31 Days to Scare ~ The Silence of the Lambs

The Facts:

Synopsis: A young F.B.I. cadet must receive the help of an incarcerated and manipulative cannibal killer to help catch another serial killer, a madman who skins his victims.

Stars: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Ted Levine, Brooke Smith, Scott Glenn, Anthony Heald, Lawrence A. Bonney, Kasi Lemmons, Lawrence T. Wrentz

Director: Jonathan Demme

Rated: R

Running Length: 118 minutes

TMMM Score: (10/10)

Review: As we began to near the end of 31 Days to Scare 2017 I started thinking about what could be the grand finale selection. So many films from the golden age of Hollywood or the new wave of auteur filmmakers could have taken the final spot and there are certainly classics and classics in the making I’ve neglected to feature this year…but at the end of the day it call comes down to this: The Silence of the Lambs.

Though many would classify this as more suspense thriller than outright horror, I’d argue it’s a hybrid of numerous genres. Encapsulating everything from the cold sweat of a Western face-off to the investigative moxie of a political conspiracy flick, The Silence of the Lambs isn’t just one thing at any one time. That’s why it’s an enduring classic, a movie that swept the Academy Awards though the Academy had long had a clear aversion to rewarding any kind of horror effort. Director Jonathan Demme (Ricki and the Flash) brought his assured A-game to the screen and working with Ted Tally’s brilliant adaptation of Thomas Harris’s chilling novel they created something mighty special…and very very VERY scary.

Agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster, Carnage) is plucked from a morning run on the orders of her superior Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn, The Bourne Legacy). He wants her to take a swipe at interviewing the notorious serial killer Hannibal ‘The Cannibal’ Lecter (Anthony Hopkins, Noah)and see if he’ll open up to her. She sees it as a chance to impress her boss, Crawford hopies it’s something more than that. Knowingly sending her into the hungry lions den as bait, he hopes to entice the brilliant madman into helping with the investigation into an active killer (Ted Levine) that has been abducting, shooting, and skinning his victims.

The initial meeting between Starling and Lecter is the stuff of movie clip show heaven. A master class of restrained acting from both actors (who would win Oscars for their work), these scenes are so intricately designed because often the two aren’t even in the same shot as the other…yet it’s directed in a way that you feel they are. It’s a thrilling and dangerous relationship and though there are other supporting characters in the movie (Kasi Lemmons, Candyman, as Clarice’s academy friend and Brooke Smith, Interstellar, as a new target for the murderer) the movie is at its absolute best when Foster and Hopkins are quid pro quo-ing.

The clues that Lecter gives Starling sends the young trainee on her own hunt to find the madman while working through painful memories of her past. Lector preys on her vulnerability that’s hidden far beneath her steely exterior. He knows she has a lot to prove and manipulates every situation to make her demonstrate her worth…down to catching a killer almost entirely on her own. Whether she’s crawling into an abandoned storage unit (creepy!) or being pursued in an underground labyrinth (seriously…creepy!) Foster plays Clarice as intelligent but not a soothsayer in knowing the best way around each situation. With limited screen time, Hopkins is really a supporting player but his impact is so great and his presence so missed when he’s not around he easily nabbed his Best Actor statue away from other nominees.

The late Demme’s personal preference for having actors speak directly into the camera makes the movie feel very intimate, secretive, real…he does this in most every one of his films but never to the success rate he achieves here. It’s a movie that works every time in every single way. There’s no fat anywhere to be found, it’s 118 minutes of perfectly constructed shots and revealing dialogue. Winning Oscars not only for its lead actors but for Demme, Tally, and Best Picture, The Silence of the Lambs is tough viewing and not for the squeamish but to see it is to appreciate the stylish storytelling on display. Perfect.

31 Days to Scare ~ The Omen (1976)

The Facts:

Synopsis: Mysterious deaths surround an American ambassador. Could the child that he is raising actually be the Antichrist? The Devil’s own son?

Stars: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Billie Whitelaw, Harvey Stephens, Patrick Troughton

Director: Richard Donner

Rated: R

Running Length: 111 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: Here’s another great example of why the old adage, ‘They don’t make ‘em like they used to!’ is so apropos. The Omen was released in 1976 right at the height of Hollywood’s fascination with the Devil and the many ways he can turn up. Over the ensuing years he pops up in many place. Maybe it’s in a house (The Amityville Horror), an apartment building (The Sentinel), a car (Christine), or in the case of Rosemary’s Baby and this popular hit, seemingly innocent children.

