Thursday, December 25, 2014

Die Hard

















I know I'm going to catch some flack for saying this, but Die Hard is the greatest Christmas movie ever made. I should preface this by stating clearly that I do not go for the saccharine sentimentality of many so-called Christmas classics so naturally it would make sense that I would gravitate more towards something like this. And beyond the gunfights and explosions contained within, there is some genuine holiday spirit. 

The film centers on New York cop John McClane who has traveled to Los Angeles to spend Christmas with his estranged wife Holly (played by Bonnie Bedelia) and their kids. He arrives in LA on Christmas Eve and is met by a limo driver, Argyle (played by D'evereoux White) who takes him to meet his wife at her office Christmas party. Holly works as an executive for the Nakatomi corporation in their office high rise. 

Unbeknownst to them, a group of terrorists, led by Hans Gruber (played by Alan Rickman in a star making performance), have set their sights on the building for a holiday heist of the 640 million dollars in negotiable bearer bonds they have locked in their vault. They take the party hostage and John manages to get away in the confusion. 

From there, a battle starts between John and the terrorists. John uses his wits and everything he can get his hands on to win and rescue his wife. This proves to be extremely challenging for poor John as he takes quite beating in the process. 

What truly makes this film memorable is how well it sets up it's characters, especially John McClane. There is an Everyman quality to him that makes him more relatable than the usual movie action hero. He's scared, tired and vulnerable, but yet he fights because he know he's the only one in any position to do so. Among the growing group of cops on the ground below, led by the stupidest police chief ever (played by Paul Gleason), he finds an ally in Al (played by Reginald Vel Johnson) who helps keep his spirits up through the crisis as the two talk over the radio.

The Holiday setting of Die Hard is not just arbitrary, but actually reinforces the themes of the film. This is most evident in the theme of renewing familial ties, as seen between John and Holly. Christmas runs throughout the film, from sights of decorated trees and garlands to taunting messages John leaves for the terrorists. 

Both Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman gave star making turns in this and they make perfect adversaries. Willis went on to reprise the role four more times. The film itself went on to inspire it's own sub genre known as "Die Hard on a..." with locations such as a bus (Speed), a Battleship (Under Siege), a plane (Passenger 57, Executive Decision and Air Force One), a train (Under Siege 2), and Alcatraz (The Rock).

But none quite matched the original Die Hard. It's a fantastically crafted thriller that just keeps winding itself up tighter and tighter until the end when all hell is breaking loose. For those interested in a little Holiday cheer but just can't take any more saccharine sentimentality, look no further. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Easily topping my list of the most underrated movies of the last ten years is Shane Black's directorial debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. At the same time though, more than any other it is the film responsible for Robert Downey Jr's career resurgence as it proves without a doubt he still had the charisma and humor to carry a film.

Downey Jr. stars in the film as Harry Lockhart, a small time crook in New York. On the run from the police, he runs right into an open audition. Thinking he's just another actor, they let him audition and with all his adrenaline and frayed nerves, he nails it and the next thing he knows he's being shipped off to LA for a screen test. To help him prepare, the producers hook him up with a local private detective to research his role. The detective is Gay Perry (played by Val Kilmer). He also meets up with former childhood sweetheart Harmony Lane (played by Michelle Monaghan) and the spark between the two is rekindled.

Perry takes Harry along on a simple surveillance gig that quickly takes a turn for the worse when they witness two masked men disposing of the dead body of a mysterious girl. From there, the two find themselves drawn into a twisty mystery as real life starts to resemble the old detective novels that Harry and Harmony loved as kids. 

The real genius here though is with Shane Black's writing. The entire film is narrated by Harry who is the epitome of an unreliable narrator. He stops the film and goes back to show something he forgot to show earlier, swears and then apologizes for it, and frequently breaks the fourth wall. He even at one point tells an audience member, "Stop picking at that, you'll only make it worse." 

The performances of all three cast members are exquisite. This film is largely responsible for proving Robert Downey Jr. could still carry a film and led to him landing the role in Iron Man. He does a fantastic job here delivering Shane's witty dialogue with aplomb and Val Kilmer as Perry is the perfect foil for him. Then there's the third stooge, Harmony, played by the lovely Michelle Monaghan. She never plays Harmony as a damsel in distress but as a very capable girl and is an equal team member to the other two, which I felt was refreshing. 
  
The film does a great job portraying a sparkly Christmas setting as the backdrop for the film. But at the same time, there feels like there is something artificial and put upon about it, 
which is no doubt Shane Black's point. This is no better accentuated than in a Holiday party Harry crashes that I can only imagine would be what Tim Burton's holiday party would be like.

Overall, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a fun, if slightly atypical holiday treat. If you're burnt out on the usual Christmas movies and want something with a little more bite, then there is nothing better than this. I love this film and I make time to watch it every year. It's not for everyone, but if you can get in it's groove, it's a blast. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation


I find it rather reassuring that over the years, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation has found it's place as a contemporary Christmas classic. It's certainly one that fits my sensibilities as a genuinely funny holiday comedy while eliminating the sort of saccharine sentimentality that makes me hate many so-called Christmas movies. It's one that I have enjoyed ever since it first came out in 1989 and one that's gotten funnier every year thereafter.

We catch up with the Griswold clan again having decided to have a fun, festive Christmas at home with the family. Clark (played by Chevy Chase) is determined that everything will be perfect while his doting wife, Ellen (played by Beverly D'Angelo) tries to help and/or be the voice of reason. The two kids, Rusty (played by Johnny Galecki) and Audrey (played by Juliette Lewis) are also dragged into helping. Rusty is made to help Clark with a Christmas lights display so over the top the local power plant has to switch on the auxiliary power and Audrey is recruited to help with the cooking. 

Then there are the Grandparents, a quartet of oddballs portrayed by John Randolph and Diane Ladd as Clark's Parents and E.G Marshall and Doris Roberts as Ellen's parents. And of course, there has to be an appearance by Ellen's cousin Eddie (played by Randy Quaid) and his wife Catherine (played by Miriam Flynn), the country bumpkin weirdos that they are. Eddie is a strange duck whose entire life is made up of stupefyingly bad decisions. 

Meanwhile, Clark is stewing, waiting for his Christmas bonus to show up. He is planning on putting in a pool in the backyard and needs the Christmas bonus to show up to cover the deposit he put down on it. With that, on top of all the other holiday insanity that his family brings with them, it's only a matter of time before Clark loses it in another of his patented freak outs. When it does happen, it may be the best one in the series. 

The thing that makes National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation so memorable is the fact that everyone can relate to it at least on some level. We've all had Christmas gatherings that maybe didn't go perfectly and while they may not have been on the level of this film (which is admittingly pretty over the top), there is still some level of familiarity that makes it all that much funnier. At the very least, it does for me.  

