Thursday, December 31, 2015

These Movies Suck! The 10 Worst Films of 2015 - Part II

There's only a few hours left in the year, and I've got just enough time to dish out the top five movies that deserves nothing by my one-finger salute in closing up shop for 2015.

5. The Boy Next Door - Jennifer Lopez is a decent actress when given the right script and a juicy story to sink her teeth into (see: Selena and The Cell). Starring in an erotic thriller about a recently divorced high school teacher having a regretful one-night stand with the hunky boy next door, Noah  (Ryan Guzman), sounds like a good idea, but the execution from screenwriter Barbra Curry and director Rob Cohen (xXx, Stealth, The Fast and the Furious) was a huge miss: yes, Lopez and Guzman are both attractive leads and they do hold some chemistry on screen, but the acting is too melodramatic to the point where it begins to feel like self-parody, which begins to bleed over into the section where Noah begins to become obsessive and gradually humiliates her in order to reignite their sexual affair - i.e. photobomb her classroom of the two fucking, manipulating her son into hating Clair's cheating ex-husband (John Corbett), etc. The action and the drama are also over-the-top, making what could have been a steamy, sexual thriller into a Lifetime movie parody. But I'll say this: at least The Boy Next Door had moments of eroticism, unlike the next film on this list....

4. Fifty Shades of Grey - When watching scenes on Porn Hub of women getting down and dirty are more titillating than the supposed "kinky" sex play between Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), you seriously fucked up. Brief perving aside, the real problem with this film adaptation of the popular adult novel of the same name is that it's simply boring to watch from start to finish. Dornan is supposed to be this billionaire bad boy with a fetish streak several miles long, but he's about as interesting as his namesake; Anastasia should be drawn to his charm and sexual magnetism, yet hesitant in wanting to get sucked into his world, but her inner conflict rarely comes through in translation. There's one funny scene where the pair have a business meeting of sorts on the do's and dont's of what could be their sexual relationship (captured beautiful by DP Seamus McGarvey), but that's about it, in terms of me giving a crap about this movie.

3. Terminator Genysis - "I'm old, not obsolete," Arnold Schwarzenegger says, reprising his role as the guardian T-800 Terminator model, now nicknamed "Pops" by Sarah Conner (newcomer Emilla Clarke of Game of Thrones fame). Oh, I beg to differ, Mr. Governator: this fifth entry into the Terminator franchise proved that it is old and obsolete, by hitting the reset button on a series that wrapped up at the end of James Cameron's T2: Judgment Day over 20 years ago, and doing nothing remotely interesting with the characters, except create huge plot-holes as he, Sarah and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) travel though time to stop the Machines from taking over in the form a software app called Genysis, created by....John Connor (Jason Clarke), now transformed into a highly advanced Terminator by the powers of bad screenwriting. Add in uninteresting action scenes and CGI-overload and you have a reboot/remake that I wished would be terminated by the T-800 of the past.

2. The Ridiculous 6 - This year, Netflix has begun making their own original films with the explosive and sobering war drama Beasts of No Nation, which has earned rave reviews for it's handling of dark and mature subject matter on child soldiers in Africa and ruthless, self-righteous bastards ripping away at the innocence of youth and a stellar performance by British actor Idris Elba. They also gave Adam Sandler a four-picture deal through his comedy of horrors stable, Happy Madison Productions, to make direct-to-streaming films for the company, And this offensive, vile, racist and soul-sucking western-"comedy" (I'm using Comedy in the loosest of terms here) is the unholy result of their union. Words cannot describe just how dreadful this piece of shit is (and I'll be getting to this review in the new year, mark my words...), but for now, I'll say that this is, by far, the worst comedy I've seen since...well, 2012's That's My Boy, another Sandler film filled with sophomoric gags, more mean-spirited humor, and revolting depictions of female characters. Stay away at all costs.

