Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween Horrorfest: Trick 'r Treat





















Out of all the various horror films that take place on Halloween Night, I don't think I have seen one that had quite captured the spirit of the holiday quite as well as Trick 'r Treat has. Telling four interconnected tales that take place over one Halloween Night in a small mid-west town. All the way through we have Sam, a child sized, burlap masked spirit of Halloween wandering throughout each tale.   

The four tales have an assorted cast of characters, with the school prinicpal Steven Wilkins (played by Dylan Baker), who has some dark secrets of his own contending with a vandalizing juvenile delinquent, Charlie (played by Brett Kelly) as well as his own son. We have four young women, Laurie (played by Anna Paquin), Danielle (played by Lauren Lee Smith), Maria (played by Rochelle Aytes), and Janet (played by Moneca Delain) trying to score dates for a Halloween Party out in the woods later that night. Then there are group a kids, Macy (played by Britt McKillip), Schrader, Sara, and Chip, who are planning on playing a prank on another girl, a savant named Rhonda (played by Samm Todd) at the local rock quarry, the sight of a horrible school bus accident. There is also an angry, lonely old man named Kreeg (played by Brian Cox) and a bickering young married couple (played by Leslie Bibb and Tahmoh Penikett) who are quite ready for Halloween to be over. Over the course of the night, each group of characters will encounter assorted ghosts, ghouls, and assorted other monsters as the legends of Halloween prove to be all too true.

While this film is clearly owes a debt to the anthology horror films that came before it, especially Creepshow, it also has it's own cool vibe as characters from each tale make their way through each of the other ones in addition to their own. The timeline is also gloriously non-linear, with the first tale of the film taking place at the end of the evening and the last tale taking place towards the beginning, with segments mixing with one another such as in one story a character is banging on a window for help only to be ignored and then later in the film, when we get to their story we see what is happening to them. Michael Dougherty both wrote and directed the film and finds clever ways to work in the old myths of Halloween, the history of the jack o'lantern and the urban legends such as tainted candy into something new and fresh. He crafts each tale wonderfully, with surprise twists to each one that I honestly never saw coming, filled with both gothic horror and tongue in cheek humor. Unlike some other films that take place on the holiday, this film perfectly captures the cold, eerie autumn night, with leaves on the ground and a chill in the air.

Overall, Trick 'r Treat is perfect Halloween Night viewing, with a mix of fun and fear that is hard to resist, all overseen by the surprisingly adorable (if also occasionally lethal) Sam. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Halloween Horrorfest: The Exorcist
















There have been many movies that have claimed to be the scariest movie ever made, but as far as I'm concerned that title still belongs to William Friedkin's adaptation of William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist. Even after forty-two years, this film remains as bone chilling and terrifying as ever and has aged remarkably well. 

Chris MacNeil (played by Ellen Burstyn) is a successful actress currently filming a movie in Georgetown, D.C and living in a nearby house with her young daughter, Regan (played by Linda Blair). Regan begins to behave strangely and Chris grows increasingly concerned, taking her to specialist after specialist with no help. One doctor suggests an exorcism ritual might help set things right for Regan. If the child believes she is possessed, then the ritual might convince her that she is not. Chris turns to Father Karras (played by Jason Miller), a local priest that spent some time on her film set and has a background in psychology as well. He agrees to meet with Regan as a therapist but when he comes face to face with the possessed child, he is convinced he's seeing the real deal. He gathers evidence and appeals to the Catholic Church to grant an exorcism. They agree and send Father Merrin (played by Max Von Sydow) to lead the exorcism. 

There is something that is just downright chilling about this film. It so masterfully builds and grows it's tension and horror that by the end it's almost unbearable. I can't think of another movie that has managed to do that so well. There is something about seeing this little girl, Regan, go from a sweet innocent girl in the beginning to turn into a total monster throughout the film, barely recognizable from the girl we saw at the beginning. Director William Friedkin manged to craft a film that somehow remains largely timeless with special effects used sparingly that still hold up incredibly well. The small details give away the time period the film was made in, it was originally released in 1973, but yet it doesn't feel overly dated. The tension, suspense and horror within the film is just as palpable today as it was then, which is no small feat either.

The film has also spawned two sequels, a prequel and countless imitators but none have come near the impact the original film had over audiences and still does today. There is something that is absolutely fearless in how they depict Regan's possession and the things the demon in her makes her do are nothing short of terrifying and shocking. Even when I rewatched it for this review I was still shocked by some of the scenes in the film. It was surprising what scenes remained burned in my brain and which ones I had completely forgotten about. Needless to say, everything I remembered was in the second half of the film when things get really crazy, except for a scene early in the film when Chris and Regan play with a Ouija board. Seriously, they mess around with a Ouija board and then wonder why they hear strange noises at night, taper candles turn into blow torches suddenly and their daughter becomes possessed? You don't mess with things you don't understand people. But it's a horror movie, so things like this are common place, I suppose.  

Overall, even after all these years The Exorcist still packs a wallop for genuinely scary Halloween viewing. Of the sequels, I've only seen some of the second one, which was so nonsensical and boring I never bothered to finish it and turned me off of seeing either the third or fourth films (although I have heard the third one is actually halfways decent, so maybe someday...). As it is though, the first one is plenty for me. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Halloween Horrorfest: Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse


















"All right Scouts, let's kick some zombie ass!" 

Just when I thought there was nothing more to do with the zombie comedy, along came Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. I have to admit there is something appealing with three dorky boy scouts being their town's best and last hope to defeating a horde of zombies and saving the day, probably because once upon a time I actually was in Scouts. It just happens to also be a really raunchy and frequently very funny movie. 

Ben (played by Tye Sheridan) and Carter (played by Logan Miller) are two Scouts at a crossroads in their life. Up until now they had stayed in their local Scout troop to support their other friend, Augie (played by Joey Morgan) since his Dad died a couple years back. But as they are now in high school, they're starting to feel like it's time to leave their Scouting life behind, but are hesitant because they don't want to abandon their friend. They begrudgingly agree to attend one last camp out as Augie achieves the Condor merit badge (the movie's version of becoming an Eagle Scout, I guess. You'll notice there is no mention of the actual Boy Scouts of America anywhere in the film. Given the general raunchy nature of the film, I'm not surprised). They arrive at camp to find their Scout Leader, Rogers (played by David Koechner), is missing. They set up camp anyway and have their cookout. After everyone has gone to bed, Carter and Ben sneak off to secretly attend the Senior Class party that Carter managed to score an invite to. Upon returning to town, they discover that it is strangely deserted for a Friday night. They quickly discover that their town is besieged by a horde of zombies and are quickly saved by the waitress at the local strip joint, Denise (played by Sarah Dumont), a tough as nails gal who is very handy with a shotgun. 

Meanwhile, Augie is feeling bad that his friends ditched him to go to a party and decides to go looking for Scout Master Rogers at his house, which he does except Scout Master Rogers is now a zombie himself. Augie is able to fend off the attack by the surprisingly resilient zombie and sets off to find his friends. Carter, Ben and Denise head for the local police station only to discover the town has been evacuated and in a couple hours is going to be bombed to try and contain the zombie plague. After re-connecting with Augie, the quartet discover that no one evacuated the secret Senior Party and among the party's attendees is Carter's older sister Kendall (played by Halston Sage), who Ben has a serious crush on. Realizing they are their only hope, the three Scouts suit up with some impressive improvised weaponry and head for the Party to save the day and hopefully earn some respect from their classmates in the process.

