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Vivarium Reel Review

Tom(Jesse Eisenberg) and Gemma(Imogen Poots) are ready to settle down and start a life together. For them, the first step means finding the perfect home. They soon find a real estate agency, Prospect Properties, which specializes in finding affordable homes for first time buyers. Real estate agent Martin(Jonathan Aris) greets Tom and Gemma in the lobby and tells them about Yonder, a brand new housing development. Despite his strange and eccentric ways Gemma and Tom decide to follow Martin to Yonder. It couldn’t hurt just to look, right? After the viewing it’s decided that the hundreds of identical houses and overall creepy esthetic of Yonder is not for them. Tom and Gemma get into their vehicle and drive away. There’s only one problem, entering Yonder is a lot easier than leaving.

Vivarium is a horror/mystery directed by Lorcan Finnegan. Similar in style to shows like The Twilight Zone and Black Mirror, Vivarium takes seemingly mundane activities and turns them on their head. In this case we see purchasing a house and starting a “normal” life through a different lens. Vivarium does an exceptional job in making the viewer uneasy in experiencing what is happening to Tom and Gemma. As the mystery deepens we see parallels to our own lives, which is a quality all the great horror morality tales have. Through great storytelling, writing, cinematography, and acting we see Vivarium‘s message being delivered. One of the standout cinematic elements was the unnerving visual of the rows of uniform houses, brilliantly playing off of the fear of being lost. Also, after being introduced a half hour into the film, Senan Jennings delivers one of the most uniquely horrifying child performances I’ve ever seen.

As is common with this genre, I can safely say Vivarium won’t be for everyone. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, depending on the type of film you’re making, I do feel Vivarium leans too bizarre. The more unbelievable the scenarios the more the audience may disconnect with the real life connections being made. Vivarium has an interesting and powerful message about the pitfalls of structure and normalcy that gets lost in the increasing horror and chaos. 

Vivarium is an incredible addition to the expanding library of horror/mysteries. The genre has seen a revival as of late with Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Us seen as shining examples. Vivarium stands right next to these films as one of the greats. I would recommend Vivarium to anyone who enjoys their horror mysterious and incredibly weird.

I give Vivarium 5 out of 6 reels.

Kuningasmies (The KingMan) Reel Review

Osku(Niko Hill) and Raimo(Tapio Kauma) are best friends. Sure, Raimo can be annoying, stubborn, and a huge asshole but the man sure knows how to party. That’s why Osku invites Raimo out to his uncle’s cabin in the middle of nowhere for the weekend. Just Osku and Raimo, drinking and having fun. Absolutely no worries. That’s until some strange creatures start to arrive and ruin Osku and Raimo’s good time. Raimo is having none of this, however. Raimo will defend his territory. Raimo is The KingMan.

Written and directed by Tapio Kauma, Kuningasmies (The KingMan) is a action horror/comedy similar to films like Army of Darkness and Zombie Land. The film follows Osku and Raimo as the try to find a way out of their absurd situation. The pair play off of each other nicely as their contrasting personalities lend to most of the laughs during the film. Tapio does an exceptional job in character building. Each person introduced is as quirky and hilarious as the last. The jokes are well written and excellent in complementing the unique qualities of each character. The practical effects are also amazing. They’re over the top and bloody in a way that’s quite hilarious.

One criticism I have with Kuningasmies (The KingMan) is a lack of frightening scenes. Most of the horror relies on blood and gore and it would be amusing to see Osku and Raimo in situations where they appeared more scared. The story also leaves too many unanswered questions for my taste, but is a minor complaint as this genre of film doesn’t need too many things explained. This also leaves open the possibility for more stories in the Kuningasmies (The KingMan) universe, which would be enjoyable.

Overall, Kuningasmies (The KingMan) is an excellent action horror/comedy. It’s light on the scares, but the copious blood and gore more than make up for this. The character and world building is wacky and delightfully absurd. I recommend Kuningasmies (The KingMan) to people who enjoy horror/comedies that lean heavily on the laughs. You can watch Kuningasmies (The KingMan) on YouTube and maybe we’ll see a prequel or sequel set in this universe in the years to come.