1. Fantastic Four - Once in a blue moon do you come across a film so awful that you can't take your eyes on how everyone involved could have gotten it this wrong. And director/co-writer Josh Trank's reboot on Marvel comic's First Family is an endeavor that film students, fans of the medium and everyone else in between will be discussing for years to come. Who thought taking the group of Reed Richard (Miles Teller), Sue Storm (Kate Mara), Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) and Ben Grimm - aka: "The Thing (Jamie Bell) and turning the universe, which was colorful, funny and filled with family dysfunction, into something from Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy? Who's bright idea was it to turn Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell), one of Marvel's most devious, calculating and ruthless villains, into a pretentious, hipster Millennial douchebag? And why would Trank, who did a solid job playing with the conventional tropes of a origins superhero tale in Chronicle, use such abysmal effects to craft this superhero flick, along with make such a sloggish, tediously dull comic book movie? Maybe we'l find out later in time, but for right now, this movie takes the crown previously held by Joel Schumaker and the disastrous Batman & Robin as the new lowlight of the superhero movie genre.  

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

These Movies Suck! The 10 Worst Films of 2015 - Part I

Another year is almost in the books, and with that means the time-honored tradition of discussing what made us cheer and what made us pull out our hair being at the cinema for 2015. This year wasn't as bad as last year, where I had to endure shit like God's Not Dead, About Last Night and last year's reining champion of suck in The Fault In Our Stars, but there's still movies that made me suffer through the 12 months, and for that, they're going to end up on this list of shame.

10. Spectre - How do you follow up one the best entries in the continuing adventures of Agent 007 and the best performance in the current Bond era? By making one of the most boring and uninteresting entries in the franchises' 50+ year history. James Bond goes rouge to stop a sinister organization from becoming Big Brother on steroids and face its leader whom he shares a past with Her Majesty's most trusted servant, but the revelations dished out are stuff you could easily guess coming from a mile away. Daniel Craig and Ralph Fiennes look bored and turn in uninteresting performances, whereas Naomi Harris, Christoph Waltz and the lovely Monica Belucci aren't given enough to do. Dave Bautista shines as a silent, brute assassin and Hoyte Van Hoyema's lighting and camerawork further proves he's one of the best DP's in the industry, but even those attributes can't save an overlong, bloated and dull spy thriller.

9. Pitch Perfect 2 - Sure, I enjoyed the music from the Barden Bellas, along with the vocal harmonies from the other a capella groups (especially from the rival antagonists Da Sound Machine), but this sequel suffers two problems: First - despite having a more international flavor to the proceedings, it's still a carbon copy cut-out of the first movie, from the Bellas' rep being tarnished in some goofy way, to Becca (Anna Kendrick) having a falling out with her friends, only having to find a way to reunite again for the final showdown, which leads me to the second, and most pressing problem with the Elizabeth Banks-directed chick-flick - Pitch Perfect 2 simply isn't that funny to watch. Rebel Wilson still gets chuckles from me as the outrageous Fat Amy, but the rest of the humor just falls flat. There's going to be a second sequel due out in 2017, but for me, twice was enough.

8. The Divergent Series: Insurgent - Last time we left Tris Prior (Shaileen Woodley), and her hunky boyfriend, Four (Theo James), they were escaping Hogwarts, uh...I mean running away from the Community, sorry...running from Generic, Oppressive Totalitarian Ruler no. 655. In this latest YA/sci-fi series, they've gone from borrowing elements from Harry Potter & The Hunger Games, to now borrowing elements from Christoper Nolan's Inception and the Wachowskis' The Matrix trilogy. Woodley is a terrific young actress and I think Kate Winslet is good in just about anything, but even these two can't lift a script that borrows from more literary and film elements more than Joseph Koinski does and somehow has even less of an interesting spin on it.

7. Krampus - A horror-comedy about a demon that punishes kids for being ungrateful shits by dragging their parents to Hell? And there's sequences where gingerbread cookies attempt to kill family members during a blizzard on Christmas? How could this go wrong? Simple: it's a tame slasher flick that dispatches the victims cleanly, and the characters themselves are thoroughly unlikable and/or bland & uninteresting. I believe that was part of director and co-writer Michael Dougherty's satire, but we still need characters we give a damn about, otherwise it's not that horrifying when they expire. Also, if you're using a figure from German folklore as a backdrop as a retort to the notion of holiday films emphasizing family togetherness and good will towards man, don't skimper on being bloody and gory. It just takes the fun out of watching the damn thing.

