Saturday, November 26, 2011

Crazy Canadian College Kid Killers: Tucker And Dale Vs Evil (2010) Review

Anyone who has studied Horror 101 knows exactly what happens when a bunch of college kids head out into the woods and run into some seedy looking rednecks. Right? But, what if the rednecks were just good, honest, caring individuals who didn't want to hurt anyone? Well, let me just check the Horror 101 syllabus here… OK, if the rednecks are nice people then you ain't got no antagonists and therefore you ain't got no horror movie. Hang on… has Eli Craig read this?

Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are a couple of simple men (rednecks, if you like (bogans, to my fellow Aussies)) who've just bought themselves a "fixer upper" cabin in the middle of the woods. Their newly acquired piece of real-estate is a bit of a dump but Tucker & Dale think they've hit the jackpot with such a prestigious property.

On the first trip to their exclusive new abode they have one of those "horror movie" encounters with a group of "horror movie" college kids at one of those impossibly dingy "horror movie" gas stations. It's text book stuff until writer/director Eli Craig shows us the encounter from both perspectives. From the kids' point of view Tucker & Dale are a couple of creepy threatening looking rednecks straight out of the Horror 101 syllabus. But, from Tucker & Dale's perspective they're just a couple of regular guys out for a spot of fishin' and cabin renovating, while the college kids are aloof snobs.

After this initial encounter, the college kids and Tucker & Dale go their separate ways but, of course, their paths cross again in the deep dark woods. This triggers a series of misunderstandings and miscommunications that escalate into a full on blood bath.

The ever helpful Tucker & Dale search for legless college kid.

I'm very close to proclaiming Tucker And Dale Vs Evil as the second best horror-comedy I've ever seen. Writer/director Eli Craig's role reversal idea is so simple (yet so brilliant), you wonder why no one has thought of it before.

The horror-comedy subgenre is littered with duds, like Club Dread and The Tripper, that failed to make me laugh or give me a scare. Even the stupendously overrated Shaun of the Dead really didn’t do much for me (uh oh… was that the sound of BIQs very few regular readers storming out?). Horror-comedy is a tough thing to get right. Too often film-makers don't have a clear idea about whether a particular scene is supposed to be funny or scary and it ends up being neither. Eli Craig’s writing and direction virtually never misfires this way.

Admittedly, Tucker And Dale Vs Evil is mostly played for laughs and isn't particularly scary or suspenseful. There's plenty of gore, but it's principally a comedy movie made for (and by, I expect) horror fans. Craig subverts all the usual horror movie tropes mining for laughs and most of the gags are right on target. He's also very ably serviced by Tudyk and Labine who have perfect comic timing and delivery (particulalry Labine who virtually steals the show).

Given that Tucker And Dale Vs Evil went direct to DVD here with absolutely no fanfare, my expectations were low. I'd heard some positive buzz about it but I've heard good buzz about other horror-comedies in the past (yes, I’m looking you again Shaun) that have ultimately been disappointing, so I had no reason to think it would necessarily be any good. But, it was good. Very good.

If you’re a fan of horror and have a proper sense of humour you really shouldn’t miss Tucker And Dale Vs Evil.

Friday, November 11, 2011

How To Traumatise A 7 Year Old: The Haunted House (2003) Review

In my home country of Straylia, Halloween is not observed with the same level of enthusiasm or acceptance as it appears to be in the US. So, I don’t really feel comfortable letting my kids (2 girls; 7 and 9 years old) go trick-or-treating in case they encounter a stranger who makes their displeasure at being trick-or-treated a bit too well known to my kids.

This, of course, doesn’t stop my kids asking to go trick-or-treating every year so I’m usually prepared with a consolation prize for when I inevitably disappointment them with my “no trick-or-treating” ruling. This year, I offered then a “Halloween Movie Night”. The suggestion was a big hit, and had the desired effect of adequately distracting them from the fact that they weren't going trick-or-treating. I'd boast about what an awesome parent I am if it wasn't for the fact that I'm not. A fact that will become plainly evident if you continue reading.

So, my kids set about making decorations for our home theatre lounge room while I tried to figure out what movie we were going to watch. Bearing in mind that my kids have consumed a steady diet of G rated Pixar and Dreamworks animation since birth, I didn't want to traumatise them with something too frightening. So, after extensive research (OK, I googled “kids Halloween movies”) I presented them with following short list from which to choose their first "scary" movie: Casper, The Corpse Bride, Ghostbusters, The Haunted Mansion, and The Nightmare Before Christmas (all rated PG or G).

“What’s a mansion?” my 7 year old daughter asked.

“It’s like a really, really big house,” I explained.

“Wow,” she said, “so a haunted mansion would be even scarier than a haunted house?”

“Well, it’s bigger. I’m not sure about scarier,” I clarified.

“I want to watch The Haunted Mansion!” she blurted.

“Yeah, me too,” declared my 9 year old daughter.

So The Haunted Mansion it was.

The Haunted Mansion starts with an ominous olden day prelude set in the titular mansion. A large aristocratic party is going swimmingly until someone dies from a poisoned chalice and then someone else hangs themselves.