Friday, December 19, 2014

Joyeux Noel


There are certain films that I will watch every Christmas without fail and Joyeux Noel quickly became one of them. It is a genuinely moving film about the 1914 Christmas Truce during World War I. The film focuses on three groups on the western front lines, a French, a Scottish and German regiment.

A German Tenor, now soldier, Nikolaus Sprink (played by Benno Furmann) is called from the front lines to sing in concert for a Christmas Eve party for a group of German generals with his wife Anna (played by Diane Kruger). Feeling his fellow soldiers could use a morale boost and the two return to the front lines to sing for the men together. When they arrive, they can hear the Scots singing "I'm Dreaming of Home." When Nikolaus and Anna begin singing "Adeste Fideles," they are surprised to hear the pipers begin to accompany them. The three sides step out of their trenches, gathering in No Man's Land and decide to call a truce for Christmas Eve. 

Small gifts of wine and chocolates are exchanged as the opposing sides find commonalities and become friends. The truce extends to the following day as they decide to bury the bodies of the dead. It is followed by an impromptu soccer match in the afternoon. Things get complicated as the three sides keep dragging out calling and end to the truce. Each side even invites the other side to ride out the artillery bombardment's in the other side's trench. 

The film was written and directed by Christian Carion who balances the stories of all three sides brilliantly. The film also moves between three languages, English, German and French, depending on which group we are with, with subtitles where needed. I know some viewers may roll their eyes at this, but I felt it helped with the realism of the scenes in a way. There are excellent performances all around, especially from Guillaume Canet, as Lt. Audebert, whose in charge of the French regiment and Daniel Bruhl as the German Lt. Horstmeyer. These two play wonderfully off one another, as they bond together over the course of a couple days. Horstmeyer reveals he honeymooned at a small hotel in France in the neighborhood where Audebert lives and reminisces about a cafe they liked. He says perhaps when the German Army takes Paris he can visit again. ("You don't have to invade Paris to come round for a drink," retorts Audebert.) 

It's moments like this that really gets one thinking and reflecting on the nature of war. If anything, Joyeux Noel functions as perhaps one of the best anti-war movies. It shows so perfectly, so wonderfully that if we could just put aside whatever conflict we have with each other, we can find find common ground with one another and see that deep down we're not all that different. The film also looks into what breeds this conflict in the opening scene of the film as three schoolboys, one English, one French, and one German recite the reasoning their countries went to war as was given by the media at the time. It's a jarring scene and certainly makes its point about propaganda and fear mongering that continues even today, through the likes of certain cable news networks. This is bookended at the end as the Scottish regiment's chaplain (played by Gary Lewis) overhears a priest giving a sermon preaching to their soldiers to fight their enemy, to destroy every last one of them that comes off as nothing less than chilling. 

In the end, this is a genuinely moving, heartfelt and incredibly well made movie that really leaves a viewer thinking. With fantastic performances and exquisite writing and directing, this is a film that really hits the mark. It's become a film I watch every Christmas without fail and is one that is well worth seeking out. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Few Christmas Carols...

Is there any story that has been adapted for the screen more times and in more ways than Charles Dickens' seminal classic, A Christmas Carol? There are literally dozens of films based on the classic tale, some better than others. Being that it's Christmas, I decided to take a look at three of my favorite renditions.


Originally made for television in 1984, this rendition of A Christmas Carol remains my favorite straight adaptation. With exquisite production design, fantastic direction and a top notch cast headed by a perfectly cast George C Scott, this production a class act all the way through.

The film belongs to George C Scott as Ebeneezer Scrooge. He gives a fantastic performance, accomplishing more with a low growl than others did with loud shouts. He's backed by an exquisite cast that includes David Warner as Bob Cratchit, Susanna York as Mrs. Cratchit and Edward Woodard as the Ghost of Christmas Present among many other familiar faces. 

The Production Value of this film is top notch, especially considering it was made for television. It does a fantastic job of recreating Victorian London. Director Clive Donner does a good job of creating a good sense of mood for the story as well. With all this coming together, it is easily my favorite straight rendition of the classic Dickens tale. Of course, I have another couple favorites, which skew things a bit in an amusing fashion.



Next up, we have the priceless The Muppet Christmas Carol. The Muppets give the well-worn story the good natured ribbing it so richly deserves. With Michael Caine as the perfect Scrooge and the usual gang of Muppets filling in most of the other parts (Kermit is Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy is Mrs. Cratchit, etc.) with Gonzo and Rizzo narrating the story and providing much of the humor of the film. 

This film does a good job of balancing the humor of the Muppets, with Gonzo and Rizzo present to work in narration from Dickens' original text as well as the occasional aside, like Rizzo asking if this might be too scary for little kids. "Nah, this is culture," responds Gonzo. The bulk of the Muppet cast more or less plays their familiar role well, but with a sense of fun and absurdist moments here or there, like Miss Piggy, er, I mean, Mrs. Cratchit threatening to beat up Mr. Scrooge that I found quite amusing. Michael Caine balances this out by playing Scrooge as the straight man, not reacting to the lunacy around him, which naturally makes it all the more funny.
 
The Muppets give the classic Dickens tale the good natured ribbing it deserves. A lot of care and heart was put into this and you can tell the makers really liked the story, but after it has been told so many times, you can't help but want to have some fun with it all. 



One of the mainstay adaptation variations is to move the action to the present day. Of these, Scrooged is easily the best with Bill Murray in the lead role. This one is unique in the sense that it is a looser adaptation of the classic story, focusing on a workaholic television executive on the eve of his big budget live television presentation of A Christmas Carol

This rendition always worked for me because of one big reason and that is Bill Murray. No one else could have possibly played the role of Frank Cross and still have been likable. But somehow, Murray still makes it work with every sarcastic remark not only working but provoking a laugh. It doesn't hurt that he has great chemistry with Karen Allen, who plays his lost love Claire, who he reconnects with during his misadventures with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Credit also has to be given to the Ghosts of Past and Present. David Johansen plays the Ghost of Christmas Past as a loudmouthed cab driver and Carol Kane as the Ghost of Christmas Present as a glittered up waif who takes great delight in physically abusing Frank. 

Richard Donner directs the film and has a good hand on the material, having come off another Christmas movie you may have heard of, Lethal Weapon. In fact, the Alastair Sim rendition of A Christmas Carol plays on a TV at one point in both films. He does a good job of capturing the comedic chaos, but also allowing the sweeter moments, especially at the end to have the payoff they deserve as well. It's a slightly underrated, certainly meta rendition on the Dickens classic that I happen to love.