6. The Wedding Ringer - For once, I'm going to say something positive about Kevin Hart: his scenes with Josh Gad are good. I actually laughed seeing the pair of comedic actors cutting loose on the dance floor, because the comedic rapport between them is very solid. But I can't forgive a script that goes on auto-pilot from the start: Doug Harris (Gad) is in desperate need of a best man because he has no real guy friends of his own. He seeks out the services of Jimmy Callahan (Hart), who acts as a "best man" for guys like him who would be fucked without him, and over the next week, all comedic hell breaks loose; from meeting Gretchen (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting)'s parents/in-laws (hope you find setting the legendary Cloris Leachman on fire hilarious!) to playing football with the father-in-law's buddies (including football greats Joe Nameth and Joe Riggins, I shit you not) and a bachelor party that would make the guys from The Hangover proud. I've seen this movie before - I liked it better when it was called Meet The Parents in 2000 & Hitch in 2005. What makes terrible and predictable comedy even worse are the homophobic gags and how women are seen; essentially summed up to three things: 1.) nagging, bitching harpies, 2.) gold-digging whores, and 3.) whores who tell the guys to lighten up and have fun. Pardon me if I don't find these things funny or clever.

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Tip of the Cap to Mr. Abrams

For good or bad, for better or for worse, director J.J. Abrams loves taking Sgt. Dignam's theory on federal agents and applying it to...well, everyone else in the film world: casual moviegoers, fans, critics, movie news sites; hell, probably even with family and friends who aren't involved in Abrams' group-knit circle for whatever movie he's making. In the case of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I didn't think for a moment the filmmaker would have been able to keep such a tight lid on the project; I thought after the flack he took for his handling of the John Harrison character (spoiler alert: it's really Khan) in Star Trek Into Darkness, the man would not play that game with the Star Wars sequel trilogy, and let leak some hints about what's in store for audiences.

Up until the world premier in Los Angles tonight? Nothing. Nada. The big goose egg. Zilch.

We haven't seen one review of The Force Awakens, despite the norm that a film like this would have already been screened for critics. The lucky few who are able to watch the world premier tonight will be checked and OK'd by Disney, then asked to turn in their phones. Oh, and there's an embargo on publishing reviews about Episode VII until 12:01 Wednesday.  It truly is an incredible feat by Disney, Lucasfilm and Abrams himself: Here we are, the world is buzzing with anticipating over release of a new Star Wars movie, that's now become this momentous event thanks to a non-stop ad blitz...and we are still completely in the dark about the nature of the film. We know small details: that there's a Stormtrooper named Finn who's mysteriously abandoned his post and ended up on a remote planet that reminds me of Tattooine. There's a scavenger named Rey who winds up finding  Finn. There's Poe Dameron, who's supposed to be "the best freakin' pilot in the galaxy". There's Kylo Ren, who has a really kick-ass lightsaber and acts an agent for the newly revamped "First Order". There's Leia, Han R2-D2, a new droid called BB-8 and Luke, but after that? It's a mystery.

And it's pretty exciting, being kept in the dark until Thursday night. Where's the fun in knowing everything before the movie arrives for the world to see? Well played, J.J.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Netflix Files: The Legacy of Torture Porn

I've made a grave mistake.

Not doing Halloween Horror Week back in October; no, that's been really fun. I got myself better acquainted with the work of Wes Craven, re-discovered that Tim Burton is a great director when given the right material to work with, realized that I don't really need to go past Saw III to understand that the rest of the series is a seemingly lazy exercise in offering the audience nothing by more torture and grizzly, pointless violence, and that I'd love to see Jessica Chastain in more horror movies. But when it came to the last movie on this list that I chose to watch, I had much better options. 