Sure, it's a Disney movie, but it's not a "Disney" movie.

The movie then skips to the present day and introduces us to husband and wife real estate agents Jim Evers (Eddie Murphy) and Sara Evers (Marsha Thomason) of “Evers & Evers” estate agency. Things are a little rocky between Jim and Sara because Jim spends more time flogging real estate than - uhm... it's a PG  rated movie so let's just say - attending to Sara's needs. So, as recompense for his inattentiveness he offers to take Sara and their kids, Michael (Marc John Jefferies) and Megan (Aree Davis) away for the weekend.

Before the family sets off for some quality time together Sara gets a call from a potential client requesting her services to sell an expansive family mansion. Surprise, surprise, it's the mansion from the ominous olden days prelude. The client is also oddly insistent that Sara be the agent and not Jim. Sara just wants to blow the client off and go on their weekend getaway as planned, but Jim insists on “stopping by” the mansion on the way.

When the whole family “stops by” the mansion they are greeted by the creepy butler, Ramsley (Terence Stamp), who introduces them to mansion’s owner Master Gracey (Nathaniel Parker). Sara is made to feel welcome, but the rest of the family are given the cold shoulder. Jim is so enthusiastic about securing such a prestigious property, however; he barely notices he’s not really welcome.

Before too long a storm rolls in, flooding the road into the mansion, and forces the Evers family to stay the night. What ensues is a series of increasingly spooky events that put the Evers family in peril and reveal the mansion’s dark secrets.

"Here, give this psychiatrist a call. He specialises in paediatric care and post-traumatic stress syndrome."

The Haunted Mansion is a pretty stock standard haunted house movie pitched at a younger (but not too young (I'll elaborate on that in a moment)) audience. Eddie Murphy is at his charmingly amusing best as Jim Evers, and Terence Stamp is customarily pitch perfect as the creepy butler. Overall, the movie has a pretty good balance of humour and scares. The rest of the cast is solid in their fairly perfunctory roles, and the production design is probably the best I’ve seen for a haunted house movie.

OK, let's be clear about this, The Haunted Mansion is not a movie for hard-core horror fans nor, as it turns out, is it really for very young viewers either. This movie is really pitched at the pre-teen audience and, in my frequently ignored opinion, it is pitched perfectly. It’s not so frightening that it will traumatise pre-teens, nor is it so soft and cuddly that they’ll easily dismiss it as "lame" or “unscary”.

Unfortunately, my 7 year old daughter was a bit too young for it. I didn’t pick up on the fact it was really frightening her during the movie, but when the credits rolled she bolted out of our home theatre room in tears. I’m expecting social services to stop by and remove her from my care any day now. (Please, no comments about what a crap Dad I am, I already feel terrible).

On the brighter side, my 9 year old daughter put on a brave face and said she didn’t find it scary. Although she did chatter nervously during some sequences, so I think, for her at least, it was the perfect introduction to "scary" movies.

Friday, November 4, 2011

BIQ Guide To Horror Clichés: Dead mobile phone battery.

In the 10 to 15 years I’ve been using a mobile phone I reckon I’ve been caught out with a flat battery maybe once or twice. But in the world of horror cinema nobody ever recharges their mobile phone battery, ever.

I know the "dead battery" cliché is BS because, in the real world, I regularly see teenagers in a trance like state staring and pocking at their mobile phone like they are giving a small rodent a shiatsu massage. I steadfastly refuse to believe it’s not charged and they are just staring at and caressing a blank screen.

Cliché Annoyance Factor: Low / Moderate / High

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Rant O’Clock: LG - Life’s Glitchy

After much deliberation and procrastination I finally got around to buying a new TV for my living room recently. I purchased an LG 55” LED LCD “Cinema 3D” TV (55LW6500).

I’d never bought an LG product before, but seeing as they were the only manufacturer offering passive 3D TVs I decided go with LG.

In order to minimise any compatibility issues between the TV and the Blu-ray 3D player I choose an LG Blu-ray 3D player (BD660) too.

You know how it is when you have two pieces of electronic equipment that don’t get along: the manufacturer of the component A blames the manufacturer of component B, and vice versa. So, when buying equipment that needs to get along, I try to buy from the same manufacturer in order to avoid such heartache.

A fat lot of good it did me in this instance…

LG’s Glorious Two Dimensional Blurry “3D”.

At first I was reasonably happy with the 3D imagery the LG produced from the handful of Blu-ray 3D titles I purchased along with the TV. Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs and Despicable Me, in particular, looked great.

A few weeks after buying the TV, Rio was released on Blu-ray 3D. Given the dearth of decent Blu-ray 3D titles I raced out and purchased this title, sight unseen. But when I came to watch it on my expensive new telly something was wrong…

When the image was slow moving it looked OK, but as soon as the image moved fast the perception of depth was lost and the image became blurry. If you paused the image it became obvious that the problem was the result of the left and right images being slightly out of sync. That is, instead of getting a different perspective of the same frame in each eye, you get a different perspective of different frames in each eye.

After googling “Rio 3D Blu-ray problem” I found a couple of forum discussions about the issue. There appeared to be one common denominator to the problem: LG Blu-ray players (Urgh).

