The Last Witch Hunter

Released: October 2015

Director: Breck Eisner

Rated PG-13

Run Time: 106 Minutes

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Vin Diesel: Kaulder
Rose Leslie: Chloe
Elijah Wood: Dolan 37th
Julie Engelbrecht: Witch Queen
Michael Caine: Dolan 36th

Have you ever seen a trailer for a movie that you know is going to be bad, and yet, in your heart of hearts you hope, and you hope, and you hope that it’s not going to fucking suck?  Do you remember the feeling that when you finally saw that movie, that you realize that it DID suck?  Crushing disappointment is what I felt when I saw such train-wrecks like I, Frankenstein, Universal Soldier: The Return, and Alien Vs. Predator.  It’s almost soul-crushing.  The funny thing is, is that these movies still ended being mildly entertaining in a “so bad, it’s good” kind of way.  Every actor and director is going to have a flop or two under their belt.  It comes with the territory.  Not everything you make is going to be a gold-mine.  Vin Diesel has had a pretty good career in terms of action movies.  Most of them, while not critical successes, have been mostly entertaining and pretty decent time-killers.  Until now.  Now, we come to The Last Witch Hunter.  Oh, boy.

Vin Diesel stars as Kaulder, who starts out as a witch hunter shortly after the Black Death has hit Europe.  After finding and confronting the evil Witch Queen, she dies, but not before she curses Kaulder with immortality.  He doesn’t age nor can he be killed.  Pretty nifty, eh? 800 years later in 2015, Kaulder is apparently a wealthy businessman of sorts, while secretly hunting down rogue witches for a mysterious religious sect called The Ax and The Cross.  See, the witches and humanity have an uneasy truce that allows the witches to govern themselves on the condition that they don’t use their powers on humans.  Kaulder’s partner, Michael Caine, er, Dolan the 36th is apparently murdered by a rogue warlock.  Enter Elijah Wood, er, Dolan 37th(because….why?)to take his place.  What follows while Kaulder investigates what happened to Dolan 36th, is every cliche in the goddamn book is hit, one right after the other.  If the setup sounds familiar, it should, because it’s been used in almost every PG-13 fantasy-horror film set in modern times, like I, Frankenstein.  I would be okay with all these cliches, if the movie was up to snuff, but it isn’t.

What went wrong?  Almost everything.  The writing is god-awful.  When I said the movie hits every cliche in the book and then some, I meant it.  It follows the superhero formula almost to a tee:  Man gets cursed, gains superpowers; man lives for eternity using his power to fight evil; man encounters cute girl that happens to be more than she appears; man’s partner gets killed; man seeks revenge for said killing; man with new sidekick discovers villainy is afoot, need I go on?  The “twists” in this movie are absolutely groan-inducing.  I was rolling my eyes when we discover the truth about Dolan 37.  Typical, so….typical.  This wouldn’t be an issue if the action was coherent.  There’s another problem with The Last Witch Hunter:  The action sucks.  It’s poorly edited, though out, and..SHAKY CAM!!!  Goddammit.  Save that crap for war movies, man.

The visual effects should be pretty decent, though, right?  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  Tremors 5 had better special effects, and that was a direct-to-video movie.  There is absolutely nothing convincing about the CGI that’s on display here.  From the tendrils that hold Diesel’s character in place at the beginning of the film to the plague flies at the end, it’s not really good.  There are some pretty interesting visual effects, but you can tell that they’re visual effects.  The best visual effects movies convince you that what you are seeing is the real deal, even when it’s not.  You should have no idea where reality ends and CGI begins.  The filmmakers of The Last Witch Hunter didn’t even try.  I understand it’s a fantasy film, but good lord, you could try harder than this.  There’s a word for movie like this:  Embarrassing.

The acting is….not horrible.  Vin Diesel plays….Vin Diesel.  What more can you expect?  Rose Leslie is pretty decent.  She’s also smoking hot.  There’s that.  Some of the make-up effects are absolutely fantastic.  The Witch Queen’s look is particularly grimy and disgusting.  I will say this for Vin Diesel, he needs to be cast in a Viking movie.  That opening sequence in the film shows that he could pull it off perfectly.  Elijah Wood is surprisingly really good here.  He’s still got that kind of innocent look that he had in the Lord of the Rings, but he definitely steps up in the movie, until the big “revelation.”