I give Kuningasmies (The KingMan) 5 out of 6 reels.

The Bleak Reel Review

Hey, have you watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Cannibal Holocaust? How about Audition or Martyrs? Oh, oh, you’ve watched 2 Girls 1 Cup and Mr. Hands. Right? I got another one for you. Have you watched The Bleak? Nope, forget I said anything. I didn’t mean to bring it up. Then again, maybe you’re curious. Maybe now you can’t get The Bleak out of your head. This guy is telling me that I can’t handle The Bleak? I’ll show him. I’ll watch it. Just remember, what’s been seen cannot be unseen.

The Bleak is an extreme horror experience directed by James Bell. Set up as an anthology the viewer goes on a journey through multiple horrific and violent set pieces. From otherworldly monsters to serial murderers nothing is off-limits when it comes to The Bleak. The special effects, done by James Bell and Mae Bell, are noteworthy because they are truly incredible. Anyone interested in practical gore is going to love the miles of intestines splayed and gallons of blood sprayed in every frame of The Bleak. Another positive would be the soundtrack composed by Kids Kill Kids. The beeps, blips, and constant droning of electronic noise really heightens the shocking scenes that are playing before the viewers eyes. 

Beyond shock value and whispered about curiosity The Bleak doesn’t have much more to offer. The story is basically nonexistent as none of the vignettes are related as far as plot. The way they connect is creative, however, as characters often show up in each other’s scenarios. Character development is lacking as most of the individuals spend their time killing or running away from being killed. The dealbreaker when it comes to reviewing The Bleak is the content. I cannot express this enough, if you do not wish to view extreme scenes of violence, rape, torture, and murder do not watch The Bleak under any circumstance.

That being said curiosity is a weird thing. The Bleak is a challenge to find and a challenge to watch. Everybody enjoys a challenge, right? Just like a child reaching out to touch the top of the stove burner for the first time, you might find yourself in a similar situation. Sitting in front of your television with a DVD copy of The Bleak in your PS2, finger hovering over the play button. Ready to be burned.

I give The Bleak 2 out of 6 reels.

Da 5 Bloods Reel Review

During the Vietnam War a group of American soldiers are given the task of retrieving gold bars from a downed C-47 CIA plane. Soon after arriving at the site, their helicopter crashes. Utilizing the situation the soldiers decide to bury the gold and tell their superiors that the mission was a failure. Decades later Paul(Delroy Lindo), Otis(Clarke Peters), Eddie(Norm Lewis), and Melvin(Isiah Whitlock Jr.) reunite and return to Vietnam. They hope to retrieve the buried treasure and recover the remains of their fallen squad leader, Norman(Chadwick Boseman). Paul’s son David(Jonathan Majors) shows up at the last-minute and the men begin a journey that turns into something more poignant and impactful than simply finding lost gold.

Da 5 Bloods is the next film from critically acclaimed writer and director Spike Lee. A follow-up to 2018’s BlacKkKlansman, Da 5 Bloods continues Spike Lee’s history of making films that deliver a powerful message during important times in our country. While BlacKkKlansman was a dark comedic crime drama, Da 5 Bloods takes a more action oriented approach. It’s also a drama and succeeds tremendously in this area. All 5 of the Bloods are nuanced individuals who came from varied walks of life and led different lives as they’ve gotten older. They are funny, emotional, courageous and flawed humans that share a common bond, being a black regiment of soldiers who served during the Vietnam war. Delroy Lindo’s portrayal of Paul is especially heartbreaking as he effectively displays the devastating effects of PTSD. Spike Lee does a great job pulling no punches in delivering his message while also creating a fantastic action drama.

A minor criticism that I had with Da 5 Bloods is with the slow and somewhat predictable first hour of the film. When compared with the action packed and powerfully emotional last half of film, the first half is left in the shadows. The build up for a film is important but I feel it needed bit more balancing. Also, not a criticism but it would be interesting to get a Vietnamese American’s perspective on the film. The Vietnam war was a turbulent time and hearing different opinions would be rewarding, which makes Da 5 Bloods important as a discussion starter.