I could have reviewed Halloween: The Revenge of Michael Myers. Sure, it's probably same movie John Carpenter made back in 1978, but hey - an early Paul Rudd would have a few wisecracks thrown in there, right? I could have done Vampire in Brooklyn, but I had already covered New Nightmare, so covering two Craven movies didn't really sound like a good call to me. Hell, I could have (finally) finished up reviewing those damned Twilight movies in Breaking Dawn - Part I and Part II, and despite how batshit insane that series got, I'm certain I would have gotten more out of it than Tom Six's The Human Centipede II: Full Sequence!

Two years ago, I praised the first movie for showing restraint in it's nasty premise and thought it was an effectively disturbing horror film that looked like a David Croneneberg picture that the Canadian-born director never got to make. Despite the movie earning cult-status, many critics called First Sequence a revolting, mean-spirited piece of work whose only purpose was the cash-in on the torture porn craze that's become popular within the horror genre from films like Saw. Apparently, Six took this as a challenge to abandon what made the first movie decent and amp up the brutality, pain and violence as a "fuck you" to the haters (and fans of the first movie) with this grotesque black-and-white snuff film.

Martin (Lawrence R. Harvey), an overweight, mentally challenged man is obsessed...with Tom Six's The Human Centipede. He watches the film repeatedly during his shift as tollbooth man in a carpark. He keeps a scrapbook of the actors and the drawings of how to create a human centipede underneath his mattress. He even masturbates to the scene where Dr. Heiter forces Jenny to swallow Katsuro's shit, using sandpaper as a cum rag - really. When Martin isn't watching/jerking off to First Sequence, he's casually kidnapping, shooting at, beating up and/or killing random people who are trying to leave the mall. The ones who aren't killed are taken to an empty warehouse which Martin bought out in order to fulfill his dream of creating his own human centipede - this time, with twelve victims instead of three, among them being Ashlynn Yennie (playing herself) one of the stars from the first movie.

There's also a shamelessly lazy sub-plot dealing with Martin's overbearing and abusive cow of a mother (Vivien Bridson) and the psychiatrist (Bill Hutchens) who tells the former that Martin's messed up because he was abused sexually by his father (it's a bullshit cop-out as to why he's a psychopath), but that's basically the "plot" to this second go-around. If you're wondering how Martin is able to commit such startling acts of violence and murder without being stopped by anyone, tough shit, because Six doesn't give two fucks explaining his main character's remarkably lucky streak. The rest of the movie follows a pattern: Martin watches Human Centipede for the upteenth time, kidnaps/kills someone, drags the unconscious victim to the where-house and goes back to his abusive mum. Later, rinse, repeat. It's intensively repetitive to watch; you could leave  for 15 minutes, returned and not missed a damn thing.

It isn't until the moment where Martin takes Yennie to the storage room where the titular human centipede comes to fruition, only this time, it's shown in loving, gruesome, and grizzly detail. The disturbed fucker is no Dr. Heiter, but staples, kitchen knives to cut out muscle in the kneecaps and a strike to the head is good enough to create a 12-person human centipede, complete with Martin injecting everyone with a laxative to make sure they swallow someone else's excrement. I've never been one to pass judgement one one's choices in film, but I really do question anyone who can look me straight in the face and say this mean-spirited, exploitative and callous sack of dogshit is entertaining.

 Perhaps what I find absolutely insulting about Full Sequence is how patronizing and cynical Mr. Six is toward his audience. He's trying to pass off commentary about how the torture-porn craze has harmed the horror genre, yet gives the audience exactly what it wants in seeing more people being maimed and slaughtered, and then chastises the audience for enjoying Martin's psychotic rampage of blood and gore ans he connects a dozen individuals ass-to-mouth. Do you remember how much better New Nightmare would have been if Wes Craven had wagged his finger at the audience for liking Freddy Kruger, or if the writer-director had pulled out buckets of blood, guts and gore each time Kruger killed someone? Oh, right - it wouldn't have been better. The Sultan of Slash never lectured his audience about how the Kruger character took on a life of it's own; rather, he took the Elm Street mythos and added a new take to keep the viewer interested in the series. Tom Six just gave the audience what it wanted, and tried to be clever by shaming them for liking the original's exploitative premise. It isn't clever, and it doesn't have anything interesting to say, except "Hey, paying audience: screw you guys for enjoying this sick shit, you perverse fuckers!"