I called LG and was pleasantly surprised that I got to talk to a real person whose first language was actually English. But my enthusiasm quickly wanned when it became obvious that this polite, well-spoken, man was not aware of the issue and seemed more interested in getting rid of me than actually solving the problem. In the end he told me that the issue would be logged and a firmware update would be released to solve the problem, if necessary.

It felt like a generic fob off, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt and waited patiently for a firmware update to be released.

Three weeks later, with no firmware update in sight, I decided to write to LG requesting an update on the status of this issue. Here’s what Paul from LG Australia had to say:

The issue is that there is one off productions that use a particular codec when creating the discs that are incompatible with certain DVD players. In this case Rio appears to be an example of how the codec of a disc clashes with the reader of a DVD player.

If and when LG release an update to rectify this issue, it will be available on this link >

Please regularly check this for any new additions to the update list.

I hope this has been of some assistance.

If LG rectify this issue? WTF! Paul, I paid good money for a “Blu-ray 3D” player, I damn well expect it to play “Blu-ray 3D” discs. It’s not optional! And, no, you’ve been of no bloody assistance at all!

I can only assume “Paul” is some lame AI program that automatically responds to emails LG receives. How else does one explain his constant references to “DVD player” when I explicitly explained the problem was with an LG BD660 Blu-ray 3D player? And the inference that it’s acceptable that some discs just “clash” with some players is, with all due respect to Paulbot, totally unacceptable.

LG’s Really Dumb Smart TV

Whilst my big gripe with LG is that the Blu-ray 3D player they sold me doesn’t work properly and that they don’t seem to care now that they have my money, I have also been mightily underwhelmed by their “Smart TV”

The ads for LG Smart TV imply that the platform has bazillions of LG apps (akin to what’s available on all those slick Apple gadgets) that will transform your TV into the most comprehensive home entertainment device ever conceived.

The truth is there’s a handful of crappy games that’ll you’ll play once before wondering why you bothered, a very glitchy media streaming app, and a YouTube app that is basically broken.

The YouTube app is by far the biggest disappointment. It starts up playing a “randomly” selected video, but I actually think a disgruntled LG app developer has coded it to find the most offensive clip possible rather than a truly random selection. I’ve only used the YouTube app four times (because it sucks as badly as it does), and on three occasions the randomly selected clip featured some talentless moron squealing “fuck”, or “fucking”, or “mother fucker”, or some other witless derivative of the f-word within the first few seconds. The one time it didn’t feature an f-word riddled rant from some YouTube halfwit, it featured a song about masturbation. Nice… Here kids, gather round and check out this awesome fucking fucked mother fucker masturbation app on the LG Smart TV.

This opening random selection “feature” of the LG Smart TV YouTube app begs two blindingly obvious questions: 1) Why does the app have to play a video at start up? 2) If you are going to do this, why not make the starting video one from an LG Channel, or some other vetted channel that isn’t going to start swearing at you as soon as you launch the app? It defies belief that LG allowed this app to be released and it farcical that they call it “Smart”.

All that said, the auto-swearing feature is not the worst of the YouTube app’s problems. Finding the videos you want to watch is basically an impossible chore. The app only gives you a clunky text search facility for finding videos. It’s really unintuitive to use, often doesn’t return the video you’re after, and often responds very sluggishly to remote control button presses. You can’t sign into a YouTube account and get access to your favourites, your subscriptions, or recommendations. You don’t even get the default recommendations for “guest” users of YouTube.

Frankly, the Smart TV YouTube app is unusable and LG should be embarrassed for including it.

I can think of another word starting with "Fu" that describes LG's Smart TV.

The Smart TV media streaming app is another disappointment. In order to get it to work you need to install Plex Media Server on your PC. It works OK if you have a wired Ethernet connection from your TV to your computer, but if you have a wireless connection (as I believe most people would) it’s hopelessly unreliable. Sometimes the app will connect to the server and work flawlessly, other times it just can’t “see” the server and fails to make a connection. There's no recognisable pattern to when it will or won't work. The Plex developers says it’s a bug in Windows 7, but oddly, this bug doesn’t affect any other apps on the LG Smart TV platform that require network connectivity… go figure.

The whole Smart TV thing feels like a rushed product. Nothing works well, and some things don’t work at all. The best app is probably the vTuner internet radio app, but even it lacks basic features like current track information.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

BIQ Guide To Horror Clichés: Antagonist in the cabinet mirror.

Has opening and closing your mirrored bathroom medicine cabinet ever summonsed a madman to suddenly appear behind you? No, me neither. But it happens with startling regularity in the world of horror cinema, does it not?

Because this cliché has been so overused we now just expect someone evil to suddenly appear every time a mirrored medicine cabinet is closed in a horror movie. With this in mind, film-makers have resorted to subverting the cliché by using the same setup, but when the mirrored cabinet is closed nothing appears (ooh, how subversive). It’s often used as a softener before some other jump scare is trotted out shortly afterwards.

The only problem is, sadly, it’s now got to the point where even the subversion of the cliché is now cliché.

Cliché Annoyance Factor: Low / Moderate / High