A Two-Fer With The Mystifying Oracle : “The Ouija Resurrection : Ouija Experiment 2”


Trash Film Guru

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They say that practice makes perfect, and you know what? In the case of micro-budget auteur Israel Luna, that’s absolutely true — his 2011 effort The Ouija Expriement was a sorry piece of shit, and his 2015 follow-up, The Ouija Resurrection : Ouija Experiment 2  is a perfectly sorry piece of shit.

True, our writer/director obviously has a bit more money to play around with here (most of which is squandered on embarrassingly lame CGI) but this film — also known as either  The Ouija Experiment 2 : Theatre Of Death or, simply, The Ouija Resurrection — ups the ante in the terribleness department by actually having the gall to think it’s clever rather than simply stupid.

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Evidently Luna has convinced himself that his first flick has somehow attained “cult classic” status — which, I assure you, it hasn’t — because the premise here in round two is that…

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A Two-Fer With The Mystifying Oracle : “The Ouija Experiment”


Trash Film Guru

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In recent weeks, Ouija : Origin Of Evil has meet with a surprisingly positive critical and commercial reception, but you know how we do things here at TFG : why review the “real thing” when low-budget alternatives are available? To that end, I plunked myself down in front of Netflix the other night and watched writer/director Israel Luna’s 2011 “found footage” horror The Ouija Experiment, as well as its sequel (which we’ll get to in our next write-up), just to say I did my part to support the current Ouija craze without putting a dime in Hollywood’s pocket. As it turns out, though, I shouldn’t have wasted my time.

Cranked out for the paltry sum of $1,200, Luna’s flick is the sort of thing I probably should have enjoyed just to maintain my reputation as a connoisseur of zero-budget filmmaking, but try as I might — and believe me…

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Here Are The Independent Spirit Award Nominations!


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Before I forget, The Independent Spirit Award Nominations were announced earlier today!  In a year that has yet to see a Spotlight, a Mad Max, or even a Big Short, the Oscar race remains undeniably murky.  Maybe the Spirit nominations will help to clarify things.

(Sad to say but I haven’t seen most of the films that were nominated.  They’ve either just opened down here in Dallas or they’ll be opening next month.  So, you’ll have to forgive me if I can’t provide much commentary beyond saying that I look forward to seeing and reviewing them all for myself!)

(I will say, however, that I’m happy to see that American Honey was nominated because, even though I missed seeing the film, it’s directed Andrea Arnold.  Arnold’s previous film, Fish Tank, is pretty much one of my essential movies.)

Here are the nominees!

BEST PICTURE
“American Honey”
“Chronic”
“Jackie”
“Manchester by the Sea”
“Moonlight”

BEST DIRECTOR
Andrea Arnold, “American Honey”
Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”
Pablo Larraín, “Jackie”
Jeff Nichols, “Loving”
Kelly Reichardt, “Certain Women”

BEST ACTOR
Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
David Harewood, “Free In Deed”
Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”
Jesse Plemons, “Other People”
Tim Roth, “Chronic”

BEST ACTRESS
Annette Bening, “20th Century Women”
Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”
Sasha Lane, “American Honey”
Ruth Negga, “Loving”
Natalie Portman, “Jackie”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Ralph Fiennes,  “A Bigger Splash”
Ben Foster, “Hell or High Water”
Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”
Shia LaBeouf, “American Honey”
Craig Robinson, “Morris from America”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Edwina Findley, “Free In Deed”
Paulina Garcia, “Little Men”
Lily Gladstone, “Certain Women”
Riley Keough, “American Honey”
Molly Shannon, “Other People”

BEST SCREENPLAY
“Hell or High Water”
“Little Men”
“Manchester by the Sea”
“Moonlight”
“20th Century Women”

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Ava Berkofsky, “Free In Deed”
Lol Crawley,”The Childhood of a Leader”
Zach Kuperstein,”The Eyes of My Mother”
James Laxton,”Moonlight”
Robbie Ryan,”American Honey”

BEST FILM EDITING
Matthew Hannam,”Swiss Army Man”
Jennifer Lame,” Manchester by the Sea”
Joi McMillon, Nat Sanders, “Moonlight”
Jake Roberts, “Hell or High Water”
Sebastián Sepúlveda, “Jackie”

BEST DOCUMENTARY
“13th”
“Cameraperson”
“I Am Not Your Negro”
“O.J.: Made in America”
“Sonita”
“Under the Sun”

BEST INTERNATIONAL PICTURE
“Aquarius” (Brazil)
“Chevalier” (Greece)
“My Golden Days” (France)
“Toni Erdmann” (Germany and Romania)
“Under the Shadow” (Iran and U.K.)