Robert Thom (Gregory Peck, Cape Fear) is an American diplomat living in Rome with his wife Katherine (Lee Remick) awaiting the birth of their child. When their baby is stillborn, Robert cannot bear to tell his wife for fear of her sanity and agrees to adopt a baby boy that was orphaned on the same night. How Robert can live with this deception without any signs of guilt is curious but a stalwart actor like Peck makes it work all the same. As the boy grows into a toddler and Robert is made the U.S Ambassador to the UK, the Thoms move to the English countryside and that’s when things start to get a little weird and pretty deadly.

When the boy’s nanny dies under suspicious circumstances and a new one (Bille Whitelaw, Night Watch, truly terrifying) appears with sinister motivations, the Thoms get thrown into a deeper mystery surrounding the origins of their adopted son. Enlisting the help of a priest (Patrick Troughton) and a photographer (David Warner Waxwork), Robert learns that the agreement he entered into has dark consequences. Traveling back to Rome and to the place where the boy’s mother was buried, what he finds out could bring about the downfall of humanity if the boy is allowed to live.

Directed by Richard Donner (Superman, The Goonies, The Lost Boys) from a script by David Seltzer (Bird on a Wire), The Omen still rings true decades after the original release. There’s a welcome absence of the kind of hysterics and histrionics that often accompany stories about the Devil and Donner has assembled an excellent company of actors and filmmakers to elevate this to high-class gothic horror. Jerry Goldsmith’s instantly recognizable score won him his only Oscar (crazy!) and cinematographer Gilbert Taylor’s strong camera work helped land him his next gig: Star Wars. Peck would seem to be a bit buttoned-up for this type of role but by the time he’s being chased around a cemetery by rabid dogs or going to battle with Whitelaw’s evil nanny he seems to be having a jolly old time.  The late Remick is so lovely here as a doomed wife and mother, no one does wide-eyed terror with such beauty.

Followed by three increasingly poor sequels before an ill-advised (but not a total travesty) remake in 2006, The Omen is one of those films that people remember seeing but might not recall the last time they did. If it has been a while for you, fire this one up because it delivers oodles of shocks and goosebumps with each viewing.

31 Days to Scare ~ Candyman

The Facts:

Synopsis: The Candyman, a murderous soul with a hook for a hand, is accidentally summoned to reality by a skeptic grad student researching the monster’s myth.

Stars: Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, Xander Berkeley, Kasi Lemmons, Vanessa Williams, Bernard Rose, Michael Culkin

Director: Bernard Rose

Rated: R

Running Length: 99 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: Growing up, I watched many horror movies and usually found them more funny than actually scary. Most of the films I saw had a heightened sense of reality so you could always tell they were operating in the confines of a fantasy world and not based in reality. It was easy to disassociate with the blood and gore because you would see the edges of the make-up applied or would jokingly feel that the characters got what was coming to them for going camping in the woods where a madman was rumored to be lurking.

Then there are movies like Candyman.

As a teen, I remember seeing this some weeknight with my dad at the Mall of America (RIP General Cinema!) and not really knowing what to expect. Yikes, I was in for a shocking treat. Based on Clive Barker’s short story (which I read a few years ago and found quite spellbinding) and adapted by director Bernard Rose who changes the action from the UK’s rundown council house neighborhood to Chicago’s inner city slum, Candyman has had a lasting impression on me throughout the years. How can a movie I’ve seen at least a dozen times still make me keep a light on at night, still send a chill up my spine, still make me dread certain passages?

Grad student Helen Lyle (Virgina Madsen, Joy, an inspring choice) is doing a study on modern urban legends with her colleague Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons, The Silence of the Lambs). While interviewing subjects they hear the tale of an invisible killer with a grotesque hook for a hand now said to haunt Chicago’s famed Cabrini Green housing project. Dubbed Candyman over time by the superstitious locals, Helen and Bernadette investigate the claims in an effort to support their thesis. The deeper into the mythology of Candyman (Tony Todd) Helen goes, the greater the danger as her cavalier skepticism rouses the fabled slayer to show up and make an example out of her.