Maybe it's because I have some actual Scouting experience to relate to this film, but I really enjoyed it. There is definitely a heavy dose of humor in the film that outweighs any possible scares dramatically. There is a fair amount of gore though, as one would expect in a zombie film (the Red Band trailer will give you a good idea of what you're in for). The film does have a few novel moments that I wasn't expecting including one that ultimately convinced me I needed to see the movie. The quartet of heroes seek shelter from the zombie hordes in the home of the neighborhood crazy cat lady (played by Cloris Leachman no less). Not only is she a zombie but so is all of her cats. There is just something about a zombie cat trying to take a bite out of Augie before being flung across the room by a skillet wielding Denise that is endlessly amusing to me. The film is really raunchy though, from perpetual horndog Carter, who actually stops to feel up a topless zombie, to various other jokes of the fart, poo or penis related I can see this turning some people off, although I'm not ashamed to admit I laughed at much of it. There is some heart to the film as well, from the bond between the three friends only being strengthened by the ordeal to Denise teaching Ben how to step up and tell Kendall how he really feels and keeps the film more balanced against the cruder or more violent moments. My only real nitpick would be that it does take a bit for the movie to get going and for the zombie apocalypse to arrive in full force, but once it does the movie is nonstop action and mayhem until the end. 

Overall, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is a well timed Halloween treat for those that a film like this would appeal to. If you've read this far, I imagine you will have a good idea if this is your cup of tea or not. If it is, I think you'll have a blast with it. If not, then why have you read this far already?     

Monday, October 26, 2015

Halloween Horrorfest: The Changeling

















I'm not sure what it is about certain ghost stories that seem to get my heart pumping more than other scary movies but when they are done right, as it is here with The Changeling, they can seriously freak me out. It's not even a particularly violent film, with an emphasis placed instead on a growing tension, compelling mystery and a genuinely spooky atmosphere. Anchored by a reliably great George C. Scott, this one one of the better scary movies I have ever seen. 

Having recently lost his wife and daughter in a tragic automobile accident, composer John Russell (played by George C. Scott) has moved to Seattle to take a job at the local college and work on a new piece of music. A friend of his helps him secure the rental of a local old house through her contact with the Historical Society, Claire Norman (played by Trish Van Devere). Seeing the secluded house as an ideal work space, he agrees to rent the property. Soon after moving in though, strange things begin happening. A loud banging occurs early each morning that cannot be sourced through the house's boiler or plumbing. When an upstairs window blows outward, John looks through the house to try and find the corresponding window. In the process he discovers a hidden room that beyond the layers and layers of cobwebs and dust appears to have belonged to a small boy. A small, disabled boy as indicated by the small, antique wheelchair. John and Claire begin researching the history of the house to find out whose spirit haunts the house and what it could possibly want from them. 

With a tight script by William Gray and Diana Maddox from a story by Russell Hunter and stylish direction by Peter Medak, this is a fantastic spook story that kept me guessing the whole way through the first time I saw it. George C. Scott gives a great performance in the lead role that adds some classiness and gravitas to the film as well. I just loved how he played his role as someone who was trying to get over the death of his wife and child as well as rebuild his life. You get a sense that these things are in his character's mind in a subtle way that he never overplays. At the same time, he gets wrapped up in this new mystery he has stumbled into. The film also has some genuinely creepy moments, including perhaps the best executed and scariest seance scene I have seen on film. 

Overall, The Changeling remains one of the best scary movies I have ever seen. With a unique and riveting story that is well told by the filmmakers and a great performance from George C. Scott, makes for a perfect film for those looking for a little edge of your seat entertainment. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Halloween Horrorfest: The Final Girls























As a Horror film fan, one of the sub-genres I have always had an affinity for was the slasher movie, in particular the 80's slasher movie. There was such a glut of them in the early 80's that even I haven't seen them all, but among the most notorious of them were the summer camp set slashers such as Friday the 13th and it's sequels as well as the similar, and some say superior, The Burning. It's these films that get a ripe parody treatment done in the style of Last Action Hero in The Final Girls

Max (played Tessa Farminga) has recently lost her mother Amanda (played by Malin Ackerman) who was a struggling actress whose most notable role was in a cheesy 80's slasher movie called Camp Bloodbath. She begrudgingly attends an anniversary of the cult film along with her boyfriend Chris (played by Alexander Ludwig) as well as her friends Gertie (played by Alia Shawkat) and Duncan (played by Thomas Middleditch). When the theater suddenly catches fire, they try to escape by cutting through the screen and exiting out the back of the theater only to find themselves transported into the movie instead. Realizing that they are in big trouble, they quickly have to figure out a way to stay alive at least long enough to find a way out of the movie and back into real life.

There's a certain tongue in cheek sensibility to this film as it takes the self aware meta-humor and taking it to the next level as the "real world" characters use their knowledge of not only the film they are in but horror films in general to survive the film. It's also fun to see them freak out as the film they are in transitions to such stylistic touches as the film they are trapped in turns black and white for a flashback or becomes slow motion. The film is also peppered with some nice stylistic touches, recalling the 80's setting of the film within a film. No where is this more evident than in the climactic showdown between Malin Ackerman's character and the film's killer, Billy (clearly fashioned after Jason Voorhees of the Friday the 13th sequels). That same scene also contains perhaps the best use of Kim Carnes' "Bette Davis Eyes" I think I have seen in a film. The film also has a lot of heart in it as well, as Max finds herself face to face with her recently deceased mother, or rather the character she played in the film, Nancy and the moments between the two are very well performed by Malin Ackerman and Tessa Farminga. Nancy is originally supposed to die in the film after sleeping with another character, Kurt (played by Adam Devine). By preventing this from happening, they wind up changing how the entire film plays out, which I thought was a fun plot twist. 

Overall, The Final Girls is a fun throwback to the 80's slasher movies while gleefully poking fun at them as well. Knowing those films well, I have to say this film pretty much perfectly captures and recreates the feeling of the films from that era while also being something fresh and fun in it's own right.     

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Halloween Horrorfest: Goosebumps





















There's a lot of nostalgia involved when it comes to Goosebumps. I enjoyed reading to books when I was younger (heck, I still do). Technically, I was probably too old for them, having moved on to the harder stuff with the likes of Stephen King at that point as well. But there was just something about R.L Stine's brisk, fun storytelling that I always enjoyed. They were never scary to me, but they were thrilling and fun. Therefore, I looked forward to the new Goosebumps movie with anticipation as it looked to deliver more of the same, with a decidedly clever meta approach in having Mr. Stine as a character in the film as well. 

Zach Cooper (played by Dylan Minnette) and his mother Gale (played by Amy Ryan) have just moved to the small town of Madison, Delaware so Zach's mom could take a new job as vice principal at the local high school. Zach is less than thrilled, but goes along with it for his mom's sake. While at his first day at school, he meets the socially awkward Champ (played by Ryan Lee) and the become friends. Also living nearby is Zach's Aunt Lorraine (played by Jillian Bell). Things look up when he meets the girl next door, Hannah (played by Odeya Rush), who he finds out is home schooled and largely kept indoors by her over-protective father, R.L Stine (played by Jack Black). One night he overhears an argument between Stine and Hannah and heads over to the house to check it out along Champ. Once inside, they discover a shelf full of manuscripts. Champ quickly identifies them as manuscripts of Goosebumps books. He takes one off the shelf and undoes the lock on it, which to their shock releases the monster within, The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena. In the chaos of having a twelve foot monster stomping around the house causes the other manuscripts to be knocked over, with the lock breaking on another one, Night of the Living Dummy. The monster within is of course Slappy, a possessed ventriloquist dummy, who decides to take his revenge on Stine for being imprisoned within a book and sets about releasing the rest of the monsters, including zombies, a werewolf, a vampire dog, homicidal lawn gnomes, giant bugs and assorted other ghouls. Each time he does, he torches the manuscript so they can't be re-imprisoned.  With the help of R.L Stine, the kids scramble to try and find a way to contain the newly released army of monsters before they destroy the entire town and beyond.     

