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.

Movie Review ~ Gravity

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.

Stars: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 91 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (10/10)

Review:  I remember reading the plot summary for Gravity nearly two years ago and having no clue how director Alfonso Cuarón was going to pull it all off.  Essentially a two person film, you’d have to cast the right actors and keep their fight for survival moving at the correct pace to retain the attention of the audience.  Adding greater difficulty for a film set in space, the bar has been raised so high in the visual effects realm in recent years that you just can’t deliver anything less than astonishing to make us believe that this situation is real and happening in front of your eyes.

It’s probably an understatement to say that Gravity gets everything right.

What we have here is maybe the visually impressive film ever made; its craftsmanship is so subtle, so under the radar that you start to actually believe Cuarón and his actors filmed this mesmerizing opus miles outside of our atmosphere.

The film begins with a nearly deafening simple title sequence with just white letters on a black screen.  Maybe it was just the Dolby Atmos sound system in the theater I caught a screening in, but my ears were throbbing within the first thirty seconds.  It’s all part of keeping you off-kilter, though, as that blasting soon gives way to absolute silence as the film shows a space shuttle coming closer and closer.  As the camera pans nearer to it we start to hear the blips of radio transmissions between the astronauts working on the Hubble telescope and Houston back on earth.

In a seamless tracking shot that lasts nearly fifteen minutes, the camera floats up, down and around the action where Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock, The Heat, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) works away and retiring space veteran Matt Kowalski (George Clooney, The Descendants) goofs around trying to beat a record time for longest space walk.  The tranquility of these early moments is not long-lasting, though, as Houston alerts the crew that debris from a Russian satellite is heading their way.  With no time to escape, Stone and Kowalski can only brace for impact as the wreckage destroys their ship and transport back home.

That’s pretty much exactly what the numerous trailers for Gravity have shown you so far and those that think they’ve seen it all have only skimmed the surface because this happens in the first fifteen minutes of the 91 minute film.  What follows is primarily Stone’s story of survival as she works with Kowalski (at one point the two are tethered together) to find a way to safety.  It makes no sense to reveal any more, it’s not that the film is dependent on keeping a review spoiler-free but I can’t imagining seeing the film knowing how it was all going to turn out because at several points I wasn’t sure where it was headed.

Though the central set-up and a few late in the day personal elements are thrown in are somewhat contrived, it doesn’t lessen the overall impact the film will have on you.  On the other hand, while the film is a visual marvel it doesn’t fall back on its effects to cover up any weak points in the script.  There’s a justified nature to almost everything that happens here and it’s completely involving, and endlessly engaging.

Originally slated to star Angelina Jolie and Robert Downey, Jr., Cuarón wound up with Bullock and Clooney and Gravity is all the better for it.  Clooney brings his usual charisma front and center for his role and even if it’s a part the actor could play in his sleep, the way he supports Bullock shows what a true movie star he is.  .

Many people still can’t get over the Bullock bested Meryl Streep for the Best Actress Oscar for her work in The Blind Side but I still say that Julie and Julia was not a movie that Streep was destined to win for.  Bullock’s award was well earned and she hasn’t been touched by the Best Actress Curse (hello, Halle Berry!) in her selective roles since.  Her performance here is surely going to earn another trip to the Oscars and she’s a considerable contender for the award (though as of now I still believe it’s going to go to Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine) and there’s no question she deserves the nomination.  It’s a inspired flesh and blood performance with a lot of guts – the actress has a breathtaking sequence where she sheds her space suit and just floats silently spinning.  Cuarón isn’t afraid to let this sequence play on and for Bullock’s vulnerability to be seen at its maximum potential.  Bravo to both for some seriously incredible work.

Count on this film to nab every single technical Oscar this year because the cinematography, visual effects, and sound design are jaw-dropping.  The views of space of flawless and seamless with not a shoddy cell on display.  I also appreciated the understated but powerful score by Steven Price.  Cuarón and his son Jonas created the screenplay for this and minor quibbles aside, it’s a lean story that’s merely a set-up for the performances and visuals to thrive.  A truly landmark achievement.

Gravity is one of those movies that you simply must see in the theater.  I saw it in 3D and would recommend it for Cuarón’s restrained use of the technology coupled with a brilliant sound design.  It’s worth the upgrade, without question.

Though it’s been several weeks since I’ve seen the film, multiple moments/sequences still are running around in my brain and I can’t wait to see it again.  It took my breath away the first time I saw it and I hope you have the same experience when you take it in as well.  One of the best films of the year and one of the best movies from a technical standpoint ever made.