My final conclusion is that The Last Witch Hunter is one of the worst movies I’ve seen this year.  It would be a front-runner if it wasn’t for Pixels and Fant4stic.  This is easily Vin Diesel’s worst movie yet.  He can certainly do a hell of a lot better than this.  So can the director, Breck Eisner.  His last movie, The Crazies re-make was actually pretty damn good.  I don’t think Diesel’s career is going to tank because of this movie.  Not at all.  He’s still got the Fast and The Furious franchise to deal with.  Do yourselves a favor, and don’t bother seeing this one in theaters.  Wait until it gets on home video.  It’s not worth it.  This one gets a Dunce Cap with a 4/10.  The Last Witch Hunter?  The Last Bitch Hunter it feels like.  No amount of alcohol could make this a good movie.

I Spit on Your Grave 3

Released: October 2015

Director: R.D. Braunstein

Not Rated

Run Time: 91 Minutes

Distributor: Anchor Bay Films

Sarah Butler: Angela/Jennifer Hills
Jennifer Landon: Marla
Doug McKeon: Oscar
Gabriel Hogan: Detective McDylan

There are certain horror franchises that were/are destined to become franchises.  Nightmare on Elm StreetFriday the 13th, and Saw among others.  Why do these become franchises?  Oddly enough, it’s the villains.  Elm Street had Freddy Krueger, Friday had Jason Voorhees, and Saw had Jigsaw.  These are the kinds of movies that are mostly entertaining and fun to watch.  So, how does a movie like I Spit On Your Grave get to be a franchise?  Damned if I know.  The original film’s premise of a woman getting violent revenge after being brutally raped, beaten and left for dead, doesn’t strike me as a concept you can stretch for multiple films.  I guess it starts when you remake a movie.  I Spit on Your Grave got a remake back in 2011, starring Sarah Butler in the role of Jennifer Hills.  I don’t necessarily have a problem  with remakes as long as they are done well, and the remake of  I Spit on Your Grave was pretty good.  It was brutal, merciless and very much satisfying by the time the film was over.  The sequel to the remake was essentially a carbon-copy with a different victim, but same concept.  Again, it was brutal, vicious and had some pretty satisfying kills.  Now, we have I Spit on Your Grave 3: Vengeance is Mine.  What do I make of it?  Let’s find out.

After several years pass since being brutally violated by a group of rednecks, Jennifer Hills has taken the new name of Angela, and has moved to a new city with a new job.  Haunted by nightmares of her experience down south, Angela starts attending a group for rape victims.  Initially being standoffish with the group, she meets a fellow rape victim, Marla, who is extremely cynical about the group, and the two quickly become friends.  When Marla and Angela hear the story of a young girl has been sexually abused by her stepfather, they decide to pay him a visit and scare him.  Afterwards, they agree to meet for coffee later, and when Marla doesn’t show, she’s informed by the group that Marla was raped and murdered by her ex-boyfriend.  After hearing this, Angela makes the decision to take justice into her own hands.  I Spit on Your Grave 3 is a direct sequel to the 2011 film, ignoring the events of the second film entirely.  So, the story has a natural progression dealing with Jennifer trying to move on with her life after her ordeal.  It’s clear that the poor woman is psychologically damaged.  We see the effects of that damage through her fantasies about killing people who piss her off.  We also see flashbacks of her brutal experience.  As a result of that particular psychosis, the film has a much different feel than the previous entries.

