Back Soon!

Hello all!

The updates have been slow the last few weeks and I do apologize…but the moviegoing hasn’t stopped.

I’ll be back on 11/1/13 to kick off some end of the year fun and set the stage for some changes coming in 2014.  I’ve seen some pretty amazing films that I can’t post about quite yet…but fear not, there’s a lot more I CAN share with you. 

See you soon!

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31 Days to Scare ~ Carrie (2013)

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The Facts:  

Synopsis: A reimagining of the classic horror tale about Carrie White, a shy girl outcast by her peers and sheltered by her deeply religious mother, who unleashes telekinetic terror on her small town after being pushed too far at her senior prom.

Stars: Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer, Portia Doubleday, Alex Russell, Gabriella Wilde, Ansel Elgort

Director: Kimberly Peirce

Rated: R

Running Length: 100 minutes

Trailer Review: Here & Here

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review:  Here’s the cold bloody truth about this remake of Brian De Palma’s 1976 film adaptation of Stephen King’s book…it’s just totally unnecessary.  Now I’m not crazy about remakes in general, especially when they’re taking a film that was already well-respected to begin with – so the question must be “What will a new take on the film bring to the table?” 

When director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) was asked this question the answer seemed to be that her vision of King’s novel would follow the book more.  That’s a valid argument and we’ve certainly seen that King’s work can be interpreted different ways…one need only watch Stanley Kubrick’s big screen treatment of The Shining and compare it to the more faithful (but less interesting) television miniseries to see that the material lends itself to reinvention.

Knowing this, I still had reservations about seeing a new version of King’s famous story about a shy girl with a zealot for a mother that enacts a furious vengeance on her high school tormentors.  I just didn’t see any point to it…could Chloë Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass 2, Dark Shadows) have that same vulnerability Sissy Spacek so wonderfully tapped into?  Would Julianne Moore (Don Jon, Non-Stop) chow down on the role of Carrie’s fanatical mother with the same glee that Piper Laurie took?  And what of the final denouement at Carrie’s prom…without the benefit of De Palma’s use of split screen and Pino Donaggio’s tingling score could it have that same terrifying impact?

Sadly…this remake lives totally in the shadow of the original and doesn’t do itself any favors by not taking the kind of risks that Peirce seemed to promise.  While Moretz’s take on Carrie is less simpleton than Spacek’s, I have a continued desire to shout “Stop mumbling” whenever she’s on screen.  Kudos goes to Moore for going all the way with the crazed mama role, though Laurie ultimately remains the victor only because her mania was always simmering rather than boiling, though I have to say that Moore was probably the only choice for the role the way screenwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa have fashioned her.

Then again, I found myself at times wondering what I would have thought of the film if it hadn’t been a remake.  I’d have nothing to compare it to so it would have wound up being another high school set thriller with a decidedly interesting edge.  So it’s not so much that the film is bad, because with its unusually strong performances (including Portia Doubleday as queen bee Chris and Gabriella Wilde, Endless Love, as sensitive Sue) and controlled style it’s a perfectly decent, if uninspired, effort.

The other big problem is that the majority of the audiences know how it’s going to end.  That’s not just because they’ve  seen the original because I’d bet the majority of the young audiences won’t even know films existed before 1990, but because the trailers and posters have showed our young star bathed in blood and not enjoying her prom in the least.  In De Palma’s version, Carrie’s destruction of the prom was truly frightening as she has a mental break and uses her telekinetic powers to ensure no one gets lucky.  With Spacek’s wide-eyes peeking out from a blood streaked face, all she had to do was move her eyes and De Palma’s split screen showed the result.  No such invention is used here and that results in Carrie’s vengeance coming across as more calculated and decision-oriented.  Spacek simply lost it, Moretz is in control…and that changes our allegiances in some way.

In the grand scheme of things, this remake is not the worst that could befall an adaptation of a Stephen King novel (coughcoughTheLawnmowerMancoughcough) but I just wish that if they HAD to remake it…they had done it with a greater conviction and purpose.

The Silver Bullet ~ Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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Synopsis: Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and teams up with Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, to battle a powerful yet shadowy enemy in present-day Washington, D.C.

Release Date: April 4, 2014

Thoughts: I was a big fan of the 2011 film that introduced Captain America into the Marvel universe.  A long time favorite hero of those that follow the comics, the movie delivered robust action and had an incredibly likable lead in Chris Evans…not to mention the best female character to date in any Marvel film (that’d be Hayley Atwell as Agent Peggy Carter).  After joining forces with his fellow superheroes in The Avengers, Captain America gets his own sequel but Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, Hitchcock) is along for the ride.  Even with Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World coming up in November, I’m perhaps a tad more excited for the adventure this film has to offer.