BEST FIRST FEATURE
“The Childhood of a Leader”
“The Fits”
“Other People”
“Swiss Army Man”
“The Witch”

BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY
“Barry”
“Christine”
“Jean of the Joneses”
“Other People”
“The Witch”

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD (best feature made for under $500,000)
“Free In Deed”
“Hunter Gatherer”
“Lovesong”
“Nakom”
“Spa Night”

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Cleaning Out the DVR Yet Again #11: 400 Days (dir by Matt Osterman)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by Wednesday, November 30th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

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I recorded 400 Days off of the SyFy channel on November 6th.  Apparently, it got a very brief theatrical run earlier in the year.  Yeah, I don’t remember it either…

400 Days stars Dane Cook as an astronaut!?  Oh my God, that sounds like a formula for intergalactic, kinda-edgy-but-not-really wackiness!  Oh, and this film features Dane and three other astronauts locked in a simulator for 400 Days!?  Wow, I bet Dane will be driving them crazy with all sorts of wacky frat boy antics!

Well, no, not quite.  400 Days is actually an extremely serious film, one that doesn’t seem to have much use for what the rest of us would call humor.  In anticipation of future exploration of space, NASA arranges for four astronauts to be put into an underground bunker for 400 days.  The idea is that they’ll be able to study the effects of complete isolation and confinement but, naturally, things soon start to get weird.

For instance, Dvorack (that would be Dane Cook’s role) is this alpha male who is kind of a jerk and he’s always throwing his weight around and giving orders and looking down on his more scientifically inclined colleagues.  At one point, Dvorack stares at himself in a mirror and imagines his face falling apart.  AGCK!

And then there’s Bug (Ben Feldman), who is an emotionally unstable scientist who is still struggling to deal with being separated from his son.  (His son may be dead.  There’s a scene in a hospital but I’m not sure if it was a flashback or a hallucination or what.)  Bug is soon locking himself away in his room and drawing a maze on the wall.  Maybe he’s mad because everyone keeps calling him Bug.  It’s not a flattering nickname.

And then there’s Captain Cooper (Brandon Routh) and Dr. McTier (Caity Lotz).  Cooper and McTier used to go out but then they broke up two weeks before the start of the experiment.  Wow, that sounds like a formula for awkward relationship comedy!  Just wait until Dane Cook starts flirting with McTier and snarkily challenging Cooper’s authority…

Oh wait — sorry.  This is a serious movie.   A very serious movie.

Anyway, after about two weeks in the bunker, the four astronauts hear a loud explosion above them.  Has something happened on the outside!?  Or is it just a part of the experiment?

And then, 300+ days later, an emaciated man emerges from an air vent!  Finally convinced that something has happened on the outside, the four astronauts leave the bunker and discover that the Earth is a now a dark and windy place that is covered with dust.  There’s a dilapidated town nearby.  It’s apparently run by a mysterious man named Zell (Tom Cavanagh as the most unlikely war lord since Hugh Grant showed up in Cloud Atlas).

But again — is this real or is this just a part of the experiment?

It’s an intriguing question but I’m going to warn you not to expect an answer.  While I don’t want to spoil the film for anyone, I do feel like I have an obligation to let you know that this film ends on a note of very deliberate ambiguity.  It’s the exact type of ending that tends to get on people’s nerves.  As I watched 400 Days off of my DVR, I did a twitter search to find out what some of my friends thought about this film when it originally aired.

With all that in mind, I will now cautiously admit that I didn’t hate 400 Days.  While I thought the execution left a lot to be desired, I kind of liked the idea behind the film.  The problem with the film’s ending was not that it was ambiguous as much as it hadn’t really earned the right to be ambiguous.  If you’re going to go with an open ending, you have to provide enough clues and details that the audience can still have an opinion about what actually happened after the end credits rolled.  As oppose to something like Inception or Upstream Color, 400 Days didn’t really didn’t build up to its enigmatic conclusion.  Unearned ambiguity just feels like narrative laziness.

