Tag Archives: 2014

Capsule film reviews: Four more horror movies from 2014

‘Starry Eyes’
Release Date: March 8, 2014
Director: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer
Starring: Alex Essoe, Amanda Fuller and Noah Segan
Genre: Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A-

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Photo courtesy of Snowfort Pictures, Parallactic Pictures and Dark Sky Films.

This film borrows heavily from its predecessors: it’s got a bit of “Suspiria” (Alex Essoe, who stars as Sarah, even looks just like Jessica Harper) with a dash of “Eyes Wide Shut.” The body horror is exactly the same as 2013’s “Contracted,” which was itself borrowed from 2012’s “Thanatomorphose.” And yet I still really, really liked “Starry Eyes.” It follows Sarah’s struggles as a part-time waitress/aspiring actress living in Hollywood with a group of self-centered frenemies. She finally has some success at an audition run by an eerie-yet-powerful production company with strange Illuminati-esque ties that promises to “transform” her life — quite literally. “Starry Eyes” is pretty campy, and it’s great. At its core, it’s just a classic Hollywood story. How far are you willing to go for success? How much are you willing to sacrifice? How squeamish are you around maggots?

‘Oculus’
Release Date: April 11, 2014
Director: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites and Rory Cochrane
Genre: Horror
Rating: R for terror, violence, some disturbing images and brief language.
Grade: D

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Photo courtesy of Relativity Media.

The best line from this movie is, “Okay, what’s more likely: that you’re misremembering events from 11 years ago, or that the mirror eats dogs?” But, of course, the mirror really does eat dogs. It also manipulates people within its range to have vivid hallucinations that eventually cause them to commit horrifying deeds. In the case of “Oculus,” Kaylie Russell (Karen Gillan) is convinced that the antique mirror her father (Rory Cochrane) had in his office when she was a child used its supernatural abilities to drive him crazy enough to murder her mother (Katee Sackhoff). It’s really such a stupid premise, I started to wonder if we’ve literally made a horror movie about everything and now there’s nothing left. It would have been much more interesting if Kaylie really was remembering incorrectly and her father was just an insane murderer of his own volition, but no. It was the mirror.

‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’
Release Date: Oct. 16, 2014
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Starring: Addison Timlin, Spencer Treat Clark and Travis Tope
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for brutal violence, grisly images, strong sexual content, and language.
Grade: D

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Photo courtesy of Orion Pictures.

As a sequel/remake/ reboot of the 1976 classic slasher film, “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” had a lot of room to play around with the story and the genre, but it really dropped the ball. The original is based on the true story of a masked serial killer who terrorized the small town Texarkana in the 1940s. The 2014 film picks up the story in the modern day with a return of the Phantom Killer at an annual Halloween screening of the movie at the local drive-in theater. I love meta horror, but “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” didn’t even try to do anything interesting with this reboot. With two horror powerhouses behind the production (Ryan Murphy of American Horror Story fame and Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions), I expected something more innovative. “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” is just another straightforward slasher without any particularly exciting gory effects and the most ridiculously disappointing resolution imaginable. In fact, it was such a letdown it made me angry.

‘Horns’
Release Date: Oct. 31, 2014
Director: Alexandre Aja
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple and Max Minghella
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Horror
Rating: R for sexual content, some graphic nudity, disturbing violence including a sexual assault, language and drug use.
Grade: C

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Photo courtesy of Dimension Films and RADiUS-TWC.

The “Horns” script seemed quite true to Joe Hill’s novel, but there’s a lot going on that had to be condensed into a 120-minute film. I wish “Horns” had focused on the areas in which it excelled: black horror-comedy and religious satire. Unfortunately, it had to take a lot of time for scene-setting flashbacks, character-building romance and, y’know, plot-progressing twists and turns. It centers on Ig Perrish (played by Daniel Radcliffe, whom I love), a social pariah who has been accused of murdering his girlfriend Merrin (played by Juno Temple, whom I love). One day, he wakes up with horns sprouting from his forehead and psychic abilities to draw the truth out of people, which he uses to his advantage as he seeks out Merrin’s true killer. Also he can command snakes to do his bidding. There’s a lot going on, most of which is at least entertaining. But I really am sick of the compulsory rape scene in every horror movie.