The Silver Bullet ~ Endless Love (2014)

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Synopsis: The story of a privileged girl and a charismatic boy whose instant desire sparks a love affair made only more reckless by parents trying to keep them apart.

Release Date: February 14, 2014

Thoughts: Scott Spencer’s 1979 novel about young love gone wrong was already made into a film in 1981 to less than satisfying results.  In fact, the movie is best remembered not for its star Brooke Shields and respected director Franco Zeffirelli but for the Diana Ross/Lionel Richie theme song and an early appearance of Tom Cruise.  This 2014 remake might just right some past wrongs by the looks of this first trailer which strikes some ominous notes that may make you think you’re watching a sequel to 1996’s Fear (which was, in turn, compared to Endless Love in its initial release).  Alex Pettyfer (Magic Mike) and Gabriella Wilde (2013’s Carrie) are the young stars and I predict that Wilde is someone to keep your eye on.  How this plays when it’s released on Valentine’s Day remains to be seen…but I’m guessing the time is right for an update.

Movie Review ~ Ghost Light (2013) {Twin Cities Film Festival}

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A group of actors sneak into a theater overnight to see if they can experience any of the alleged ghost sightings.

Stars: Muriel J. Bonertz, Dawn Brodey, James Detmar, Amy Shomshak, Joel Raney, Kelli Gorr, Dietrich Poppen, Dianne Hines, Jon Schumacher

Director: John Gaspard

Rated: NR

Running Length: 96 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  Were you to hang around a theater after the audience has left and the actors and technical staff have locked up for the night, you’d most likely find one lamp gleaming from center stage.  A long-held theatrical tradition, some say it’s left on to scare the ghosts away, or it could be that it’s there to give a theater ghost (every theater has at least one) the chance to play their favorite scene again and again.   

I enjoyed Ghost Light more than I expected to.  Maybe it’s because I know several of the people featured in this nicely crafted tale, maybe it’s because I know the location where it was filmed, maybe it’s because I’m a fan of the spooky tales of ghosts that haunt theaters, or maybe it’s because Ghost Light is just that rare breed of locally grown independent film that unspools with a welcome purpose.

Director John Gaspard wisely steers clear from making his Ghost Light a scary experience and instead lets the script he wrote with Mary Kaeding focus on the cast of a play as they decide to spend the night in their theater to see if the stories of lingering ghosts prove true.   A few comically disgruntled backstage crew members get wind of this and follow the actors back to the theater in an attempt to get some benign revenge. 

Though it can feel stagey given the episodic structure and stagnant camera work, Gaspard counters this by filling the frame with appealing performances, interesting lighting, diverse camera angles, and finely tuned edits that give the impression the camera is moving.  I actually didn’t notice it wasn’t until the director pointed this out in a post-show discussion.

A fine cast of performers is assembled with Jon Schumacher and Dianne Hines emerging as standouts.  Schumacher shares a poignant scene with Hines that starts as a discussion of Scrabble and ends with the kind of happy emotional payoff most Hollywood movies get wrong.  Hines, too, takes what could have been a role that came off bitter and instead colors it with a sage wisdom that life experience brings.  I also enjoyed the comic pratfalls of ditzy stage hand Kelli Gorr and the sweet costume shop courtship of Amy Shomshak and Scott Keely. 

Filming at Theatre in the Round, Gaspard uses his knowledge of the space to lovingly document every nook and cranny of the famed theater where so many local actors got their start and continue to return to.  The theater is not too small and not too big and Gaspard has an uncanny knack for setting scenes in the right places.

An enjoyably well-put together film, Ghost Light is very much worth seeking out (it’s playing at the Edina Film Festival in November).  Though its pretense may suggest a spooky ghost tale, this is a delicate, well-observed drama that has its heart, mind, and earthly spirit in the right place.

The Silver Bullet ~ Non-Stop

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Synopsis: An air marshal must spring into action aboard an international flight.

Release Date:  February 28, 2014

Thoughts: Well here we go again.  Another preview for a movie with an interesting (if wholly also-ran) premise that seems to reveal the majority of the plot in an overlong trailer.  I guess I just long for the days when trailers were more teasers than anything else and the bulk of the film was left to paying audiences.  Fingers crossed that some surprises have been left for this February release because it boasts some watchable talent like Liam Neeson (The Grey, Battleship) and Julianne Moore (Being Flynn) and looks like a crisply made affair.  I happen to love thrillers set on planes…probably because they both fascinate and terrify me so while this may end up as a harmless diversion of a B-movie, it’s got some A-list talent behind it that may help it take off.

