Brian’s Review – Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

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Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, discovers vampires are planning to take over the United States. He makes it his mission to eliminate them.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

3 out of 10

I saw the title for this movie and immediately went “Huh?” It sounds  ridiculous and yet strangely intriguing. I tried not to judge a book by its cover and just watch the film for what it was. Unfortunately, the title is the most interesting part of this mess. AL:VH is a joyless experience. It tries to reinvent our 16th president as a younger man out for blood because a vampire decided to feed on his mother after his Father failed to pay a debt. In response, he lashes out and wants revenge. If you’re still awake after that boring description, try to imagine a film with as silly a title as this and has no humor in it whatsoever. Sam Raimi had the right idea with the Evil Dead series. He took a non-existent plot filled with demons and ghouls and added large doses of humor to engage the audience and give them a bloody good time.

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I suppose my greatest hope was that AL:VH would be in the same vein(no pun intended) and create a roller coaster ride in the “Zombieland”-style where horror and comedy have been successfully fused. Instead, we have an angst ridden hero doing Samurai moves with an ax. Why did he have to be Abraham Lincoln? There’s no real reason to make the protagonist a historical figure. It didn’t add anything to the experience or give the plot any added oomph. Also, I have a real beef with these Vampire films coming out where the bloodsuckers walk around during the day. I am well read enough to know that Bram Stoker’s original story had Dracula walking around during the day albeit with diminished power. But, the idea that Vampires are only awake at night gives the story more potency and allows the humans to regroup and develop. Twilight is another example of this. Of course, that hunk of shit makes them sparkle (Stephanie Meyer should be prosecuted for that).

Anyway, with the Vampire films making a comeback for all the wrong reasons, I keep waiting for a great one to come along and have found myself disappointed each and every time. Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter is unfortunately not the exception.

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Brian’s Review – Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)

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After the crew of the Enterprise find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction.

Directed by J.J. Abrams

9 out of 10

It’s a great relief to me to see that J.J. Abrams has taken over the Star Wars series starting with Episode 7 and a great sadness that he will no longer be making any Star Trek films. This is every bit as good as the previous entry where Abrams reinvented the series by creating an alternate timeline that separates it from the original television and movie series with William Shatter and company. That was brilliant masterstroke of sci-fi writing because it opened the floodgates to possibilities of what could happen to these classic characters that differed from the original stories.

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Star Trek:Into Darkness is action packed and loaded with first rate stunts and special effects. However, I’m glad to say that they never come at the expense of storytelling or character interaction. All of the Enterprise crew have a likeability in their own way and you find yourself rooting for them. The main differences between this film and the last is a first rate villain played brilliantly by Benedict Cumberbatch who is far more interesting than Eric Bana’s villain in the last and an even more frenetic pacing because we no longer need introductions to the main players. I won’t give away plot details because there are several easy things to spoil. However, I will tell you that this is first rate popcorn entertainment. It may not be the brainy sci-fi that some Trekkies live for but it sure is fun.

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Brian’s Note: I saw this in IMAX 3-D and recommend it. It’s done much more tastefully than other three dimensional efforts. I still prefer 2-D but it’s acceptable.

Vic’s Review – Dark Skies (2013)

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As the Barrett family’s peaceful suburban life is rocked by an escalating series of disturbing events, they come to learn that a terrifying and deadly force is after them.

Directed by Scott Stewart

7 out of 10

It’s fortunate that Visual FX artist Scott Stewart ( Priest and Legion ) handled both the writing and directing duties on this sci-fi thriller about nasty ET’s and all their meddling with us humans. Stewart’s tight though inferential story and slick, lean direction make “Dark Skies” a slightly better than average creepfest.   I must admit I was interested in the dynamics that Stewart handles here. “Dark Skies” takes on very established motifs regarding alien contact and abduction. We’ve seen it all before and we know all the beats to this story. What I think worked for me in this case is that Stewart gets some pretty good performances out of his actors. He also keeps the movie moving at a  mercurial pace while maintaining a slow build up. The story doesn’t get campy or cheesy but despite it’s familiarity “Dark Skies” does hit all the right notes and does it efficiently while committing to the seriousness of the subject matter. Stewart delivers a well shot, well acted and agile film that works on some levels but it doesn’t get very deep. There remains just under the surface a late night chiller that is a decent time water and has a few spooky moments to keep us responsive and partial.