That said, I liked the design of the bunker and, as I said before, I liked the idea of watching these four characters trying to figure out what’s real and what’s a hallucination.  Dane Cook did okay with his role, though ultimately he was still just Dane Cook trying to be serious.  However, Brandon Routh and Caity Lotz did well, despite both being saddled with rather underdeveloped roles.

400 Days wasn’t that terrible…

Outside the (Hat) Box: PHANTOM LADY (Universal 1944)


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Interested in a Hitchcockian 40’s thriller full of suspense and noir style? Then PHANTOM LADY is the film for you, a small gem based on a Cornell Woolrich novel and  directed by the talented Robert Siodmak. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this film noir like many do, but it certainly contains many of the stylistic elements of the genre in its gripping murder mystery story. Pretty damn close, though!

The Hitchcock influence clearly comes from Joan Harrison , former secretary and screenwriter for The Master of Suspense, who became one of only three female producers working during Hollywood’s Golden Age. There’s Hitchcock’s famed McGuffin to be found in the form of a “crazy hat” worn by the mysterious woman of the title that’s crucial to the film’s plot. Add the tension ratcheted up by screenwriter Bernard Schoenfeld and you’ve got a Hitchcock movie without Hitchcock.

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The noir elements…

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Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #10: The World’s Greatest Sinner (dir by Timothy Carey)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by Wednesday, November 30th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

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As I continued to clean out my DVR, I decided to take a break from watching Lifetime films and, instead, I watched a movie that I recorded off of TCM on October 30th.

Filmed in 1962 but apparently never given an official theatrical release, The World’s Greatest Sinner is a genuine oddity and one that everyone should see at least once.  The infamously eccentric character actor Timothy Carey wrote, directed, and starred as Clarence Hilliard, a small-town insurance salesman who, one day, decides to quit his job and … well, your guess is as good as mine as to what he’s doing or why he’s doing it.  Here’s what I can tell you for sure: after stumbling across a concert and seeing how excited everyone is over rock and roll music, Clarence decides to become a street preacher.  While standing on bags of fertilizer, Clarence preaches that everyone is God and that everyone can live forever.

At first, Clarence faces persecution for his beliefs but soon, he has a loyal cult following.  He funds his new church by seducing elderly widows and he even becomes a rock star himself.  At first, he’s held back by his lack of facial hair but then he starts to wear a fake goatee.  He even changes his name to God Hilliard and, while he may have alienated his family, he is now loved by young people everywhere.  In fact, in a remarkably icky scene, we find out that the 40-something God now has a 14 year-old girlfriend.

God Hilliard is so popular that he’s approached by a shadowy figure who suggests that maybe he should run for President.  As the candidate for the Eternal Man Party, God gives ranting speeches that are listening to by his rabid fans, the majority of whom are now wearing arm bands with the letter “F” on them.  (F for Faust, perhaps?  Or F for Fake, as Orson Welles might argue.)  At first, the press ignores God but God runs as an outsider, giving speeches in which he promises to do away with the establishment and return the government to the people and … well, let’s just say that this film, which was obviously designed to be an over the top satire, now feels more than a little prophetic.

It looks like God Hilliard is about to become the most powerful man in the free world but the other God — the one who is vengeful and jealous and capable of throwing lightning bolts and all that — might have other plans….

(Incidentally, this entire story is told in 77 minutes, which should give you some clue of just how frantically paced The World’s Greatest Sinner is.)

Oh my God (not, not you Clarence), this is a weird film.  It’s shocking today so I can only imagine how it must have looked to audiences in 1962.  (Or, I should say, how it would have looked if it had actually been given a theatrical release.)  Admittedly, The World’s Greatest Sinner is a ragged film, full of haphazard editing and occasionally inconsistent sound.  Made for just $90,000, its low budget is obvious in almost every scene.  And yet, all of this works to the film’s advantage.  The World’s Greater Sinner literally feels like a cinematic dream, with its inconsistencies contributing to its otherworldly feel.  This is one of those films that you need to see at least once because you’ll probably never see another one like it.