I have very fond memories of the Goosebumps books and the movie captures their spirit quite nicely, becoming basically the ultimate Goosebumps story. The film follows the basic formula that was used time and again with those stories. A new kid moves to a weird new town, makes a few friends, checks out things he's warned to stay away from, supernatural shenanigans ensue and the kids have to save the day. The adults are basically useless except for Stine himself, of course. There is a great deal of creativity and fun to be had in this movie. The director Rob Letterman manages to capture the same sort of funny scary atmosphere as films like Jumanji or Hocus Pocus. Whether the film obtains the same sort of cult following those two films have only time will tell.   

Jack Black is great as the film's rendition of R.L Stine, capturing a nice balance of sinister, mysterious and silly (he in particular bristles at comparisons between his writing and Stephen King). Dylan Minnette and Odeya Rush are good as well as the two main kids in the film and have some nice moments together and potential love interests, including a nifty scene at an abandoned amusment park outside town (which also factors into the climax in a scene right out of Spielberg's 1941). I can't decide who steals the show more Ryan Lee or Jillian Bell, but both are pretty priceless in their roles. Danny Elfman contributed the score to the film and it give the film a great sense of manic energy that brought to mind his early collaborations with Tim Burton, specifically Beetlejuice. The one real criticism I have with the film is that the CGI isn't really all that great. It comes across as very cartoony and is not at all convincing. I wish they had worked harder on it, because while it wasn't completely distracting, it was disappointing.    

Overall, if you enjoyed and have fond memories of the Goosebumps books like I do, you'll have a blast with the movie. Seeing all the monsters released and intermingling was a nice stroll down memory lane, with a nice meta twist to it all. Overall, I quite enjoyed it from beginning to end. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Stephen King Week: Needful Things




















There's something about Needful Things that I can't help but like. I always have ever since it first came out. Yes, it's a shadow of it's book, greatly condensing all the various story lines to fit a two hour movie. But yet, I still enjoy it for what it is, a searing strike against rampant consumerism, taken to the most extreme point with the devil himself tempting people with goods that they would be willing to do anything to get. 

In quiet small town of Castle Rock, Maine, a new store is opening called Needful Things and piques the curiosity of many of the townsfolk. Every person who goes in there manages to find a prized possession or item they have always wanted, whether it is a figurine they cherished that had broken, a valuable baseball card, a letter man's jacket thought to be lost to time, the first edition of a classic novel, a horse race game that can predict the winners of the days races with complete accuracy or an ancient trinket with magical healing properties. The proprietor of the shop, Leland Gaunt (played by Max Von Sydow), is all to happy to sell the newly discovered treasure, but at a steep price. In addition to the monetary payment, he requires a small favor. They start as small pranks such as muddying up someone's freshly hung laundry but escalate as the purchases go on to acts of vandalism and destruction. Unbeknownst to the residents, Gaunt is carefully orchestrating the various feuds and grudges to escalate until the town falls into full on chaos. The one man who can't be tempted is the town sheriff, Alan Pangborn (played by Ed Harris), who starts digging into the past of his town's mysterious new proprietor and is horrified to discover he just might be the devil himself, come to tear apart his small town. 

There is something about this movie I've always really liked. I know deep down it's not particularly great, or even good, and there are moments that are rather badly acted and way over the top. But the underlying themes of the film still work, with people being seduced by material goods, the swipes at rampant consumerism taken to the most absurd levels. That sort of deep seeded need to have something and willing to do anything to get it. That's what they are able to tap into here and take it such perverse levels. That was something Stephen King was always good at and it comes through in the film as well. It is also anchored by two good performances by Max Von Sydow and Ed Harris. Sydow in particular is clearly having a blast in his role, playing the clearly supernaturally evil Gaunt. It's a wonderfully over the top performance and entertaining to watch. Harris has the trickier role as the white knight sheriff, but he finds the right note of quietly defeated and annoyed to play. There's a great scene early in the film when he breaks up a fight between his deputy Norris Ridgewick (played by Ray McKinnon) and the shady town selectman Danforth "Buster" Keaton (played by JT Walsh) and tells them how he moved to Castle Rock to get away from all the bullshit and fighting in the big city only to discover that everyone is insane everywhere, before walking away telling them to fight it out and he'll arrest the one that's still alive. It's a wonderfully telling moment for his character.  J.T Walsh is also really good at the gambling addict, embezzling and temperamental town selectman Danforth Keaton who really hates it when you call him Buster. His dealings with Gaunt lead for him to eventually have a total mental breakdown that Walsh captures perfectly. 

The film was directed by Fraser C Heston, who does a good job staging the action throughout the film, especially towards the end when everything goes into complete chaos. Patrick Doyle provided the score for the film and manages to come up with a fantastic score that is almost better than the movie itself. I've always really enjoyed it with it's choral backgrounds and gothic themes.  

Overall, Needful Things may not be a great film, nor maybe not even a good one, but it is an entertaining one. It is worth noting though that the films director, Fraser C Heston, is the son of Charlton Heston and played the infant Moses in the beginning of The Ten Commandments and Max Von Sydow played Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told so perhaps I just find it really amusing that at some point Moses told Jesus how to play the Devil. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Stephen King Week: The Mist
















Whenever Frank Darabont does an adaptation of a Stephen King work, you know it's going to be something really good. The first two, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile were much more straight drama whereas The Mist was straight up, bone chilling horror of the highest order. I'd rank it as easily one of the best Stephen King adaptations ever. 

After a huge storm knocks out the power in town, as well as a large tree through the large window in their house, David Drayton (played by Thomas Jane) and his son Billy (played by Nathan Gamble) head into town to get supplies and groceries, with their neighbor Brent (played by Andre Braugher) tagging along. While waiting to check out at the local grocery store, a huge, thick mist engulfs the entire town. It quickly becomes apparent that there is something, or somethings, in the mist. Monstrous somethings, leaving the people in the store trapped. From there begins a slow escalation as the people in the store slowly break into separate factions, those remaining sensible and relatively collected and those starting to follow the delusions of the religious extremist and fear mongering Mrs. Carmody (played by Marcia Gay Harden). With things clearly heading towards an intense standoff, David and a few others start devising a plan to try and escape the supermarket and take their chances, however slim, in finding rescue. 

The thing that makes The Mist such powerful viewing is the way it unflinchingly shows how times of crisis can bring out peoples true natures and it's not always good. There are no true white hat heroes in this movie, everyone is a shade of gray (except maybe Mrs. Carmody, she's batshit crazy from the word go). The monsters outside are just the catalyst for the crisis inside and a way of continuing to raise the stakes and the tension among the people inside. They know it's only a matter of time before the monsters get inside, after all, the entire front of the store in plate glass. It's that fear of the inevitable that only adds to the palpable fear of the people in the store. 

The film is tightly scripted by Frank Darabont, working from the short story by Stephen King. He does a great job of fleshing out the characters, who are played by a fantastic cast that also includes Toby Jones, Frances Sternhagen, and William Sadler. The only real weak point in the film is some of the CGI effects are not quite up to par, but I'm willing to forgive that since Darabont had to settle for a smaller budget in exchange for getting to make the movie he wanted to make.  

