My Ten Worst Films of 2016

My Ten Worst Films of 2016

2016 has been a weird year to say the least. Whether we talk film, television, online content, or just everything else that happened. (Let’s not, this is a place for film). With some films not quite living up to their hype or just being plain stinkers there’s a lot to dig through so let’s begin.

10. Sausage Party

This is one of those films that suffered a number of problems for me. First, the animation at times felt like it was barely a tier above the mess that was Foodfight! Yes, the budget was low, but there were times when things felt unpolished. I try not to let behind the scenes controversy taint a film for me, but when it comes to hard working crew members getting shafted I get pissed. If it wasn’t for those animators your film would’ve been a bunch of actors sitting in a booth in front of a microphone. Sound like a film worth watching? And finally, for being dubbed one of the filthiest films of all time I was kind of let down. Seeing a hot dog say fuck multiple times and a ‘food orgy’ got boring. Does that say something about me as a person?

9. Now You See Me 2

Not that the original film was any masterpiece, but you can tell that while the original film had time to get it’s script kind of right this one feels extremely rushed. All the actors are likable and Lizzy Caplan was a nice addition, but the writing really let everything down. From ret-conning the ending of the previous film to make a character a good guy to the magic getting even more out of the realm of reality this was dumb, but dumb in the, “It’s on FX at one am and I have no other options so I might as well watch it.” way.

8. The Forest

There were some fantastic horror films that got released last (A few of which will be found on my Best of 2016 list), but this is not one of them. Natalie Dormer is a competent actress and the premise of telling a horror film set in the Aokigahara Forest had promise. Unfortunately cliched writing, obvious scares, bland side characters, and an almost forgettable plot killed this one.

7. Dirty Grandpa

Why does it seem like Robert De Niro hasn’t cared about his filmography for over a decade? Sure he’s had a few good supporting roles, but on the whole the man is a shadow of his former self. This is a perfect example of an idea crafted in a Hollywood boardroom with little to no creativity except for a premise (an old man saying filthy things). Zac Efron tried, but even his charisma wasn’t enough to make this tolerable.

6. Alice Through the Looking Glass

I’ve voiced my disdain for the previous live action Alice film Disney made, (it was my worst film of 2010) so I had a feeling this one was going to be more of the same. James Bobin felt like a director for hire executing a preconceived idea. The noisy and overly CGI visuals are once again vomited all over the screen and the actors seem to care even less this time around. At least Sacha Baron Cohen was highlight in a rather blah film.

5. 31

Once again Rob Zombie serves up his style over substance exploitation film homage brand of horror film and again it’s more of the same. Considering this one was even divisive amongst his fans it’s no surprise it floundered with me. This feels like a spiritual successor to The Devil’s Rejects (My favorite of Zombie’s) and yet the antagonists (aside from E.G. Daily) were nowhere near as interesting. And what’s worst is the protagonists are nothing but fodder for the killers.

4. Holidays

I love anthology horror films and holiday themed horror films, so this seemed like a no-brainer. If only the directors had taken more time to flesh out their stories instead of turning in half-baked messes. It was a big letdown seeing Kevin Smith’s Halloween segment. I’ve been a fan for ages and this year has been a real letdown (more on that to follow). Save yourself some time and only watch the segment Father’s Day.

3. Yoga Hosers

After seeing the embarrassingly bad trailer for this film I knew the writing was on the wall. As someone who has defended Smith’s recent work (I genuinely enjoy Red State and thought Tusk was flawed, but had moments) I can not defend this mess. It’s a patchwork of ideas strewn together and nothing really measures up. Too bad we’ll never get to see Clerks III as that had some real potential.

2. Punk’s Dead: SLC Punk 2

A sequel to a cult film is never a good idea. Making it nearly 20 years after the original when the director made nothing of merit in between is a horrible omen. Nothing about this film captures the original’s spirit or even acts as a good counterpoint to it. Fans were left irritated while newcomers were indifferent.

1.Cell

Oh my goodness, where to begin? If being adapted from one of Stephen King’s worst novels in recent years wasn’t bad enough this film had a rough post-production that left it a shoddy mess. I can not tell if the director wanted to make a horror, satire, or a dark comedy, but it’s none of the above and feels like a cheaply made mess that makes me wonder if John Cusack’s agent is secretly working to tank his career.