31 Days to Scare ~ Jaws: The Revenge

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Chief Brody’s widow believes that her family is deliberately being targeted by another shark in search of revenge.

Stars: Lorraine Gary, Lance Guest, Mario Van Peebles, Michael Caine, Karen Young, Judith Barsi, Mitchell Anderson, Lynn Whitfield

Director: Joseph Sargent

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 89 minutes

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review:  It’s somewhat sad that the first Jaws film I ever saw in the theaters was this third sequel and final nail in the coffin of the series (for now).  Remember when the Sunday newspaper would have an ad for movies opening on Friday and a listing of the theaters it would be playing at?  I can vividly recall opening the paper and finding the announcement for Jaws: The Revenge , clipping it out, and keeping it with me all week while begging my parents to take me over the weekend.  Well, my parents and I found ourselves at Yorktown 3 for a Sunday showing and even as a seven year old I knew the film was crap.

Truly the lowest of the low, Jaws: The Revenge is a travesty of a film…one that gets worse with each viewing and is so off the mark that you wonder how anyone involved kept showing up for work day in and day out.  The premise is ridiculous, the direction stale, and the shark is so fake looking you expect to see a Made in Singapore stamp on its rubbery dorsal fin.

Star Lorraine Gary was so enjoyable in Jaws and Jaws 2 as the wife of Chief Brody that it was easy to overlook that in real life she was the spouse of the head of Universal Studios.  Now a widow, Ellen Brody still lives in Amity and her youngest son is following in his father’s footsteps.  One wintery night, Sean Brody answers a call to dislodge some pilings stuck on a buoy and he’s soon gobbled up by a mean ole shark as a choir of townsfolk sings Silent Night, masking his cries for help.  What could have been a reasonably effective opener (after a nice underwater credit sequence) is marred by an already fake looking shark and stilted direction from Joseph Sargent.

The grieving Ellen is convinced the shark intended to kill her son…which is totally logical, right?  Instead of shipping her off to a loony bin, her other son (Lance Guest) encourages her to come down to the Bahamas to clear her mind and spend some time with her granddaughter.  End of movie.  Wait…no…it isn’t?  Oh…OK.  So…Ellen flies off to the Bahamas and our revenge-seeking shark swims all the way from New England to the warm waters of another island town looking for Ellen and her family.

There are so many problems with this scenario that I don’t even need to go over them here.  It simply makes no sense in the least…begging the question why no one raised their hand and said “Um, that’s dumb.”  Even co-star Michael Caine (Now You See Me) missed accepting his Oscar for Hannah and Her Sisters because he was filming his gaffe-filled performance as a pilot that takes an interest in Ellen.  So we have about forty minutes where the shark pops up randomly and continues to do things sharks wouldn’t (and couldn’t) do like standing still in the water, leaping out of the water, and roaring like a dinosaur.  It’s laughably bad and is a total affront to the films that came before it…even Jaws 3D.

In a way, I’m glad that Jaws: The Revenge was the last in this series.  Though other shark films have been released over the years there hasn’t yet been another attempt to continue the Jaws legacy.  I’d be up for it if someone had a good idea, talented director, and made use of the original location of Amity Island.  Just please…no more trips to the Bahamas.

31 Days to Scare ~ Jaws 3-D

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The sons of police chief Brody must protect civilians at a Sea World theme park after a gigantic 35-foot shark becomes trapped in the park.

Stars: Dennis Quaid, Bess Armstrong, Simon MacCorkindale, Louis Gossett Jr., John Putch, Lea Thompson, P.H. Moriarty

Director: Joe Alves

Rated: PG

Running Length: 99 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  It’s not that hard to see that this was originally intended to be a comedy in the National Lampoon vibe and titled Jaws 3, People 0.  The trouble is, when the producers got cold feet and went back to making a more serious-minded film, no one told the shark because it gets its fair share of laughs.

One of the first films in the early 80’s to employ the revitalization of 3D technology; I still wouldn’t mind seeing this second sequel in the Jaws franchise the way it was originally projected in the summer of 1983.  Maybe hiding behind some cardboard 3D glasses a more enjoyable film would have emerged because stripped of this gimmick, the movie sinks pretty fast as so many similarly released 3D films did in that era.

The one interesting thing about this entry is its setting.  Moving away from the fictional New England set Amity Island, Jaws 3D takes place at Sea World.  Yeah, you read that right…it’s not Sea Park or Ocean World or something that suggests the famous theme park but the big girl herself.  Nowadays, this kind of movie would never be allowed to film in a place that relies on benign tourism to stay afloat.   What goes on in this film would send a modern mom and dad from Utah running back to Dollywood for their summer vacation.