But there are a staggering number of adaptations of this tale, and everyone who enjoys the story has their favorite adaptation or adaptations and these ones are my favorites. Because with so many why limit yourself to just one?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Hundred Foot Journey



















It's not often that a film surprises me. Going into this film, I had a feeling I knew where it was going from the beginning. While it did cover the beats I was expecting, albeit with style, grace and heart, it also threw enough curve balls into the narrative to keep me on my toes. It was one of the things that made The Hundred Foot Journey such a pleasant surprise. 

The film opens with a young Hassan (played by Manish Dayal) and his family moving to France. They left their native India after the death of their mother in a fire at the restaurant they owned. The fire was the result of rioting after a recent election and because of the political unrest, they left in search of a more stable home. They find their new home in a small village when Papa (played by Om Puri) spies an old restaurant that is for sale. The rest of the family cautions him not to buy the place as it directly across from a Michelin star restaurant run by Madame Mallory (played by Helen Mirren). Undeterred and stubborn, Papa presses ahead, knowing he has a secret weapon in Hassan's cooking talents. 

Initially, Madame Mallory is unimpressed with the new restaurant across the way, worried that the loud music coming from there will drive her customers away. Determined to keep them from opening, she looks to sabotage their opening, but ignites a rivalry with Papa instead as he gives as good as he gets from her. Meanwhile, Hassan has struck up a flirtatious friendship with one of Madame's cooks, Marguerite (played by Charlotte Le Bon), who gives Hassan a set of French cookbooks to study. To try and make peace between the two restaurants, Hassan prepares a dish and brings it to Madame Mallory to try. After sampling it, she dismisses it and throws the rest away, but is secretly worried as it was anything but bad. 

This all takes a turn when three unknown men vandalize and fire bomb the Indian restaurant which results in Hassan being injured. Upon discovering one of her cooks was involved and feeling responsible, Madame Mallory decides to call a truce to her feud with the other restaurant. She even goes so far as personally scrubbing the graffiti that was spray painted on the outer gate of their restaurant. It's here that the film takes a decided left turn as the two sides slowly become friends with one another and Hassan approaches Madame Mallory to learn more about French cooking. 


Helen Mirren is fantastic as always as Madame Mallory, taking her character above what could have been a stern stick in the mud and making her a three dimensional character. The real star though is Manish Dayal's performance as Hassan. He creates such a wonderful and endearing character who only wants to help and look out for what's best for his family, even if the personal journey he is on may run counter to that. You can see the turmoil this causes for Hassan and is perfectly realized by Dayal. 

The film is filled with warmth, humor and a lot of heart. It's beautifully directed by Lasse Hallstrom, with wonderful shots of both the French countryside and the exquisite dishes that come out of both kitchens (fair warning, don't watch this on an empty stomach). It's a fantastic film and one that I highly recommend. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Home for the Holidays

"When you go home do you ever look around and wonder, Who are these people? Where did I even come from?"

As I get older, my fondness for the oddball comedy that is Home for the Holidays grows. While my family has never been as dysfunctional as the Larson family and it's assorted in-laws, it feels familiar and there are elements of it I recognize and am able to relate to my own life. It's a film about family coming together for Thanksgiving dinner and all the assorted dramas that come with it. It's a film that is forever part of my own Thanksgiving tradition, if only because it makes me more thankful for the family that I do have.

The film centers on Claudia Larson (played by Holly Hunter), who is not having a great Thanksgiving holiday. As the film opens, she finds out from her boss (played by Austin Pendleton) that she is being laid off. Her daughter, Kit (played by Claire Danes) is ditching her to spend Thanksgiving with her boyfriend. She is dreading having to spend the weekend with her parents and her snobby sister, Joanne (played by Cynthia Stevenson), thinking her beloved brother Tommy (played by Robert Downey Jr.) won't be there. She relays all these feelings to Tommy's answering machine when she calls him from the plane. Before long, she has landed and is greeted at the gate by her parents, Henry (played by Charles Durning) and Adele (played by Anne Bancroft). She gets along reasonably well with her parents, who both have their eccentricities. Dad loves playing his organ and sneaking pumpkin pie, whereas Mom seems to treat Dear Abby as a great philosopher.

Of course, much to her surprise, Tommy shows up late that night surprising everyone, with a friend in tow, Leo (played by Dylan McDermott). Claudia at first thinks Leo is with Tommy (Tommy is gay), but it's quickly revealed Tommy brought Leo for Claudia. Ever so briefly things are looking up for Claudia. Then, more relatives arrive. First, there's the batty Aunt Gladys (played by Geraldine Chaplin) Then there's Joanne, along with her husband Walter (played by Steve Guttenberg) and her two bratty kids. Joanne pictures herself as the family martyr, proclaiming to her sister how she has sacrificed so much staying close to home while her siblings went off to live their "exotic little lives." It's a Thanksgiving to remember as this family dinner seems poised for disaster. 

The film is directed by Jodie Foster from a script by WD Richter. Foster does a good job crafting a familiar Thanksgiving setting and making the family dynamics feel real and even familiar. Holly Hunter does well in the main role, as is Robert Downey Jr as Tommy (all the more impressive since this was at the height of his drug years). Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning do well as the parents, balancing their character's eccentricities with real, genuine  performances, which you'd expect from two seasoned pros. You really buy these two as a long married couple with the way they act together. In fact, the whole family works well together, which is why the film works for me, you buy that they're a family that has history together. 

While Home for the Holidays is a comedy, it has an underpinning of truth to it as well that I really responded to. While I don't know if anyone has a family quite as dysfunctional as this, there's still something about it that feels oddly familiar without directly relating to something in the film. The film is really about making peace with your family and your parents and accepting one another for who they are, rather than trying to make each other live up to each others expectations, which is what the Larson family slowly learns that Thanksgiving. Well, most of them anyway. And maybe that's the best message of all.  

Scent of a Woman

I've always had an affinity for Scent of a Woman and I watch it every Thanksgiving without fail. It's a fantastic film anchored by an Academy Award winning performance by Al Pacino. It's a heartwarming, entertaining tale centered on two guys, one a blind, alcoholic former Lieutenant Colonel and the other a troubled young man who become the most unlikely of friends over a wild Thanksgiving weekend.

Charlie Simms (played by Chris O'Donnell) is a student at a New England Private School. Since he's there on scholarship, he doesn't really fit in with the other students. A few of the students pretend to be his friends, especially George (played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman), while lording their wealth over him and bragging about ski vacations to places like Gstaad. This leads Charlie into trouble, as he witnesses them setting up a prank that leads to the vandalism of the school Dean's prized Jaguar car, a gift to him from the school's alumni. The Dean (played by James Rebhorn), knows Charlie saw something and even offers him a bribe to get him into Harvard if he tells him who did it. Charlie is hesitant to say as he is unsure the right thing to do. As a response, the Dean states he will hold a special hearing with the school disciplinary committee first thing in front of the entire student body and he expects answers then.

