One Missed Call: Final (2006)

The third installment of the Japanese horror franchise was written by franchise creator Yasushi Akimoto and directed by Manabu Asou.

A high school student named PAM has been bullied so much that she hangs herself, but is saved and survives in a mental hospital while in a coma. Asuka Matsuda, her bullied friend, takes revenge by exposing their class to the cell phone curse as they travel on a field trip to Busan, South Korea. As each of the bullies gets a death text, they forward it on to try to escape the curse of Mimiko.

This version of the story moves past voice calls and into the world of texts and private messages, keeping the curse of Mimiko vibrant and real as technology and culture evolves.

Bullying is not an issue just in the U.S. This movie shows how it can cause people worldwide to not try to end their lives, but those of the people around them.

This film is available on the One Missed Call Trilogy release from Arrow Video. Not only does it have all three films in high-def 1080p, it also features plenty of extras for each film. This one includes a making of doc, behind the scenes footage, a short film The Love Story that ties in to this movie and a location tour with Mimiko.

DISCLAIMER: This set was sent to us by Arrow Video.

Box Office Failures Week: Southland Tales (2006)

Much like how I never got It Follows and worship Under the Silver Lake, Richard Kelly followed up Donnie Darko with the impenetrable Southland Tales, a movie seemingly designed to appeal to literally a handful of people.

How did this happen? Was no one saying no? And more importantly, where are the people obsessing over this movie?

As for me, I’m just as guilty. I’ve had the blu ray in my possession for nearly a decade and kept saying, “Well, I’ll get to it.”

On a cold Sunday morning at 5:45 AM — my favorite time to watch films — this mess of a movie blew my mind up real good.

Kelly wrote this movie before 9-11. Before he became someone Hollywood would throw money at. And after the attacks and the fame, he started revising it until it became not unlike the zeppelin that flies at the end of the film — sure, it gets airborne, but it’s awfully bloated. But dammit, I kind of love this ridiculous movie that feels like the 90’s never ended and has the audacity to include musical numbers and Jon Lovitz as a racist cop not played for laughs.

For his part, Kelly said that the movie was a “tapestry of ideas all related to some of the biggest issues that I think we’re facing right now …alternative fuel or the increasing obsession with celebrity and how celebrity now intertwines with politics.”

Man, I love when filmmakers go crazy. I love when they have multiple graphic novels to explain their messes of movies. And I love when ensemble casts get dragged into a shaggy dog of a film, trying to act their way out of something that at times makes no sense. Is that the point?

I mean — this movie somehow was influenced by Phillip K. Dick — characters outright say titles from his books in casual conversation — and Pulp FictionDr. Strangelove and the nuclear doom of Kiss Me Deadly. This is a place where Biblical verse walks hand in hand with song and dance set to the music of Moby and The Killers.

That said — the director’s cut has been referred to as “the ugliest mess I’ve ever seen” and “the biggest disaster since The Brown Bunny” and worst of all, “so bad it made me wonder if [Kelly] had ever met a human being.” And you know what? I want to see it. I want to see it with all my heart. Richard Roeper said that it was “two hours and twenty-four minutes of abstract crap.” I want all of it and more.

Oh yeah — those graphic novels. Southland Tales was initially planned to be a nine-part “interactive experience”, with the first six parts taking up a hundred pages in comic book form, with the movie as the last three parts of the story. And oh yeah — there was a website. Audiences can barely care about anything these days and here’s this movie demanding you do your homework.

Then again, this only played 63 theaters.

On July 4th, 2005, El Paso and Abilene were destroyed by nuclear attacks, which leads to America being under non-stop surveillance. While this is all going on, a company figures out how to make non-stop energy called Fluid Karma which is ripping holes through the fabric of space and time. And oh yeah — there’s a neo-Marxist terrorist plot involving the missing and amnesiac Boxer Santaros (The Rock, who was out of his depth when this was made but would be perfect now), a psychic porn star, singer and reality star named Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar), the twin Taverner brothers (yep, another Philip K. Dick reference; Sean William Scott plays them) and a screenplay that portends the future.