There you have it. Another year where the good, the bad, and the mediocre were put on the big screen and VOD. I will have a list of honorable mentions and a Best of list coming soon, so keep your eyes peeled. I will also try to return to posting more regularly, but life can be hectic and who knows what will come next. As always, you can find me on Twitter @SDFilmThoughts.

Update

Hey everyone, just wanted to wish you a Happy and safe 4th of July and give you a quick update. It’s been about two weeks with no new content and here’s why. Aside from being busy on some other projects I’ve also been hit with some Writer’s Block. I’m hoping that with July I can get some time to brainstorm and create some new content. Anyways, all the best this summer and as always, thanks for reading.

Jameson P

Back in Orange: Discussing Orange is the New Black’s Fourth Season

Back in Orange: Discussing Orange is the New Black’s Fourth Season

Orange is the New Black’s fourth season debuted last Friday and of course it had to be binge-watched. So last night I finished up all thirteen episodes and the time has come to talk about where our favorite characters have gone and what might become of them. I’ll try to keep my thoughts lumped into coherent sections, but we’ve got a lot to cover. If the cage was full for the last three seasons it’s become packed to the gills this year. Fair warning, there are spoilers ahead.

-Plot-

If I had to sum up this entire season in one word it’d be consequences. A lot of what has been built up over the past few years got paid off in full. It has bugged me that it seems like Piper (Taylor Schilling) always got a slap on the wrist instead of getting her comeuppance. Her hubris has been built up to the point where all it had to come crashing down. She had already sent Stella (Ruby Rose) down to max for double-crossing her and now competition in the dirty panty business has set in. This leads to her making questionable alliances with some white supremacists in order to edge out the Latino competition. When Piper plants a bag of underwear under Ruiz’s (Jessica Pimentel) bunk and adds three to five years to her sentence shit gets serious. After getting ambushed Piper is pulled to the kitchen where they brand her with a swastika. As someone who has lost interest in Piper’s storyline this really pulled me back into it.

Next we have Joe Caputo (Nick Sandow) trying to keep the ship from sinking after taking over as warden. The company MCC who privatized the prison are tying his hands while he deals with some new COs who don’t know the proper boundaries between prisoner and guard. I’ve always liked Caputo as he is the guy who is dealt a bad hand and keeps trying to make it work. He knows everything the company is doing is wrong, but has to play the game. Although he’s not above breaking the rules to help. It made me happy seeing him use former warden turned activist Danny Pearson (Mike Birbiglia) to get Sophia (Laverne Cox) out of the SHU. The man has scruples most of the time in spite of how the season ended. We’ll delve into that a little more later. It was also nice that Caputo is forced to see his former employees who walked out now in different jobs. He’s basically getting haunted by the ghosts he created.

The big elephant in the room is seeing how Alex Vause (Laura Prepon) escaped her predicament from last season’s finale. While she’s being strangled to death by Kubra’s man Lolly (Lori Petty) comes to the rescue beating the guy down. It’s now time to figure out how to dispose of a body in a prison. With the help of seasoned murderer Frieda (Dale Soules) they’re able to dispose of the body after some cutting and burying. Now Vause has to not only deal with her own grief about suffocating and turning a hitman she knew into garden fertilizer, but the fact that Lori is going even further off the rails than normal. This leads to Alex making questionable choices until she finally breaks down in front of Piper and the two re-kindle their relationship. Lolly on the other hand isn’t so lucky. After digging up the garden to re-route the sewer line the body is discovered and Officer Healy (Michael Harney) knows Lolly was involved after she gave him an incoherent confession he took to be delusions. Lolly is shipped down to max and we’re probably never going to see her again.

Let’s discuss some of the other plots from the series. First is the fallout from Pennsatucky’s (Taryn Manning) sexual assault from last season. This is going to be a controversial and important discussion topic from this season. The fact that when Pennsatucky says to CO Coates (James McMenamin) that he raped her and he is shocked that she sees it that way is disturbing. What’s worse is that in spite of an apology to Pennsatucky we see in their final scene together that this may not be a one time thing. It’s kind of horrifying especially with recent events, but I commend Jenji Kohan and the writers for taking this route. It shows that some men (even as adults) have been so poorly educated in understanding consent that they don’t believe that they’re committing sexual assault. It’s ugly, but it needs to be talked about and if this show can get that started it’s a step in the right direction.

