you owe it to yourself to see (in my opinion) three of the best movies ever made.

I’ve decided to start this review by first telling you what I didn’t like about it. Yes, there were a few things that bothered me. But nothing that should keep you from seeing it.

It’s been nearly ten years since Peter Jackson last took me to Middle Earth. After watching The Hobbit, I now want to dust off my old twenty-sided dice and go on a own quest for gold myself again! So, as I light up my pipe and blow smoke rings,  I salute you Mr. Jackson for once again bringing me back to a world I loved as a child.

Please be advised that there may be spoilers so read on at your own peril.

What I didn’t like

1. The first thing I didn’t like actually has nothing to do with this film. It’s the fact that earlier this year Jackson decided to tell the entire story in three parts rather than two. I see this more as a money grab and not relevant to telling the story of Bilbo and company. Considering the fact that each LOTR book was much longer than The Hobbit (and were fully told in each individual movie), making a trilogy out of this story wasn’t something I wanted.

2. It’s easy to get lost: For those of you who are being exposed to Tolkien for the first time and haven’t seen any of the prior films, The Hobbit may be an undertaking as the movie hints at things to come in The Lord of The Rings. For fans of the genre (like me), this made sense. But if you’re seeing this freshly, it may be confusing.

3. Battle scenes can be a bit overwhelming: Particularly when the party encounters the Goblin King and tries to escape. What happens seems almost unbelievable. But then again, if I can believe a bunch of dwarves and a hobbit can escape a pair of stone giants and go into a goblin lair, then why wouldn’t I believe they could jump over huge chasms without falling hundreds of feet to their deaths? Got to love fantasy.

What I did like

1. The “unexpected party” scene where all of the dwarves gathered in Bilbo’s home to speak of their mission. When I first read the book, I completely skipped over the parts where the dwarves sang songs and read poems. Those italicized printed words were boring and vague to me. The eeriness of hearing the singing really brings the book to life and emphasizes the mission.

2. The dragon: I was leery going in just hoping they would show a glimpse of Smaug, the dragon. In the beginning they teased with it a bit but, if you are looking for a dragon in this movie, you will be satisfied.

3. Some people may not appreciate this but I did. I liked the idea of mixing in LOTR characters.Seeing my old friend Frodo again was a treat. And who could not love another visit by some of the other characters as well.

4. The Best is Yet To Come: The Hobbit : An Unexpected Journey leaves you wanting more. The only thing I really lament is having to wait a whole year before I can get my fix again.

Movie Review: ‘Silent Night’ Brings Horror Home For The Holidays

SilentNightYou better watch out! Santa Claus is coming to town, and he knows who’s been bad!

One of the tag lines for the new horror/thriller “Silent Night” is a bit foretelling as to the carnage about to be unleashed on the small town of Cryer, WI.

Directed by Steven C. Miller (The Aggression Scale), ‘Silent Night‘ is a loosely based remake of the cult horror classic ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night’, a controversial 1984 film that fell victim to mass protests due to the fact that the serial killer dressed up like Santa Claus. In a world where real-life death and destruction is shown round the clock on every news network, it’s almost laughable how a fictional horror film could have caused such a stir.

In ‘Silent Night’ veteran actor Malcolm McDowell (Rob Zombie’s Halloween) and the beautiful Jaime King (Mother’s Day) star as a small-town sheriff and deputy on the hunt for a murderous Santa Claus taking out people who are doing wrong on Christmas Eve. The film also stars Donal Logue (Shark Night 3D, Blade), Lisa Marie (Sleepy Hollow), Brendan Fehr (Final Destination), Ellen Wong (Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World) and Cortney Palm (Sushi Girl).

McDowell is somewhat ornery in his role as Sheriff Cooper, but appears to have the town’s best intentions at heart. And King, who was amazing in her role of Beth Sohapi in the ‘Mother’s Day’ reboot, is equally as good here as emotionally troubled Officer Aubrey Bradimore.

‘Silent Night’ contains all of the essential ingredients that were paramount in 80’s horror films: Strong characters, a sense of not knowing what’s coming next, the gratuitous nudity/sexuality and of course, the recreational drug use. (Naughty! Naughty!)

And whereas the original ‘Silent Night / Deadly Night’ fell victim to picketing for using a serial killer dressed like the guy in the big red suit, ‘Silent Night’, does its own little bit of envelope pushing by utilizing something else normally considered taboo in serial killer horror: the death of a child (albeit a bratty, potty-mouthed one).

Miller though, isn’t worried about any backlash that may result from the scene.”People may be concerned about it, but it actually sets the tone of the movie”, he says. “Once you see it, you realize that at this point all bets are off and anything can happen!”

Aside from some really cool weapons, ‘Silent Night‘ breaks no new ground in terms of what’s already been done in horror but really, who cares? The movie is a fun ride of terror and carnage with perhaps one of the best kill scenes in recent memory involving a topless woman and a wood chipper. Need I say more?

When asked to describe what makes for the perfect horror movie, Miller is quick to respond. “Atmosphere and tone. If you can get the atmosphere right for whatever time and place you’re in, the audience is automatically drawn in.”

It’s hard to argue that point because the film looks and feels like it belongs on a big theatrical screen; with a tone and quality that rivals many of the classic 80’s slasher films. The real strength of ‘Silent Night’ lies in its use of cinematography and credit should be given to both Miller and cinematographer Joseph White for taking a small budget film and making it appear larger than life.

The best horror balances the suspense with the scares and mixes in a little bit of humor to release the tension and in both cases, ‘Silent Night’ succeeds. Horror fans who’ve been longing for something other than the typical “found-footage” style format of recent films may want to consider asking Santa for ‘Silent Night’ in their stocking this holiday season. It sure beats a visit from the big guy in person carrying a flame thrower.

Or as Miller himself is quick to point out, “We need these kinds of holiday slasher movies. There aren’t enough of them.”

Article first published as Movie Review: ‘Silent Night’ Brings Horror Home for the Holidays on Technorati.