Somewhere in all of this is Mandy Moore as Boxer’s wife, Justin Timberlake narrating it all (he once said the movie was performance art and claimed to have no idea what it’s all about), Miranda Richardson as the nemesis behind it all, Bai Ling as Serpentine (she’s all film noir here), Wallace Shawn as the Baron who is trying to get the new energy out to the world (when he’s not watching commercials where trucks have sex), Nora Dunn as a terrorist and porn director, John Larroquette (!), Kevin Smith, Cheri Oteri, Amy Pohler, Curtis Armstrong (!), Christopher Lambert (!), Zelda Rubinstein, Will Sasso (of all people!) and a cut for time Janeane Garofalo.

This is a movie that desperately and hopelessly wants to be about something for someone. Let me be that someone. And let me have so many questions, like why do the police cars have the Caligula quote “Let them hate so long as they fear” on them? Why have Jane’s Addiction lyrics come out of a character’s mouth? Why cut the scene where Boxer gets blasted back in time to the 1920’s? Why does Boxer have the same name in his prophetic movie — Jericho Caine — as Arnold in End of Days? What if Rick Moranis had really been in this?

Please watch this movie so I am not alone in my mania for it. Because man — I feel like I might watch this non-stop for a few weeks. Or months. Or years.

Dark Ride (2006)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Craig Edwards is an award-winning blogger as well as a self-proclaimed Media Guy and a consumer of pop culture for a lot of years. He also writes a great blog called Let’s Get Out of Here!

We start out in 1989 New Jersey, watching as twin sisters take a trip through a “Dark Ride” – aka an amusement part attraction where you ride a roller coaster-like train through a dark and spooky environment – and not to shock you – but they don’t finish the ride and go for cotton candy. No, instead they get killed by a hulking goon who is promptly arrested, charged with the murders of the fourteen bodies found scattered about the place, and taken off to the booby hatch. This Dark Ride goes truly dark. Someteen years later, a group of five college students and one unstable but easy on the eyes female hitchhiker decides to take a trip to the amusement park, reopening after all those years. And wouldn’t you just know it? The psycho escapes from the asylum and heads right back to where it all began – the same Dark Ride the kids have decided to break into and party in. Who will survive, and what will be left of them?

Dark Ride ends up a meh misfire of a movie. The ingredients are sorta there – you have a mostly unknown but  adequate cast, with Sigler proving an adequate lead for what she’s asked to do here; you have a big creepy killer; you have a smidge of nudity; and you have some fairly gruesome and gory kills, including two that are undeniably awesome in their graphic nastiness. But there are some pretty big problems, and to mention them I’m going to need to whip out The Sword of Spoiler! First off: big ol’ killer Jonah. He’s deformed and wears a babyface mask for the bulk of the movie. We hear about his disfigurement a few times. But when he’s maskless for a brief interval in the middle of the movie — in admittedly poor lighting conditions — his face seems mostly okay. And then, come the end of the movie – they “forget” to show us what’s under that mask — not even a Final Jump reveal. WTH?

And, while we’re on the subject of our Psycho du Jour – it turns out ol’ killer Jonah is really just a big kid with the mind of a child in the body of the Hulk. My co-watchers and I had a discussion about this during the movie – what’s scarier? A big dumb guy who doesn’t realize what he’s doing but wants to recreate the gory scenes of the Dark Ride he lives in using your body? Or a confident and intelligent nutjob who wants to kill you because 1. he likes it. 2. he wants to. and 3. because he can? Well, having seen this movie — I have to go with the latter — the sick fear of knowing someone is working hard to get you into position to slaughter you – creeeeeppppyyyy! Wandering into a place and having a big goon grab you and mindlessly mash you into hamburger – well, don’t get me wrong – it still seems like it would make for a lousy afternoon – but it’s not really as scary.