Overall, The Mist ranks as one of King's all time best adaptations and certainly one of his most intense. It takes what would easily be a a B-Movie concept and raises it to the A-Level through storytelling alone. It's a potent and memorable film that reportedly even scared Stephen King himself. Now that's saying something. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Stephen King Week: Children of the Corn












Of all the Stephen King adaptations in all the world, what is it about Children of the Corn that caused it to turn into such a drawn out franchise? With seven sequels and one even worse remake, it is one of the longest running horror series, ever. I find this fact baffling because none of them are particularly good. 

Burt (played by Peter Horton) and Vicky (played by Linda Hamilton) are traveling cross country after Burt has graduated from Medical School. While driving on the back roads of Nebraska, they accidentally hit a boy who runs out of the cornfields. Upon further examination, they find the boy's throat had been slit. Burt wraps the boy's body in a blanket and stashes it in the trunk. The two drive on until finally winding up in the isolated, small town of Gatlin. Perplexed by the deserted town, they start poking around, looking for help. They are horrified to discover that all of the parents are dead and the children of the town are all part of a cult that worships a demonic god known as "He Who Walks Behind the Rows." The cult is led by Issac (played by John Franklin) with Malachi (played by Courtney Gains) as his right hand man. Burt and Vicky discover they are to be served up as the latest sacrifices for their god and with some help from two dissenting young children, Job (played by Robby Kiger) and Sarah (played by Anne Marie McAvoy), have to figure out a way to escape Gatlin with their lives.

There are certainly some interesting themes going on in the film, as there were in the original short story by Stephen King that the film is based on, with some pretty grotesque imagery conjured up to depict the demented cult these kids are part of. The problem is the film doesn't stand up to much scrutiny. It depends on the tried and true idiot plot syndrome which requires the two main characters, as well as all the other adult characters for that matter, to act like total idiots. This is made all the worse when the characters have the very book that contains the story the movie is based on sitting on the dash of their car (what a refreshingly meta approach that would be if Vicky was reading the book and remarked to Burt, "Honey, there's a story in here that is remarkably similar to what is happening to us now. I think we should turn around and go back the way we came and take the freeway instead, avoiding cornfields and strange children that repeatedly yell, "Outlander!" at the top of their lungs." But Burt would still ignore this because Burt, despite being an MD, is an idiot.). The film is also rather inconsistent, starting off with Job and his Dad heading to the cafe after church, with some rather cheesy (corny?) narration from Job as we witness the children's massacre of the adults begin to unfold. We never hear narration from Job again, so why include it here when the perspective of the film sharply switches to Burt and Vicky a couple scenes later, after we see Job and Sarah help another dissenting boy, Joseph, try to escape in the least subtle or covert escape attempt ever. They might as well have shot up flares or posted a neon sign blinking "Escape Attempt in Progress." No wonder Malachi found him, slit his throat and then said boy ran out into the road only to get hit by Burt and Vicky. Also, just the fact that the community could go so long without being discovered, it's implied it's been a year or two since all the adults were killed, strains credibility. Did none of the families in Gatlin have extended families that might be checking up on them? Or if they did, did they get "put in the corn fields" too? I suppose that's what we're supposed to assume. 

On it's own silly, brainless, B-movie level there is something entertaining about Children of the Corn. It certainly seemed to have captured some form of popularity given how many sequels it has spawned as well as a even worse remake where the main couple was so unlikable, I was actually rooting for the kids. In the pantheon of Stephen King movies, this one is pretty bad but at least it's never dull and it does have a wonderfully over the top performance from John Franklin as Issac, so there is that at least.   

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Stephen King Week: Christine








There's always been something about Christine that I really liked. It really isn't that scary of a movie, but it certainly is an entertaining one. Both Stephen King's original novel and director John Carpenter's film capture the unique relationship that can develop between a person and their car and then take it to the most extreme point. 

Arnie (played by Keith Gordon) and his best friend Dennis (played by John Stockwell) are driving home from school one day when Arnie first catches a glimpse of Christine, a 1958 cherry red Plymouth Fury. Despite her being in really bad shape, Arnie buys her on the spot while ignoring Dennis' attempts to talk him out of it. Arnie's strict and overprotective parents are horrified that he did such a thing and forbid him from storing the car at home. So Arnie stores the car at a local garage owned by a man Darnell (played by Robert Prosky) and slowly starts fixing her up. In the process, the more Christine gets fixed up, the more Arnie changes as well, growing more confident and losing his black rimmed glasses. He even gains a girlfriend, Leigh (played by Alexandra Paul), to the surprise of Dennis and his fellow football players who wanted to date Leigh themselves. Things take a dark turn when local bully Buddy Repperton (played by William Ostrander, looking like Danny Zuko's evil twin) and his gang trash Christine as payback for Arnie reporting to their shop teacher that Buddy pulled a knife on him. It's then that Arnie realizes that not only is Christine sentient, but has a unique ability to repair herself. The two then team up for a little well-deserved payback to Buddy and his gang. Meanwhile, Dennis and Leigh both sense the dark influence Christine is having over Arnie and have to try and figure out a way to destroy Christine once and for all and try to save their friend. 

I've always felt Christine was a little underrated. There is a lot to really like about this film. It has a great performance from Keith Gordon who manages to portray Arnie's transformation perfectly from this wimpy loser to someone who is confident, cool and even towards the end rebellious (nice touch having him decked out in a red jacket, a nod to James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, suggesting that even Christine's original time period, the 1950s was influencing Arnie). John Stockwell and Alexandra Paul do well as Arnie's concerned best friend and girlfriend respectively. John Carpenter directs the film with a nice sense of style infuses the film with a certain tongue in cheek sensibility. The film kicks off with George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone" as Christine rolls off the assembly line in Detroit, the lone red car on the line, perfectly setting the tone for the film. 

The true star of the show though is the titular 1958 Plymouth Fury (or more accurately the 20 or so different ones they used throughout the production as well as reproductions and stunt cars for various special effects). I just marvel at how they were able to create such a memorable cinematic character out of a classic car. The way they did it was rather brilliant, from the way Keith Gordon acted with the car to the fact that they used classic rock and roll to act as the voice of the car. For example, there is a memorable scene when Christine hunts down one of the gang members that trashed her, Moochie (played by Malcolm Danare), and over the car stereo it's playing Thurston Harris' "Little Bitty Pretty One" and it's like the car is taunting him before it revs up and breaks into a full on chase. It's an effective moment. And of course, any time Arnie is alone with Christine, the radio plays love songs. Of course, the entire premise of this is absurd, but somehow the actors and director Carpenter sell it beautifully. 

I've had a soft spot for this movie ever since I first saw it after reading the novel by Stephen King. It's a solid adaptation of the source novel, streamlining it for a big screen retelling without sacrificing the characterization that King has always been so good at. Like Arnie, I too was bullied in school and therefore my favorite parts of the movie have always been when Christine went after the bullies in retribution for what they did to her and Arnie. I even really liked Christine herself. Yeah, she was jealous and temperamental and probably evil, but she did help Arnie along the way, even if their relationship was beyond unhealthy. She just went too far when her jealousy got the better of her and she tried to kill Leigh. Other than that, she only killed people who crossed her and I can't help but kind of respect that. 

Overall, Christine isn't a perfect movie but it is an interesting and certainly an entertaining one. It's one I've enjoyed the numerous times I've seen it over the years and ranks as one of my favorite Stephen King movies. Is it one of the best? Well, that's a little more subjective. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Stephen King Week: Firestarter










I have to confess that I am a huge pyro. For people that have known me a long time, this is not a huge surprise. I mention this only to put into context why I cut Firestarter more slack than I probably should. Yes, it's not a particularly great movie. But I would say it falls firmly into the category of guilty pleasure for me. The reasons should be obvious. To put it succinctly, this movie is a pyromaniac's dream.

