Tag Archives: 2013

Capsule film reviews: Four more horror movies from 2013

‘Resolution’
Release Date: Jan. 25, 2013
Director: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Starring: Peter Cilella, Vinny Curran and Zahn McClarnon
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B+

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Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film and Cinedigm.

Well, “Resolution” starts out with Michael (Peter Cilella) handcuffing his junkie buddy, Chris (Vinny Curran), to a pipe inside a run-down cabin in the middle of nowhere in an attempt to get him sober. What could go wrong? The film is a pleasant surprise, though. As it progresses, it reveals itself to be a slow-paced psychological thriller that comments on storytelling and the horror genre itself. It’s like a low-budget take on the ideas explored in 2012’s “Cabin in the Woods,” although it’s definitely not as well-acted nor as tongue-in-cheek hilarious as its predecessor. Curran, in particular, does a really subpar job portraying his drug-addicted character. On the other hand, “Resolution” is a lot more actually menacing and scary than “Cabin in the Woods,” and its final 30 minutes are tense and unpredictable.

‘Stitches’
Release Date: April 1, 2013
Director: Conor McMahon
Starring: Ross Noble, Gemma-Leah Devereux and Tommy Knight
Genre: Comedy, Horror
Rating: R for strong bloody violence and gore, sexual content, language, drug and alcohol use – all involving teens.
Grade: C-

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Photo courtesy of MPI Media Group and Irish Film Board.

This is a really goofy premise, so stay with me: “Stitches” is an Irish horror-comedy about a clown who is accidentally killed at a child’s birthday party and is resurrected six years later to exact his revenge on the kids who were there. It’s an attempt at the hilariously over-the-top gore perfected in movies such as the “Leprechaun” franchise or “Killer Klowns from Outer Space,” but it isn’t executed as well. The cartoonish special effects aren’t too impressive, and it ends up being neither scary nor really funny (although there are some laughs). Considering there’s a Satanic ritual performed by clowns in the graveyard and an obsessive occult research segment on the history of clowns, “Stitches” should have been way more amusing. But there’s probably still a market for this. I’m not sure who those people would be, but they’re out there.

‘Berberian Sound Studio’
Release Date: June 14, 2013
Director: Peter Strickland
Starring: Toby Jones, Cosimo Fusco and Antonio Mancino
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B

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Photo courtesy of Warp X and Illumination Films.

The film-within-a-film technique makes “Berberian Sound Studio” a creepy, slow-moving, atmospheric piece of surrealist cinema. The story follows British foley artist Gilderoy (Toby Jones) as he arrives on set in Italy to work on mixing sounds for director Giancarlo Santini’s (Antonio Mancino) latest giallo flick. Santini’s film is an Argento-esque horror story (although he refuses to refer to it as such) about a girls’ school cursed by witches, requiring Gilderoy and crew to create many creative sound effects in the studio. This is fascinating to watch, although potentially boring for American audiences. “Berberian Sound Studio” then takes a “Mulholland Drive”-style abrupt left turn into the realm of the absurd about three-quarters of the way through, as Gilderoy grows increasingly discomforted by the nature of the film and the working environment. The final act is eerie and tense, although this film is a lot more understated and never becomes truly “horror.”

‘We Are What We Are’
Release Date: Sept. 27, 2013
Director: Jim Mickle
Starring: Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner and Bill Sage
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violence, bloody images, some sexuality, nudity and language.
Grade: B-

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Photo courtesy of Entertainment One.

“We Are What We Are” is a thoughtful, beautifully-shot creepy thriller, but a lot of plot holes make it less enjoyable. The film (a remake of the 2010 Mexican horror film of the same name, although several key elements are different) focuses on the reclusive Parkers — a family of urban cannibals — following the death of Emma Parker (Kassie DePaiva), the mother of three children. The film is clearly supposed to make comment on religious fervor, patriarchal traditions and family bonds, but it seems like a lot of this is lost in translation. The influence of 2011’s excellent “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” about a woman escaping from the clutches of an oppressive cult, is extremely evident, but “We Are What We Are” never seems as believable. Luckily, the acting is strong from all three leads, the cinematography is attractive, and super blonde children are inherently disturbing. I only wish as much attention to detail had been paid to the screenwriting as was paid to the look of the film.

Capsule film reviews: Four horror movies from 2013

‘The Lords of Salem’
Release Date:
April 26, 2013
Director: Rob Zombie
Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Judy Geeson and Bruce Davison
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violent and sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some drug use.
Grade: C+

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Photo courtesy of Anchor Bay Films.