Oh, and another problem with the movie – it’s slow enough that my co-watchers and I could have the above discussion about the movie during the movie and not feel like we were missing the movie. Yep, some big slow patches in that middle section lead to wandering attentions and off-screen anecdotes a flyin’. The filmmakers take no care to clue us in on the layout of the Dark Ride, so in the later reels there’s no sense of where anyone is at any time, and the place seems as big as a small town, which adds nothing to the suspense bank at all. There are also weird stylized directorial touches by Singer that bring nothing to the table, like the sped-up patty cake game in the van, and Sigler being front and center while the background spins around her twice. Dial it back there, Hitchcock Junior!

And the script has problems as well – giving us characters who are mostly at best unlikable and sometimes really annoying, and plot holes – I thought I heard something about a trip from California to New Orleans — by way of New Jersey? Worst navigation ever! Finally, and this is a big one — there’s a big twist near the end — turns out one of the college kids had a secret agenda all along. Well, okay, during the final minutes of the movie I’m not going to say I was surprised, but I went with it. But now, having thought about it – this character was working overtime to get everyone into that funhouse – but the subplot of Jonah’s escape plainly shows it to be a random bad luck thing involving a stupid choice on the part of his guards. And not in a “planning to escape first chance I get ah here it is now” kind of way either. You got Jonah sitting in catatonia in a room, followed by the guards blatantly breaking one of the cardinal food rules of his incarceration — yes, much like a Gremlin — followed by this event winding Jonah back up to his old murderous ways and putting him on the path to walking out and heading back to the Dark Ride. What incredible luck; that happening right on the same night when the plotter in the amusement park just happened to get several new victims lined up inside the joint. That’s a key point of storytelling that these filmmakers totally tried to gloss over. And I’m calling them on it. Shenanigans indeed.

So, in the end, this one might be worth a look for desperate slasher junkies in need of a fix, but they could save a lot of time and check out a death scenes compilation on YouTube. Everyone else? Your tickets to the Dark Ride are revoked. You can thank me later.

Editor’s Note: Screenwriter Robert Dean Kline has since given us David DeCoteau’s The Wrong Valentine and the 2021 horror entry, 6:45.

Rocky Balboa (2006)

Sylvester Stallone believed that he was negligent when he made Rocky V, as it left both him and his fans disappointed as the end of the series. So that’s where Rocky Balboa comes from and much like other movies Stallone has made, the storyline mirrors his own struggles and triumphs.

Rocky is still living in the same Philadelphia neighborhood, but now he’s a widower. He runs his own restaurant named Adrian’s named after his ex-wife. Two characters from the past return — Marie, a younger and troubled woman, and Rocky’s first opponent, Spider Rico.

First off, how does Rocky fight again after how bad he was in the fifth movie? Let Sylvester himself tell you: “When Rocky was diagnosed with brain damage, it must be noted that many athletes have a form of brain damage including football players, soccer players, and other individuals in contact sports such as rugby, etc. Rocky never went for a second opinion and yielded to his wife’s wishes to stop. So with the advent of new research techniques into brain damage, Rocky was found to be normal among fighters, and he was suffering the results of a severe concussion. By today’s standards Rocky Balboa would be given a clean bill of health for fighters.”

Rocky does more than fight a new boxer — Mason “The Line” Dixon, played by real boxer Antonio Tarver — he’s also battling grief and to stay in the life of his son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia). Paulie (Burt Young) is still in his life, but he’s dealing with the end of his work life and the guilt he feels over how he treated his sister while she was alive.

One night, Rocky reconnects with a woman named Marie, who he once escorted home when she was in her teens. She has a son named Stephenson who takes to Rocky as well and this helps him through his pain.

But who is Mason Dixon? He’s a boxer that the public has turned on and an ESPN story where Rocky would defeat him in a computer simulation. This reminds him of what his old trainer told him: if he wants to gain respect, he needs to earn it through the right opponent.

This starts Rocky back in the ring, as Dixon’s promoters pitch the idea of holding a charity exhibition bout in Las Vegas. The story is that Rocky is a has been and Dixon may be a never was, but the public falls in love with the story. 