Once again we get a glimpse into Officer Healy’s background. We knew  his mother was mentally ill, but we get to see him dealing with it. One of the moments that hit me the hardest from this season was watching Healy commit himself after Lolly’s incarceration into max. The fears that he had the same issues as his mother are now a reality. He may not have always been the most likable character, but his intentions (either in the prison or at home) were to do his best for the women in his life.

The Judy King (Blair Brown) story was probably the weak link for me this year. Sure, it was funny and had some great moments, but in the end it never really went anywhere. The only real positive that came from this entire plot was that one of my favorite secondary characters Yoga Jones (Constance Shulman) got more screentime. King’s only real role on the show was to kind of stoke racial tensions between inmates.

Now to talk about the moment that’s going to be plastered all over the message boards for the next month. The death of Poussey (Samira Wiley) hit extremely hard. She has always been one of the few characters who did her best to stay out of trouble. Aside from her spat with Vee she kept a good rapport with all the inmates. This is probably why they picked her to die. She was the most pure of the inmates and that made her death all the more heartbreaking. Throw in her friendship with Taystee (Danielle Brooks) and her romance with Brook Soso (Kimiko Glenn) and we got a whole lot hurt in the final episodes.

In typical Kohan fashion we’re left with a mid-scene cliffhanger for what’s ahead. After CO Bayley (Alan Aisenberg) is let off on Poussey’s death a riot builds. One of the COs was stupid enough to bring a gun into the prison. When he’s cornered he pulls it out, but gets pushed and loses his grip on the gun. Daya (Dascha Polanco) picks it up and points it at the COs. She’s being cheered on to shoot them as we cut to black. Will she shoot one or both of the COs? I doubt it. I’m assuming Mendoza (Selenis Leyva) will talk her down considering Daya’s mother asked Mendoza to keep her safe before she got released a few episodes prior.

-Cast-

As always the cast is firing on all cylinders. I’d say the best performance of the season was Danielle Brooks as Taystee. While I’ve always liked her character this year we got to see her go even deeper with her emotions. I will seriously be disappointed if she doesn’t get Golden Globe and Emmy nominations this year. It was nice to see Kimiko Glenn get more work tossed her way. I did feel that Uzo Aduba got shortchanged, but considering her prominence in prior seasons it’s not all that disappointing. It was painful seeing Crazy Eyes’ flashback episode that showed what got her locked up. I was disappointed by the scaled back amount of time Laverne Cox received, but I’m grateful she’s back. I didn’t mind the loss of previous season’s COs as it usually felt like their plots were always low priority for the writers. And while Ruby Rose was a fun addition to season three I’m glad they didn’t try to find a way to write her back into the series just because of her popularity. Sometimes a cameo is all you need to display a character’s present predicament.

I’d say my biggest problem was using characters this season to represent previous antagonists. Ruiz was basically a less threatening version of Vee and Piscatella was a serious version of Pornstache. While both may have felt intimidating neither of them were original. I did miss both Pornstache and Bennett, but I understand why they’re no longer here. Their stories have been wrapped up, at least for the time being. I was also disappointed by the lack of Piper’s family. Aside from a single call put into her brother Cal (Michael Chernus) there’s no real interaction for Piper with the outside world. This could be to show that the closer she gets to her release the less connected to the non-prison world she’s becomes.

-Final Thoughts-

Plain and simply this is definitely a big improvement over season three. Like I said earlier I liked how we got to see so much payoff from all the stuff we’ve seen get built up in past three years. With at least three more seasons to go and about eight months left on Piper’s sentence there’s a lot still to do, but where are we going? Until next June we can only hypothesize. As usual what are your thoughts? What was your favorite part of season four? Did you enjoy the entire season as a whole? What are you planning to binge next on Netflix? As always, thanks for reading.

Revisiting Point Pleasant

Revisiting Point Pleasant

While I was doing research for my “Brilliant, But Cancelled: Single Season TV Shows” articles there was one show I kept thinking about. Point Pleasant was a supernatural series with a dash of melodrama sprinkled in that debuted on FOX in January of 2005 until it’s cancellation in March of the same year. The reason I did not include this in any previous article was because I wanted to watch it again to see if it was as good as I remembered it being. Or if it was another one of those shows that got justifiably axed from TV. So with over a decade since it initially debuted lets look back and see how it holds up.