Charlie McGee (played by Drew Barrymore) and her dad, Andy (played by David Keith) are on the run from a secret government agency called The Shop. Andy and Charlie's mother Vicky (played by Heather Locklear), participated in a government experiment called Lot 6, the result of which gave them both psychic powers. Their child, Charlie, has the power to start fires with her mind. When The Shop discovers what Charlie can do, they try to apprehend Charlie with Vicky being killed in the process. Andy is able to intervene and get away with Charlie. Now on the run, with dwindling resources, the two try to figure out a way to escape the endless pursuit between them and The Shop. Along the way, they meet Irv Manders (played by Art Carney) and his wife Maude (played by Louise Fletcher). After a standoff between Charlie and several Shop agents on the Manders farm results in several cremated agents, The Shop director Hollister (played by Martin Sheen) tries a new tactic by allowing assassin John Rainbird (played by George C. Scott) to bring her in. Rainbird agrees on the condition that when The Shop is done with Charlie he gets to kill her. 

In the grand spectrum of films adapted from the works of Stephen King, Firestarter falls somewhere in the middle. It's not one of his worst, but it's also not good enough to rank with the likes of The Shawshank Redemption, The Mist, Stand by Me or Misery. But it's not terrible either. It has an engaging story about a father and daughter, both gifted (or cursed, depending on how you look at it) with extraordinary powers. Dad can influence the behavior of others with his mind and the daughter can start fires with just a glance. The film also has some impressive practical effects and stunt work that still looks good over thirty years later. Drew Barrymore gives an appealing performance as Charlie. George C. Scott, although miscast as a psychotic Native American assassin, at least gives a decent performance and is appropriately threatening in the role of John Rainbird. The film is also well paced and engaging throughout at a deliberate slow boil pace so that when we finally reach the inevitable conclusion when Charlie fully unleashes her power and lays waste to the entire Shop compound in glorious pyrotechnic glory, it feels earned (this really isn't a spoiler, we all know it's coming). Also, I can't help but love that gloriously eighties Tangerine Dream score. There is also a scene where they show Charlie playing an Atari system and can you guess what game she is playing? The infamous E.T: The Extra Terrestrial Atari game. I offer a slow clap to whoever's brilliant idea that was. 

Overall, Firestarter is a decent movie but also one that just kinda smolders along for much of it's run time, occasionally bursting into flame before becoming fully alight at the end. Despite it's flaws, I still enjoyed it just as much watching it this time as I did before. But then again, I may be a bit biased.  

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Stephen King Week: It
















Throughout the Nineties and the first part of the 2000's, one of the main staples of television was the Stephen King mini-series. For me though, none of them were as good as It (although The Stand is a close second). With a fantastic story, a great cast and a genuinely great villain, this one really works while containing some genuinely scary moments. If nothing else, it's responsible for an entire generation of kids being absolutely terrified of clowns.  

The story focuses on seven friends both as children and then as adults. They consist of Bill Denbrough (played as an adult by Richard Thomas and as a kid by Jonathan Brandis), Richie Tozier (played as an adult by Harry Anderson and as a kid by Seth Green), Beverly Marsh (played as an adult by Annette O'Toole and as a kid by Emily Perkins), Ben Hanscom (played as an adult by John Ritter and as a kid by Brandon Crane), Stanley Uris (played as an adult by Richard Masur and as a kid by Ben Heller), Eddie Kaspbrak (played as an adult by Dennis Christopher and as a kid by Adam Faraizl) and Mike Hanlon (played as an adult by Tim Reid and as a kid by Marlon Taylor). As kids they all shared visions of a creepy clown known as Pennywise (played by Tim Curry), who is really an ancient shapeshifting monster, taking the forms of whatever it's intended victims fear. The monster is responsible for several deaths around their small town of Derry, Maine, including Bill's younger brother, Georgie. The seven of them eventually gather their strength and head into the sewers where the monster, referred to as It, is hiding. The fight and think they've killed it but make a promise that if It ever comes back, they will return and finish it once and for all. And of course, that is precisely what happens thirty years later as Mike brings each of the friends back to Derry, having stayed behind to watch over the town and keep guard. The goal is to find It and finish it off once and for all. 

I think it's the combination of the story and the performances from all the actors that make this movie resonate with me so much. I've always had an affinity for stories about kids fighting monsters and then to add in the concept with revisiting your past and making peace with it with the adult characters makes for a potent mix. There's something about this group of friends though that really makes the it special. They're a group of outcasts, each different in their own ways but yet they all accept one another and develop such a strong bond. It's that strong bond that allows them to stay together and fight Pennywise both as kids and later as adults. The film is also exceptionally well cast with everyone giving great performances, which only helps add depth to the film. I genuinely cared about each one of the characters which only adds to the suspense of the film for me. Then we have Tim Curry as Pennywise, It's go-to guise. I wasn't exaggerating when I said his rendition of Pennywise made an entire generation petrified of clowns. Everyone I've spoken to around my age who was a kid when they first saw this hate clowns and the reason given without fail is this film. There are times when he goes a little over the top, such as the scene where he's terrorizing adult Richie in the Derry library, but for the majority of the film he's nothing short of terrifying. 

That said, the film is a little dated, as one would expect 25 years later. But yet, oddly not as much as one would think. For the most part it holds up quite well. However, some of the stylistic choices in the film and some of the effects betray the age of the film. Considering what the filmmakers had available to them on a TV Miniseries budget, they pulled it off handsomely. The film condenses Stephen King's epic length original novel down to a streamlined 3 hour movie (originally airing in two parts, each two hours long, with commercials). The filmmakers wisely created a film to play to the strengths of what they knew they could pull off and also what they could get away with on broadcast television. Still, they did push the envelope in several places, especially an early scene when a young Bill comes across a picture of his brother in a photo album which proceeds to blink at him and start oozing blood. While the film doesn't contain everything the book does, it has the same spirit as the book and doesn't lose the characterization that makes the story of both the book and the movie memorable. 

Overall, It remains one of my favorites and one that I have come to appreciate even more as the years have gone by. It remains one of my favorites of the several Stephen King mini-series I've seen over the years. Aside from the horror it has a lot of heart to it as well and I think that is part of the reason I continue to respond so strongly to it.

Halloween Horrorfest: The Woman in Black 2
























If there was ever a movie that didn't really need a sequel, it would be The Woman in Black. There really wasn't much left to explore after the original film after the entire mystery of Eel Marsh house and it's resident vengeful ghost were revealed. But, at least they came up with an intriguing premise for it. Now if only it had been executed better. 

The film picks up 40 years after the first film as Eve Perkins (played by Phoebe Fox) a school deputy headmistress accompanies a group of schoolchildren as well as the Headmistress (played by Helen McCrory) to the English countryside to escape the London bombings of WWII. They wind up taking refuge in the Eel Marsh house and in the process re-awakening the house's titular ghost. The ghost in particular takes an interest in the recently orphaned Edward (played by Oaklee Pendergast), who doesn't talk and communicates by writing on scraps of notebook paper. Meanwhile, Eve meets a dashing air force pilot Harry (played by Jeremy Irvine), who is stationed at a near by airstrip and promises to stop by from time to time to check on them. Soon, as strange disturbances begin to occur and kids begin disappearing from their beds, the two of them team up to figure out what is going on. 