From the very first shot in the title sequence set to a creepy as hell music box score from Phillip Glass, your spidey senses should be tingling. Rose isn’t interested in bringing forth a supernatural creature that can’t be identified but in presenting the myth of a dangerous figure than manifests itself in reality. On more than one occasion it’s suggested the residents of Cabrini Green are harboring this creature or attributing other crimes to him as a way to ward off urban sprawl and keep people away.

The film takes its time to get to the madness and when it does it unleashes some fairly grotesque imagery and copious amount of blood. It all seems just a hair above slasher film territory but it’s interested in being more classy than truly exploitative. When bodies start to turn up and a baby goes missing, Helen herself is implicated as a possible killer and must track down the heart of the legend to clear her name and save an innocent life. The finale is a bold move by the filmmakers, even if they pander to the audience with a gruesome (if satisfying) epilogue.

You have a lot of options for scary movies around Halloween and Candyman might already be on your watchlist. If it isn’t, consider replacing one of the more obvious choices (Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street) and check out this modern horror classic. It’s followed by two sequels, with only the first (Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh) of possible interest if you liked this one.

31 Days to Scare ~ In Dreams

The Facts:

Synopsis: A suburban housewife learns that she has psychic connections to a serial killer, and can predict this person’s motives through her dreams.

Stars: Annette Bening, Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea, Robert Downey Jr., Paul Guilfoyle, Margo Martindale

Director: Neil Jordan

Rated: R

Running Length: 100 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I wanted to say right off the bat that I’m giving In Dreams a higher score than it probably deserves…or even has rightly earned despite some good intentions. While the overall movie feels like a bit of a clunker by the time is gets to its overblown third act, leading up to it there are some interesting ideas and certainly some intriguing performances.

Based on the novel Doll’s Eyes by Bari Wood (but supposedly wildly different in plot) this one comes to us via Neil Jordan, the writer/director of The Crying Game and screenwriter Bruce Robinson (Jennifer 8). Jordan takes a page from his cult favorite The Company of Wolves and frames In Dreams as part fairy tale, part horror show. Starting strong with visuals of a town that was flooded to make way for a reservoir that’s now the dumping ground for a psychotic killer, Jordan spends the first 45 minutes slowly building the tension but loses his grip when the line between dreams and reality get too blurred.

In the same year she’d go on to receive an Oscar nomination for American Beauty, Annette Bening (Girl Most Likely) is kinda a mess as a wife and mother who discovers she has a psychic link to the person that’s been abducting little girls and leaving their bodies underwater. Bening has grown into such a dependable presence on screen, especially in these last 10 years, but In Dreams was released when she hadn’t quite found her zone yet. She’s either cool and collected, purring her lines to her befuddled husband (Aidan Quinn, Blink) and skeptical shrink (Stephen Rea who should never, ever, attempt the New Yahk accent he tries out here) or she’s totally unhinged, laugh-crying her way through Robinson and Jordan’s chuckle inducing dialogue.

Her performance isn’t even the most bizarre one on display. No, that would be Robert Downey Jr. (The Judge) as the serial killer toying with Bening and her family. With his hair dyed red and peering at us from behind green contacts, Downey Jr. nails the creepy part of his role but can’t make head or tails of what else he should be doing. This was long before Downey Jr. had his Marvel renaissance and the actor seems fairly adrift here.

There’s some decent atmosphere created, scenes shot in the town underwater and a sinister apple orchard are nice showcases for Darius Khondji’s (Magic in the Moonlight) cinematography and Bening’s visions are nicely done. There’s even an ominous staging of Snow White in the forest starring the actress playing Bening’s daughter and about a three dozen other cherubs. It all adds up to a movie that looks great and has some spooky moments but one that eventually makes absolutely no sense at all…especially a poorly thought out finale that feels like it was reshot late in the game. In reality, In Dreams is a bust but there’s so many good people involved it’s worth watching at least once.

31 Days to Scare ~ Night Watch (1973)

The Facts:

Synopsis: While rich widow Ellen Wheeler is staring out of the window one evening, she believes she’s witnessed a murder. The only problem is, does anybody else believe her, or is it just another manifestation of her recent nervous breakdown?