-Background-

There was a fascination in pop culture with religious iconography in the late 90’s and early 00’s. Films like End of Days, Stigmata, and The Ninth Gate were being released in theaters and it was only a matter of time before it migrated over to TV. The show was created by John McLaughlin (who had previously written for the show Carnivale and that definitely had some influence on this series) and Marti Noxon (best known for her role as a writer and co-producer on the hit shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and it’s spin-off Angel). Basically, during a horrendous storm a young woman named Christina (Elisabeth Harnois) is seen floating in the ocean. Young lifeguard Jesse (Sam Page) rescues her and with nowhere else to go she it taken in by the Kramer family who is reeling from the lose of a sister/daughter and strange things begin to happen to Christina. Throw in a meddling half-demon who stirs up trouble (Grant Show) and the reveal that Christina is the Antichrist and everything gets crazier with each episode.

-The Cast-

This was something I liked about the show. While some of the acting may not have been up to par it at least was entertaining. It was a smart move to have a show that revolved around both teenagers and their parents as it meant you could have fresh faces in the cast, but they had the support of veterans to help tell the story. I’ve got to give Elisabeth Harnois credit, she played the role of Christina fairly well making her sympathetic with an undercurrent of sinister. You truly see the struggle within her to fight against her destiny. I also enjoyed the sister dynamic Christina and Judy (Aubrey Dollar) had through the series. They built it up so well that to see it destroyed was genuinely sad. Of the adult cast my favorite was always Amber Hargrove (Dina Meyer) as she was always underestimated due to her beauty, but she’s cunning and fights for what she wants. I also wanted to touch on another favorite character of mine, Father Tomas (Marcus Coloma). He gave the Christina a much needed ally in the struggle with her identity. What’s also great is seeing some actors before they hit it big. Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad fame pops up in a handful of episodes as a love interest for Judy. But hands down the best spot was Jon Hamm as a longed haired psychotic doctor. I had no idea who he was back then.

-Plot-

I’ve delved into some of the broad plot points, but lets get a little more specific. So the main crux of the story is Christina’s internal battle with the revelation that she is the daughter of Satan, but there are subplots galore. Judy losing a her sister Isabelle to suicide and her mother believed to be insane due to Isabelle’s ghost contacting her from the afterlife trying to warn of what’s ahead. The romantic relationship between Christina and Jesse and how it means more to the fate of humanity than either knows. Boyd’s backstory gets fleshed out and we discover what brought him down the path he took and how he’s seducing Terry (Brent Weber) to do the same thing. There’s also Christina’s search for her mother and the answers that quest might unlock. I’m not even gonna go into all of the adult’s subplots as there is so much to this story. I really enjoyed how they set up a lot in these thirteen episodes. It’s such a shame we never got a resolution to that cliffhanger of a finale.

I have to admit it was truly a lot of fun to dig through this series and rediscover a lot of great pieces. Does it hold up? For the most part I’d say yes, but I’ll forever be bugged by the lack of closure. I was also surprised by how for being made over ten years ago it didn’t feel terribly dated like some movies and TV shows. If you’re interested the show has been available on DVD since it’s cancellation, so you can rent it from Netflix or purchase it off Amazon. These are my thoughts, but as usual what are yours? Did you watch Point Pleasant when it originally aired? If not are you going to now? Do you wish that shows that get cancelled would at least have a chance to wrap up their story properly instead leaving us hanging? As always, thanks for reading.

Why Jackie Brown is My Favorite Quentin Tarantino Film

Why Jackie Brown is My Favorite Quentin Tarantino Film

I think Jackie Brown is Quentin Tarantino’s best film. There, I said it. I’ve often taken a lot of flack for this opinion, but that doesn’t mean it will change. Love him or hate him, Tarantino is probably one of the more interesting filmmakers from the 90’s independent film movement to still be working. But what is it about Jackie Brown that keeps me coming back for multiple viewings? Today we look at the film in Quentin Tarantino’s career that tends to get unjustly ignored by many.