I was rather disappointed in The Woman in Black 2. The first film was a fantastic scary movie that knew just how to ratchet up the tension in any given scene where as this one just falls flat. The film has a great premise, a group of kids and their chaperones leave London to escape the bombings only to unwittingly take residence in an old house haunted by a vengeful ghost that leads children to their death (I can just imagine the parents if they knew where their kids were headed, "Uh, yeah, no thanks. We'll take our chances with the heavy artillery."). The problem is there is no sense of tension or eerieness anywhere to be found in the film. There are plenty of cheap jump scares littered throughout the film and those just got annoying after awhile. The film's two leads, Phoebe Fox and Jeremy Irvine, give decent performances and have a nice chemistry with one another. Both their characters have dark pasts that they are haunted by. I wish the film could have found a way to make the current events play in with that a bit more rather than relying on the same tired tropes of every other haunted house film. I also appreciated that they gave the Headmistress more depth and didn't make her a one dimensional disciplinarian monster as it would have been so easy to do. But none of it comes together in any sort of satisfying or genuinely scary way. 

Overall, The Woman in Black 2 is a disappointing and probably unnecessary sequel. It doesn't succeed in recreating the tension or suspense of the original film, leaving this one rather flat and not even the lovely eye candy of Jeremy Irvine could save it for me. And considering some of the dreck I've sat through because there was a cute guy in it, that's saying something. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Halloween Horrorfest: The Woman in Black















I'm such a sucker for a good gothic flavored ghost story. With a creepy, isolated old house and an intriguing story as well as a helluva creepy ghost, The Woman in Black filled that bill quite nicely for me. With a respectable post-Potter role for Daniel Radcliffe and tension to spare, this little flick turned out to be a superior spook story.

Arthur Kipps (played by Daniel Radcliffe) is a young, widowed lawyer struggling to make ends meet for him and his son, Joseph (played by Misha Handley). He begrudgingly accepts a job to help resolve the estate Alice Drablow and arrange for the sale of her home, the Eel Marsh house, located in the village of Crythin Gifford. He places his son in the care of his nanny and leaves London for the secluded village. Upon arrival, he gets a cold reception from the townsfolk who try to get him to leave. He finds assistance with local wealthy landowner Samuel Daily (played by Ciaran Hinds) and his wife Elisabeth (played by Janet McTeer), who give him a place to stay. While going through the various papers and effects of the Eel Marsh house, Arthur starts hearing weird noises, seeing strange things and finally seeing the appearance of the Woman in Black herself. Arthur begins to research the history of Eel Marsh house and discovers that most of the couples in the village have had children that have died at young age in seemingly tragic accidents, but are connected to the ghost. Arthur finds himself in the middle of a mystery and works with Sam to try and resolve it and hopefully find peace for The Woman in Black before any one else is taken, especially Arthur's son, who is on his way to visit with his nanny.  

This film is a throwback to the old school gothic horror films they really don't make any more. It's fitting that it's produced by Hammer films, who specialized in this genre. Director James Watkins manages to create a genuinely creepy atmosphere throughout the film that adds to the film. Granted, there is nothing particularly groundbreaking about the film, but still finds it's niche within the realm of haunted house stories. It plays with the audience's expectations adding to the tension as the viewers find themselves perpetually on there toes wondering where the ghost is going to show up. It makes for some quite tense moments. Daniel Radcliffe carries large sections of the film solo and manages to do so quite well. This was his first big post-Harry Potter film role and already you can see him starting to shrug off his previous role of the boy who lived. Ciaran Hinds does well as Arthur's unlikely ally, who remains skeptical about the ghost stories about The Woman in Black and Eel Marsh house despite having lost his own son. 

Overall, The Woman in Black is a creepy and at times tense throwback to the old-school gothic haunted house films. It manages to find it's own niche in that well worn genre and come up with a few new ways of making the audience scream, which I certainly did. 

Pan





















When it was first announced that Joe Wright, the director of Atonement and Hanna, was going to make a Peter Pan film I was immediately on board. I knew that, if nothing else, we would get an inventive and original take on the Peter Pan story and that we certainly did. With Pirate ships flying through the air and easily the most imaginative rendering of Neverland I have ever seen, this is a Peter Pan story unlike any other. 

The film opens with Peter (played by Levi Miller) being dropped off at a London Orphanage by his mother, with a letter and a pan flute styled medallion. We jump ahead 12 years to the middle of World War II London (an interesting change from the usual Victorian London setting of prior incarnations) and find Peter is still at the same orphanage. Rebellious and ever a thorn in the orphanage's Mother Superior, Peter starts noticing kids are going missing in the middle of the night. Peter stays up one night and witnesses several other orphans being abducted in the middle of the night and in the process of escaping, Peter is taken as well. Hoisted onto a flying Pirate Ship and flown off to Neverland, Peter finds himself in the clutches of Blackbeard (played by Hugh Jackman). Blackbeard is employing hundreds and hundreds of orphans and other Lost Boys to mine for crystallized Fairy Dust which he regularly inhales to keep himself young and alive. 

Soon he crosses paths with another miner, James Hook (played by Garrett Hedlund), and the two conspire to escape the mines. The commandeer one of Blackbeard's ships and fly it deeper into Neverland before crash landing and running into a tribe of Neverland natives and Tiger Lily (played by Rooney Mara). Initially identified as Pirates, they two are given one chance to live by facing off against the tribe's best warrior, Kwahu (played by Tee-joo Na). If they survive, they can live. This leads to a fight between Hook and Kwahu that is easily one of the most inventive ones I've seen this side of Beyond Thunderdome (the entire fight arena is a giant trampoline). The fight is called off when Tiger Lily discovers Peter's pan flute medallion and realizes he's the prophesied savior that would lead the fight against Blackbeard to save Neverland and the Fairy Kingdom. 

There are a lot of things I really liked about Pan. It has a unique style all it's own, with a kaleidoscope of color and energy to match. This movie gets going right from the start and barely slows down, moving from one scene to the next at a hurried pace. Levi Miller is certainly charismatic and likeable as the would be Peter Pan. I really liked him in the role. Garrett Hedlund makes a great partner in crime for Peter as James Hook, with the two being best buds in the movie. Clearly, the set up is that they would fall out down the road in a sequel or two down the road. Hugh Jackman does the best he can with the rather underwritten role of Blackbeard. Jackman injects as much life as he can in the role, but aside from his singular desire for more fairy dust crystals, there really isn't a whole lot to his character, which is a shame. Rooney Mara does well as Tiger Lily, but at the same part doesn't quite stand out the way it should. She kicks plenty of butt and is suitably fierce, with decent chemistry with Hedlund, but yet didn't really knock my socks off. I'm not quite on board with the critcisms that she was miscast though as the Joe Wright made an intentional decision to re-imagine Tiger Lily and her tribe, steering away from the stereotypical Native American presentations in the past and come up with something completely new with a bunch of different nationalities represented. It's a bold decision that worked reasonably well for me, but I can see why it may not have for others. Still, I applaud Wright for at least attempting to sidestep the troubling portrayals of the past. 

The film has imagination to spare, with fun action sequences that include an aerial battle between fighter planes and flying pirate ship over London. There's also an interesting choice as we are first introduced to Blackbeard and the assorted miners when we hear the miners singing and it quickly becomes apparent they are in fact singing Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Jackman's Blackbeard quickly joins in and the whole thing is so surreal that I still can't decide if it's brilliant or terrible, although I'm edging towards the former. A few scenes later, they are once again singing only this time it's The Ramones' "Blitzkreig Bop" but after that, the sing along curiously ends. However, the score by John Powell fills the gap nicely, giving the film a thrilling and sweeping score to match the candy colored visuals on screen. 