The beautiful Keri Russell ( Felicity, MI:3 ) stars as Lacy Barrett a struggling wife and mother of 2 boys who starts to have strange things happen in her home shortly after a BBQ party she holds with her friends, the Jessops. Her boys, Sammy (Kadan Rockett) and Jesse (Dakota Goyo) are close and even when in separate rooms they speak via walkie talkie where Jesse proceeds to spin scary yarns and share stories of “The Sandman” with his younger brother. Sammy, being young and impressionable gets easily scared. Lacy on the other hand starts to witness things late at night while she walks around her home. She can’t seem to be able to get any sleep on any given night and wanders. She sees her Fridge doors wide open and contents spilled all over the place. She sees canned food and kitchen items stacked high from floor to ceiling and her chandelier is making a funky symbol that projects to the ceiling. I could not help but be reminded of “Poltergeist” and “Ghostbusters” respectively during these odd night time strolls that Lacy takes. She shrugs them off as nightmares but things get worse when ala “Insidious” we get the good ole security alarm going off at ear-bursting levels and no perp around. Lacy’s husband, Daniel Barrett (Josh Hamilton) even seems to be acting strangely as he and his son exhibit strange “spells” where they move around robotically and have no recollection of what usually transpires.  The Police think that the Barretts should reboot the alarm system and when the alarm goes off yet again and they find out the windows and doors are locked they start to think the worst. Something  malevolent is in their home or at least getting in and out.

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Daniel suffers as well when he can’t get to the bottom of the mystery and it doesn’t help that he is having job and financial woes to add to the distress. Bills start to pile up and mortgage payments are late. But that is not the only bad thing: Various flocks of birds become somewhat suicidal, Sammy urinates on himself while playing outdoors and lets out a booming and ear piercing shriek that he doesn’t recall afterwards. And so on and so on. Desperate, Daniel sets up cameras that seem to have been tampered with during the night. Strange dream-like visions and more intense occurrences push both Lacy and Daniel to the edge. Daniel at one point sees what appears to be 3 dark figures in the boy’s room one night in a familiar but effective scene. But it is the boys who suffer greatly at the intrusion of “The Grays” These are aliens, that to Ufologists, are the holy grail of the alien presence here on earth. The pleasant surprise in the film is the under-stated performance from JK Simmons (Spider-man and Spider-man 2) as a UFO expert, named Pollard, who knows all about “The Grays” and proceeds to tell Lacy and Daniel that they have been here a very long time. They are indeed notorious for abductions, lost time, symbols, communicating and tampering with humans. Even implants (which Daniel seems to have behind his ear) and manipulation. In  very typical “X-Files” fashion we get all types of creepy ongoing sequences. Stewart moves the story along with the help of his talented cast that makes the very best of the material that becomes a bit predictable by the third act. We have flashes of the beings, a very by the numbers character that “knows it all” in Pollard and some quick and moody style and editing that serves the film uniquely in parts.

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 Pollard (who has a wall of “weird” with numerous news clippings) tells the Barretts that their son has been “chosen” by “The Grays” and that should keep a very close eye on him. Unfortunately, it does not end up that way. Pollard tells them that the aliens may move on or may work even harder to get what they want from them. They take measures like buying weapons and getting a guard dog but to no avail.  Do “The Grays” get what they want or do The Barretts fight back and take a final stand to help and preserve their family? Director Stewart, in my opinion, does an admirable job in keeping us interested only because with the help of his actors, we start to care for them. We sympathize mostly with Jesse ad Lacy who are the “hearts” of this movie. There is just way too much, in one form or another, that is familiar here and we have seen it all. “Dark Skies” is a “Monster of the Week” movie on a moderate budget. It doesn’t create anything new, relevant or outstanding but uses some tried and true themes and manipulations that helps pass the time without getting to “outside the box.” “Dark Skies” doesn’t try to be brainy and can, to many, seem very dull and disappointing but I enjoyed the structure enough to liken it to putting on a comfortable pair of slippers and sitting in your fave comfy recliner.  It is a slow burn. It is better than average. It sports proficient camera-work and a morose score that is spooky. “Dark Skies” shows some restraint and that works in it’s favor. It’s junk food but it’s junk food that won’t give you a stomach ache. Enjoy!

