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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Matt's Movie Mortuary: Anneliese: The Exorcist Tapes

Something Demonic in Deutschland

By Matt Wintz

Release Date: March 1st, 2011 – U.S.
Rating: R
Genre: Horror
Running Time: 91 minutes
Director: Jude Gerard Prest
Cast: Yaz Canli, Kai Cofer, 
Christopher Karl Johnson, Nikki Muller, 
Annette Remter, David Reynolds, 
Robert Shampain, Korey Simeone, 
Gerold Wunstel

In recent years, the found footage genre has become quite popular among big-budget horror studios and those who primarily release direct to video. This genre has also been tag-teamed with the demonic possession genre as well, with movies such as "The Last Exorcism" or "Devil's Due" coming out in the theaters. "Anneliese: The Exorcist Tapes" is one such film, based in the 1970s dealing with a young woman in Germany whose family is at the end of their rope. A small camera crew is joined by two doctors (one of which is American) who come to the house only to find two priests there in the process of trying to perform their exorcism. The movie, currently streaming on Netflix with only a one-star rating, caught my attention because anything usually believed to be bad has a need to be seen.

Right out the gate, you know something is at least a little off with Anneliese, as when she first appears on camera, she urinates on the floor in front of everyone and proceeds to lick it off the floor. We are then thrown into the obligatory feud between science and religion, as the two doctors try and push sedatives to try and calm the poor girl down while the priests hate the idea that the doctors are there and are being pushed by the religious parents to continue with the exorcism. This plot device is quite common in these types of movies and is usually to be expected. It's an easy way to create dissension in the group at first, only for the medical professionals to come around as the demonic activity grows to admit that they "have no idea how to explain what they've seen." In this film, this occurs a few times, such as when the bed shakes with Anneliese on it, or when she crawls downstairs only to open her mouth and a wonderful cornucopia of insects come crawling out.

To the movie's credit, all the cameras set up to catch the activity are black and white, and even one of the portable cameras is done in pure 1970s film style with grainy visuals and changes in audio quality. The main camera that is used by the documentary crew seems to always have a more tan hue to the filming, which does set the movie up as not feeling like a 2011 movie striving to be 1970s and failing. The documentary film crew characters, also to their credit, aren't annoying characters in the movie but seem to be played perfectly. They will ask certain questions, but aren't overly pushy when characters need space. While some found-footage movies make you wonder "why are they still filming" in times of crisis, this movie makes it seem perfectly logical that they would continue filming the entire ordeal. The standalone interviews that they do with the doctors, priests, and parents also come across very genuine. While not Academy Award winning acting, everyone in the movie does a perfectly capable job of carrying this story forward.

The movie isn't perfect, however, and it does fall into some of the tried-and-true trappings of the demonic possession film genre. Anneliese speaks in tongues or languages she shouldn't know, she calls people names, tries to molest a priest, and knows things about the people in the room she doesn't know. These happen in almost every demonic possession movie as when it comes to actual cases these are all shared traits of the afflicted, but it just seems tired. Also, the first death occurs a little over the hour mark of a ninety minute film, and while it can be seen as a "slow burn" leading up to the big payoff, it does feel like it took a little long. Also, once there is the first death, which occurs in front of the entire cast of characters, there's no urgency to deal with it. The priests don't seem to care and the entire action of the movie just seems to stop. It also then leads to the next scene where a character who just witnessed Anneliese kill someone then gets drawn into possibly untying her from the bed. It's been already proven Anneliese has never learned English, but then speaks perfect English to someone to get them to try and get her unbound. This leads to another "I know things I shouldn't" moment which again seems to just be a retread of things seen before. Another thing that seems to pull the movie apart is after the first death and the group is having a discussion, the priests refuse to call any authorities over the doctor's death and say that "these things happen" and it's no big deal. This then leads right into another character's death, and a scene where the main priest tries to explain to the documentary crew that this is just par for the course. I'm perfectly fine with a little bit of suspension of disbelief, but it seems like these priests in question are not in the correct line of work.

Overall, the movie doesn't deliver all the shocks as something more along the lines of "The Exorcist," but one shouldn't count out this little film. If you enjoy a movie that can take a little time to get going but fills that time with character building and the occasional creepy moment, then it's worth ninety minutes. Currently, this film is available on Region 1 DVD and streaming on Netflix.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Remembering Mickey Rooney

The Iconic Actor Gave Us Eight Decades of Entertainment

By Chris Sabga

Mickey Rooney had an extraordinary career in film and television that spanned a staggering 88 years – from 1926 to 2014. That kind of staying power is rare in any profession, but especially in Hollywood. To go through all of Rooney's highlights would be an impossibility – his body of work numbers in the hundreds.

The first time I saw Mickey Rooney, I loved him instantly. It was in a 1984 made-for-TV Christmas movie called "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear." He played a grandfather who died but came back from Heaven to share one last holiday with his grandson in New York City. It is still my favorite Christmas film of all time.

Four decades earlier, a teenage Mickey Rooney shared the screen with Spencer Tracey in 1938's "Boys Town." Tracey portrayed a priest who established a home for wayward kids – one of whom was Rooney. It's a classic. (The sequel – "Men of Boys Town" – is pretty good, too.)

One of his most famous roles came six years later, in 1944, when he and Elizabeth Taylor starred together in "National Velvet." To illustrate his staying power, he was still a star – or became one again – seventeen years after that when he appeared in 1961's "Breakfast at Tiffany's" with Audrey Hepburn. Of course, like every other actor, Rooney had his ups and downs – especially in those years – but he always worked steadily.

His bucktoothed Japanese character from "Tiffany's" is considered controversial by today's standards. The actor expressed regret in a 2008 interview with The Sacramento Bee: "It breaks my heart. Blake Edwards, who directed the picture, wanted me to do it because he was a comedy director. They hired me to do this overboard, and we had fun doing it." In the 1993 biopic, "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story," the famed martial artist (played by Jason Scott Lee, no relation) becomes increasingly upset as he watches Rooney's caricatured portrayal. Rooney, to his credit, "wouldn't have done it" if he had known people would take offense.

His career continued on: "Reqium for a Heavyweight" (1962), "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (1963), "The Black Stallion" (1979), and too many others to name – with roles both major and minor.

A true silver screen surprise and one I highly recommend: the little-seen 1999 film "The First of May" about a runaway boy and an old lady (Dan Byrd and the late Julie Harris, respectively) who escape together to join the circus. Rooney wasn't the star, but his gruff portrayal as a grizzled circus owner was a welcome presence. It's a beautiful, touching movie that's well worth seeking out.

I wasn't particularly fond of "Night at the Museum" – the 2006 Ben Stiller comedy – but Mickey Rooney (along with fellow screen veterans Dick Van Dyke and Bill Cobbs) absolutely stole the show. By then, Rooney was an old pro who could make the most of every moment, no matter how big or small – and he did just that in "Museum."

Mickey Rooney has truly done it all: holiday movies (the aforementioned "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear"), horror flicks ("Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker"), family films ("The Muppets," "Pete's Dragon," "The Black Stallion"), TV appearances ("The Golden Girls" and "Full House"), and even voice-acting ("The Fox and the Hound"). And then, of course, there are the revered classics that made him a household name ("National Velvet," "Breakfast at Tiffany's," "Boys Town," and many more).

Multiple generations – including today's kids and teens – have been exposed to Rooney's incredible work. That was the magic of Mickey.