-The Cast-

While Quentin has been known for resurrecting the careers of actors who have been stagnating for quite some time this is probably the best example of this magic touch. Sure, John Travolta was in a bit of a slump before Pulp Fiction, but he could have dug his way out sooner or later. Pam Grier and Robert Forester on the other hand more than likely wouldn’t have had such luck. Both of them were older and had been in a bigger slump for a much longer period. But this story needed talent of their caliber to work. We also have Samuel L. Jackson giving one of his most charismatic yet sinister performances as Ordell. It’s impressive to have an antagonist that you kind of like through most of the story in spite of his hubris and detestable deeds. But let’s not forget about Robert De Niro’s Louis. The man is fresh out of prison in his fifties and has no idea what’s next. It’s entertaining seeing him kind of lost in his new life and trying to readjust to the outside world. Throw into the mix Michael Keaton as a likable ATF agent trying to squeeze Jackie into giving up her employer and you’ve got a ton of talent ready to tell an interesting story. Speaking of which…

-The Story-

As of now this is the only film Quentin has made that has been an adaptation of someone else’s work. Based off the book Rum Punch by famed crime writer Elmore Leonard this story had a great core that Quentin built upon. There’s always something interesting about a narrative that focuses on older characters. The standard film wants to use up and comers or A-list celebrities as they put butts in seats, but how could someone on an upswing or at the high point of their career convey the necessary desperation of these characters? Jackie, Max, and Louis are all in their fifties and know that more of their lives has passed them by than what’s on the horizon. Jackie has a criminal record forcing her to work as a flight attendant on a third rate airline with no chance of promotion or retirement in sight. Max has built a solid business as a bail bondsman, but all he truly has is his business. And Louis is an ex-con who’s only option to eke out a living is to return to crime. It’s so rare in movies to see people at this point in their lives with little to show for it. Even rarer is having these characters be the main focus of the story rather than being relegated to supporting roles.

-The Style-

From the opening shot of this film you know we’re in for something different than what Quentin previously gave us in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Jackie is on a moving sidewalk as Bobby Womack’s upbeat yet somber tune “Across 110th Street” plays in the background. This scene sets up the story perfectly. We’re seeing Jackie moving but getting nowhere and the song tells us everything we need to know about her situation. As stated in the song, “Been down so long, getting up didn’t cross my mind” is where Jackie is in her life. She’s stuck in a mediocre situation and hasn’t even contemplated the idea of something better. From there we get all the usual hallmarks of Quentin’s repertoire. From a catchy soundtrack of vintage tunes out of his record collection to the snappy dialogue that populates his character’s vocabulary it’s all here. The only thing is that it doesn’t feel as gimmicky as it had in his previous works. It’s almost as though each film is a different part of life. Reservoir Dogs is the teenager who is very unrefined and doesn’t care what anyone thinks. Pulp Fiction is the early adult years where you’re stripping away that attitude and are beginning to see where your life is going. Jackie Brown is the adult who never got to do what they wanted and is now looking to get out of the mid-life crisis that has been created by/for them. I guess this is where all my points have been leading. I love this film because it feels more mature than anything else Quentin has made. It’s his most grounded in reality story and that is what makes it great.

Of course this is just my opinion. As usual what are your thoughts? What is your favorite Quentin Tarantino film? Do you like his earlier work or do you prefer his more recent creations? What do you think he’ll make next? As always, thanks for reading.

Some of the Best Over the Top Action Films

Some of the Best Over the Top Action Films

There’s always something so satisfying to me about watching action films of the 00’s that didn’t even try to cover up their insanity. 80’s action was about the more is more mentality and the 90’s was all about making action plausible and serious. But something changed in the mid to late 00’s where filmmakers decided enough is enough. Let’s see how much crazy we can throw at the camera see what sticks. So today I wanted to look at some of my favorite over the top action films of the 00’s and what makes them work. Turn off your brain and get ready, this is going to be fun.

-Crank-

I would give anything to have a sit down with directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (aka Neveldine/Taylor) to talk with them about their filmography. The funny thing is, when Crank initially came out I had zero interest in seeing it. I looked at the trailers and thought, “Great, another film that’ll waste Jason Statham’s talent.” And after sitting through two Transporter films can you blame me? It took the recommendation of two friends with opinions I trusted to finally watch this film. What I got was a ridiculous concept that reveled in it’s ridiculousness. Chev Chelios (yes, that is the name of Statham’s character) is poisoned with “The Bejing Cocktail” and has to keep his adrenaline pumping or he dies. What follows is a series of stunts that are justified as they’re necessary to keeping Chev alive. Throw in Dwight Yoakam as a morally ambiguous doctor and Efren Ramirez as a street smart transvestite and you’ve got a pretty crazy film. But it’s still not nearly as crazy as…