The best part of this movie is when Robert tells Rocky that his father’s shadow has caused him to fail. The hero takes a step and unleashes a speech that I have seen on so many walls: “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!” I can’t even read these words without getting emotional.

At Adrian’s grave, Rocky and Robert come together. Our hero starts training again with Apollo Creed’s old trainer, Duke (Tony Burton), who explains that Rocky can’t win by speed any longer, so he has to increase his power. 

The fight goes the full ten rounds and ends with both men standing. Rocky lands the last punch (and wins the fight in an alternate cut of the film). Rocky thanks an appreciative Dixon for the match, which has given both men exactly what they need. 

The movie closes with Rocky at Adrian’s grave, saying “Yo Adrian, we did it. We did it.”

As disappointing as Rocky V was, Rocky Balboa is perfect. If this was the end of the Rocky saga, it’d be a fine close. However, the character would continue in the Creed movies. This was an emotional watch for me and quite cathartic.

Mutual Admiration (2006)

Andrew Bujalski is the godfather of mumblecore, a subgenre of independent film “characterized by naturalistic acting and dialogue (sometimes improvised), low-budget film production, an emphasis on dialogue over plot, and a focus on the personal relationships of people in their 20s and 30s.” His film Funny Ha Ha is considered the first film in this form. His second, Mutual Admiration, has just been re-released on blu ray from Arbelos Films, who did such an amazing job with their blu ray of The Last Movie earlier this year.

Alan (Justin Rice of the indie rock band Bishop Allen, whose music is also in this movie) is a musician who has just moved to New York City from Boston after the breakup of his band. He’s on the hunt for a drummer when he meets Sara, whose brother ends up being his drummer. Complicating matters is that they make out and he’s not sure where his heart is. That’s because he’s really attracted to Ellie, the girlfriend of his friend Lawrence (Bujalski).

Your enjoyment of this film will depend on how mumblecore makes you feel. Either you’re going to find it incredibly honest and real. Or you’re going to find it arty and pretentious, filled with people who have lives that have no direction that just blab about them for the entirety of the film’s running time. I leave it up to you, dear reader, as to which side of that argument I fall upon.

The new 2k restoration from Arbelos Films is now available on blu ray. It also features a new interview with Bujalski, interjections and observations from the parents of the cast and crew, a short film called Peoples House, trailers and more. There’s also two essays on the film by director Damien Chazelle and Okkervil River singer Will Sheff that both shine plenty of light on why this film is so essential. They aren’t throwaways — they actually enhanced my viewing of Mutual Appreciation. You can visit the official site to learn more about this movie.

Arbelos Films has really put out some interesting films this year and I’m excited to see what they choose to release next. They’re finding smaller films that are too arty for labels like Arrow and too niche for Criterion. Here’s hoping they stick around for a long time.

DISCLAIMER: We were sent this film by its PR company and that has no impact on our review.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

How does a slasher killer achieve his or her fame? What are the steps and rituals that must be adhered to? Why would they want to enter into a life of killing and being killed? And once you’ve been selected as their Final Girl, is there any way to break the cycle? These questions and more are raised and answered by this mockumentary.

Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethals, Home Alone) and her two cameramen, Doug and Todd, have been allowed to document Leslie Vernon as he prepares to become a slasher killer. He already has his backstory prepared — he’s based it on an urban legend of a boy who killed his family and was drowned by an angry mob.

Vernon isn’t even his real last name — it’s Mancuso in a nod to Friday the 13th producer Frank Mancuso, Jr. He doesn’t have any powers. But what he does have is a devotion to the methods, preparation and rituals needed to be a perfect killer.

At first, the crew is totally behind Leslie, but as time goes on, the idea of luring teenagers to an abandoned house and killing them one by one seems morally wrong. They try to talk him out of it, but he will not be swayed. Kelly, his Final Girl, will define herself by facing him. However, she is anything but a virgin and has none of the qualities that make up this character archetype. And even more surprisingly, she quickly is killed.