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Capsule film reviews: Four horror movies from 2014

‘Only Lovers Left Alive’
Release Date: April 11, 2014
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska
Genre: Drama, Horror, Romance
Rating: R for language and brief nudity.
Grade: A

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Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

“Only Lovers Left Alive” is more of a vampire art film than a horror movie, but I’m including it anyway. It’s a slow-paced, beautifully-shot romance following two centuries-old vampires as they continue to gravitate back toward each other. Tilda Swinton as Eve has an amazing, commanding presence on screen, and Tom Hiddleston as Adam is well-matched. Together, the pair searches for fresh sources of blood to drink in between discussions about music, art, the current state of humankind, and the experiences they’ve had over the years (playwright Christopher Marlowe — played by John Hurt — is an old friend and fellow vampire). The film’s soundtrack is a strong complement to the gorgeous cinematography, which spans locations such as Detroit, Michigan and Tangier, Morocco. “Only Lovers Left Alive” is amusing, charming and an altogether delightful little film about a love that really endures everything.

‘The Sacrament’
Release Date: May 1, 2014
Director: Ti West
Starring: Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen and Amy Seimetz
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violent content including bloody images, language, and brief drug use.
Grade: B+

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Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures/Magnolia Home Entertainment.

“The Sacrament” is found-footage horror done right, as it tells a fictionalized account of the 1978 Jonestown Massacre. The story follows three “VICE” reporters as they travel to Eden Parish, a mysterious religious commune located in the remote wilderness, where one reporter’s sister has been supposedly thriving after recovering from drug addiction. The presence of the film crew and their probing questions seem to disrupt the equilibrium of the sect and force its leadership to a violent breaking point. “The Sacrament” is a pretty satisfying horror film for any cult enthusiasts, and it effectively creates an environment of high tension leading up to a tremendous, explosive conclusion. The only part that really drags is the interview with Father (Gene Jones), the cult leader, who is given way too much screen time to ramble on and on about his beliefs. But such are cult leaders, yeah?

‘The Taking of Deborah Logan’
Release Date: Oct. 21, 2014
Director: Adam Robitel
Starring: Jill Larson, Anne Ramsay and Michelle Ang
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violent content, language, and brief nudity.
Grade: D-

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Photo courtesy of Eagle Films/Millennium Entertainment.

This was a terrible disappointment. I thought “The Taking of Deborah Logan” was going to be about an elderly woman who appears to have Alzheimer’s disease but is, in fact, turning into a zombie, but the actual movie was a lot more convoluted and a lot less logical than that. The first half of the film is found-footage horror at its worst — completely pointless and unoriginal “Paranormal Activity”-style scares in the middle of the night as a team of filmmakers plan to study the effects the degenerative disease has on the lives of a woman and her daughter. When the truth finally begins to unfold, the increasingly ridiculous plot twists are revealed hurriedly and accepted unquestioningly (and somehow still captured on film although the guise of the documentary had long since become shaky). There’s only one moment of really good creepy imagery at the very end, but you’re better off just looking at a .gif and skipping “The Taking of Deborah Logan.”

‘The Babadook’
Release Date: Nov. 28, 2014
Director: Jennifer Kent
Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman and Daniel Henshall
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A+

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Photo courtesy of Cinetic Media/eOne Films International/IFC Films.

“The Babadook” is a great achievement for modern horror. It is mentally and emotionally disturbing — scary in a way that transcends gore and relies entirely on an increasing sense of dread. “The Babadook” is just supernatural enough to leave the audience delightfully and horribly mystified: how much horror is real and how much is just in our own twisted minds? There are phenomenal performances all around. Essie Davis stars as Amelia, a widowed single mother who is trying her best to raise her young son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) and maintain her sanity after her husband’s violent death. Wiseman also gives a stellar performance as the weird little kid who is obsessed with building weapons and fighting monsters, which only further isolates the family from the outside world. Everything about “The Babadook” is well executed and eerie. And it leaves you with something interesting to think about, which is the best way to end a film.