Stars: Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Harvey, Billie Whitelaw, Robert Lang, Tony Britton, Linda Hayden

Director: Brian G. Hutton

Rated: PG

Running Length: 99 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Here’s a forgotten bit of fun for you today, the 1973 film adaptation of Lucille Fletcher’s 1972 play, Night Watch.  Fletcher was the celebrated author of the suspense thriller Sorry, Wrong Number which began as a radio play before making its debut on stage and, eventually, on screen.  While Night Watch wasn’t as successful as Fletcher’s earlier work in play or film format, there’s still something all-together interesting watching a star like Elizabeth Taylor sink her teeth into her juicy leading role and then shake it back and forth like a maniac.

Taylor appears as Ellen Wheeler, a widow living with her new husband John (Laurence Harvey, Liz’s co-star in her Oscar winning Butterfield 8) in an insanely well decorated London terraced house.  Her friend Sarah (Billie Whitelaw, The Omen) is staying with them, party to catch-up with her old chum and partly to be closer to a mysterious man she’s having an affair with.  Still haunted by the death of her previous husband who perished in an automobile accident with his mistress, Ellen stays up nights moping around her house.

One stormy night (don’t all good mysteries start like this?) Ellen sees what she thinks is a dead body in the decaying mansion next door.  The glimpse is brief (so brief I missed it and had to rewind it to see) but when the police investigate they turn up nothing.  Ellen is convinced of what she saw, though, and drives everyone around her mad with her protestations of what she believes she’s seen.

Though pretty stage-y at times (nearly the entire action takes place in several rooms in Ellen’s house), the film has a nice way of building tension the crazier Ellen starts to act.  Did she really see a body and does the killer set their sights on her?  Or is there something more sinister at work?  Don’t worry, I’ll never tell the twist.  I didn’t totally see it coming but thinking back the film sets up its finale almost from the start.  There’s even some clever bits of distraction that had me going down the wrong road for quite some time.

Harvey and Whitelaw are up for the challenge of going toe-to-toe with their violet-eyed costar and both add some nice layers to underwritten roles, Whitelaw especially never tips us off if she’s a friend to trust or to be suspicious of.  The film belongs solely to Taylor and the actress revels in her growing hysteria.  Add to that some hilariously flouncy muumuus she tears around her house in and a penchant for wearing heaps of make-up even in the dead of night and you have a camp performance that’s at times quite a hoot to behold.  Taylor’s a good actress, though, and knows when to dial back her effort, something that always set her apart from her peers.

I’d be interested in reading the play and see how much of it was changed as it transitioned to the silver screen.  For the year it was released and the rating it received, I was surprised at the amount of blood and mature situations on display.  It’s got a strong finale set in a dark house and if you can get your hands on a copy of Night Watch, it’s worth a look thanks to the leading lady and other strong performances.

If you want a good laugh, here’s a link to a review of a 1986 revival of the play from the New York times
http://www.nytimes.com/1986/12/09/theater/stage-night-watch-by-lucille-fletcher.html

31 Days to Scare ~ Amityville II: The Possession

The Facts:

Synopsis: A family moves into their new home, which proves to be evil, resulting in the demonic possession of the teenage son. Only the local priest can save him.

Stars: Burt Young, Rutanya Alda, Jack Magner, Andrew Prine, Diane Franklin, Moses Gunn, James Olson

Director: Damiano Damiani

Rated: R

Running Length: 104 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: Few would argue that 1979’s The Amityville Horror is any kind of movie to write home about.  While it’s poster, preview, and press shots suggested a snazzy new twist on The Exorcist the final product was ham-fisted, poorly acted, and more funny than scary.  Still, the public that had made the book that inspired the movie a bestseller turned the feature film adaptation into the second highest grossing film of the year ahead of Alien, Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, and The Muppet Movie.  I mean…think on that…it made 86 million dollars, 20m short of the #1 title, Kramer vs. Kramer.

Three years later new producer Dino De Laurentis took over the property and made this prequel to the events that transpired in the original.  Now the movie would focus on the murders that took place in the house and supposedly were the source of the haunting that plagued future tenants.  While it’s considered one of the stronger entries in the franchise of countless sequels spawned over the next several decades, it’s easy to see where director Damiano Damiani and screenwriter Tommy Lee Wallace (Fright Night Part 2 and Halloween III: Season of the Witch) ripped off other films when piecing together their contribution to the Amityville legacy.