Overall, I think Da 5 Bloods is an excellent piece of cinema. Spike Lee’s passion for his message and filmmaking shows in his films and Da 5 Bloods is no exception. The pacing was off due to the action heavy and emotionally powerful last half of the movie, but that doesn’t ruin the experience. I would recommend this film to anyone who enjoys action, emotional performances, and films that continue to progress society.

I give Da 5 Bloods 6 out of 6 reels.

Ghost Burger Reel Review

John Tooley(Lee Hardcastle) is a survivor. He experienced a traumatic toilet training incident as a young child. John was left scarred by the event but he also gained an incredible gift, the ability to see ghosts. Later, as a young adult, John goes to visit his uncle, Benedict Tooley(Dominic Brunt), and cousin, Ritchie Tooley(Tim Atkins), for the summer. He is going to work at his uncle’s burger restaurant, Benedict Burgers, to earn some extra spending money. Everything is going well until John learns of the haunting in his bedroom. After killing the spirit he and Ritchie put the ghost through the restaurant’s meat grinder to hide the evidence. What they fail to realize is they’ve started a series of horrific and hilarious events. Events that will bring them, their family, and the surrounding community to their knees.

Ghost Burger is a claymation horror/comedy written and directed by Lee Hardcastle. The film is a sequel to the claymation short T is for Toilet that is featured in the 2012 horror anthology The ABCs of Death. The areas that Ghost Burger shine are in its unpredictable story and unique style. The story is bat shit crazy and this, along with the comedic writing, keeps the pacing frenetic and fun. You never know what is next but it’s usually something hilarious and gross. The style of claymation is also fantastic in that it has a low-budget feel that doesn’t compromise the overall experience. You understand that in this alternate universe the characters and the locations would look exactly like this, a deformed and grotesque version of our own world.

Although I did enjoy the inventiveness and unpredictability of Ghost Burger’s story, I would have liked some further explanation in certain areas. A few things could have been more fleshed out which would have boosted my investment in the plot. For example, in the beginning of Ghost Burger we are given no reason for why John can see ghosts. In the end the story is admittedly absurd but I do feel a bit more clarification could have helped.

Overall, Ghost Burger is one hell a good time. The story is consistently captivating and the claymation gives the film a style all its own. Some parts are vague, offering little reason for why things are happening. This is infrequent, however, and it excusable all things considered. I give Ghost Burger a big recommendation for fans of claymation and comedic horror alike. T is for Toilet and Ghost Burger a both available to view on YouTube.

I give Ghost Burger 5 out of 6 reels.

Happy Mother’s Day Reel Review

(Message to readers: Happy Mothers Day is a sequel to Cindy’s Birthday Party. Cindy’s Birthday Party has been previously reviewed and can be found at Cinemaslice.com.)

It’s been many years since Jonas(Martin James) vanished without a trace after attending Cindy’s(Gracie Demski) birthday. Cindy is now a teenager and has invited her friend, Samantha(Maryann Fisher), over for a party. It’s Mother’s Day and it seems like a nice gesture since Samantha has no one to celebrate with. Soon enough Mr. Gremshaw(Dan Busch), the caretaker, shows up and leads Cindy and Samantha to the basement where Cindy’s mother(Donna Madison) is ready to celebrate.

Happy Mother’s Day is a horror short written and directed by August Aguilar. The film is a sequel to Cindy’s Birthday Party, which was also directed by August. Happy Mother’s Day is a horror fest, filled with crazy characters, that has improved in many ways over its predecessor. One criticism I had with Cindy’s Birthday Party was the many unaddressed questions. Many answers are given in Happy Mother’s Day, while also maintaining enough of the mystery that good horror thrives upon. Another fantastic addition was the practical gore effects done by Ryan Smith. They boosted the short’s entertainment value to another level. Also, I have to mention Gracie Demski’s portrayal of Cindy. That blank stare and subtle eye twitch really creeped me out.

One criticism that I have with Happy Mother’s Day is that the plot is familiar. Nostalgia and reverence to earlier film is important, but ultimately too much can lead to predictability. The question mark of Cindy’s family remains, however, and because of the revelations in Happy Mother’s Day I’m excited for more. If another sequel is in the works I hope to see some interesting plot choices added to the other excellent improvements.