On the one hand, not seeing the rape and murder of Marla is a kind of a blessing, because we don’t really want to sit through that, again.  On the other hand, one of the reasons why the previous films were so brutally effective is BECAUSE we witness the entire assault.  That allows us to connect and empathize with the victim, and hope that she gets revenge.  Because we don’t get to see what happened to Marla, that connection is no longer there.  The movie ends up becoming a bit of a slasher-flick of sorts.  As a result, I Spit on Your Grave 3, is a lot more tame than the previous films.  That doesn’t make it a bad movie, far from it.  While Jennifer is the main character here, she’s not the victim.  She is an avenging angel of sorts.  She’s meting out justice on behalf of some of the other rape victims.  In the original 1978 film, the character of Jennifer Hills lured her victims in by using her body and sexuality.  In essence, she used herself as both bait and weapon.  This particular element was missing from the remake, so it’s nice to see that happen here, as Angela dresses provocatively to entice her victims.

Sarah Butler reprises her role from the remake, so she’s the main star.  She is simply fantastic.  She’s gone from victim to pissed off femme fatale, convincingly.  While I Spit on Your Grave 3 isn’t perfect, the performances are top-notch.  Because of the character’s deteriorating mental state, Sarah brings the anger and the hatred that’s required of the character.  It’s convincing, mostly because the ugly reality is that a lot of these rapists really do get off lightly a lot of the time, so it’s actually really easy to get into her mind and understand her frustration with the system.  I love that, it makes for a more compelling experience.  The kills themselves are pretty brutal, especially Jennifer’s first non-fantasy kill of the picture.  Let’s just say that this kill is below the belt….literally.  While the following kills are harsh, they aren’t really super gory, as the previous films have done.

Personally, I rather like the film as it features some pretty fantastic performances.  If you’re going into this movie expecting an extremely brutal experience on the same level as the first I Spit on Your Grave, you’re not going to get.  It’s a different kind of movie, and while I’m not particularly angry about it, it does fail to live up to the standard of the original movie.  It also does take some time to get going, but when it does, it doesn’t stop.  Overall, this is a pretty harmless entry into the series, and I’m strangely okay with it.  Some people might be expecting something really harrowing, and they’re going to disappointed and rightly so.  The I Spit on Your Grave 3 isn’t perfect, but it is a pretty solid thriller.  So….yeah.  Four I Spit on Your Grave movies.  How the hell did that happen?  This one gets an 8.5/10.

The Force Awakens: The Final Trailer

Feel free to play that over and over and over again.  Anybody who knows me, knows that I’m a HUGE Star Wars nut.  I’m a big fan of all things Star Wars.  Well, almost all things.  The less said about that Christmas special, the better.  Outside of that….and Jar Jar Binks, I love this franchise.  Jedi, Sith, Rebels, the Empire.  It’s all awesome.  While I never got to see the Original Trilogy in theaters, I grew up watching them on VHS.  There is something about Star Wars that speaks to us, to our imaginations.  George Lucas, the creator of all things Force-related, released the original Star Wars in the summer of 1977, not knowing what he was about to unleash.  He unleashed a new era of film-making and science fiction that would change the way we look at movies.  The stories and the characters would become a part of pop culture for decades to come.  Darth Vader would become one of the most iconic villains in film history.  In 1980, the world saw one of the best movie sequels ever: The Empire Strikes Back.  It was darker, more exciting and more emotionally engaging than the original.  It is extremely rare for a sequel to out-perform the original film in every single way, and Empire did just that, by also giving us one of the greatest movie twists ever.  Return of the Jedi, which would release in 1983, was another box-office smash.  While it wasn’t necessarily as good as the previous movies, it was still flat-out amazing with one of the most epic space battles ever created.

13-15 years would pass before Lucas would begin work on the Prequel Trilogy: The story of how Luke’s father, Anakin Skywalker, would become Darth Vader.  These ones I did see in theaters, and the experience was overwhelming.  I would see The Phantom Menace three times before it hit home video in 1999.  I only saw Attack of the Clones once during its theatrical run.  Revenge of the Sith, was viewed SIX times by yours truly on the big screen.  I will be truly honest with you:  The Prequel Trilogy has a lot of problems, in terms of character development, writing, dialogue and the over-use of CG effects.  Don’t get me wrong, they were spectacular, and I will love the pod race from Episode 1 until the day I die, but these movies just didn’t have the same…emotional impact that the original movies did.  They felt more like video games than anything.  The battle with Darth Maul and the fight between Anakin and Obi-Wan are some of the most spectacular fights the series has ever seen.