It pains me to say, but as much as I love and admire the talents of both Sheri Moon and Rob Zombie, I was not a big fan of “The Lords of Salem.” I do enjoy the corresponding Rob Zombie track, as well as the movie score that was penned by Rob Zombie guitarist John 5. The movie itself, however, misses the mark quite a bit. The story centers on Heidi (Moon Zombie), a recovering drug addict who works as a DJ at a rock ‘n roll radio station. When she plays a strange record that she receives from a band called The Lords of Salem, she begins having creepy Satanic visions that are traced back to a curse from the Salem witch trials. The premise sounds really cool, and there are some great artsy shots of priests masturbating with giant dildos and naked old witches and goats’ head masks and all kinds of weird shit. But the film doesn’t really come together as a whole, and these interesting sequences come across a little too obscure.

‘Curse of Chucky’
Release Date:
Aug. 2, 2013
Director: Don Mancini
Starring: Fiona Dourif, Brad Dourif and Danielle Bisutti
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for bloody horror violence and language.
Grade: C

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Photo courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

“Curse of Chucky” was less cheesy than most of the previous installments in the “Child’s Play” franchise, but I don’t know why anyone would want that. The series reached its peak of cheesiness with 1998’s “Bride of Chucky,” which is still definitely the best film of the bunch. As for the “Curse of Chucky,” there was too much spooky ambiance and too few Chucky one-liners. I am, however, so incredibly glad that this film was made rather than a reboot or remake of the original “Child’s Play,” as was initially intended. I also appreciate that the film stars Fiona Dourif, the real-life daughter of Brad Dourif (Charles Lee Ray/the voice of Chucky). I was also pleasantly surprised that the movie focused on a female hero in a wheelchair and two lesbian/bisexual characters. I just didn’t think there was enough Chucky silliness. But I do hope they continue making “Child’s Play” movies for a long time coming.

‘The Jeffrey Dahmer Files’
Release Date:
Feb. 15, 2013
Director: Chris James Thompson
Starring: Andrew Swant, Pamela Bass and Pat Kennedy
Genre: Documentary
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: C

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Photo courtesy of Good / Credit Productions.

A documentary rather than a horror movie, “The Jeffrey Dahmer Files” is nonetheless horrible. However, this not a very well-filmed nor well-made movie. The dramatic reenactments are pretty goofy and unrealistic — particularly a scene that depicts Dahmer (Andrew Swant) carrying a set of mannequin legs out to the trunk of a taxi that was so silly I’m still unclear on its purpose. There are also a lot of inexplicable fade-to-black transitions that were rather bothersome. But, aside from the filmmaking, there are some interesting aspects to this documentary. The file footage is compelling, as is its unique focus. The documentary features interviews with only three people, providing a clear look into their lives and how they were impacted by the Dahmer case — an unusual perspective that almost made up for many of the filmmaking missteps.

‘You’re Next’
Release Date:
Aug. 23, 2013
Director: Adam Wingard
Starring: Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci and Wendy Glenn
Genre: Horror, Suspense, Thriller
Rating: R for some sexuality/nudity, language and strong bloody violence.
Grade: D

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Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

The plot twists in “You’re Next” are terribly predictable, which makes the whole thing pretty disappointing and left me wanting a lot more. The carnage is pretty standard (save a choice bit involving a blender and someone’s still-thinking brains — that was a little off the wall), and the suspense is pretty lacking as the villains simply aren’t strong enough to make much impact. However, Sharni Vinson (“Step Up 3D”) is badass as Erin and does a strong job carrying the movie on her own. Some of the dialogue and action is amusing, particularly regarding the ill-fated family dynamic. And the movie ends on a good note with an almost slapstick final scare.

Food: Favorite Los Angeles restaurants of 2013

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Truffle Mushroom Swiss Burger at Plan Check Kitchen + Bar. SCREAMfmLondon

Food-wise, 2013 was a big year of personal growth for me. I had always considered myself a picky eater, but, as it turns out, I had just never tasted good food before. And there is no shortage of good food in Los Angeles. From dousing everything in white truffle oil to an unlikely affection for congealed pig blood, I have really stretched my dining wings this year. Here are some highlights from my favorite restaurants of 2013:

Umami Burger

Burgers used to be a food of backyard barbeques that could be bought for $1 at McDonalds. But ever since my first bite of an Umami Burger, I’ve known that they’re capable of so much more. Everything about these burgers is expertly-crafted and deserving of the hype that surrounds them: the crunchy onion strings and chewy bacon lardons on the Manly Burger, the creamy and gooey cheese on the Truffle Burger, the flavorful parmesan crisp and fresh vegetables on the namesake Umami Burger. I feel like I’ve spent half my year dreaming about, raving about and then eating Umami Burgers, and I’d do it again given half the chance. Additionally, Umami Burger’s rich and delicious truffle cheese-covered shoestring fries are solely responsible for launching my insatiable obsession with truffle oil. So, thanks for that.