In an attempt to earn enough money to travel home for Christmas, Charlie takes a job to look after blind, alcoholic Lt. Col. Frank Slade (played by Al Pacino) for Thanksgiving weekend. What he didn't bargain for was Slade's plans for the weekend were. Before he knows it, the two of them are on a plane headed for New York City. Once there, Frank admits what his plans are. Charlie will accompany him on a tour of pleasures that include eating at fine restaurants, staying at a four star hotel, and many other things. At the end of which, he states he intends to kill himself. Charlie is clearly in over his head as he tries to figure out how to deal with the loud mouthed, bullying Lieutenant. But a funny thing happens over the course of the weekend as they gradually warm up to each other and eventually become friends. Watching this mismatched pair slowly warm to one another over the course of the long weekend, with Slade trying to help Charlie navigate his school troubles being a main bonding point, is the main thrust of the plot. Of course, Slade's final plan also hangs over the proceedings, with poor Charlie repeatedly trying to convince Slade not to go through with it. 

There is something about these two, learning and growing from spending time together, each being able to give the other something. Charlie is able to give Frank a sense of purpose in his life again, someone to guide and mold and in return, Frank teaches Charlie a few things about what it means to truly be a man. Frank may present the exterior of a gruff old drunk, but inside beats the heart of a hopeless romantic and a true gentleman and it's something that starts coming out more and more as the weekend progresses, no more so then when Frank convinces a lovely young woman, Donna (played by Gabrielle Anwar) they encounter in their hotel bar to dance a tango with him, much to the amusement of an onlooking Charlie. 

I first saw this film a couple of years after it came out. My parents owned it on VHS and at the time I was discouraged from watching it (because they either thought it was too adult for me or I wouldn't like it, not sure which) but finally one day while on summer break I gave it a viewing and I really dug it. From then on, it's one I watch every year around Thanksgiving time. It's a touching film without be saccharine and anchored by great performances by Al Pacino and Chris O'Donnell. I think it's a fantastic film and one well worth checking out.   

Addams Family Values

Anytime someone asks for an example of a sequel that was better than the original, the first film I will mention is Addams Family Values. While the first film had it's moments, this film is just one belly laugh followed by another, powered by a fantastic cast firing on all cylinders. In particular Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams and Joan Cusack as new nanny (and Black Widow) Debbie Jillinsky. The two of them absolutely steal the show.

The film opens with Morticia (played by Anjelica Huston) announcing to her husband, Gomez (played by Raul Julia) that she's going to have a baby right now. We cut to the usual birth scene, but in a clever subversion, Morticia is loving every minute of it and hardly breaking a sweat the entire time. Soon enough a new member of the Addams clan is born, a mustachioed baby named Pubert. However, Wednesday and Pugsley (played by Jimmy Workman) are not getting along with the new baby, devising ways of "playing" with him that involve such stunts as dropping from the roof or a guillotine. Enter their new nanny, Debbie (played by Joan Cusack). 

It's quickly revealed that Debbie is in fact a Black Widow, she marries rich men and murders them shortly after marrying them and collects their wealth. She is eyeing Uncle Fester (played by Christopher Lloyd) for her latest payday. However, she did not count on the formidable foe that is Wednesday, who is on to her almost immediately. Wanting to get Wednesday and Pugsley out of the way, Debbie convinces Gomez and Morticia to send them to Summer Camp. 

This is where the two storylines diverge into two parallel stories. One, has Wednesday and Pugsley raising hell at Camp Chippewa against the rich snobs that populate the camp, including the two camp directors, Gary Granger (played by Peter MacNichol) and his wife Becky Martin-Granger (played by Christine Baranski), with popular girl Amanda Buckman (played by Mercedes McNab) getting the brunt of Wednesday's biting, dead pan sarcasm. While there, she also meets fellow camp outcast Joel Glicker (played by David Krumholtz). He's allergic to almost everything and collects serial killer trading cards (he's only missing Jack the Ripper and that Zodiac guy). Because of this, Wednesday finds him endearing and feels the first pangs of romance. 

Meanwhile, Debbie has managed to seduce Uncle Fester into marrying her, putting her plan into action. Of course, offing the poor lug proves to be harder than she anticipated. Instead, she makes him her slave and in exchange for sex, makes him swear never to see the rest of his family again. This sets Gomez into a spiral of despair that even Morticia can't free him from and the family is left in shambles. 

Wednesday hears of this and is determined to escape the camp and return home to help put her family right. In order to do so she, along with the other camp outcasts, sabotage the camp play, a wildly inaccurate and racist play depicting the first Thanksgiving written by Gary, the Camp Director.  Wednesday, cast in the role of Pocahontas, re-writes history, telling Amanda, in the starring role on the Pilgrims side, that she has heard from her Gods not to trust the Pilgrims and to burn their village to the ground. Wednesday's co-conspirators, proceed to do just that and burn down the sets. Wednesday and Pugsley escape in the ensuing chaos. They make their way home for the family's final confrontation with Debbie. Of course, at this point it becomes abundantly clear the if she wasn't so materialistic and self absorbed, Debbie actually would fit in quite well with this crew.

I have to say that I adore this movie. It is a hysterical movie, with joke following joke in rapid succession. I watch it at least once a year around Thanksgiving time, for obvious reasons. Even though both Christina Ricci and Joan Cusack stand out in this film, routinely stealing their scenes, the entire cast is firing on all cylinders. Anjelica Huston and Raul Julia make a fantastic Morticia and Gomez, so much so that I feel bittersweet pangs wishing Raul Julia hadn't died so we could've gotten a proper third film. The film has a consistent flow of madcap macabre humor flowing through it which is executed perfectly by director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Paul Rudnick. The whole thing is so gloriously over the top and I love every minute of it. It's the exceedingly rare comedy sequel that is not only as good as, but far surpasses the original, with fantastic jokes and wicked satire.    

Addams Family Values is currently available on Netflix and Amazon Prime for your viewing pleasure this Holiday Weekend.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Almost Famous


"The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool."

Whenever someone asks me what my favorite movie is, which is an agonizing and awful question to ask someone like me by the way, invariably my answer is Almost Famous. Why, you may ask. It's a fair question, my dear faithful reader and I can imagine in all the breadth and width of cinematic offerings, what makes this film my favorite? While there are multitudes of other films that I love, hence the agonizing aspect of that question before, I must say with little doubt that this film is the one that brought me the most joy. There is something seductively charming about it, the rhythm of the dialogue as it's recited by it's pitch perfect cast backed by an amazing, outstanding even, soundtrack that includes Cat Stevens, The Allman Brothers Band, The Who and even Led Zeppelin in a film written and directed by Cameron Crowe, based on his own life experiences.  