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Vic’s Classics – Hang Em High (1968)

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“Hang ‘Em High”

Directed by Ted Post

8 out of 10

Director Ted Post ( Gunsmoke, Magnum Force) and TV writers Leonard Freeman ( Hawaii Five-O ) and Mel Goldberg (Bonanza) brought to the screen one of Actor / Director Clint Eastwood’s (Million Dollar Baby, Firefox) more memorable westerns about revenge and injustice. It isn’t by far the most seminal of Eastwood’s westerns of the 1960’s but it is an interesting character study and has enough juice to demand we stick around and find out what becomes to the men that run afoul of Eastwood’s main character named Jed Cooper. Cooper is a no nonsense type like many of Eastwood’s cowboys who happens to be herding some cattle in Oklahoma in the year 1889. As he does he is approached by a posse of nine men looking to get to the bottom of the murder of  the Herd owner. Apparently, Cooper purchased the Herd not from it’s owner but from a rustler who had killed him and posed as it’s owner during the sale of the herd to Cooper. Even as he shows the posse his receipt he is still met with hostility from the men. Only one, Jenkins (Bob Steele) shows a bit of concern and doubt as to Cooper’s culpability in the alleged robbery and murder. This though does not stop the men from taking the law into their own hands and it is this plot device that propels the story and movie forward in an entertaining fashion despite a bit of laziness from director Ted Post here and there.

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2 men named Reno and Miller (Bruce Dern) steal a saddle and wallet from Cooper. The men then grab Cooper, hang him and leave him to die painfully as they ride away. Well, as it happens, a Federal Marshal named Dave Bliss (Ben Johnson of Terror Train) sees Cooper hanging and cuts him down barely alive. Bliss helps out Jed and gets him on a horse and takes him to Fort Grant to let a frontier Judge named Adam Fenton. Fenton is loosely based on a true life Judge named Issac Parker who in real life was called “The Hanging Judge” and didn’t get that name from selling cookies. Fenton finds Cooper innocent and he then lets him free to re-coup in Fort Grant. Eventually he is offered the position of a Marshal and Cooper accepts. On one condition from Fenton: That he does not hunt down and kill the men that wronged him. Later in the film things get hairy for Cooper as finds his saddle on a horse in a small town saloon. He finds Reno who tries to shoot Cooper but not in time and he is shot dead. Jenkins on the other hand gives himself up. As more men are found Cooper is drawn into a moral battle with himself and tries to do what s right by the law. The film straddles those gray areas and Eastwood and Post, both in good form, deliver a decent western with some drama, wry levity and great performances.

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“Hang em High” can at times seem a bit like a carbon copy of previous Italian westerns and Eastwood has indeed done better but I felt that the story, while a bit dated even for 1968, was cool enough to keep me interested. This is done by the good performances here by the large cast which includes Bruce Dern, Pat Hingle, Eastwood himself, Ben Johnson, Alan Ladd Jr., the beautiful Inger Stevens (The Twilight Zone) and a young Dennis Hopper (Blue Velvet, Waterworld) as “The Prophet” who is gunned down by Bliss in a foiled escape attemot. The cast all work well within the revenge tale and Bruce Dern stands out as an especially slimy bad guy to oppose Eastwood. Clint here is stern, gravelly voiced and dead serious. Eastwood the way Eastwood should be. Being Eastwood’s first american western and the first Malpaso Company production, the film is a good indicator from which to forsee some greatness being born for Eastwood’s future movies. The film is indeed under-appreciated and plays out true to form. I feel the film may be a bit under-estimated as well. It isn’t a magical western like “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” or the seminal “Unforgiven” but it is thought provoking and features solid action and style. Some of the convictions and motivations fall by the wayside though when some characters make strange decisions but these things never distract Post, Eastwood and the writers from spinning a cool and stable revenge yarn. Eastwood finally puts a name to his fabled image of the cowboy with “no name” and here we get a truly interesting side to this mythos. It’s not magical like the Leone pictures but it just fine. Richard Kline’s (Body Heat, The Andromeda Strain) photography is nice and engaging with frames filled with great costumes, grit and dusty landscapes. I thought Dominic Frontiere’s ( Color of Money, Chisum) music was a bit underwhelming but appropriate in the right places. All in all this Eastwood western entry is not bad but it isn’t great either. It strives to work though. I appreciate it’s ability to remain an under-appreciated and oft overlooked movie in Eastwood’s body of work. It’s just that it is eclipsed, appropriately, by better fare like the Leone films and the director’s own powerhouse, “Unforgiven.”

Vic’s Review – Stand Up Guys (2012)

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A pair of aging stickup men try to get the old gang back together for one last hurrah before one of the guys takes his last assignment – to kill his comrade.

