Movie Review – The Summer House (2015)

The Summer House
Directed by Curtis Burz
Courtesy of Artsploitation Films
Release Date: August 25, 2015

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When I first read the press release for THE SUMMER HOUSE, I was immediately intrigued. The plot sounded like it could have been pulled from today’s news headlines, and it immediately piqued my interest. Unfortunately, the execution of the plot in the film does not play out as well as it does on paper. The resulting film is a lackluster piece of jumbled ideas and mixed messages. In short, THE SUMMER HOUSE is a bit of a letdown for me.

If you are not familiar with THE SUMMER HOUSE, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Artsploitation Films:

The architect and head of the family Markus Larsen secretly lives out his bisexual tendencies while his wife Christine and their 11-year-old daughter Elisabeth drown in unbearable loneliness. When Markus gets to know the 12-year-old son of a colleague, he feels an immediate affection for the boy. Slowly, Markus begins to approach Johannes and creates an intimacy of which he increasingly loses control. While his wife and daughter are damagingly affected by their symbiotic relationship, Johannes is playing his own secret game which, in the end, leads to disaster for every family member.

The disappointment with this film does not start immediately. In fact, around the halfway point is when my frown started. Prior to that, the film was faring decently…not perfect, but entertaining nonetheless. However, when the disappointment starts, it never stops.

THE SUMMER HOUSE is shot well, but that is not enough to save it. The film has too many flaws, both in regard to character and plot, and the concept behind the narrative never truly comes into fruition. As such, there are many dramatic things happening between the characters, however no explanation is ever given as to why.

For example, early in the film, Markus and his wife, Christine, have dinner with a colleague and his girlfriend. The group chats for a few moments…and then an orgy ensues. Moments later, we see Markus having sex with his wife…only to stop in anger and angst, and storm off. There’s no mention of why they are ‘swingers’ or what this has to do with the story. The same can be said with Markus’s inability to finish sex with his wife.

Then there is the relationship between Christine and their daughter, Elisabeth. We are led to believe early on that they have a tight-knit mother/daughter bond. But halfway through the film, Elisabeth uses lipstick to write the word ‘WHORE’ on her mother’s mirror. Why?? When Christine sees the word, she becomes distraught and wipes it off…yet she never says anything. The lack of development here is very confusing all the way around.

Finally, a peculiar scene later on in THE SUMMER HOUSE pretty much puts the nail in the coffin for me on this film. Christine is upset about Markus’ distant feelings for her. So, she makes a noose that hangs down in the path of front door, gets a chair, stands on it, and loops her head through it. When Elisabeth asks what she’s doing, Christine says “Just playing a game, sweetie.” A moment later, Markus opens the door and sees Christine. She threatens to step off the chair if Markus comes in the house, so he turns around and leaves. After he’s gone, Christine undoes the noose…and then goes on like nothing happened.

These examples are just a few of the curious and weird aspects of this film. Granted, the primary storyline is pretty interesting (and I like how the end plays out), but neither of those positives are enough to save THE SUMMER HOUSE, either.

As such, I cannot recommend THE SUMMER HOUSE. It is too confusing and too jumbled to follow for my tastes. The film is available now, however, if you decide to take a look.

MSB

Movie Review – Vendetta (2015)

Vendetta
Directed by Jen Soska & Sylvia Soska
Courtesy of Lionsgate
Release Date: August 18, 2015

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Before I go into the details of this review, I have to state up front: I absolutely love the Soska sisters. I had the privilege of meeting them last year at the Texas Frightmare Weekend in Dallas, Texas, and they were a blast. Prior to that, I was already a big fan of their work, which included AMERICAN MARY and DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK. So when I heard about VENDETTA, I knew I had to give it a look. I must admit, this film is quite a bit different than their previous titles…but it is a lot of fun, and it will definitely entertain you if you watch it in the proper mindset.

If you are not familiar with VENDETTA, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Lionsgate:

Dean Cain and WWE Superstar The Big Show star in “Vendetta,” an action-packed thriller about a detective pushed beyond his limits who will stop at nothing for vengeance. When his wife is killed by a criminal that he put away, Mason (Cain), a hard-nosed detective, deliberately gets arrested in order to get revenge. While inside, Mason discovers a new criminal enterprise that those behind it would kill to protect.

After watching the film, I scoured the Internet for other reviewer’s opinions. I am always interested to hear what others think and compare their opinions to my own. Interestingly, fans of the Soska sisters are pretty well mixed on this one. Many do not like it, stating it’s too far removed from the Soska-brand of filmmaking they’ve come to expect; others enjoyed it, saying it is a nice show of diversity from two talented filmmakers. I have to agree with the second group. The film will probably not win any awards, but it is almost like watching a WWE wrestling match with a bit more story added in.