That’s when Taylor realizes that she was the Final Girl all along and is as trapped by the plot as Leslie is. She is the last one alive and must kill him in the exact way he had planned, burning down a shed to stop him. However, throughout the film, we also learned that Leslie had been practicing playing dead and had flame-retardant gel all over his clothes. Is it a surprise when he sits up, very much alive on an autopsy table over the end credits?

There are so many Easter Eggs in the film, from the car Sam Raimi uses in every one of his films to the Rabbit in Red Lounge, a Lament Configuration box, the song “Midnight, The Stars and You” from The Shining and the jump rope girls from A Nightmare on Elm StreetGenre vets Zelda Rubenstein and Kane Hodder turn up, as does Robert Englund as Doc Halloran, who is very much based on Dr. Loomis from Halloween. And Scott Wilson (The Ninth Configuration) plays Eugene, Leslie’s mentor, who is really Billy from Black Christmas.

It took me some time to get into this film. Leslie comes off like such a ridiculous Ryan Reynolds type at first and it seemed too goofy, but I’m glad I stuck with it, as it becomes a pretty enjoyable movie by the end.

There’s been some interest in this film in the ten years or so since its release. DeConte Collectibles put out a collector’s action figure that’s available at Amok Time, IMDB lists a sequel in production entitled B4TM and Scream Factory released it on blu-ray at the end of March 2018. You can also stream it for free on Amazon Prime or catch it on Shudder.

CHRISTMAS CINEMA: Black Christmas (2006)

Director Glen Morgan (Willard) did this movie with the intent of expanding on the ambiguous ideas of the original while giving it an identifiable villain. Once I read that, I instantly wanted to hate this movie. I’m of the John Carpenter school that believes that the more you explain the monster, the less interesting it is. But I was surprised how much I enjoyed this film.

Working along with producer James Wong (they also created the TV series Space: Above and Beyond, as well as the movies Final Destination (in Japan, this film is included as part of this film series) and the Jet Li vehicle The One), this film was made for Dimension Films and MGM. Wong and Morgan clashed with the Weinstein brothers over the script and the end of the movie, which led to numerous rewrites and reshoots. Oh that Harvey Weinstein — I feel that no one will really miss him in Hollywood until they figure out that he can make them money again.

A bright point that made me think twice about Black Christmas (or Black X-Mas) was that Morgan asked for input from Bob Clark, the original creator, as well as having him sign on as a co-producer. The film features Billy, the killer only hinted at in the original, and his daughter/sister (oh no, not another incest movie), Agnes. However, in Steffen Hantke’s book American Horror Film: The Genre at the Turn of the Millennium, Morgan said that the inclusion of a second killer came from Dimension and that “a ten million dollar movie of Black Christmas didn’t need anyone’s help, and they should have left us alone. But they had to have the two killers, and then they were after kids from The O.C. We compromised a lot.” In another interview, he stated that he wasn’t happy with the film, claiming that it was schizophrenic “because Bob Weinstein came in and urinated on it. Really, there was a time where torture porn was the hot thing. You know I became friends with Bob Clark. You can throw that movie into one of your first questions. I loved that movie, and also Christmas Story and I learned a lot from Bob, and had his blessing that we were trying to make a version that he didn’t get to deal with the background of the killers, and stuff like that. When Bob Weinstein came in and saw that, he was like, “We need to drag Michele Trachtenberg down the hall by her eyes.” And I was like, “Oh, Lord,” and I talked to my agent and lawyer, and Kristen about it. It was humiliating, it was horrible. I stayed to try and protect the cast and crew, friends of mine, and ended up taking it on the chin”.

Let’s get to the movie, hmm?

We meet Billy early — he was born with severe Sin City-esque jaundice and liver disease to a mother who never loved him. Beyond abusing him, she also kills his father and buries him in the crawlspace with the help of her boyfriend. It turns out that that guy is impotent, so she rapes her 12-year-old son (again, can we please stop getting incest movies by surprise) and gives birth to Agnes.