Pan hasn't gotten a lot of love from the critics and I admit it's not a perfect movie. It has a lot of style, but the story is largely still the typical hero's journey story we've seen countless time before. The knowing winks to what would come that the film makes were perhaps a little too on the nose. The special effects at times are not that convincing and we can obviously pick out the green screen shots, but at least they're inventive and unique. Nonetheless, I was able to appreciate it for what it was as an imaginative film, filled with lush visuals creating a fantasy world we haven't really seen before. I actually appreciated that this film tried to do something different, rather than tell the same Peter Pan story all over again, which would be pointless since director P.J Hogan already gave us the definitive live action rendition in 2003's Peter Pan. This isn't going to be a film for everyone, but if what I've written above hasn't scared you off yet, chances are you just might have a good time with it too.     

Friday, October 9, 2015

Hook


















With the release of Joe Wright's Pan this weekend, a film which explores how Peter Pan got to Neverland, I thought it would be as good a time as any to take another look at my generations Peter Pan rendition, Hook, and see if it still held up for me. I loved this movie, as did a lot of kids at the time, so naturally there is a lot of nostalgia involved with this movie for me. Is it possible to be critical of something I cherished as a child and still be able to love it as an adult? I think so.

Peter Banning (played by Robin Williams) is a workaholic father who spends far too much time working at the expense of time with his wife Moira (played by Caroline Goodall) or children Jack (played by Charlie Korsmo) and Maggie (played by Amber Scott). He frequently misses family commitments and even when he's there he's often on his cell phone. He is flying with his family to visit Moira's grandmother, Wendy Darling (played by Maggie Smith) and celebrate her charity work for orphans, that once included Peter himself. While at a charity event, Jack and Maggie are kidnapped from Wendy's home. Upon returning home, Peter, Moira, and Wendy find a note pinned to a door requesting Peter's return to Neverland by James Hook (played by Dustin Hoffman) to rescue his children. Peter is not inclined to believe the truth when Wendy informs him that he really is Peter Pan and that the stories are true. He's a little more inclined to believe when Tinkerbell (played by Julia Roberts) shows up to take him back to Neverland. Once in Neverland, Peter attempts to retrieve his children from Hook, who is disappointed in the sight of his once worthy adversary, not quite convinced that this middle aged man was once Peter Pan. However, his right hand man Smee (played by Bob Hoskins), convinces Hook that he is and with some negotiation from Tinkerbell, Hook gives her three days to get Peter in shape and back to his old self. With the help of the Lost Boys and their new leader Rufio (played by Dante Basco), she sets to work trying to get Peter to remember when he was Peter Pan and how to fly. In the meantime, Hook and Smee set out to try and shift the loyalties of his kids Jack and Maggie over to him and away from Peter. Maggie resists but Jack is more tempted seeing a better father figure in Hook. When Peter finds out what Hook is up to, it only makes him more determined to rediscover his roots and rescue his kids from the clutches of James Hook.

Revisiting this film as an adult, the flaws are much more apparent than when I was a kid. There are some significant pacing issues and the movie is far too long at two hours and twenty two minutes long. It takes the movie a good 35 minutes for the action to even get to Neverland, which seems a bit much. Much of the first quarter of the movie is dedicated to how terrible of a father Peter is which is handled with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. After the first couple examples, we're ready to move on. There are also some rather large plot holes that are never addressed, such as how did Hook know where to find Peter or his kids or even that he had kids. Did he just stumble into it, initially just looking for Peter and Wendy and finding Jack and Maggie instead and start making up the plan on the fly? These are the questions I was thinking as I watched the movie again and would have loved to have seen addressed in the film. 

That said, there is still a lot I love about this movie. It is impeccably cast, with Robin Williams wonderfully embodying an adult Peter Pan. Dustin Hoffman damn near steals the show with a fantastic and memorable turn as Captain Hook, with Bob Hoskins giving a performance to match as Smee. I'm not even kidding, these two steal the show. Hoskins even reprises the role of Smee in the Syfy channel Mini-series Neverland from a few years back. Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell is the one weak spot, I suppose although I think the writing of her character can take the bulk of the blame. She gives a solid performance, but the way they wrote Tink doesn't ring true to the character as we know her. Maggie Smith makes a great old Wendy and certainly makes the best of her few scenes in the film. Also, a special kudos to the make up team. They nailed the old age make up for Maggie Smith. Normally, when one compares actors in old age make-up to how they actually ended up aging, it winds up being way off. But comparing Maggie Smith in this to how she looks today (damn near 25 years after they shot this), it looks like she made Hook yesterday. And then there is Rufio, the new leader of the Lost Boys. Out of all the characters in the film, Rufio seems to have taken on a life of his own. I think every kid that saw the movie wanted to be Rufio, and the number of people I've seen cosplaying him only confirms this suspicion. We sure as hell didn't want to be Jack. I feel bad for Charlie Korsmo. Everyone else is either off flying around, fighting pirates, or assorted either fun things and he's stuck riding the angst train for the entire movie whining about his inattentive father. I really wish they had done more with his character because so much of it is really repetitive and gets old fast.

Steven Spielberg directed the film and manages to for the most part keep the film moving at a decent pace. It drags here and there a bit, but for the most part it works. The climactic showdown between the Lost Boys and the Pirates was as exhilarating to watch as ever, with the fantastic John Williams score playing over it. There's only one scene I wish they had cut and it's is a really bizarre one where Tinkerbell becomes full adult sized and professes her love to Peter. It's always been a weird scene that stuck out among the rest of the movie. It also stops the movie cold. It's sandwiched in between Peter regaining his memories of Neverland and the climactic showdown and it just slams the brakes on the whole movie. It could have and should have been cut and no one would've been the wiser.   

Still, despite my criticisms, I still enjoy this movie. Maybe it's the nostalgia talking, but despite everything I was still having a good time with it. It had been a few years since I had watched it from beginning to end, but I found I still remembered many of the lines after all this time. Despite it's flaws, I still love the movie today as much as I did as a kid. Yeah, it's not a perfect movie, but it's still an entertaining one. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Halloween Horrorfest: Dog Soldiers


















Every once and a while, there will come along a movie that really surprises me. I go in not expecting much and the film catches me off guard. Dog Soldiers was one such film with it's deft blend of balls to the wall action, suspense and a liberal dose of black humor made this one of the more memorable and entertaining horror films for me of the past fifteen years. 

A group of British Soldiers, led by Sgt. Henry Wells (played by Sean Pertwee), are on a training exercise in the Scottish Highlands. Among the soldiers are Private Cooper (played by Kevin McKidd), Private "Spoon" Witherspoon (played by Darren Morfitt), Corporal Bruce Campbell (played by Thomas Lockyer), Private Kirkley (played by Chris Robson) and Private Terry Milburn (played by Leslie Simpson). The training exercise is business as usual until the group finds themselves being hunted in the woods, with Sgt. Wells being critically injured. They flag down a passing motorist, Megan (played by Emma Cleasby), who takes them to a nearby farmhouse so they can treat Wells' injuries. Once there though, they find themselves stranded and under siege by the same creatures, quickly identified as a pack of werewolves. Quickly coming to terms with the fact that werewolves not only exist but they are quite possibly about to be killed by them, the men decide to stand their ground to keep the werewolves at bay until morning. With no escape and limited ammo, it's going to take every once of strength and wits to survive.  

To sum up the approach of Dog Soldiers, it is simply Aliens meets Night of the Living Dead with werewolves. It has a relatively straight forward plot line that barrels at you like a runaway freight train, barely taking a moment to let the audience take a breath. It's a wild and exciting rollercoaster ride that uses every cent of it's admittingly small budget quite well. The film is populated with a group of genuinely likeable characters that you want to see get through the night. Of course, this being a monster movie, not all of them will. But that's where the suspense of the film comes from. Neil Marshall both wrote and directed the film, and manages to pull it off quite nicely. He crafted a story he knew he could execute on a limited budget. The creature design is also really interesting with what has to be the most unique werewolf design I think I have ever seen. The film is littered with cheeky pop-culture references as well, with notable nods to Aliens, The Shining, An American Werewolf in London, and The Matrix being notable ones. 