VENDETTA is shot well and looks good from a production standpoint. The budget for the film appears fairly high, and the team does a good job of utilizing the funds available. There’s also a nice dose of carnage here and there, an aspect that is becoming a staple in Soska films, and it’s one I’m glad to see.

The acting is really good, and I’m surprised some folks were not impressed in some of the reviews I read. I’ve always enjoyed seeing Dean Cain onscreen, and he delivers a solid performance here. He looks downright menacing throughout most of the movie, and I like the way he plays his character. Likewise, The Big Show does a good job as well. Granted, he might need a few more acting lessons, but he owns the role as is and plays it with gusto.

The story is nothing new, but that does not matter here. The action is intense (albeit far-fetched) and the suspense is high. As a result, the film grabs your attention from the get-go and demands it from you throughout its duration.

My sole complaint about VENDETTA is that the fight scenes are not very plausible. Even I had a hard time suspending belief at times, particularly those scenes where The Big Show hammers somebody in the face, only to see the recipient pop back up and keep fighting. Given the big guy’s size and the force he could potentially pack behind a hit, there’s no way a smaller guy would be able to fight again, let alone stand, after taking one of his punches. This is a minor negative, but it is one I feel I have to point out.

But if you can push reality aside for 90 minutes and accept VENDETTA for what it is (a revenge flick with hardcore wrestling-style action), you will enjoy it. I really had a good time with the film, and I recommend giving it a look. It is available now in a variety of formats.

MSB

Movie Review – Felt (2015)

Felt
Directed by Jason Banker
Courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment
Release Date: September 1, 2015

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FELT is one of those films I have a hard time reviewing. Part of me liked the film, while part of me did not. I don’t usually state such things up front when I write a review, but I feel you need to know what you’re in for if you watch this one. On the surface, FELT comes across as a rape-revenge flick; but when you dig deeper, you feel like you’re being preached at. Granted, the message is a good one…however, I didn’t feel any entertainment satisfaction when the movie ended. In short, this film did not do much for me.

If you are not familiar with FELT, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment:

From acclaimed director Jason Banker (TOAD ROAD) and based on the real experiences and art of co-writer/star Amy Everson comes the “unshakeable” (Movie Mezzanine), “surreal” (Entertainment Weekly) and “stunning” (Ain’t It Cool News) feminist thriller about a woman on the edge: As she struggles to cope with past sexual trauma and the daily aggressions of a male-dominated society, Amy (Everson, in her movie debut) creates grotesquely-costumed alter egos that give her a sense of power. But when she starts a new relationship with a seemingly nice guy (Kentucker Audley of AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS), her vulnerability comes at a cost, and those alter egos lash out, threatening to lead her down a nightmarish path of vengeance. “Felt is a beautiful lm from one of the most exciting new directors working today,” raves BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH., “anchored by an astonishing performance by an artist without any previous acting experience. It is an extraordinary movie.”

I know I’m not supposed to judge a book (or a movie) by its cover, but the DVD imagery for FELT suggests a film experience similar to I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. I mean, a picture of two hands holding a pair of open scissors right above a crotch is definitely a serious metaphor, right? Sadly, this is not the case.

FELT is shot well and looks good onscreen for the most part. Some of the cinematography is a bit shakier than I normally care for, but I’m always willing to overlook that in a lower-budget film. Strangely, I couldn’t peg what kind money this film had to work with; it looks higher end on some levels, but then it regresses sometimes into cheaper territory.

The acting is very good, with newcomer Amy Everson delivering a solid performance. I understand this is her debut, and she does a wonderful job in the role. As this film is based on personal experiences in her life, I’m sure it was a labor of love for her in the portrayal.

The story in FELT is where I find the true problems. It’s just…weird. Amy creates costumes for different personas to try and escape the serious issues in her life. She even goes to far as to create a fake penis, which she wears around. But there’s no real cohesion to the film. It feels jumbled to me, and as such, I had a difficult time pinpointing what emotion to feel in each scene.

I can’t really give FELT a positive or negative recommendation. It’s just one of those films that…is. Take it for what it is, or take it symbolically; I suppose the choice is truly up to the viewer. The film is available now in a variety of formats if you choose to take a look.

MSB

Book Review – Cthulhu Fhtagn!

Cthulhu Fhtagn!
by Various Authors
Courtesy of Word Horde
Release Date: August 15, 2015

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These days, if I hear the word ‘Cthulhu’, my ears perk up and my salivary glands kick into overdrive. It seems I simply cannot get enough of the tentacled Old One, in any shape or form. As such, I’m a huge sucker for Cthulhu fiction. I never tire of seeing where authors can take this beloved (if such a word is applicable here) Lovecraft creation. Today, I am honored to present CTHULHU FHTAGN!, a collection of dark stories that Lovecraft himself would be thrilled to read. If you are a fan of terrifying short stories, this is a book you will want to pick up immediately.