William Miller (played by Patrick Fugit) is a fifteen year old aspiring journalist. He has been a huge rock music fan since he was a young boy when his sister, Anita (played by Zooey Deschanel), left him all her records when she left home. After getting the chance to spend some time with his idol, rock journalist Lester Bangs (played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman), he gets an assignment to write an article on the upcoming Black Sabbath concert. At that concert, he has two important chance encounters. The first is the enigmatic and magical Penny Lane (played by Kate Hudson, in an Academy Award nominated performance), a groupie (or Band Aid, as she calls herself) who William develops an infatuation for. The second is the members of Black Sabbath's opening band, Stillwater and especially their lead guitarist, Russell Hammond (played by Billy Crudup). 

After that, he receives a call from Rolling Stone asking him to write for them. He proposes something on Stillwater, which they agree to and before he knows it, he's on tour with the band. His overprotective mother, Elaine (played by Frances McDormand) hesitantly lets him go, making him promise to call home often. Life on the road proves to be a wild ride for William as he bonds with both Penny and Russell and finds himself regularly playing host (platonically, of course) to other traveling groupies Sapphire (played by Fairuza Balk), Polexia (played by Anna Paquin) and Estrella (played by Bijou Phillips) in his hotel rooms. He witnesses fights between band members Russell and lead singer Jeff Bebe (played by Jason Lee). He also finds himself in over his head when he has to try and keep a high on acid Russell out of trouble when he tags along with him to a nearby house party. To only make things more complicated, he also finds himself in a love triangle with Penny and Russell. William is completely infatuated with Penny while Penny only has eyes for Russell and Russell is trying to have it all with both Penny and a girlfriend back home. It's complicated waters for anyone to navigate, especially a 15 year old kid. Needless to say, he does a lot of growing up in a short period of time, with some help from late night phone calls to Lester.

There is something about Almost Famous that really deeply touched me. There's a richness to it's characters and it's storytelling that it feels real. This makes sense when you know it is very closely based on writer and director Cameron Crowe's real life working at Rolling Stone and going on tour with bands very much like William does in the film. While the characters are fictional, it's all coming from a place of truth. There really was a Penny Lane and the band William travels with is an amalgam of the groups he traveled with at the time, with Russell being based very much on Gregg Allman apparently. William's mother, Elaine, is based on Crowe's own mother and in fact is featured on the Extended edition DVD's commentary along with Cameron himself. 

I went to school and majored in Journalism and I have to admit that this film was one of the inspirations behind it. I was more than a little amused to find out that upon getting to know many of my classmates over those few years that Almost Famous figured into their decision to go into that major as well. I wonder if it's just because it looked like fun, traveling across the country and more or less running away with "the Circus" as the characters in their film refer to their tour as? I know that's a part of it for me. But another part is I just related to William as a character in a way that I hadn't before and maybe only one or two times since. He's quiet, sensitive, smart, an intense listener and close to his mother. Aside from getting to tour with rock bands, I more or less was this kid.

The film also has a dynamite soundtrack, with tracks from Elton John, Cat Stevens, The Allman Brothers Band, Yes, Lou Reed, David Bowie and most surprisingly several tracks from Led Zeppelin (who are notorious for refusing to allow their music to be licensed for films and have only allowed it a couple times since). The music works well with the film at every scene, setting a time and place as well as a feeling and mood. Tying it all together is a fantastic score from Nancy Wilson (of Heart).  

In the end though, it's the fantastic writing, the dynamite cast, and the soundtrack to the film that combine to create a near perfect film in my eyes. I loved all these characters and literally did not want the film to end. Naturally then, I prefer the longer, extended cut of the film as opposed to the theatrical version. It's the rare movie that everytime I watch it, even though it clocks in at an extensive two hours and forty minutes, I don't want it to end. Towards the end of the film, Sapphire talks about what it means to be a fan, to love something so much it hurts. Which is funny, because that's how I feel about this film. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Million Ways to Die in the West

"People die at the fair."

How much one will enjoy A Million Ways to Die in the West will depend on how much they enjoy crude humor. The film sets itself up to be a more contemporary Blazing Saddles. While it doesn't reach such lofty heights, I still found it to be a pretty amusing spoof of Westerns albeit one clearly made by Seth McFarlane, best known as the creator of Family Guy, American Dad and his previous film, Ted

Albert (played by Seth McFarlane, who also directed and co-wrote the film) is a fairly unsuccessful sheep farmer. He lives in a small, western town in 1880's Arizona. His girlfriend, Louise (played by Amanda Seyfried) has just dumped him. Despondent, he goes to the local saloon with his friend Edward (played by Giovanni Ribisi) and Edward's fiancee Ruth (played by Sarah Silverman). Things begin to look up when he meets the new girl in town, the tomboyish gunslinger Anna (played by Charlize Theron). The two bond after escaping the umpteenth bar fight. He tells her about his recent break-up with Louise after spotting her with a new beau, Foy (played by Neil Patrick Harris). Foy is the weaselly proprietor of the local mustache accessory and treatment shop (sure, why not?). Anna decides to accompany him to the local fair in an attempt to make Louise jealous. The plan backfires and in the heat of the moment Albert challenges Foy to a duel, despite having zero skill as a gunfighter. Foy eagerly accepts and the duel is set for the following week. 

Anna agrees to help Albert learn to shoot, which leads to an amusing western themed training montage as we see just how bad of a shot Albert is (he shoots a bottle at point blank range and still misses). During this, the two of them slowly fall in love with one another as would be expected in a plot like this. The film is also punctuated with frequent asides in which people die in horrible accidents, with Albert often pointing out how dangerous the West really is. Also lurking about is the very dangerous gunfighter, Clinch (played by Liam Neeson), looking to reunite with his wife, Anna.  

There is a lot to like about this film. There are plenty of jokes that worked for me throughout the film. They did a great job poking fun at the cliches of the genre and the time period itself. The film juxtaposes a modern sensibility against a Western setting as well (much of the dialogue, especially from Albert, is very contemporary) which I found amusing. The problem though is when the film descends into outright vulgarity, especially bowel functions, I just groaned rather than laughed and all I could think was, "Come on guys, you're better than this."  

McFarlane and Theron make a good pair and have some decent chemistry, which helps the movie and the two of them were probably the strongest asset. Ribisi was good as McFarlane's milquetoast best friend who doesn't mind that his fiancee is one of the town's most popular prostitutes (of course the two haven't slept together yet because they say they're waiting until they're married). Neeson makes for a genuinely intimidating villain and Harris is equally smarmy as McFarlane's romantic rival who gets a particularly nauseating comeuppance courtesy of Anna. The film also has a slew of cameos, some more recognizable than others, leaving the audience wondering, "Was that just..." (Yes it was). 

Overall, A Million Ways to Die in the West is a funny comedy and your ability to stick with it will be determined solely by if you can get past it's cruder moments. I laughed plenty, but at the same time, I wish it had aimed a bit higher at times. Like McFarlane's character, Albert, the film is scatter shot at times. That said, enough of them hit their mark to be a reasonably satisfying comedy. 