Eight years later, on Christmas Day 1991, Billy escapes from his attic prison and kills his mother, her lover and stabs Agnes in the eye. He then makes cookies out of his mother’s skin and is sent to a mental asylum that he escapes from fifteen years later.

Billy wants to go home, but his home now belongs to the Delta Alpha Kappa sorority. Within minutes, Clair (not Clare) is killed and when Megan goes to investigate, she is killed as well (including her eyes being ripped out and eaten while she is dragged by her eyesockets). Meanwhile, the rest of the sisters, Kelli  (Katie Cassidy, Taken, the 2010 revision of A Nightmare on Elm Street), Melissa (Michelle Trachtenberg, Dawn from TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Heather (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), Dana (TV’s Party of Five), Lauren and house mother Mrs. Mac (Andrea Martin, who was in the original film) are trying to have a Secret Santa party when an obscene phone caller threatens to kill all of them.

Clair’s half-sister Leigh (Kristen Cloke, Final Destination) comes looking for her, just as Eve, the weird sorority sister, gives Heather a glass unicorn for her present. Meanwhile, Kelli’s boyfriend Kyle (Goldie Hawn’s son Oliver Hudson) shows up. As they search for Megan, a video shows up on her laptop of her having sex with Kyle. Kelli kicks him out and then the lights suddenly go out.

Dana goes outside to fix the fusebox, but is murdered. The rest of the girls get a phone call of her screaming and another threat that they will all be killed. As they search for her, they only find blood. And oh yeah, Eve decapitated and frozen head inside her car.

Heather and Mrs. Mac try to get away despite the bad weather (the police said it would be up to 2 hours for them to arrive). Heather is killed inside the car as it warms up and an icicle impales Mrs. Mac right through the eye. Meanwhile, Melissa is killed with a pair of flying roller skates and Lauren, who was recovering from drinking too much, is found in bed with her eyes removed.

Whew! This film is a whirlwind of gore and eye destruction as if Fulci himself rose from the dead to do ocular harm. As Bill from Groovy Doom reminded me, Fulci once told an interviewer that the eyes “are the first thing you have to destroy, because they have seen too many bad things.”

Kyle comes back and swears that he is not the killer, which everyone tends to believe once he is pulled into the attic and killed. Turns out Agnes is the real killer and she’s brought Billy with her. A fight ensues, Agnes falls into the empty space between the walls and the house is set ablaze as Kelli and Leigh escape.

If you ever find yourself in a horror movie, always ask to see the killer’s body, then shoot that body in the head as many times as you can. Then set it on fire.

Of course, Billy and Agnes come back, with Leigh being killed and Kelli using a defibrillator to take out Agnes. Billy drops out of the ceiling and chases Kelli, but he falls off a railing and is impaled on a Christmas tree.

This movie is pretty much wall to wall gore, in marked contrast to the original. Yet I found myself really involved in its pacing, in the cinematography and even the lighting. It’s not a slapdash affair.

After the critical and financial failure of this film, Bob Clark began work on a sequel to the original with Olivia Hussey and John Saxon reprising their roles of Jess and Lt. Ken Fuller. Jess would have been the new house mother in this version, but Clark died before it could get made.

There’s a ton cut and changed in the final film. Like Lauren Hannon’s original death scene, which involved Agnes sneaking into her room and gouging her eyes out with the glass unicorn in an homage to the original film. And there were three alternate endings shot for the film. The first ending had Leigh and Kelli open Clair’s present when Kelli gets a phone call from either Billy or Agnes. The second ending, which was used in the UK, had Leigh coming to examine Agnes’ body and being killed by her, then Kelli electrocuting her Agnes. Finally, the third ending had a mortician find that Billy’s body is missing. 

Despite the pain that it took to make the film, I really think it’s worth watching. It shouldn’t take over for the original, but it’s worth your time this holiday season.