The Human Centipede II: Full Sequence might just be both the worst horror movie I've ever had the misfortune of watching, and one of the worst movies, period. There's a third flick, dubbed Final Sequence, and here's hoping, because if the first sequel taught me anything, it's that the less of this lazy, gross and pointless "horror" movies there are, the better.

Zero stars out of ****

Friday, December 11, 2015

Life Imitating Art

I didn't care much for Paul Schrader's erotic drama The Canyons, but I did enjoy the performance of adult film star James Deen as Christian. He's this charismatic and charming guy who has it all - a career financing indie pictures, a lovely girlfriend (Lindsay Lohan, also doing good work in this movie), and a sex life that most men only dream of having. And yet, as we go further into he story, we discover that it's all a mask to hide his controlling, abusive and borderline sado-masochistic tendencies. It's a surprising and solid piece of acting as this seemingly suave guy slowly being unraveled until we encounter the real Christian. In a scary twist of irony, the performance by Deen now rings all too true with his character's unraveling, as the famed porn actor has now been accused of sexual assault and rape this past few weeks.

Other adult performers have since spoken up in response to Stoya's harrowing story of abuse at the hands of Deen, from Joanna Angel, another former flame of Deen's, to various other colleagues and partners, opening up to abuse suffered by him. What was a really good piece of acting is now a deeply disturbing look into a man who we thought was charismatic and charming and it turns out that he's an abusive, controlling scumbag with sado-masochistic tendencies, no sense of professional and personal boundaries or restraint.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Mad Max and the Awards Season Or: Let It Go, Let It Go...

And so, the Oscar race has officially begun, with the Nation Board of Review's annual best of list, applauding and honoring the creme de la creme in film for 2015. I definitely didn't expect to see films like Sicario and Straight Outta Compton to be on their list of the 10 best movies of the year, so big brownie points to them for their inclusion. Drew Goddard winning Best Adapted Screenplay was a shock, and well-deserved for taking the source material and creating a funny, exciting script where Matt Damon "has to science the shit" out of being stuck on an unforgiving planet like Mars after being marooned by mistake by his fellow astronauts. I think The Martian is easily Ridley Scott's best and most enjoyable film in years (yes, I'm taking into account that I liked Prometheus) , and it's fun to see the director this playful, though I think Damon winning Best Actor and Scott taking Best Director is a bit of a stretch.

But then came the pick for Best Picture, and the fawning over Mad Max: Fury Road reached a new level of annoyance. The action-thriller won the top prize, and, for a lack of a better word: I somewhat snapped. I wrote about Fury Road earlier in the year, but after sitting on the film for months, I'm just going to come out and say it - this is probably an unpopular opinion, and one I might get some heat with, but to hell with it...

Mad Max: Fury Road is the most overrated film of 2015. There, I said it.

I didn't hate it - far from it. To reiterate: It's a marvel, purely on a production level alone. Cinematographer John Seale came out of retirement to capture the look of this apocalyptic wasteland, and it's gorgeous, with the teal tones and the perfect use of a day to night filter. Composer Junkie XL does great work with the score, capturing the intensity of the characters involved, from warrior goddess Furiosa, to the crazed righteousness of Immortal Joe and his War Boys. And I haven't seen a composer sample Giuseppe Verdi's "Requiem" and breathe new life into the piece since Masamichi Amano did it with the score to Battle Royale. The acting by Charlize Theorn as Furiosa and Nicholas Hoult as Nux are first rate, dynamite performances, and some of the action scenes are very fun to watch. And the feminist subtext thought the film is a refreshing take on how female characters can be - and should be - used in mainstream fare, and in the medium in general.