If you had told me a decade ago that George Lucas would eventually surrender has prized franchise to Disney, and that work would begin on a new trilogy,  I would have laughed in your face.  Yet, here we are.  A few years back, George Lucas sells his legendary franchise to Disney for a hefty sum of 4 billion dollars.  On December 18, 2015, we will witness the beginning of a new trilogy in the Star Wars Saga.  The trailer I have posted above is the third and final trailer to The Force Awakens.  Directed by J.J. Abrams and starring Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill, this new entry could be the movie that fans have been wanting since Return of the Jedi.  That was over thirty years ago.  I’ve seen a lot of big movies this year, but I don’t think they’ll come close to this.  I could be wrong, but judging from what I’ve seen in this latest trailer,  Abrams is going to do it justice.  I believe in him.  I really do.  The Force is strong with this one.

Cancer Awareness

I’m going to take some time today to talk about something very, very serious:  Cancer.  Each of us, at some point in our lives, have known somebody that has suffered from some form of cancer and survived or lost their battle with cancer.  It’s a brutal disease that doesn’t have a cure yet.  I say yet, because there are groups of medical scientists that are fighting to find some way to beat this monster.  There are multiple forms of cancer: Liver, prostate, breast, lung, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and leukemia among others.  I bring this up because I’m a frequent visitor to a particular YouTube personality known as Totalbiscuit.  His real name is John Bain and he’s British.  He runs a YouTube channel where he gives first impressions on new PC games.  He also does podcasts and owns and runs an E-sports team for a game called Starcraft II.  He’s quite the character.  He’s funny, smart and not afraid to tell things as he sees them.  He’s one of the most honest YouTubers on the network.  He managed to make it his full-time job, which is quite a feat, actually.  About a year or so ago, he was diagnosed with cancer in his bowels, so ended up fighting that, getting chemotherapy and generous amounts of rest.  A couple of months ago, it seems that he managed to beat the disease.  Awesome right?  For a while, anyway.  Unfortunately, I read this morning on a gaming news website that his cancer had returned.  Apparently spots were discovered in his liver.  This appears to be a very aggressive and terminal kind of cancer, as if there was any other kind, right?  The general life expectancy for someone afflicted with this kind of cancer is 2-3 years.  This is clearly a very shocking and tragic turn of events.  Thankfully, he says he doesn’t feel anything right now, and that he’s going to fight tooth and nail to be an outlier, someone who will defy expectations and hopefully will live a lot longer than his prognosis.  I can’t even imagine what his family is going through right now.  I don’t know the man personally, but I do know people who have lost their battle with cancer.  It’s a very, very difficult thing to come to terms with.  I truly wish John “Totalbiscuit” Bain and his family the very best, and I hope he fights it the best he can.

Cancer is a very complicated form of disease.  It can be treated with chemotherapy and some surgery.  Some people have had success with cancer going into remission, while others like Mr. Bain have unfortunately seen the disease come back stronger than ever.  Cancer doesn’t just affect adults, but children as well, which makes it even more tragic.  There are various cancer research centers that are dedicated to fighting the disease.  One of the most well-known is St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  What is special about St. Jude’s is that they are funded mostly by donations. Most of those donations are provided by your average person like you or me.  They are truly dedicated to the best care possible for their patients and it is essentially for free.  This puts St. Jude’s in a very unique position to help people who need it most.  They believe that the care of their patients is far more important than their financial situation.  These guys are the leaders in how life-threatening diseases are treated and beaten.  Not only that, if they make a medical breakthrough as they have in the past, they freely share that information with everybody else.  If you wish to learn more about cancer and it’s various forms, please visit the American Cancer Society.  You can also visit the St. Jude Hospital website with the link that I provided.  Even if you can’t make a donation, please share this information with everybody that you know.  The more we can learn about cancer, the more we can do to fight it.  The cure for cancer is out there, we just have to find it.  This month is Liver and Breast Cancer Awareness Month.