Directed by Fisher Stevens

4 out of 10

What the hell did I just watch? Oh man, is this what Christopher Walken and Al Pacino been reduced to? Lowbrow humor about Boners, prostitutes, and snorting prescription drugs? “Stand Up Guys” establishes that it is parody pretty early on but it isn’t even good or witty parody. It’s a bunch of disjointed skit-like scenes that that are neither funny or remotely smart.  It has some interesting bits of the “fish out of water” or “I’ve been out of the game” elements but they only elicited a smirk or a slight giggle from me. I never actually laughed out loud. Not even once. I did sit up and take notice at perhaps the coolest part of this mess but I’ll get to that later. I really wanted to enjoy this but instead watched something that was very similar to the comedy “The Crew” with Richard Dreyfuss and Burt Reynolds. “The Crew” while not a classic either still had some great chemistry among the leads and while the story stalled in places it got the parody right in more than one instance. “The Crew” is even a guilty pleasure of mine. I watch it once in a while.  As much as I want to judge “Stand Up Guys” on it’s own merits I just can’t. The film is too feeble and expects us to enjoy two, no, make that three excellent actors trade very SNL type dialog that seems more appropriate in an “Harold and Kumar” movie. Too bad.

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Director Fisher Stevens ( Californication and Short Circuit) and writer Noah Haidle brings us a movie of firsts. First directing gig for Stevens and first major gig for Haidle for the writing. Unfortunately neither the direction or writing amount to anything that good or funny. Al Pacino ( Carlito’s Way, Scarface, The Devil’s Advocate) plays an ex-mobster simply named “Val” Val is being released from prison after being incarcerated for 28 years. His friend “Doc” played by Walken is there to pick him up. What Val doesn’t know is that Doc has been ordered to whack Val by crime boss “Claphands” ( A name that sounds like a Dick Tracy villain ) and he has until 10am to do it. Val, being quite horny, convinces Doc to break into a pharmacy to get some type of erectile meds in order for him to “perform.” After he takes a handful of them, which is a very stupid thing to do, he has Doc take him to a brothel nearby. A few sex and dick jokes later Val lands in the ER only to confront Julianna Margulies as Nina. Nina happens to be the daughter of their other friend, Hirsch. Nina and another Doc have to wait around after all of the boner humor is done and Val is given something for his perpetual hard on. Ugh. Sometime later after Nina tells the guys that Hirsch is in a home and slowly dying. They decide to pick him up for a last hurrah around town. A last hurrah that includes fast cars, ( with a stolen Dodge Challenger SRT8 no less ), close calls, police chases and guess what? A brothel! Haha, Sooo hilarious and original! I must admit that Alan Arkin was refreshing to watch and it made the movie suck a bit less but even Arkin is stalled here because the un-witty banter and humor is just too pedestrian.

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So, after Arkin croaks, because we don’t see THAT coming. Doc and Val find a naked girl named Sylvia ( Vanessa Ferlito from “Death Proof”) in the trunk of the SRT8 and helps her  get even with some thugs that violated her. Ferlito is quite cute and sexy but here she is wasted. She’s not appealing enough to really like and is forced to deliver a very bad one-liner about “The Nutcracker”  Ho hum. There is dull subplot about Doc’s grandaughter who is a waitress and some money that Doc wants to leave her and then by the third act Doc and Val ponder how things will go down. Will Doc spare Val and defy Claphands? Or will he do him in? Well, by the time the climax and story wrap up I’m not very interested or even care about what happens. Stevens gives his gravelly voiced leads way too much room to go overboard on delivery, exposition and much of the film is spent with the two trading lame quips and one liners. They are given way too much room to indulge. Watching Arkin, Pacino and Walken all together onscreen should have been a hit out of the park here. Stevens takes way too long to let them play well off each other, unfortunately. Most of the scenes with Pacino and Walken has a sort of desperation about it. It tries to be some kind of “Bucket List” meets “Goodfellas” type comedy or maybe it is trying to cash in on some of the vulgar sensibilities of “The Hangover” movies except using a couple of elder actors that should have really dissected this script before accepting the roles. The material is way beneath them and if they wanted to make this work they should have had a director on-board who totally gets the ironies, wit and aplomb that a comedy of this type involves. I can in no way recommend this movie. A shame really. I cringed way too many times during most of the painful scenes with these legends instead of laughing and appreciating the humor that is really lacking here.

Oh and back to the reason I gave this movie it’s rating, well maybe 2 reasons. There is a shootout and the film could have used a few shootouts and the other reason is: Doc and Val quote Nada  ( Roddy Piper) from John Carpenter’s “They Live” The only really cool part of the  movie.

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Brian’s Review – Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

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In a twist to the fairy tale, the Huntsman ordered to take Snow White into the woods to be killed winds up becoming her protector and mentor in a quest to vanquish the Evil Queen.

2 out of 10

This is a God awful boring and joyless experience of a film. I could accept how dark it is if it were a crime thriller or some form of horror movie where hope has little meaning. But, for a film about Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, you expect it to have some fantasy or wonder in the experience. It isn’t helped by the fact that the producers decided to cast the worst actress of her generation in Kristen Stewart. She is so painfully untalented and brings absolutely NOTHING to any character she plays. And, she can’t emote! I mean, that’s the entire fucking job! Emoting feelings from the script to be an ambassador of the story!