Food: Deep-fried everything at the OC Fair

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Deep-fried Doritos from Chicken Charlie’s at the Orange County Fair. SCREAMfmLondon

This is the kind of person I am: I made a list beforehand of all the deep-fried foods I wanted to try at the Orange County Fair last weekend so I could efficiently and strategically eat as many as possible. And this is what I know to be true: everything in heaven is deep-fried. Below is my rundown of the best foods I snacked on and the ones I’ll have to tackle next time.

Deep-fried cookie dough

I wanted to start the day with a cherry Pop Rocks donut from Texas Donuts, believe me, but I felt that it was unwise to eat that much fried dough and candy so early in the morning. It’s best to start off with a light meal to whet the appetite, I figured, so what could be lighter than Chicken Charlie’s deep-fried cookie dough? Such a good call. For $7.75, I walked away with three balls of moist, gooey chocolate chip cookie dough coated in a crispy deep-fried outer shell, drizzled with chocolate syrup and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Very chocolatey, and it would be cool if there were different cookie dough options (just imagine deep-fried peanut butter cookie dough with chocolate sauce on top!), but this is definitely a valuable way to begin the fair eating experience. All my breakfasts should be so satisfying.

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Deep-fried cookie dough from Chicken Charlie’s at the Orange County Fair. SCREAMfmLondon

Deep-fried Jack Daniel’s-infused, bacon-wrapped churro

Bacon-A-Fair offered up this treat with a side of whipped cream for $6.50, and it was not my thing. But I didn’t expect it to be. I am a vocal opponent of the savory-and-sweet combination in food, and I do not appreciate the trend of adding bacon to dessert. So, maybe I’m a traditionalist. Oh, well. These also weren’t served fresh, but I guess that’s to be expected on the last weekend of the fair. Still, I wouldn’t let this experience deter me. There were so many more deep-fried foodstuffs awaiting my arrival.

Deep-fried Doritos

After enough dessert, I needed something salty. I was ready for Chicken Charlie’s deep-fried Doritos. This was a new, must-try item at the fair this year. For $8.75, the basket of chips was served with a side of Ranch dressing for dipping. The frying process made the chips light and airy (kind of reminiscent of the Baked! Lay’s chips), but they lost a lot of the flavor in the process. I don’t think Ranch was the way to go — these chips should be served with nacho cheese, and then they’d be perfect.

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Deep-fried pineapple from Pineapple Express at the Orange County Fair. SCREAMfmLondon

Deep-fried pineapple

By the time I reached Pineapple Express, I was also two margaritas in, and I wasn’t sure I could eat any more fried food. But I still picked up an order of deep-fried pineapple for $6.75, because I’m no quitter. These fresh, juicy pineapple rings are battered and fried, then covered with chocolate syrup and coconut shavings. These were definitely my favorite OC Fair food item, and, look, I think everyone can agree that this is a very effective way to have a serving of fruit.

Sadly, I will have to wait until the next fair to finish off the rest of the items on my list, including: deep-fried chicken skin, deep-fried cheeseburgers and deep-fried cheesecake on a stick.

I was a seat-filler at the 2014 MTV Movie Awards

Conan O'Brien

It’s possible that I am in this picture. Via AP Images/Invision

“Come with me, right now!” our wrangler commands, one hand on her walkie-talkie, before she takes off into the auditorium.

A voice announces over loudspeakers that the show will resume taping in a few moments.

I try to keep the wrangler in my line of vision as I hurry after her over the uneven flooring — hastily-laid carpet covering clusters of wires and power cords, some sort of plywood functioning as speed bumps, and a very sharp incline. I am hyper-aware that if I trip over my six-inch heels and faceplant, I will be doing so directly in front of Channing Tatum.

I was a seat-filler for the 2014 MTV Movie Awards on April 13.

Seat-fillers exist to fill in gaps when a guest gets up to perform onstage, hang out at the bar, use the bathroom or go home because they’re bored, so there are no empty seats when the show is aired on TV. I am well-suited to this particularly glamorous Hollywood job because filling seats is basically my strongest talent. I’ve been training my entire life, and I was really excited for the opportunity to finally take sitting in chairs to the professional level.