-Crank: High Voltage-

It was almost as though Neveldine/Taylor saw how much they got away with in the first film and said, “Okay, now let’s make things really interesting.” After falling out of a helicopter at the end part one it turns out Chev is still alive. He’s literally scooped off the street and taken away. It turns out his heart was strong enough to survive “The Bejing Cocktail” and so it has been removed to be transplanted into a dying Triad Leader (played with no filter by David Carradine). Armed with an artificial heart requiring electricity to keep working Chev sets out to get his heart back and of course crazy shit ensues. So instead of keeping his adrenaline pumping he must find ways to charge himself. This includes getting a jump from a car, licking batteries, having sex with his girlfriend on a horse-track, and so many more. Added to the cast is Bai Ling who does and says some of the weirdest things I question how much was even scripted. I’m glad that Neveldine/Taylor decided to go even further with this one, but when part three gets made I wonder how they’ll be able to top this?

-Smokin’ Aces-

Who would’ve thought that Joe Carnahan who made the super serious Narc would have this in his bag? After dropping out of directing Mission: Impossible III at the eleventh hour Carnahan thought he had signed his death warrant in the filmmaking industry. Luckily he penned a script about coked out Vegas magician Buddy Israel (Jeremy Piven) turning state’s evidence against the mob. With that a million dollar hit is put out on his life and every single mercenary wants it. From there it’s up to a pair of FBI agents (Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta) to stop this flood of psychos from killing Buddy. And when I say psychos I mean it. The stand out of the mercs has to be the Tremor Brothers (Chris Pine, Kevin Durand, and Maury Sterling) a trio of redneck, speed freak, neo-nazis who have never understood the concept of subtly. With Carnahan’s style and cast that is packed to the gills with talent this film is bonkers in the best sense of the word.

-Shoot ‘Em Up-

Say what you will about Clive Owen, but at least he doesn’t let losing out on an iconic role keep him down. As one of the top contenders to take over the role of James Bond he ultimately lost to Daniel Craig and instead took the lead role in Smith in Shoot ‘Em Up. A loner with no real purpose Smith sees a pregnant woman chased by a gun toting madman. Taking the guy down he delivers the baby as the woman dies from a gunshot from villain Karl (Paul Giamatti). Smith now begins to unravel the mystery of why someone wants this baby dead with the help of a lactating hooker (Monica Bellucci). What follows are some of the funniest and most ludicrous action scenes. To see a gun fight going on while Clive Owen and Monica Bellucci are having sex makes me assume this is what The Exploited were singing about with “Sex and Violence”.

There are quite a few other films that could’ve made this list, but I wanted to cap it off as I couldn’t think up enough synonyms for the word crazy. As usual what are your thoughts? Do you enjoy this kind of action film? Are you waiting for Crank 3 to finally see the light of day? As always thanks for reading.

The Horror Films of James Wan

The Horror Films of James Wan

The Conjuring 2 opened this weekend number one at the domestic box office with an impressive forty million dollars. Director James Wan has another big hit on his hands and so today I wanted to look at his filmography, specifically his horror films. Sorry Death Sentence and Furious 7 I won’t be talking about you today (but maybe we’ll get to them down the line). For the time being let’s see how many horror subgenres Wan has dabbled in and the success of each film.

-Saw-

Has it seriously been over a decade since Saw hit theaters? Hard to believe this micro-budget horror film went onto become a seven film franchise (and two video games) that has nearly grossed a billion dollars. But let’s focus on the film that started it all. My first encounter with this film was on a promo DVD that Lionsgate had bundled with The Punisher’s initial release. Not knowing for sure what it was I popped it in and watched the Reverse Bear Trap scene. I was blown away and wanted to see it. I had to wait until it came out on DVD since I was only sixteen at the time. I borrowed it from a friend one night and was blown away. It was a fresh idea with a twist that I did not see coming. Wan crafted an entertaining whodunit that for better or worse ushered in a decade of knock-offs that continued to up the gore with varying amounts of success. While the sequels were a mixed bag quality wise this one is and probably will always be the best. Much like the original Halloween it proved that a good script and strong director trumps a bigger budget.