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She has one acting face and exists somewhere between looking perpetually high on weed and in mid bowel movement. The worst part is that she’s playing Snow White. She’s supposed to be the most beautiful woman in the land (Stewart sure isn’t) and her mere gaze draws people in and makes them happy. Are they kidding with putting her in that kind of role? For instance, the woodsman played by Chris Hemsworth (Thor and Star Trek) is all out for himself and could care less what happens to Snow White. A few scenes later, he’s diving into action and putting his life on the line for hers. Why??? They have almost no dialogue to back up that kind of loyalty. So, is he smitten with her? And if so, why? At this point, I was too bored to care. There aren’t any interesting characters in this farce to follow or give a shit about. So, what are we left with? A scene stealing performance by Charlize Theron who’s utterly wasted and a cast of characters with no personality. Oh, don’t forget about “Princess Constipated.” Seriously, just go and spend 2 hours doing almost anything else.

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Vic’s Review – Texas Chainsaw (2013)

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A young woman travels to Texas to collect an inheritance; little does she know that an encounter with a chainsaw-wielding killer is part of the reward.

“Texas Chainsaw”

Directed by John Luessenhop

4 out of 10

Egads. Even though horror fans have seen iconic movie villains like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and even ole Mikey Myers rebooted, remade and re-imagined we seem to have forgotten Leatherface somewhat. Well in true predictable form we are treated to a grittier, violent and deranged Leatherface but a Leatherface that is actually a type of vigilante or “anti-hero” that is going after some people who either get in his way or have it coming. What Director John Luessenhop (Takers) gets right out of the gate is deftly re-create the climax of Tobe Hooper’s seminal movie. Using some new footage smartly intermixed with Hooper’s. Here he sets things up for us and with precision and gravity Luessenhop manages to invent some mood with dark carnage and twists. Unfortunately, that is all that he gets right. Everything else after the interesting set up is so predictable, fabricated, boring and incredibly dull. I have never been a huge Leatherface fan having only watched some entries of the franchise here and there. Luessenhop doesn’t accomplish much in the way of sparking some real interest all around here. It’s all violent style over much needed substance.

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Some will argue that it is indeed a decent entry because it does deliver some of the more horrific elements of a crazed slasher film but I have to disagree. It delivers all right but it’s not chills and thrills. Actress Alexandria Daddario (Hall Pass) plays Heather Miller who has been notified that her wealthy Grandmother  has left her a huge house and property. After she discovers that she is adopted, Heather reluctantly decides to  travel to collect her inheritance. She gets her  friends Ryan, Nikki and Kenny together for the road trip and they head out. Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker named Darryl. They make it to the house and after doing a walk through of it Heather decides to go and get some supplies from town and they leave Darryl behind to loot the place. Dumb thing number 1. Never leave a total stranger to watch your brand new house which is full of expensive silver objects. And the dumb things continue. One right after a another. We are introduced to Leatherface (Dan Yeager) who survived the attack upon the Sawyer Home 20 years before. He is indeed creepy and very menacing but only in a cartoony sort of way. I just couldn’t take him seriously. So, Heather and her friends learn the hard way that Leatherface comes with the house like some sort of rapid pet. Yikes.

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The devil is  in the details here in this movie and some things do not gel. The film shows a lynch mob that destroys the Sawyer home with fire but 20 years later it’s perfectly re-built. Characters do not age and bodies are found with no explanation. It’s these little things that wreck the film. Well, this and the fact that everything else sucks. There is no suspense. The chases are boring and uninspired. Kenny and Darryl both run afoul of Leatherface in grisly ways that involves large metal hooks and Kenny gets sliced right in half in a deliciously gory and funny moment. Leatherface goes after Heather and the rest and in the escape he causes the getaway van to crash. Heather gets away from the wreck but her boyfriend Ryan (Rapper Trey Songz) doesn’t fare too well. Tania Raymonde (Lost) plays Nikki, who even though very sexy here,  can’t seem to escape cliche territory when facing the killer. The one high point of the film is when Leatherface runs amok at a carnival that Heather escapes to. But it is too little too late. Texas Chainsaw delivers a dull continuation of the iconic and mythical  film. It is riddled with cliche after cliche and it is incredibly boring. Luessenhop fails in his plot and execution. In the last act the movie totally falls apart. In a last ditch effort to impress, Luessenhop reveals something about both Heather and Leatherface that is a bit laughable and trite. I’d stay clear of this mess gang. But if you do have to see it then don’t expect anything other than a bad movie that isn’t bad enough to be good.

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