The Montelli family has moved into that soon to be infamous house with the windows that look like eyes.  Nestled into the sleepy hamlet of Amityville in Long Island, NY the family has relocated to start a new, quieter life.  Still, they bring some major baggage with them.  The father (Burt Young) is an abusive drunk, the mother (Rutanya Alda) is religious woman frightened of her husband’s anger, and while their two youngest children seem to adjust well to the new living arrangements it’s tougher on eldest son Sonny (Jack Magner) and daughter Patricia (Diane Franklin).

Sonny’s a loner, a perfect vessel for the evil that lurks within the house to prey upon.  It isn’t long before Sonny’s demeanor changes and he becomes more physically hostile to his father and sexually predatory with his sister, both unfortunately icky subplots that just don’t feel good.  The more the family fights to save Sonny’s soul, the deeper the possession becomes.  If you’ve seen the opening of The Conjuring 2, you’ll know what happens next…if you haven’t, well, it doesn’t end well.

Though operating on a small budget, Damiani makes his film effectively creepy and often downright frightening as Sonny begins to show outwardly the possession going on within.  There’s good use of lighting to keep figures in the dark so that they can be discovered at precisely the right moment and the tension builds slowly but aggressively.  Performances are uniformly good and, gross incest plotline aside, Wallace’s script goes for realism instead of hyperactive hysteria.  The film has several climaxes, and each arrive with an assured flair for intensity.

Far less successful than its predecessor, Amityville II: The Possession still gives me the chills all these years and multiple viewings later.  It’s a dark movie though, filled with some hard to watch sequences of physical abuse and inappropriate conduct that’s in no way glorified or excused.  The focus of the horror is on the house but it’s tenants might not have been all that good to begin with.

Movie Review ~ All I See Is You


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A blind woman’s relationship with her husband changes when she regains her sight and discovers disturbing details about themselves.

Stars: Blake Lively, Jason Clarke, Yvonne Strahovski, Danny Huston, Ahna O’Reilly, Wes Chatham

Director: Marc Forster

Rated: R

Running Length: 110 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Here’s a strange little movie for you, not necessarily a bad one, just a strange one. At a time when we’re coming out of a slump summer at the box office and into the terrain of Awards Season, All I See Is You has the visual panache of a major blockbuster helmed by smart filmmakers but is ultimately more interested in the art-house vibe. This creates a discord between two distinct notes that never totally synch up, though it does have a few fleeting moments of harmony that have kept it lingering in my mind several days after seeing it.

Blinded by a childhood accident that left her parents dead, Gina (Blake Lively, The Shallows) lives with her husband James (Jason Clarke, Lawless) in Taiwan. She’s adjusted to her life living in the shadows, only able to see brief glimpses of light (fabulously photographed by cinematographer Matthias Koenigswieser) but when an opportunity presents itself for an experimental surgery that could give her back her sight in one eye, she grasps the opportunity with both hands.

As her sight returns, her relationship with her supportive husband changes as she becomes less dependent on his care and more independent in her needs. The life she thought she was going to lead now has more opportunities and both husband and wife start to realize at the same time that their union may have been fortified by her disability. A visit to her sister and brother-in-law (Ahna O’Reilly and Miquel Fernández) raises more marital strife, compounded by a painful trek to the place where she lost her sight many years earlier.

As the movie develops, it becomes less of the psychological thriller it feels like it wants to be and more of an erotic drama that pushes the boundaries for both Lively and Clarke. Lively seems especially game and she’s continuing to become an actress unafraid of a little risk in her roles. Clarke, too, brings some painful pathos to the part, culminating in a wordless exchange between the two in a very public setting that’s awkwardly intimate though they are surrounded by a crowd unaware of the matrimonial fissure that has cracked wide open.

Director Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, World War Z) co-wrote the script with Sean Conway and as mentioned above it’s a sometimes off-balance mix of soapy melodrama and kinky canoodling. Up until the last moment, I kept waiting for one tone to come out clearer than the other but it never happens. Even the ending fails to dig its feet in and put a period on its lengthy rambling sentence. While it’s hard to empathize with the two leads that live in a fantastic apartment and jet-set to luxury locales, it’s not easy to write them off for the same reason. Flawed through its characters may be, there’s a voyeuristic interest at play in All I See Is You which makes most everything you see watchable.

