Film Rave: Cell Count, The American Scream, Karate-Robo Zaborgar, House of Pleasures

Cell Count

Plot: Russell Carpenter (Robert McKeehen) admits his wife, Sadie (Haley Talbot), into a medical research facility in hopes of curing her life threatening disease. It comes highly recommended from Dr. Victor Brandt (Christopher Toyne), who works at the prison-like center, but they slowly learn the experiments aren’t what they’re cracked up to be.

Review: If proof is needed in the argument of why practical effects are better than digital, “Cell Count” is Exhibit A. The work of Christina & Ira Kortum (Special Effects) and Stacy Birch & Anne Sellery (Makeup) is outstanding! This isn’t the case of the poster art (done by the wonderful The Dude Designs) deceiving the audience. That wicked looking creature (technically a human, but creature is the best way to describe the transformation) exists in the film and looks even better on screen! All of the gooey experiments and blood are just as astounding!

The story itself isn’t quite up to speed with the effects. It’s a serviceable tale done well with good pacing by Todd E. Freeman. He doesn’t jump right into the action, settling with slowly building up to the reveal of Dr. Brandt’s actual intention. Even when that’s announced, Freeman keeps you guessing on whether or not he’s actually on their side or if he’s working with the greedy government (a nice quaint attack on government intrusion that doesn’t go overboard with it’s message). We, just as the characters do, gain the trust of Abraham Walker (Ted Rooney), a convicted felon essentially being used as a lab rat. We still can’t help but question his intentions every step of the way.

The acting helps carry the story and keeping the audience’s attention. McKeehen and Talbot are solid as the main couple making us connect and sympathize with them. Toyne is the standout as the slimy Dr. Brandt, though his character makes a few senseless mistakes (why record and photograph your nefarious experiments and allow the patients to view them other than to taunt them?). I wasn’t completely sold on Ted Rooney as Abraham (felt he was a little dry), but he was decent enough. The rest of the cast fill their quota well.

While there are times the film’s pacing could have picked up a bit, I felt Freeman did a fine job in directing this nifty little thriller! It’s a mix between a Cronenberg-esque body horror film and creepy creature flick but done intelligently! His use of bright white lights may be jarring for some, but I found it to be effective (nice way of conveying the blank surroundings and imminent doom). If you begin to feel weary, stick it out. The film gets better as it goes along!

Final Rating: B

House of Pleasures

Plot: A Parisian brothel in 1900 faces foreclosure. The women working there reflect on their past, struggle with their daily routine and brace for the future.

Review: I never thought I’d be bored by a film revolving around a brothel, yet here I am. “House of Pleasures” is a character study with not so interesting people. Interesting things happen to them. For starters, their career is to sleep with men for money. One is a nubile young woman starting out; another contracts syphilis; one is attacked by a consumer and is made to look like Heath Ledger’s Joker. Add in the foreclosure and there should be enough drama to keep me glued.

I struggled to pay attention to “House of Pleasures”. It’s melancholic tone and slow pace threw me for a loop. It’s two hour running time felt like four. Bertrand Bonello is a fine director who knows how to frame a shot and use elegant scenery to his advantage. He makes what seem to be titillating projects on paper and pulls out good performances from his actresses. He simply fails in hooking the viewer.

If it weren’t for the beautiful cinematography by Josée Deshaies and the rather elegant nudity, I would have struggled with the notion of turning this off. I don’t mean to sound like a chauvinistic pig on that last note, but a film like this is meant to trigger the audience’s hormones. It does that well! Just not much else.

I don’t want to call “House of Pleasures” a bad film, since it isn’t one. It’s a gorgeous film and is directed by an intelligent man! It’s gotten a lot of praise and I can understand why. It just didn’t click with me. I don’t know if it’s fatigue on my part, as I’ve seen numerous films dealing with sexual deviance this year (“Shame”, “A Dangerous Method”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “Sexual Chronicles of a French Family”). What I do know is that I wasn’t pleased, pardon the pun.

Final Rating: C

The American Scream

Plot: Michael Stephenson’s documentary takes place in the town of Fairhaven, Massachussetts, where I group of house haunters reside. They go above and beyond each year with their haunted house decorations, taking it from a hobby to a passion.