The 'Burbs

As someone who grew up in the Midwest Suburbs, I've always loved the movie The 'Burbs. Anyone who has lived on a suburban street or cul de sac has had the thoughts wondering who their neighbors are. The ones that are a little strange and keep to themselves. This film takes this universal feeling to it's most absurd levels. 

Overstressed suburbanite Ray Petersen (played by Tom Hanks) just wants to have a quiet weeks vacation at home with his wife, Carol (played by Carrie Fisher) and son Dave (played by Cory Danzinger). However, he gets pulled into looking into his mysterious neighbors, The Klopeks, by his neighbors Mark Rumsfield (played by Bruce Dern) and Art Weingartner (played by Rick Ducmommun). The three men's curiosity turns into an obsession as they witness such bizarre events as weird lights and noises from their basement, them digging in their backyard in the middle of the night, and one of them driving their garbage to the end of the driveway and beating it with a garden hoe into the can. They're watched over by local teen Ricky Butler (played by Corey Feldman), a teen home alone who is supposed to be painting his house but spends most of his time inviting his friends over to watch the neighborhood shenanigans with him, claiming it's better than TV (honestly, he's kinda right).

The more Ray, Art and Mark investigate, the more ghoulish the neighbors appear to be. Things got to another level when another neighbor, Walter (played by Gale Gordon), goes missing. Convinced the Klopeks had something to do with it, the three men prepare to launch a full scale investigation into their secretive and possibly ghoulish new neighbors. Meanwhile, Carol is trying to convince Ray to stay out of it and take her and Dave to a cabin by the lake for the week. He keeps turning her down, saying he wants to relax around the house, all the while actually plotting with Art and Mark. 

The 'Burbs is directed by Joe Dante and infuses with the same off kilter charm that he added to the likes of Gremlins and Explorers. This is more of a straight forward comedy than his other works, which were more humorous sci-fi or fantasy. But it has the same twisted sensibility and light parody of small town, Middle America suburbia that probably made his films so endearing to me as a kid, since I was secretly convinced no place could be this benign, there had to be something sinister lurking behind closed doors.

Tom Hanks, back when he was still making primarily straight comedies, headlines the film nicely in what is by and large an ensemble cast of assorted oddballs that populate this cul de sac as well as Dante mainstays Robert Picardo and Dick Miller as the two garbage men who pop up briefly to witness some of the insanity. In fact, one of the more interesting aspects of the film is the action of the film never leaves this tiny section of Midwest suburbia.  All of the film's action takes place in this one place and never ventures outside of it, which I think is a novel touch of the film.  

I hadn't see The 'Burbs in a few years but recently re-discovered it when it got added to Netflix and I have to admit I had forgotten how funny it really was. It is a true screwball comedy in every sense of the word, anchored by another memorable Jerry Goldsmith score and a great cast that are a hoot to watch as they dig themselves in deeper and deeper as they investigate their creepy and odd new neighbors. It's an underrated film in my book and one I've always enjoyed. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween Horrorfest: Revisiting the Halloween Series

On September 23rd, there was a release of the entire Halloween series in one lavish Blu-Ray box set. This was something fans of the series dared only dream of. Over the span of 36 years, the series has moved between five different studios, making the prospect of a complete boxed set next to impossible. Leave it to the folks at Scream Factory (sort of a Criterion Collection for horror films) to partner with Anchor Bay (who have owned the home video rights to parts 1, 4, and 5 for ages now) and bring together the boxed set fans only dared dream of. So, I now shall dig in, reviewing each film in the set for your pleasure. Yes, even Resurrection and the Rob Zombie remakes. I will take the hits for you, faithful readers. 

Halloween

"You know, it's Halloween. I guess everyone's entitled to one good scare."

The original Halloween is a bit of an unlikely success story. It was made for a shoestring budget with largely unknown actors. But yet, through skillful storytelling and dynamite casting, it struck a nerve with audiences and earning the reputation as one of the scariest films ever made. 

The film is a masterwork in suspense with a simple plot that focuses on three teenage girls, Laurie (played by Jamie Lee Curtis), Annie (played by Nancy Loomis) and Lynda (played by PJ Soles), who are stalked on Halloween night by escaped mental patient Michael Myers, who spends the entire film wearing an unnerving pale mask. Michael was locked up for killing his sister on Halloween night and now all these years later it looks he intends to pick up where he left off. In hot pursuit is Michael's doctor, Sam Loomis (played by Donald Pleasence), who acts as the film's Van Helsing of sorts, warning anyone that will listen of how dangerous Michael is.   

What makes this film work for me is a couple things. First, the performances are fantastic, especially from Jamie Lee Curtis in a star making performance and also from Donald Pleasence in what would become his signature role (he would reprise it four more times after this). Curtis finds the perfect balance between vulnerable and tough. She believably shows Laurie's fear, but is also able to be resourceful enough to fight back. It's a great performance and audiences were on the edge of their seats wanting her to get out of it alive. Pleasence gives the role of Loomis a sense of presence and authority as he tries to hunt down his escaped patient. In addition to this, we have great direction by John Carpenter with fantastic cinematography to match from Dean Cundey. They used every penny they had extremely well, employing a widescreen frame and steadicam shots that succeed in adding to the tension of the film. 

The film also is largely responsible for the popularization of the Slasher film, spawning legions of imitators, most notably the Friday the 13th series and to a lesser extent the Nightmare on Elm Street series. It's legacy even extended to the original Scream, with clips from the film featured heavily in the third act of that film. It remains one of the best horror movies of it's kind and is always a favorite to watch this time of year.

Halloween II

This film picks up exactly where the first film left off, with Doctor Loomis still chasing Michael Myers throughout Haddonfield. Meanwhile, Laurie Strode is carted off to the local hospital and Michael is not far behind. 

By the time Halloween II rolled around in 1981, there had already been a wave of slasher films, each more violent than the last and with a higher body count to match. Naturally, this film follows suit as Michael works his way through the darkest, emptiest hospital ever on Halloween night as he continues to stalk Laurie Strode, killing anyone and everyone that gets in his way. Unfortunately, Laurie is sedated for much of the film in her hospital room. The bulk of the film is standard stalk and slash as Michael picks off staff member after staff member, usually with inventive methods using hospital equipment such as scalpels, syringe needles, etc.

Meanwhile, Loomis is running around town trying to find Michael. It's not until he finds out Laurie is Michael's sister that they head for the hospital. It's only at this point, when Laurie wakes up to a largely deserted hotel and encounters Michael that the film picks up steam. He chases Laurie through the hospital until she crosses paths with Loomis, who just arrived. The two wind up cornered in an operating room. Loomis and Laurie flood the room with gas and Loomis distracts Michael so Laurie can escape. She barely gets away before Loomis detonates the gas, exploding the room into a rather impressive fireball. 