Having said all of that, and I cannot stress that this is merely my opinion, Fury Road becomes something of a chore to sit through, despite it's 120 minute runtime.. The "plot" of the story threadbare is threadbare at best - Furiosa betrays Immortal Joe by stealing his prized wives and escorting them to her native clan for protection; hot on their trail is Immortal Joe himself and his army of War Boys, one of them, a young zealot named Nux who uses Max as prisoner/"blood bag" who manages to escape his captor and reluctantly agrees to help Furiosa and the Wives on their quest. I don't have a problem with a movie using a simple premise or having a basic plot to drive the action (it worked wonderfully with The Raid: Redemption and Kill Bill Vol. 1), but there has to be solid character development to make the whole thing work and not feel like the filmmakers are borrowing from the Michael Bay playbook of making an action film.

Yes, we get fully fleshed out character arcs from Theorn and Holt as Furiosa and Nux respectively, but I feel the same cannot be said for Tom Hardy's titular Max Max. I should note that going into Fury Road, I never saw any of Miller's original Max Max movies, so I based the film on its own merits. I liked that he's this mysterious drifter in a world where survival has become the basic rest impulse of  a broken society, but we hardly know anything about this version of Max Rockatansky: Where did he come from? Has he been traveling alone all this time? I had to look up the character's backstory on Wikipedia months after seeing the film, because it never came through in this installment, which is a big failing to me, as someone who's very new to the Mad Max universe. Similarly, the Wives (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as The Splendid Angharad; Riley Keough as Capable; Zoe Kravitz as Toast the Knowing; Abbey Lee as The Dag; and Courtney Eaton as Cheedo the Fragile), though helpful to Furiosa and Max on their quest in numerous fights with the War Boys, are short-shifted in terms of character development. How did each young woman become Joe's wife/slave? Were they sold or kidnapped from various clans? Have they been in contact with Furiosa this whole time leading up to the daring escape? Stuff like this I felt needed to be explained to give the five Wives' characters more depth, and we never really got that.

Lastly are the action scenes; primarily how underwhelming they are. For every cool scene like driving through a mega-sandstorm, or seeing War Boys swinging around trucks and cars in motion, or even seeing a guitarist shredding while it spits fire (which is still one of the coolest moments I've seen put to celluloid in 2015!), the whole affair is just one shoot-em-up, explosions galore chase scene after another, and it becomes very boring very fast. Say what you want about the increasingly silly Fast and Furious franchise, but those movies had creative and well-choreographed action scenes, from the robbery sequence in Fast Five, to driving out of a moving military cargo jet and doing battle with an armored bus, complete with armor-piercing rounds in Furious 7. When you've seen Furiosa and Max shoot at a car or motorbike that either crashes and/or explodes, you've seen the same effect a hundred times.

Despite my ranting at the time of me writing this piece, Mad Max continues to rack up admiration, wins in the Editing, Cinematography and Directing categories in major critics circles, from the Boston Society of Film Critics, to the L.A. Film Critics Association Awards, including winning for Picture from the Boston Online Film Critics Association Awards and a Second-place finish for Picture and Director with the New York Film Critics Circle, with many more awards to come, I predict. It's a bonafied candidate for Best Picture at the Academy Awards this year, and regardless of my opinions about the film, I'm firmly in the minority in my views, and it can't be helped. That's fine with me. I'm going to take advice from a certain character who had problems of her own, until she decided to say 'fuck it!' and move on; albeit in nicer terms and in show-stopper fashion.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Netflix Files Presents: Halloween Horror Week - A Salute to Wes Craven

Earlier this year, the horror genre lost arguably it's most influential icon: Wes Craven. Nicknamed the "Sultan of Slash", the writer/director's contributions to the genre spills across the cinematic landscape, even to this day. Remember how production company Lions Gate Films went from obscure indie company to a legitimate powerhouse, thanks to the the success of the Saw film series; even dubbing it, "the house that Jigsaw built?" Craven did the exact same thing for New Line Cinema with the Nightmare on Elm Street series, even bringing actor Johnny Depp to prominence. What about how Jigsaw, Michael Myers and Jason have become twisted main characters that you want to root for? Again, that bears a debt to Mr. Craven, as actor Robert Englund's Freddy Kruger became the main draw to the Elm Street sequels, mostly for his dark sense of humor and creative ways he slaughters his victims. Even the ways Jigsaw makes and plants traps for his victims to be brutally killed, maimed and slaughtered owes a tip of the hat to Wes, as he makes the scenes of intense violence and bloodshed as gross, twisted & unpleasant to watch as possible, from films like the highly controversial Last House on the Left in 1972 and The Hills Have Eyes five years later; to the Scream movies.