Nong Lá

Bún bò Hue at Nong Lá. SCREAMfmLondon

Bún bò Hue at Nong Lá. SCREAMfmLondon

For years, I asserted that I didn’t like pho. And that I wasn’t particularly into soup in general. Nong Lá was an unexpected game-changer this year. I was somehow compelled to order the bún bò Hue, a spicy beef soup made with lemongrass, vermicelli noodles, pork patty and beef shank, topped with white onions, green onions and cilantro. The restaurant is charming and modern, and the meal was initially delicious, but the most surprising element was that I ended up wanting to eat bún bò Hue again and again, all the time. I even went to other Vietnamese restaurants and consumed other pho! So out-of-character! Nong Lá’s influence had a ripple effect through my diet: I thought, if Vietnamese food is actually delicious, what about Thai food? And Indian food? And Mediterranean food? Could it be that there is more to cooking beyond deep-frying? Could it be?! Yes, I suppose it could.

Spitz & Sidewalk Grill

Speaking of Mediterranean food, two of the best-tasting and least expensive restaurants I discovered in Los Feliz, coincidentally, serve Mediterranean food. At Spitz, the star of the show (besides the cocktails, because the cocktails rule) are the street cart fries – well-seasoned fries topped with garlic aioli, feta, onion, green pepper, tomato, olives, pepperoncini and chili sauce. At the Sidewalk Grill, I like to be the master of my own destiny and create a meal combining a chicken kabob wrap (lettuce, cucumber, tomato, pickle, hummus and tasty garlic sauce) with a side dish like tabouleh or a Greek salad. No joke, I once ordered a Greek salad. A Greek salad is just cucumbers, tomato and feta, friends. See how far I’ve come? I’m not the man they think I am at home.

Plan Check Kitchen + Bar

There isn’t really a good life-affirming story about Plan Check. It didn’t really change my perspective on food in any capacity. It’s just really, really good. They serve a weird pastrami poutine featuring gravy and cheese on top of thick, chewy fries that is just rich and delicious. And, really, the burgers at Plan Check are some of the best I’ve ever tasted. Something about the crunch-covered bun, the mini-skillet they’re served in to contain the juices, and the fresh (and unusual) toppings like pig candy and ketchup leather. It’s just really innovative and, most importantly, effective. The fresh-cooked cruller donuts covered in cinnamon sugar and served in cream and fresh fruit are pretty killer as well.

Sprinkles Cupcakes

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Sprinkles Cupcakes. SCREAMfmLondon

I hear gourmet cupcakes are a thing of the past. Talk turns to donuts as the next big dessert trend. I blame all those weirdos who pay $50 for boring cronuts (a donut-croissant hybrid). But nothing will ever replace cupcakes in my heart. I will love cupcakes forever, and Sprinkles Cupcakes have done right by me this year. This ritzy cupcakery is located in Beverly Hills and has become famous as the home of the 24-hour cupcake ATM. I enjoy making a game of the cupcake schedule, trying to coordinate a trip on days they’ll be serving up the best treats. The pumpkin cupcake is particularly great (but only seasonal!). The moist cake is more muffin-like than super sweet, and the cream cheese frosting is a perfect complement. My passion for fancy cupcakes will never die.

Has my palate matured with age? Did I just destroy all of my tastebuds with too many microwave dinners? Do they just not ship any good tomatoes to Reno? I don’t know what makes the difference, really. Probably a combination of the above-mentioned factors.

What’s on the agenda for 2014? So glad you asked, because I’ve got it all planned out:

– More vegetables you hated as a kid that turned out to be delicious later in life. Brussels sprouts! Asparagus! Avocado!

– More brunch. Day-drinking and dessert-disguised-as-breakfast in the early morning hours!

– More burgers. Literally every gourmet burger in the world! I’m coming for you!

– A wider variety of cultural cuisines. Korean barbeque! Thai noodles! Fancy ramen! Japanese food trucks! Spices!

– More fruit. Smoothies! Juice cleanses!

Wow, I’m excited. Basically, I have 235 places bookmarked on Yelp, and I’m not allowed to die until I’ve tried them all. Away we go.

Album review: One Direction, ‘Midnight Memories’

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Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Harry Styles and Niall Horan. Photo courtesy of Columbia Records, Syco Music and Sony Music.