Originally, Halloween II was supposed to be the final outing for Michael Myers and realistically he should be very, very dead. We last see him walking out of the fire, fully engulfed in flames, before he finally stumbles and falls down. Of course, it wouldn't last, but the original intention did lead to one of the most interesting entries in the series.


Halloween III: Season of the Witch

"Please stop it, there's no more time. There are millions of lives at stake. you have to take it off...Please stop it! Stop it! STOP IT!"

Without a doubt, the one that sticks out like a sore thumb in this series is Halloween III. The film retires the Michael Myers character and crafts a whole new story. The idea was the series would go on with a new story every year as an anthology type series, each with a Halloween theme. Unfortunately, the audiences did not take to a Halloween film without the Michael Myers character and they did not continue in that direction. The film had also gained a reputation of being a dud, although the film has gained a cult following with audiences that found the film and, perhaps to their surprise, found a decent little scary movie.

The film focuses on a doctor, Dan Challis (played by Tom Atkins), who is investigating the mysterious death of a patient who burst into the ER babbling about how they're going to kill him, not elaborating on who. Soon enough, the man is murdered and his assailant sets himself on fire in the hospital parking lot. He teams up with the man's daughter, Ellie (played by Stacey Nelkin) to look into what happened. This leads them to the strange town of Santa Mira, home of the Silver Shamrock Halloween Mask factory. Silver Shamrock masks have been flying off the shelves as the must have Halloween item for the season. What the two discover is far more sinister. The owner of the company Conel Cochran (played by Dan O'Herlihy) is planning to use some old Celtic magic (combined with modern technology) to kill millions of children on Halloween night when they all sit down to watch that night's horror movie. Everything is tied to a certain commercial that will air for Silver Shamrock masks under the guise of a giveaway so everyone will tune in. Dan and Ellie are in a race against time to warn the world of what's going to happen and prevent the deaths of millions of kids.

Halloween III has been unfairly maligned as a bad movie, simply because it diverted from the storyline of Part 1 and 2 to tell a fresh story. In fact, I think this is one of the better films in the series. It's certainly darker, with a villain dead set on killing millions of kids as a form of ritual sacrifice. The film also ends on an uncertain note, with Dan screaming into the phone, begging the T.V stations to take off the commercial as minutes and seconds tick away to the 9 p.m deadline. It certainly deserves a second look from fans of the series and a creepy and fun diversion from the saga of Michael Myers. 


Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

After the disappointing reaction to Halloween III, the decision was made to resurrect Michael Myers and give the audiences what they wanted. To be fair, this was actually a decent outing all around, with some good suspense and decent plot. Since Jamie Lee Curtis had become a big time star at this point and was off making movies with the likes of Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd or John Cleese, they would need to find a new target for Michael. They settled on a new character, Jamie Lloyd (played by Danielle Harris), the daughter of the now deceased Laurie Strode. To help bridge the gap, we also have Donald Pleasence back as Doctor Loomis, who is apparently similarly fireproof as Michael, with only a couple scars.

This film picks up ten years later, with little Jamie Lloyd living with her foster parents and foster sister Rachel (played by Ellie Cornell). It's once again Halloween night and Rachel begrudgingly takes Jamie out trick or treating since her folks are going to a Halloween Party. They have no idea that out there in the night, Michael is waiting for them. Meanwhile, Loomis is teaming up with the police to try and hunt him down lest the town experiences another bloodbath. 

The real core of the film and why it was for the most part better than it had any right to be lies in the core relationship of Rachel and Jamie. Rachel more than rises to the challenge to try and keep Jamie safe at any cost and turns out to be a fairly formidable foe for Michael, holding her own with the legacy of Laurie.  Danielle Harris likewise does well as the vulnerable and young Jamie, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats to make sure she makes it through the film. They make the movie for me and are a big part of why I enjoyed it so much.  

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers

Oh Halloween 5, why couldn't you have been more like Halloween 4? I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this one because it's clear the filmmakers didn't either. Donald Pleasence and Danielle Harris are back for this outing. Pleasence gives a performance that frankly screams, "I'm here for my paycheck." Harris does her best but the oddball script with Jamie suddenly having a psychic link to her uncle Michael is ridiculous at best. Ellie Cornell shows up briefly before getting killed off early by Michael in a twist that I suppose is meant to add suspense in a anyone can die now sort of way, but instead is more of a slap across the face to the fans of the previous film and the fans certainly took it that way.

The bulk of the film has Michael carving his way through a Halloween Party because it has no ambition beyond being just another slasher movie, I guess. Every stereotype is on deck and systematically sliced, diced or impaled. Yawn. The entire movie reeks of quick cash grab (it was released less than a year after the first film). It's not the worst of the bunch (that dubious honor belongs to Halloween: Resurrection), but it's far from the best. It would be six years until we got another outing, which is really saying something.

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers

Everyone rags on Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers as being a terrible movie, but compared to some other entries, it's not that bad. It at least tried to do something new and add to the mythology of who Michael really is. It tried to incorporate some of the Celtic myths of Halloween and in a way really captures the season in a way none of the other movies have. Plus, it has Paul Rudd in it and that's never a bad thing in my book. Yes, you read that right, Paul Rudd was in a Halloween movie. Not only that, he plays the grown up Tommy Doyle (the kid Laurie babysat in the first film) and is more or less the hero of the film. He even at one point beats the shit out of Michael with a large lead pipe, so the movie has that going for it, which is nice. 

The curious thing about this film is there are two rather dramatically different versions of the film. There's the theatrical version, which deals with a new family that is living in Michael Myers' old house and become a target of Michael because of it. The film explains Michael first got all stabby because he heard voices attributed to the curse of the Thorn and now the young boy living there, Danny is hearing them too. There's also a plot line with Jamie Lloyd resurfacing with an infant, having been kidnapped by a group calling themselves the Thorn Cult. They also kidnapped Michael and apparently Michael is the father (we never see anything to confirm this, thankfully). She escapes the cult and is on the run with her infant with Michael in hot pursuit. She heads back to Michael's old home town of Haddonfield in hopes of finding Doctor Loomis (played once again by Donald Pleasence in his last film role). Michael catches up to her before she can, but she has stashed the baby away before he could and is found by Tommy Doyle. From here, things get really weird with the storylines converging as the Cult members target both little Danny and his mom Kara and Tommy and the baby. Conveniently, they live across the street from one another as Tommy wanted to keep an eye on the Myers house in case Michael decided to come home. 

The Curse of Michael Myers had a legendary troubled production that produced two very different versions of the film. There is the theatrical edition, which toned down the Cult and celtic aspects and focused more directly on the movie. There is also the "Producers Cut" which circulated at conventions and on the internet in it's unfinished form. Neither film is perfect, The Producers Cut presents a more interesting story line for the film, but the Theatrical version has a more satisfying ending, but both are one of the more curious entries in the series. 

Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later

"It's Halloween, I guess everyone's entitled to one good scare."
"I've had my share."

I remember fondly when Halloween H20 was in production and hearing about Jamie Lee Curtis coming back to the series. I was a huge fan of the series and clearly knew what a big deal this was as she had sworn off doing horror films after Halloween II. She had stated that she wanted to do H20 as a thank you to the fans of the series and her horror films in general. After the original film, Halloween H20 may be my favorite of the entire series. Never before had a film series like this caught up with a heroine after so many years to see what their life is like. The film also acts nicely as a closing chapter to Halloween and Halloween II

The film catches up with Laurie Strode, now going by the name Keri Tate, as the headmistress of a private school where she lives with her son John (played by Josh Hartnett). She faked her death and went into hiding across the country in California. She has built a nice life for her and her son, she has a good job and a nice boyfriend, Will (played by Adam Arkin). But she still lives in fear that one Halloween her brother will show up on her doorstep to try and kill her again. Of course, this being a Halloween movie we know that will happen all too soon and it does as Michael indeed shows up and unleashes another wave of terror as he tries to get to not only Laurie but her son as well.

What really makes this film memorable for me though is the last fifteen minutes or so. Laurie has gotten her son and his girlfriend Molly (played by Michelle Williams) out of the school and then stops. She tells them to take her car and go and after they do, she locks the gates, grabs a fire ax, deciding to stop running and face him once and for all. What follows is a one on one fight throughout the school as Laurie uses anything and everything she can get her hands on to try and put Michael down for good. In the end, she winds up chopping his head off with the aforementioned fire ax in a very cathartic moment. For awhile, I thought this was it for the Halloween series, but alas, no there had to be more. But from this high point it was all downhill from here.


Halloween Resurrection

To properly illustrate how I feel about this particular entry in the Halloween series, I need to refer to another film first, Misery. In that film, there is a scene where Annie Wilkes (played by Kathy Bates) discusses a moment from her childhood to the author she is holding hostage, Paul Sheldon (played by James Caan). She talks about loving to go see the old serials at her local theater until one time something happened that upset her. In the previous episode, they had shown the hero being stuck in a runaway car and then showed the car going off a cliff. She anxiously awaited the next episode the following week and when she went to go see it, she was shocked to find an extra scene inserted where the hero broke free and dove out of the car at the last minute before it went off the cliff. She explained the audience cheered at this moment, but instead she got up and started screaming about how this film cheated. Why do I bring this up, dear readers? Because I felt the exact same way when I saw Halloween Resurrection

The previous film, Halloween H20, ended with the long awaited final confrontation between Laurie Strode and Michael Myers, culminating with Laurie chopping his head off with an ax. It was the perfect ending and I'm completely serious when I say they should have ended it right there. But no, the movie made money so there had to be a sequel. What to do now that their veritable killing machine was headless? Do an off-shoot with a different story like Halloween III? Move the action to Sleepy Hollow? Nope. We'll just pretend it wasn't really Michael at the end, that he switched places with a paramedic (crushing his vocal chords so he can't speak) and knocked him out so we can continue on our merry way. Of course, when you view the ending of Halloween H20 again with this information in mind, it makes no sense. None of the actions of whoever is in the costume is consistent with how someone would act if they woke up wearing a mask and in someone else's clothes. So, yeah, I call bullshit. You cheated, movie. 

This movie is just painful too. From horrible miscasting after horrible miscasting (please someone explain to me who thought it was a good idea to cast Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks? Both of them are just awful in this). After a brief prologue where we catch up with Laurie Strode (played again by Jamie Lee Curtis in a performance that screams "contractual obligation") in a mental hospital, waiting for Michael to show up again. Of course, he does and she has a trap set for him. The whole thing goes south though, mainly due to bad writing and Laurie is the one who winds up dead. We're not even fifteen minutes in and this movie has already pissed me off. 

The movie then slides into a completely different plot, with the crew of an internet site called "Dangertainment" (ugh, kill me now), have wired the old Myers house with a series of web cams and are going to have a crew of kids from the local college going through the house on Halloween night, overseen by a crew of two played by the aforementioned Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks. This group covers most of the usual horror movie stereotypes and are for the most part picked off in the same order, because of course the real Michael shows up. 

The real problem with the film comes in at the scripting and casting stages. This movie has the blandest, most useless heroine this side of Bella Swan in the character of Sara (played by Bianca Kajlich), who does nothing and has to be saved at every turn by either a karate chopping Busta Rhymes (I'm serious, and it's awful) or her online buddy Myles (played by Ryan Merriman) who is watching from a local Halloween Party. We also have Kattee Sackhoff as her hyper sidekick, Jen and Sean Patrick Thomas, who plays her friend and is a culinary student. That is his lone characteristic and he plays it up to the nines. 

Nothing in this film works because it was crafted to appeal to the lowest common denominator and as such it never rises above it. It turns into another gimmicky slasher picture with nothing real or memorable about it. It's painful, it's tacky and quite frankly I like to pretend it doesn't exist. They should have stopped at H20 and as far as I'm concerned, they did. 

Rob Zombie's Halloween and Halloween II

Okay, I'm going to make this quick because I really hated these films. Maybe some day I'll give them another chance since they came in the boxed set but I just can't bring myself to watch them again. I know I said I would, dear readers and when I started writing this I thought I would but I just can't. I have seen both of them before and I can't bring myself to watch them again. But I will explain why I didn't like them.

Rob Zombie does not know how to make a scary movie. He knows how to make a sleazy, super violent, cruel and unpleasant movie and that is not the same thing. He also fails to understand why Michael Myers is scary. In his remake, he looks back at Michael as a child, giving him perhaps the most hateful white trash family ever. Therefore, the question is no longer why did Michael kill his family and more why didn't he do it sooner? The reason Michael was scary is because in the beginning of the first film, he's just a regular suburban kid from a regular suburban family who one Halloween night snaps and kills his sister for no discernible reason. Now, that's scary. He spends the bulk of the film trying to explore the psyche of Michael, diluting his power to scare even more, with a rushed remake of the original film on the back end, featuring characters we haven't gotten to know and therefore really don't care about. They are also largely unlikable and therefore don't care when they die in gruesome and brutal ways. 

That's the other thing, these films are brutal with an insanely high body count. Rob Zombie throws as much blood and guts on the screen as possible to shock the audience since there is a decided lack of tension or mood throughout the film. 

It makes me wish Rob Zombie would go back to being a musician and stop making movies, because I liked his music. His movies are just absolutely unpleasant trash and I hate his two Halloween films. Hate, hate, hate, hate, hate them.