-Dead Silence-

If there is one thing that completely terrifies me it’s ventriloquist dummies. I’ve hated them as a kid and I hate them as an adult. So I was hoping that a horror film focusing on dummies would completely creep me out. While it had some good scares for the most part it fell flat. The film’s biggest downfall was trying craft another twist to shock audiences. I remember sitting in a near empty theater and when they revealed the twist someone a few aisles in front of me loudly exclaim, “Are you fucking kidding me!?” I couldn’t agree more. While the atmosphere of the film was creepy the script didn’t know where it wanted to go. Screenwriter Leigh Whannell admitted that the he was pressured into writing this film without having much interest. He even compared it to trying to take a shit after a night of heavy drinking. On the plus side, Charlie Clouser’s soundtrack is chilling. It’s not a great film, but it’s a guilty pleasure for me. If you’re willing to waste an hour and a half this film is on Netflix Instant.

-Insidious-

After a four year hiatus Wan returned with a new collaboration from screenwriter and friend Leigh Whannell. I appreciate that the duo wanted to make this film as a counterpoint to Saw. Cutting the gore down to a bare minimum and upping the spooky factor Insidious was a new take on the ghost genre. While it was fantastic to see talented actors like Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne take the leads it was Lin Shaye who made this movie. Her performance as clairvoyant Elise Reiner was what sold this film for me. While other characters try to sell the scare factor it was her description of the demon that was truly creepy. While this film has issues including a finale that you’re either going to go with or check out of it’s worth watching for any horror fan.

-The Conjuring-

I can not remember the last time I got this excited about an upcoming horror film. When I found out that a film based off the cases of Ed and Lorraine Warren was in the works I was stoked. Throw into it that Wan was directing and it became one of my most anticipated films of 2013. I remember two months prior to this film’s release I was having a conversation with someone I knew about the state of filmmaking. He declared that horror was dead because Texas Chainsaw 3D hadn’t been a runaway hit. I politely told him that out of all the genres horror was extremely popular and to see how well The Conjuring would perform opening in July. Of course the film was a hit and I never heard if he’d reassessed his thoughts. I love this film as Wan stripped away all the stylized visuals of the Insidious series and made a film that felt completely realistic. Seeing Carolyn’s life slowly get eroded away by this evil presence and how it affected the family is as interesting as it is creepy. But it was Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga’s portrayals as the Warrens that made this movie stand out. They took this couple who had an extremely unorthodox career and showed the sometimes normalcy of their lives. I really loved the small moments where we see them at home with their daughter or helping out around the Perron house with chores. If you couldn’t tell I enjoyed this film immensely. I’d say it’s probably one of (if not the) best horror films in the past twenty years.

-Insidious: Chapter 2-

For the first time Wan had decided to return to direct a sequel. This was something that excited me. What was it about Insidious that made him want to direct the sequel? Picking up immediately after the original film’s conclusion Wan and Whannell delved deeper into the mysteries of what had been set up. Who was this woman who’d been haunting Josh since he was a kid? I tend to call this film the Back to the Future II of horror films since both films took the dicey risk of going back into events from the previous entry and looking at them from a different perspective. Some people hated this and some liked it, I honestly fall into the latter. While the Insidious series can be a mixed bag all films have great moments. It may not match part one in terms of creativity, but Chapter 2 is still worth watching.

-The Conjuring 2-

After Insidious: Chapter 2 James Wan had declared that he was done directing horror films wanting to move onto new genres and not get pigeonholed. After showing his skills as an action director with Furious 7 he decided to return and direct The Conjuring 2. Whatever his reasons may be it’s a good thing he did. I had a lot of anticipation for this follow-up and wondered how it would compare to the original. Would it be just as good or be added to the long list of subpar horror sequels? Thankfully the film was a worthy sequel. This time around there is more focus on the Warren’s and that to me was it’s strongest aspect. It was nice to see more of their lives and the genuine love they had for each other. Of course the case they’re investigating makes for great chills. The change of landscape from an American farmhouse to an English flat was wise. It gave the film a fresh feel and distinct look. My only problem was how it felt like the studio thought they needed to up the scare factor. While it may have scarier moments than the original it also felt less grounded in reality. There were moments where the style felt more in tone with the Insidious series. Putting those minor quibbles aside it’s a fantastic film and if you’re looking for a good scare see it in theaters right now.

It’s been an interesting decade and some change for director James Wan with a lot of ups and some minor downs. He’s managed to craft eight films and has no sign of slowing down. His next film will be a return to blockbuster filmmaking with the adaptation of DC Comic’s Aquaman. After that who knows what he’ll be doing, but odds are I’ll be in the theater watching it. As usual, what are your thoughts? Do you enjoy Wan’s style? Do you think he’ll continue to make great horror films? Are you excited to see Aquaman? As always thanks for reading.