The entire film is a Timothy Carey production.  He wrote, produced, directed, and starred, creating an indie film at a time when being independent was something more than just a trendy buzzword. If you’re into classic films — and particularly if you’re a fan of Stanley Kubrick’s early work — you might recognize Carey.  He was one of those legendary character actors who was always called upon whenever a movie needed a memorable crazy or an intimidating henchman.  From what I’ve read, Carey was reportedly as eccentric as the characters that he played.  His performance in The World’s Great Sinner swings back and forth between being histrionic and being surprisingly subtle, often in the same scene.  The same can be said of his direction.  For every uneven or poorly lit scene, there’s another that’s artfully composed and full of surprising detail.

The World’s Greatest Sinner is simply something that has to be seen to believed.

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Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #9: Inspired To Kill (dir by Michael Feifer)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by Wednesday, November 30th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

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Wow, it’s Antonio Sabato, Jr. again!

That’s right, Inspired To Kill co-stars Antonio Sabato, Jr.  Interestingly enough, the previous movie that I watched in my effort to clean out the DVR, Remote Paradise, also co-starred Antonio Sabato, Jr.   Also interestingly enough, both Inspired to Kill and Remote Paradise feature Sabato playing an enigmatic, older man who has an affair with a lonely and insecure woman.  In both films, it turns out that Sabato is not exactly who he first appears to be.  (If you want, feel free to insert your own joke about Sabato endorsing Donald Trump here because I’m too lazy to come up with one.)  Perhaps not coincidentally, both films were directed by Michael Feifer and both films premiered on the Lifetime Movie Network.

(For the record, I recorded Inspired To Kill off of LMN on November 13th.)

Inspired To Kill tells the story of Kara (Karissa Lee Staples), a self-described aspiring writer who is recovering from a personal trauma.  (Her boyfriend was murdered, which is definitely one way to get out of a relationship.)  Having fled the painful memories of her former life in New York City, Kara is now living in Los Angeles and everything should be perfect….

Except, it’s not!

Yes, Kara may be living in L.A. but everyone knows that, if you want to be a real writer, you have to live in NYC.

Yes, Kara has been accepted into a prestigious creative writing program but her professor (Jay Pickett) is a total sleaze who keeps trying to hit on her.

Yes, Kara has managed to land a job as a barista but her boss (Daniel Booko) is a demanding jerk.  He even gets upset when she misses work for several days in a row.

Yes, Kara has met the cute and charming Jason (Matthew Atkinson) but Jason sometimes seems oddly hesitant about pursuing a relationship with her.  (Plus, Jason wants to be a lawyer, which means that, when the revolution does come, he might be on the wrong side.)

Yes, Kara is renting a room from the fun-loving Charlie (Olivia d’Abo) but Charlie is also a heavy drinker and can be a bit self-absorbed.  Charlie’s solution to every problem is to go out, get drunk, and pick up a college student … actually, Charlie might have the right idea…

And yes, Kara has finally managed to meet her idol, the true crime writer P.K. Reese (Antonio Sabato, Jr) but there seems to be something a little bit off about him.  He’s supportive of her as a writer but, at the same time, he gets upset if anyone other than him reads her work.  He says that he wants to meet her friends and yet, he goes out of his way to avoid them.  And when more and more people in her life start to suddenly die, Kara finds herself wondering if maybe her new lover was somehow involved…

You’re probably thinking that you’ve got Inspired To Kill all figured out but there’s a big twist that occurs towards the end of the film.  Now, I have to admit that I figured out the twist, largely because I’ve seen so many Lifetime films that it is now basically impossible to fool me.  But, even with that in mind, the twist was still pretty clever and actually, a lot of fun in its wonderfully implausible way.  I mean, if you’re expecting the twist to actually make any sense than you have no business watching a Lifetime movie in the first place.  Don’t worry about logic.  Just sit back and enjoy the film.

Anyway, I rather liked Inspired To Kill.  It’s an enjoyable and well-acted little thriller, one that will keep you entertained.  It’s the type of unapologetically crazed and lurid melodrama that reminds me why I fell in love with the Lifetime Movie Network in the first place.  Inspired To Kill is a lot of fun.  Keep an eye out for it!