The best thing about “Midnight Memories” is, in fact, that it doesn’t entirely sound like a fully-realized album. It sounds like a transitional stage with evidence of boys becoming men splashed over every track. On the album’s title track, Niall Horan sings, “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m finding my way,” and that is exactly what comes across. The album is good, but what makes it interesting is the potential for greatness as One Direction continues to develop as a band.

The most notable difference between “Midnight Memories” and One Direction’s previous two albums is that each of the five members contributed to the songwriting, and only three tracks were written without the band’s collaboration. One of these is the album’s excellent lead single, “Best Song Ever,” which is catchy, straightforward pop that would easily fit in on last year’s “Take Me Home.”

The rest of the album, however, is quite a bit different: largely guitar-driven pop-rock showcasing the personal growth, complex ideas and unique personalities of each member.

Louis Tomlinson leads the group in songwriting, having helped pen 12 of the 18 tracks. Arguably One Direction’s weakest singer, Tomlinson demonstrates on “Midnight Memories” the impressive writing and production talent he has long since been cultivating. Alongside Liam Payne (who co-wrote nine “Midnight Memories” songs with Tomlinson), he has pursued a (yet rather inactive) role as director for One Mode Productions Limited, and is also largely responsible for plucking Australian pop-rock group 5 Seconds of Summer from obscurity and bringing them along as the opening act on One Direction’s Take Me Home Tour.

Tomlinson’s talent truly shines on the superb “Strong.” The song features mature, understated verses contrasted against a sweeping, fast-paced chorus. The musical accompaniment is rhythmic and interesting, solidifying “Strong” as one of the album’s best tracks.

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Photo courtesy of Columbia Records, Syco Music and Sony Music.

Other standouts include “Happily,” “Little Black Dress,” “Don’t Forget Where You Belong” and “Something Great.” From its tender ballads to harder dance tunes, “Midnight Memories” has a lot to offer as it teases a more adult side to One Direction. There is some implied profanity (“People talk shh– but we don’t listen.”) and suggested sexuality (“You say you’re a good girl, / But I know you would, girl.”).  Scandalous!

One of Payne’s most interesting contributions to the album is “Better Than Words,” the verses of which are comprised only of other song titles. It name-drops everything from Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie” to Boston’s “More Than a Feeling,” representative of the idea that one’s own words are not enough to capture the essence of love. It’s a really intriguing concept, and the resulting song is equally captivating.

The album’s title track is massive — a throwback to solid ‘70s and ‘80s arena rock with a headbang-able chorus to the tune of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” It was designed to translate effortlessly on One Direction’s forthcoming world stadium tour, and it will.

But the album has its weak points.

There is a disappointing lack of Zayn Malik’s presence on “Midnight Memories.” He has the fewest songwriting credits of all band members, contributing only to the group effort, “Story of My Life.” And, although he is one of the band’s strongest and most consistent singers, he is given few opportunities to demonstrate his vocal talent on this release. Instead, One Direction risks entrusting its weaker singers with carrying the meatier parts of songs like “You & I,” on which Horan unfortunately falls flat, leaving the song floundering.

A good chunk of “Midnight Memories” is clearly influenced by modern indie folk musicians along the lines of the Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men, and Mumford & Sons. This works out amazingly well on the consummate and deeply emotional “Story of My Life” and on Harry Styles’ rebellious ode to young love, “Happily,” but less so on others such as “Through the Dark.”

The four bonus tracks are all good — similar in the traditionally over-the-top style of One Direction’s previous albums. “Alive” is particularly entertaining: it seems to be about seeking medical treatment for sex addiction (“My mother told me I should go and get some therapy. / I asked the doctor, ‘Can you find out what is wrong with me? / I don’t know why I wanna be with every girl I meet.’”), then thinking better of it (“Went to a party just after the doctor talked to me. / I met a girl, I took her in up to the balcony. / I whispered something in her ear that I just can’t repeat.”). The moral of the story being that there is really a fine line between nymphomania and youthful exuberance. Or something like that.

On the other end of the spectrum is “Half a Heart,” which also uses some ridiculous lyrics to convey, this time, a more romantic message. The chorus laments, “I’m walking around with just one shoe. / I’m half a heart without you.” The band might not ever top a lyric like “I can make your tears fall down like the showers that are British” from “Over Again,” but it’s certainly not for lack of trying.

Altogether, “Midnight Memories” is a nice third album from One Direction and a tantalizing taste of what the future holds for these five artists. They obviously have what it takes to make a Beatleslike leap from “Please Please Me” to “Abbey Road.” “Midnight Memories” isn’t quite there yet, but the outlook is good.

One Direction

Midnight Memories

Release Date: Nov. 25

Genre: Pop, Rock

Grade: B+