Here’s how it went down:

My day as a seat-filler began at 10 a.m., when I had to assemble the red carpet look I was going to wear that day (by “red carpet,” I mean the Metro Red Line I would take from Hollywood to Downtown Los Angeles, where the event was taking place inside the Nokia Theatre).

Our meeting location was outside of a parking structure underneath the Santa Monica Freeway. There, they separated us into three groups: the “pit fans” (who stood for the duration of the event closest to the stage), the “red carpet fans” (who sat in bleachers to watch the procession) and the seat-fillers.

We weren’t allowed to bring our cellphones along, so we had no way to judge the passing of time. I can only estimate that we stood around approximately forever, and then we moved to another waiting area where we sat down forever.

Finally, we made the long trek across LA Live toward the venue in rows of four, passing Lakers fans and tourists shooting confused stares at the parade of weirdos looking ready for a long night of clubbing in our “hip and trendy” best in broad daylight. Once we passed through a security checkpoint and were finally inside the Nokia Theatre, we got to, well, stand around some more before they brought us to the holding areas on either side of the stage.

From there, we were moved around a lot. If someone returned to their seat, the seat-filler had to go back to the holding area for their next assignment. This resulted in a lot of sprinting across the room at a moment’s notice and, in one fantastic instance, a fellow seat-filler getting stuck crouching on the floor between two seats when someone came to sit down after the show had already resumed.

Here are the coolest parts:

When seat-fillers are not filling important celebrity seats, they fill significantly less important regular ol’ seats in a holding area at the very front of the auditorium. My holding area was in the path leading from the auditorium to the backstage area, where everyone was entering carrying popcorn and champagne. I didn’t get to partake — in fact, I didn’t get to eat or drink anything all day because I’d been busy with all that standing around I was doing. But I did get to watch a lot of people make their entrance: Max Joseph and Nev Schulman from “Catfish,” the entire cast of “Teen Wolf,” Snooki and JWoww, etc. And that is how I learned that Nicki Minaj is incredibly tiny – she’s apparently only 5’2”! Who knew!

Zac Efron took off his shirt onstage. Actually, Rita Ora forcibly removed his shirt onstage, but the result was achieved. And I was in the same room as that.

Being in the front row for the musical performances was not a bad time. Twenty One Pilots, an all-Christian kind of indie rock-rap group, started off with the song “Car Radio.” About two seconds before they began, lead singer Tyler Joseph passed masks into the audience and gave everyone an incredibly speedy rundown of the complicated choreography we were supposed to perform. It turned out alright, though, and the song and performance were both great. I also enjoyed being in the front row for Eminem and Rihanna’s “Monster” duet because that’s a situation I can’t imagine I would find myself in under any other circumstance.

Here are the worst parts:

I ended up sitting a short distance behind Grumpy Cat, who was slumped over in her chair (a front row seat) in what looked like a heavily-sedated stupor, living a pretty crummy life as a newly-minted feline celebrity. I disagree with cats-as-celebrities anyway because that’s ridiculous, but after seeing Grumpy Cat in action at one of her many public events, I just felt really bad for her.

She barely moved, aside from her head lolling lethargically as she was grabbed, petted and held up for photos with nearly every guest in attendance. Otherwise, she was kept in her seat and subjected to pyrotechnics, loud music, explosions, flashing lights and fog machines, which I’m sure she loved because cats love being famous. Everybody knows that.

Also, no one seemed to know what they were doing. Amanda Seyfried couldn’t read her lines. Chris Pratt didn’t get a microphone when he went onstage. Someone promoted the upcoming “Godzilla” movie (an actor, probably), but nobody could see him through the excessively thick fog from the fog machine. It was a bit of a mess, but, to be fair, it’s just the MTV Movie Awards. I don’t think anyone was watching anyway.

Afterwards:

As the show ended, I awkwardly realized that I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with myself. I was lost in the crowd: Shailene Woodley was trying to squeeze past me toward the exit and Holland Roden was leaning onto my chair to take a selfie. I figured my job was complete. I sat like a pro. I was proud. I headed off into the night.

My feet hurt, and I deeply regret not trying harder to sneak into an after-party. But will I sit again professionally? I really, really hope so.

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.