If you are not familiar with CTHULHU FHTAGN!, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Word Horde:

In his house at R’lyeh, Cthulhu waits dreaming…

What are the dreams that monsters dream? When will the stars grow right? Where are the sunken temples in which the dreamers dwell? How will it all change when they come home? Within these pages lie the answers, and more, in all-new stories by many of the brightest lights in dark fiction. Gathered together by Ross E. Lockhart, the editor who brought you The Book of Cthulhu, The Children of Old Leech, and Giallo Fantastique, Cthulhu Fhtagn! features nineteen weird tales inspired by H. P. Lovecraft.

For those of you not versed in Lovecraft, the words ‘CTHULHU and FHTAGN!’ are uttered in a chant in his famous 1926 story ‘The Call of Cthulhu’. May scholars believe the phrase refers to the dark god sleeping or waiting…but editor Ross E. Lockhart has a different theory; according to information shared with him in a dream, the term actually mentions Cthulhu’s House, or more precisely, ‘the house of Cthulhu’. While I’m not sure about this translation, I am positive the stories within this tome are excellent in every way and worthy of your attention.

The stories in CTHULHU FHTAGN! are carefully constructed and well fleshed-out. Most are written in a style similar to Lovecraft’s own: lengthy exposition that is interjected here and there with dialogue. This is not a negative, either. In fact, it is a nice homage to the legendary icon who many consider to be the founding father of the modern horror fiction age.

I enjoyed every story in this collection, which is a rare feat. Most anthologies I read usually have a couple (if not more) of stories that were just so-so. But every tale in CTHULHU FHTAGN! is entertaining and kept my interest. This is a true testament to the talent contained within these pages.

One of my favorites is “The Lightning Splitter” by Walter Greatshell. In this story, a man’s new home contains a hidden passage to a horrifying place. Unfortunately, once you find this secret location, your life will never be the same. I love how this tale played out, as I didn’t see the end coming.

CTHULHU FHTAGN! is a major win for me, and I highly recommend giving it a look. The authors work hard to continue Lovecraft’s dark legacy, and their commitment shows in the excellence of their stories. The book is available now in a variety of formats, so give it a look for sure.

MSB

Movie Review – Wolf Warrior (2015)

Wolf Warrior
Directed by Wu Jing
Courtesy of Well Go USA
Release Date: September 1, 2015

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Action movies do not have to be intricate for me to enjoy them. On the contrary, they can be simplistic in nature, as long as the fighting is intense and fits into the storyline. Such is the case with WOLF WARRIOR. While the premise is basically a revenge story, the execution of the film is great, and the result is a top-notch action thriller.

If you are not familiar with WOLF WARRIOR, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Well Go USA:

An elite squad of mercenaries just met their deadliest target. Sergeant Leng Feng (Wu Jing), top marksman of the Chinese Special Forces, is jailed under court martial for disobeying orders. But he’s just the kind of fighter the Wolf Warriors are looking for. Silent. Stealthy. Deadly. The Wolves bring Feng into their pack, honing his skills to a knife’s edge. But another team has Feng on their radar: a group of corrupt blades-for-hire, seeking revenge for the drug lord’s murder.

I’m quickly becoming a big fan of Wu Jing. He is a very talented martial artist, but he’s also a good actor. Much like Jet Li, I enjoy seeing Wu Jing in whatever role he is undertaking. This film permits him to showcase his skills as both an action star and a versatile actor.

WOLF WARRIOR is shot well and looks good onscreen. The locations chosen for filming, however, look like they could be anywhere: in the U.S., Asia, or even South America. This isn’t a negative, yet I was hoping to see some of the majestic Chinese landscape in the background.

The acting is very good for the most part, with the aforementioned Wu Jing in the lead. His rival, Scott Adkins, does a great job with his role as well, but we don’t get to see much of him. I would have liked more character development, but this again isn’t a major complaint…more of an observation.

The story starts off a bit slow, but quickly picks up steam. And when the action gets going, things get hairy very fast. My sole complaint here is that there’s not many marital arts fight scenes. The cover boasts ‘breathtaking martial arts’…and what we get to see is good, however I wanted more. Most of the fighting is gunplay.

Still WOLF WARRIOR is a lot of fun with frantic action and intense battles. My absolute favorite scene is when Jing’s character Feng gives the Merc sniper what’s coming to him. I almost cheered. WOLF WARRIOR is available today in a variety of formats, so check it out.

MSB