There's also another added element that can be felt and that has been used numerous times: Craven's use of meta-humor; a way for filmmakers to call attention the tropes and cliches in their own movie, as well as in other movies. Today on Halloween, I'm going to review Craven's first foray into horror/satire, Wes Craven's New Nightmare. It's been a full ten years since Heather Langenkamp (who plays herself) took on the iconic role of Nancy Thompson in A Nightmare on Elm Street, and New Line Cinema calls her for a pitch meeting to reprise her role in a new installment of the Elm Street series. At the same time, Heather has been having dreams about gruesome murders on set, as well as seeing Freddy Kruger in her dreams, terrorizing her and her son, Dylan. It isn't until her co-star Robert Englund, the man who plays Kruger and writer/director Craven himself begin having nightmares about this new Kruger that Heather realizes that she is being drawn into Freddy's world - this time, the glove-wearing serial killer is playing for keeps.

Let me blunt: of all the movies I've reviewed for my holiday-themed week, New Nightmare is by far my favorite for a variety of different reasons: first, I love the clever, and tight script by Craven, by using the world her created as his play box for this installment. It's a film about making a film, but as we go further into the story, our sense of reality is thrown into question: is this all happening in real time, or is is this all a part of someones imagination? Despite seeing the picture through Heather, we're still not entirely sure if the third act is her playing Nancy while the cameras are rolling, or if Langenkamp is dreaming about the scenario in her head, or in Craven's. As a result, we're kept on our toes and guessing as to what's happening in the story. Whilst the writer-director is playing with our perceptions of reality, he's also making statements about how film plays it's own role - specifically how we respond and how it shapes our own perceptions in life, and the people who make it. Heather is hesitant to return to the franchise after two movies and how "Freddy" died in Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, especially since her character Nancy perished battling him in the third installment of the series, Dream Warriors. She's also afraid of being synonymous with "Nancy" through her career and what that persona, being attached to the Elm Street series, means for her young son. Those perceptions play out across the film, from being prank called by a Freddy-voice, to the scenes where Dylan is kept in the hospital for an extended period of time, due to the head nurse's suspicion that Heather is abusing her child and because of her past history of appearing in the horror movies.

Perhaps what's most enjoyable about this fresh take on the series is the how Langenkamp, not the new iteration of Freddy Kruger, nor Robert Englund himself, is the star of the movie. The earlier scene where she appears on a talk show, only to get upstaged by Englund in full Kruger costume is commentary about how this horror favorite has become the star of the franchise. We don't even see this newer, meaner Freddy until midway through the second act, and by the third act, where he becomes the primary antagonist, the focus is still on the fictionalized Heather character and her journey to come to grips with how she'll always be tied to the franchise, for both the good and bad. It's a stellar performance by her, plain and simple.

Wes Craven's New Nightmare is a perfect example of the legacy of the famed horror filmmaker, and what makes him so special: lacing the fears of the characters as a backdrop for a physical manifestation of what they fear, sharp moments of comedy and commentary, and well-rounded performances by the actors, including Craven playing himself. There have been other films and filmmakers who have used the horror genre as a launching pad for larger ideas, and a few of them I consider to be solid to modern-day horror classics, like Craven's own Scream, Drew Goddard's The Cabin in the Woods, and You're Next! Sometimes you get stuff like The Purge and Diary of the Dead, which aims to be clever in it's social commentary, but ends up being muddled and/or not completely fleshed out. And then you get icky, pointless and mean-spirited crap, like the final movie I'm reviewing for Halloween Horror Week: Tom Six, you're no Craven, Goddard, or George A. Romero, and your disgusting meta torture flick Human Centipede: Full Sequence proves it.

*** 1/2 stars out of ****