Overall, Dog Soldiers is a wild ride of an action horror film, with solid performances to back it all up and some cracking action sequences as well. It's a blast from beginning to end with a heavy dose of dark humor as well to keep everything from getting too serious. I'd recommend it for anyone that likes a good, suspenseful monster movie.  

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Halloween Horrorfest: Frailty














Sometimes, I will see a movie that just works it's way under my skin and unnerve me completely. Frailty is one of those movies. It mostly avoids cheap jump scares, preferring to worm it's way into one's psyche and really stay there. Part of the reason it works so well is that so much of the film is grounded firmly in reality, making the crazier elements stand out that much more and be that much more effective.

Fenton Meiks (played by Matthew McConaughey)  shows up one rainy night at the FBI offices in Dallas, Texas. He will only speak with the Agent in charge of the God's Hands killer, Agent Wesley Doyle (played by Powers Boothe). Fenton tells Doyle he knows who the God's Hands killer is, his brother Adam, continuing the work their father started. Not believing him, but keeping an open mind, Doyle asks Fenton to continue. The film then shifts into an extended flashback as Fenton (played in the flashbacks by Matt O'Leary) tells the story of his childhood, growing up with his widowed father (played by Bill Paxton) and younger brother Adam (played by Jeremy Sumpter). By all accounts, it's a normal childhood until one night Dad bursts into the boys' bedroom in the middle of the night, telling them that he was visited by an angel who has charged him with a mission to hunt down demons disguised as humans and destroy them. At first Fenton thinks it was all just a weird dream, but soon Dad is bringing home an ax he says the Angel led him to, as well as a piece of lead pipe and a pair of gloves. Adam believes their Dad right away, but Fenton is convinced his father has lost his mind. Things escalate further when Dad brings home his first victim and upon laying his hand on them claims to see visions of their crimes before he dispatches him in front of the two boys. The three of them then proceed to bury the remains in a nearby Rose garden. Fenton suddenly finds himself trapped, imprisoned in a nightmare with a fanatical father proclaiming he is getting messages from God to kill these people and unsure where to turn to as his Father continues to carry out his deeds. 

The film not only stars Bill Paxton, but was also directed by him from a script by Brent Hanley. It is an layered film, anchored by three fully drawn and realized characters. The film tows this fine line where the viewer is never quite sure if what we are seeing, or if the father's mission is true or if he really has gone mad. It's a balancing act, especially in Paxton's performance but he pulls it off beautifully. Paxton's character is not an abusive character, he loves his boys very much and shows them plenty of affection, which contrasts sharply with his "mission." Matt O'Leary does well as young Fenton, a kid trapped in a nightmare, afraid to seek help out of fear of what might happen to the people he sought help from. It's this predicament and the themes of the story that give the film it's intensity. The violence for the most part is kept off screen. The film instead tackles it's themes head on about the dangers of blind faith and belief in general following it's tangent all the way into the depths of hell. It's a film that is both unnerving and unrelentingly effective. The plot twists and turns, keeping the viewer on their toes the entire time wondering what is really going on.

Overall, Frailty is an impressive and very effective horror movie. It for the most part forgoes cheap scares and is far more interested in something deeper, more meaningful and in the end all the more unnerving.   

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Martian
















"I'm going to have to science the hell out of this."

I knew the minute I saw the trailer for this movie that I really needed to see it. It has such a wonderfully unique premise, a man stranded on Mars, accidentally left behind by his team when they thought he had died. There were many wonderful surprises to be found in this movie. Number one being this is actually quite a funny movie. 

Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) is part of a manned mission on Mars, referred to as Ares III, along with four other team members, Commander Melissa Lewis (played by Jessica Chastain), Rick Martinez (played by Michael Pena), Beth Johansson (played by Kate Mara), and Chris Beck (played by Sebastian Stan). When a severe storm looks to hit their housing and their transport, they make the decision to abort the mission and evacuate Mars. During the chaos of the storm, Mark is hit by debris and carried off by the storm. Presuming he's dead, the rest of the crew carry out the evacuation. However, Watney survived and awakes to find himself stranded on Mars with the communication equipment destroyed in the storm. After patching himself up and recuperating/panicking for the first couple days alone, he decides he's not going to die on Mars and begins taking stock of his supplies and figuring out how to grow food for himself on a planet where nothing grows and there is no water ("Fortunately, I know the recipe," Watney says in one of his video diaries he keeps). He sets up a large terrarium inside the Habitat unit and comes up with an ingenious way to create water for his crops of potatoes, created from ones that were sent for the team to enjoy on Thanksgiving. He also begins modifying the battery powered rover vehicle to be able to make longer journeys so he can retrieve equipment such as the old Pathfinder probe and later Ares IV supplies that were sent ahead of that mission's crew, due to arrive in three years. 

Meanwhile, NASA is reviewing satellite photos of Mars and engineers Vincent Kapoor (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Mindy Park (played by Mackenzie Davis) quickly realize Watney is still alive. Fearing Watney may die soon on his own, NASA director Teddy Sanders (played by Jeff Daniels) instructs that the other crew members of Ares III not be notified that Watney is still alive. Once Watney is able to re-establish contact with NASA using parts of the Pathfinder probe, they set out with coming up with a plan to rescue Watney. 

I'm just going to flat out say it. I loved this movie, especially with the character of Mark Watney. He's in this incredibly dire situation, but yet he is able to not only keep his mind clear and figure out a way to survive on a planet, but keeps a great sense of humor about it as well. Among my favorites is his remark that since he is growing crops on Mars, he has officially colonized it, finishing with, "In your face, Neil Armstrong." There was just something rather inspiring about a character that no matter what problem or setback they face (and some are pretty dire), picks himself up, brushes himself off and sets about fixing the next problem, all along the way making another video diary charting his progress. Even when disaster strikes and things are looking their worst and Watney asks Melissa to deliver a message to his parents in case he doesn't make it, he prefaces it by saying, "I'm not giving up." 

The group back on Earth trying to figure out how to get Watney home are an equally clever bunch, initially trying to figure out how to get him supplies and planning for him to return with the Ares IV crew. Meanwhile another engineer, Rich Purnell (played by Donald Glover), has another plan involving using the Ares III and slingshot it around Earth to pick up supplies and jet back to Mars to rescue Watney. There is a division in the ranks as Teddy Sanders feels the first plan is best whereas the others think the second is better. What I appreciated about these scenes was there was no villain. Everyone had a very clear and understandable point of view. Sanders doesn't want to unnecessarily risk anyone else's lives for the sake of one man, whereas the others think it's worth the risk. It's easy to see and understand everyone's viewpoints.    

The acting by everyone is top notch, especially Matt Damon as Watney. He brought his character to life beautifully. Donald Glover manages to steal damn near every scene he is in, especially the scene where he demonstrates his plan for Sanders. Ridley Scott makes a nice return to form here as director, after the unfortunate Exodus: Gods and Kings, Drew Goddard did a good job adapting the novel by Andy Weir, crafting a witty and fun script. The special effects are top notch as well, convincingly creating the terrain of Mars wonderfully. The film also has an interesting choice in soundtrack. Upon going through his crew member's belongings, he discovers Lewis' music collection on her laptop and it's almost exclusively disco music, a fact Watney frequently bemoans. 

The Martian is certainly going to be on my list of favorite films of the year. It was an inspiring, moving and at times wickedly funny movie that I thoroughly enjoyed from beginning to end. It's highly, highly recommended.