Review: Pardon my procrastination in reviewing “The American Scream”. As a documentary about Halloween haunted houses, it doesn’t seem right to review it a few weeks after the holiday is over. I simply got tied up with other ventures and my own Halloween festivities that it got bumped down my list. After watching Stephenson’s documentary, I don’t feel nearly as bad.

For the house haunters who are documented here prove that this isn’t a once-a-day spectacle. Yes, Halloween only takes place on October 31st each year. However, the craft these men and women put into their haunted house is a year long investment. Which is fitting considering I love Halloween so much and practically celebrate it year round (I still drink out of Halloween themed cups and keep some of the decorations up in my room year round; not to mention a horror fan such as myself covets Halloween). I suffer a quick burnout in the beginning of November, then rekindle the fire in the middle of the month. That time is now!

What makes “The American Scream” a timeless documentary is the exploration of why these people become house haunters. It’s not just because the idea fascinates them. Victor Bariteau never got to celebrate the holiday as a kid due to his religion, so a good part of it is making up for that. Manny Souza uses it as a way to bring his family and the community together and have fun. For Matthew and Richard Brodeur, it’s father/son bonding. The attention to the human aspect of the holiday carries this film!

Stephenson doesn’t skimp on the real reason everybody came; the haunted houses. The decorations are jaw dropping and, as proven in the documentary, are infectious! I didn’t have the time this year to decorate, but this film makes me want to go all out next year. I’ll limit myself, as I see the stress it can put on someone. And I wouldn’t put as much detail in it as Victor (which isn’t a knock against him; his passion for this knows no bounds and I hope it pays off for him in his future endeavors). I’d be more akin to Manny, who does it for enjoyment or the Brodeur’s, who use it to bond with one another.

“The American Scream” does suffer from over length. It’s an hour and a half and should have been only a shade over an hour. It capping off with Halloween and the unveiling of the haunted houses pulls the viewer back in, but fatigue began to set in prior. I don’t fault Stephenson so much as I do the current wave of how films in general are done. Most people view an hour and a half as too short, prompting most films to far exceed their limitations (here’s looking at you, “Transformers” films). He does his best in coping with this and, for the most part, succeeds! While I grew wearisome around the hour mark, the finale left me wanting a bit more!

Final Rating: B+

Karate-Robo Zaborgar

Plot: When Dr. Ichinomiya (Akira Emoto) plots to destory the world with his evil organization, Sigma, only Yutaka Daimon (Yasuhisa Furuhara as the 22 year-old version, Itsuji Itao as the present day forty-five year old version) and his robot partner, Zaborgar, can save the day!

Review: I can only briefly recall watching episodes of “Denjin Zaborger”, the 1974 television series this film is based off of. It was in the same style as shows such as “Kamen Rider”, which I either seen when they occasionally aired on TV (most likely during “Godzilla” marathons) or possibly through home video. I can’t rightfully state whether or not Noboru Iguchi’s current generation adaptation is faithful or not. I’ve seen both sides of the argument. All I can state is that I enjoyed this version!

The most common criticism hurled at “Karate-Robo Zaborgar” is that it’s too cheesy and campy. Some remember the original series as more serious, which is possible, though I highly doubt it. Most shows of this kind were cheesy, just not intentionally so. Iguchi purposely camps it up which can be a turn off for some, but a clever wink to those such as myself. For me, a karate robot who doubles as a motorcycle (precursor to “Transformers”?) can only be taken so seriously. Having fun with the material and lathering it in cheese only enhances the experience!

That’s not to say Iguchi nails the film’s attitude perfectly. I’ll admit he goes a bit overboard with the campy demeanor. There are times when the film calls for drama, such as the strange relationship between Daimon and one of Ichinomiya’s female cyborgs (which surprisingly works), but he diminishes that by playing it all tongue in cheek. It’s hard to tell at times if he genuinely loved the show or is slyly mocking it.

Even if he is mocking it, he’s creating a lot of fun scenarios out of it! One of the enemies protrudes giant lips and sucks the life out of it’s enemies (which helps in fueling the giant robot that’s being built). Another, known as the Diarrhea Robot, shoots out acid from both ends. I could have simply wrote my review including just that sentence, as that will either make or break the film for you. I myself love digging into goofiness such as that, even if it becomes overbearing!

Final Rating: B