Overall, Happy Mother’s Day was a bloody good time. The characters were unique and interesting and the makeup effects exceptional. The story was formulaic but didn’t disrupt the film’s quality. I recommend this film to fans of 1970’s horror, particularly films with sadistic family units.

I give Happy Mothers Day 5 out of 6 reels.

Quarantine Reel Review

Another exciting episode of The Night Shift is ready to begin filming. Tonight reporter Angela Vidal(Jennifer Carpenter) and cameraman Scott Percival(Steve Harris) are shadowing the firemen of the LAFD. Things remain relatively calm until a call comes in from a nearby apartment building. George Fletcher(Johnathon Schaech) and Jake(Jay Hernandez) respond to the incident, with Angela and Scott in tow. A resident of the building, a Ms. Espinoza(Jeannie Epper), is acting very erratically. She’s extremely aggressive toward others and there’s a mysterious thick foam emerging from her mouth . . .

Quarantine is a 2008 found footage horror film directed by John Erick Dowdle. Based on the 2007 Spanish film called REC, Quarantine is excellent at capturing the grimy look and claustrophobic feel of the original. The setting of the century old apartment building lends an authenticity to the creepiness. Old places tend to have an air of mystery which creates apprehension and unease. The makeup and effects work are also exceptional. By the end of the film you’ll be on edge and the creature design has a lot to do with that anxiety. Ms. Espinoza was on my mind for days after my first viewing.

Quarantine isn’t without faults. The main criticism is a classic among the horror genre. Everyone in Quarantine is doing something stupid at every turn. Given our current situation in the real world, this statement may seem to ring true. I, however, am not talking about “that’s not what I would do” stupid. I’m talking about “that’s not what ANYONE would do” stupid. Like backing against a door made mostly of glass when you know a monster is on the other side of that door. Which happens in this movie. Literally.

Despite an over abundance of bad decisions being made by multiple characters, Quarantine isn’t without its merits. The setting and creature designs are high quality and do most of the work when it comes to scares. Quarantine is a visually frightening found footage freak show and I recommend it to anyone who is willing to turn off their brain for a scary good time.

I give Quarantine 3 out of 6 reels.

28 Days Later Reel Review

28 days ago an animal rights activist group broke into a research testing facility. Their intentions were good, wanting to free a large group of caged monkeys. During the release, however, they soon learn that the primates carry a dark secret. 28 days later, Jim(Cillian Murphy) wakes up in an abandoned hospital. The building and surrounding city are in ruins and seemingly every human has vanished. Upon entering a church, Jim slowly begins to realize what has happened when he encounters a horrifying scene. After being saved by survivors Mark(Noah Huntley) and Selena(Naomie Harris) all three must work together to escape the terrors they will encounter.

28 Days Later is a 2002 apocalyptic horror film directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland. Redefining the genre as we know it the movie popularized one of the most horrifying movie monsters, the fast “zombie”. I put zombie in quotes because in 28 Days Later you don’t see the traditional undead zombie. Instead we get another version, one that is just as chaotic, unpredictable, and constantly hungry for anything that moves. The film revolves around these infected humans and are what provides the brilliant tension, eerie scenery and relatable characters we see throughout the rest of the film.

It’s tough to find a critique during the entire runtime of 28 Days Later. The set design is impeccable. The serenity and loneliness of an abandoned London is perfectly captured. This, along with the haunting soundtrack, is what builds the suspense that is soon broken by the shrieks of the infected. Essentially, it’s a movie full of beautifully crafted and well thought out jump scares. The nuanced relationships between the characters we meet trying to escape the city are emotional. By the end of the film you’re rooting for them to conquer every obstacle they meet.

I cannot praise 28 Days Later enough. A true modern classic in horror cinema, it nails everything it sets to carry out. Do the main characters make some decisions that are questionable? Sure, but considering they are human you see them learn and grow from these choices in a world were decision-making is a deadly game. I solidly recommend 28 Days Later to anyone who enjoys horror or great movies in general.

I give 28 Days Later 6 out of 6 reels.