Directed by Joe Alves who served as the production designer on Jaws and Jaws 2, Jaws 3D once again follows members of the Brody family (sons Michael and Sean) as they happen to be in the very same place where a great white shark gets loose in and around the lagoons of Sea World.  Dennis Quaid (What to Expect When You’re Expecting) and Bess Armstrong are likable enough in their lead roles but it’s strange to see Oscar winner Louis Gossett, Jr. hemming and hawing as the blustery owner of the property.  He’s not required to do much and he does that just fine.  Lea Thompson and the late Simon MacCorkindale are also on board to add a few colorful touches…not that the film’s gaudy color palette needed them.

The way the movie was filmed with 3D cameras spells trouble when viewing the film in 2D because it’s a rather ugly looking movie that shows its age in nearly every frame.  It’s no wonder this was the first and last film Alves directed, but it’s not so much a failure on his end but rather on the studio itself for making the unwise decision to take the shark out of its familiar surroundings in the first place.

I’ve seen clips of the movie in 3D on YouTube and while some of the effects might have been nice projected 30 feet high, seen on the small screen in 2013 they are not that far removed from a school cut and paste project.  Won’t some local theater dig up a print of this and have a screening so fans of the series too young to  have seen it in theaters can experience it for themselves?  The film won’t magically get better just because the shark will come out of the screen in 3D…but there’s something to be said for seeing a movie as it was intended to be shown.

Until then…I’ll keep watching Jaws 3D and lamenting its poor choices, decent performances, corny effects, and serviceable shark.

31 Days to Scare – My Bloody Valentine (1981)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A decades old folk tale surrounding a deranged murderer killing those who celebrate Valentine’s Day, turns out to be true when a group defies the killer’s order and people start turning up dead.

Stars: Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier, Neil Affleck, Cynthia Dale, Helene Udy, Keith Knight

Director: George Mihalka

Rated: R

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  After the huge success of Halloween and Friday the 13th, there was hardly a holiday that wasn’t laid claim to by numerous producers of the money making slasher genre.  Though it never achieved the kind of status that the films of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees did, I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the above average My Bloody Valentine.

Released in 1981 before the slasher genre took a nosedive into little more than cheap exploitation flicks, this Canadian import has its fair share of scares and benefits greatly from a realistic setting in which real looking people are offed one at a time by a pickaxe wielding miner with a vendetta.  You see, years ago on Valentine’s Day Harry Warden was trapped when the mine he was working in collapsed, locking him in with his dead co-workers.  By the time he was reached, he’d gone a little…well…nuts.  He returned a year later and dispatched a few of his surviving supervisors, leaving a warning that the town of Valentine Bluffs never celebrate Valentine’s Day again.

Well you probably can tell what happens, then, when 20 years later the town decides to throw a little dance in celebration of Cupid’s big day…only to see some people actually lose their hearts along the way.  The last 1/3 of the movie takes place in the mine when a group of townsfolk celebrate in their own way deep within the dark confines of the mine.  And they’re not alone.  But is it Harry Warden, returned to make good on his promise or is it someone else, someone with a score of their own to settle?

Hardly the most original concept for a story, though you do have to take into account that when this was released in 1981 it was before the large majority of the copycat slasher films were being released almost weekly into theaters.  The script by Stephen A Miller and John Beaird is no classic but it at least makes an effort to flesh out some of the one-dimensional characters, introducing some conflict amongst the group that has nothing to do with the crazy dude out to kill them all.

Being set in Canada, there are more than a few chuckle inducing moments when the Kanuk accents take center stage but for the most part the cast does a better than average  job in the acting department.  This was a time when films like this were cast with adults playing adults…and it works wonders for making the proceedings a bit more mature than their later similarly themed films.  Though it falls into the trappings of pesky logic, it winds up working almost in spite of its clumsy pacing.

Gore wise, there’s a few impressive effects and one sequence I’ve always found creepy where a woman is stalked in a room filled with empty mining uniforms.  You can tell that how she meets her end was thought up first and everything else was filled in around it by director George Mihalka and that’s not entirely a bad thing.  Clearly everyone involved knew what kind of film they were making and instead of treating it like great art or just a way to make a quick buck, a happy medium was struck that gives the film its lasting place in the horror spectrum.

Remade in 2009 as a 3D gore fest, those involved in the remake tinkered too much with the plot and struck out when it came to putting a new shine on an old pair of shoes.  I’d say stick with the original film and enjoy 90 minutes of a good natured slasher film that’s aged well and has a gloriously square theme song that plays over the final credits.