Outbreak – Reel Review

When US army officer General Billy Ford(Morgan Freeman) learns of a sickness spreading throughout a small village in Zaire he sends in one of his best men, virologist Sam Daniels(Dustin Hoffman), to investigate. Upon his return from Zaire Sam warns Billy about the rapidly spreading, deadly virus. Billy and his superior, General Donald McClintock(Donald Sutherland), dismiss the issue as an isolated incident. The virus comes stateside, however, when a monkey smuggled from Zaire arrives in the small community of Cedar Creek, CA. The race is on as Sam and CDC scientist Robby Keough(Rene Russo) fight not only the disease but also a mysterious government coverup that dates back to the late 60s.

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen and written by Laurence Dworet and Robert Roy Pool, Outbreak is a 1995 action/adventure thriller. Similar to other films in the mid nineties Outbreak takes a factual subject, in this case a viral outbreak, and creates thrilling over the top scenarios that go with the plot. Films like Twister and Jurassic Park are some comparisons that come to mind. Outbreak does an exceptional job in keeping the viewer riveted. The story moves at a brisk pace and the odds are constantly stacked against the heroic leads, Sam and Robby. The acting accelerates the action by creating characters that are unique and easily distinguishable. The actors do a phenomenal job establishing the relationships they are in and making us believe in their interactions.

In the same way that the action helps to keep the viewer intrigued, it also gives the plot a few “How could this possibly happen?” moments. The action/adventure genre can sometimes be bloated with questionable decisions and unlikely timing and Outbreak is no exception. Without spoilers, all I can say is that there were moments I questioned if certain events would have happened practically or if they were solely put in to heighten the tension. With a story that revolves around a realistic event, I expect some sensible actions and motivations. In this area, Outbreak dropped the ball more than a few times.

Despite some of the convenient timing and unrealistic choices, I thought Outbreak was a decent film. It’s quick pace, thrilling set pieces, and great acting were more than enough for me to give this film a solid recommendation. This is a perfect rental or streaming option for anyone who enjoys an exciting plot that doesn’t get bogged down in the details.

I give Outbreak 4 out of 6 reels.

Contagion Reel Review

After a business trip to Hong Kong Beth Emhoff’s(Gwyneth Paltrow) health quickly starts to decline. Fever, cough, and waves of light headed nausea are consuming her body. Her husband, Mitch Emhoff(Matt Damon), is not only concerned for her but also their children, Clark(Griffin Kane) and Jory(Anna Jacoby-Heron). What Mitch doesn’t realize is that his wife is patient zero in what is to become a global pandemic. With the sickness starting to spread at an alarming rate the director of the CDC, Dr. Ellis Cheever(Laurence Fishburne), begins emergency preparations. He contacts CDC coworker and Epidemiologist Dr. Erin Mears(Kate Winslet) to help him in what is to become one of the largest outbreaks of disease the world has ever met.

Contagion is a 2011 medical thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by Scott Z. Burns. Soderbergh does an impressive job creating a sense of scale to the pandemic and Burns explains the plot in a way that doesn’t turn away the viewer. The sheer amount of characters in Contagion is staggering and their stories are all happening simultaneously throughout the globe. To juggle these storylines and fit them into an hour and forty-five minutes is an impressive feat of editing. The script is written and delivered in a way that uses the correct terminology and protocols that would actually happen in an emergency such as this. It gives the film an authenticity that would be appreciated by anybody from medical experts to the common moviegoer.

While I appreciated the scale and details put into the script and plot, these are also some of the problems that I had with Contagion. The scale of the film caused some characters and their storylines to get lost in the chaos. A plot line involving a kidnapped doctor near the beginning of the film comes back near the end. By the time they continued, I had some memory searching to do to get myself back into that plot thread. I also had to watch this movie twice for this review. While it’s valued that they are not dumbing down the material, it is on the borderline of being too technical. 

Despite some plot lines that are questionably broken up and my ability to understand some of the medical language used, I thoroughly enjoyed Contagion. The talent to weave so many stories and stick most of the landings is incredible. Also, it’s accessible for everyone and is a great rewatch if you didn’t pick up some of the minor details. I recommend Contagion to any one who enjoys their thrillers tense,realistic, and emotional.

I give Contagion 5 out of 6 reels.