Movie Review ~ Suburbicon


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A home invasion rattles a quiet family town.

Stars: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Noah Jupe, Oscar Isaac

Director: George Clooney

Rated: R

Running Length: 104 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: You should thank your lucky stars that the trailer for Suburbicon was so terrible. When I first watched it and reviewed it, I was unsure if I’d even be interested in seeing what should have been a slam-dunk from a bunch of talented A-Listers in front of and behind the camera. Though I often turn my nose up at the thought of seeing a movie with a lousy trailer, there’s really no way I was going to miss one directed by George Clooney, co-written by the Coen Brothers (Hail, Caesar!), and starring Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, and Oscar Isaac.

So…into the screening I went with low expectations and a general puzzlement as to what was in store. Thankfully, here’s a rare example of a good movie with a stinker trailer…as we all know it’s usually the other way around. While Suburbicon definitely has its drawbacks, this dark comedy is one of the few films I’ve seen in recent memory that feels like it has a brainwave and not just a faint pulse.

Opening with an ad for the community living offered by the Suburbicon development, audiences will be quick to spot something missing. There are ads boasting the quality of the house of the future, the robed choir, the supermarket, and the shopping mall. Pictures of families with gleaming white grins from all over the country that have flocked to the suburbs are on display. The one thing we don’t see? Minorities. This point is driven home in one of the first scenes that show the neighborhood aghast when a black family moves in and that’s when all kinds of heck breaks loose.

Well, actually that’s what is happening in one part of the neighborhood. The new family shares a backyard with the Lodges and they’re really the main focus of the movie. While the concerned citizens of Suburbicon rally themselves into a frenzy to try to oust the peaceful newcomers in increasingly violent protests, they aren’t privy to the deadly dealings developing in the Lodge house. Husband Gardner (Damon, Promised Land), his wheelchair-bound wife Rose (Moore, Wonderstruck), their son Nicky (Noah Jupe), and Rose’s twin sister Maggie (also Moore, Still Alice) are terrorized one night by two men Gardner seems to know. In true Coen fashion, there’s a dark secret beneath this evening meeting that sets into motion sundry dealings that will impact each member of the Lodge family. Saying more might reveal more of the tricky workings of Suburbicon’s third act so let’s just say when a curious insurance agent (Oscar Isaac, A Most Violent Year) starts poking around, it spells trouble for Gardner and company that can only be solved by copious bloodshed.

Where this movie feels so strong is in the fact that everyone involved with Suburbicon seems to understand what movie they’re in. Not only is this evident in the period setting (with its Formica tabletops, gingham aprons, and rolled dungarees) but in the way that deception and anger were allowed to boil just beneath the surface. Never belying the cheerful façade painstakingly put on by the men that went to work, the women that stayed home, and the kids that wanted to grow up to be just like their parents, Clooney (Tomorrowland) and his actors play it largely straight and let the material do the work for them.

That’s also where the movie shows a bit of weakness. Trusting the material this implicitly leads some actors astray and not everyone is successful in their time-warp back to Suburbicon. Damon feels like he’s coasting here, probably because he’s played this type of flawed family man a few times already. Moore definitely knows her way around a period costume and plastered on smile and manages to make both her characters distinct without drawing them too broadly different…they are twins after all. Jupe is a real find and often steals the movie right out from under his co-stars that have already been showered with awards for their previous work. If there’s one person that gets it note perfect it’s Isaac as a complex investigator who susses out something is up in the Lodge house. As usual, Clooney fills out the supporting players with a wacky variety of kooks of all shapes and sizes.

I went into Suburbicon thinking that it would drown in Clooney’s apathy toward this “simpler time” but he doesn’t treat anything with a wistful eye. The story being told here just happens to be set in the ‘50s but there’s nothing saying it couldn’t easily have taken place in present day and been able to suggest the same inequalities in society. Clooney and his producing partner Grant Heslov worked on the script with the Coens so it’s easy to see where one group started, and one group stopped. While the Coens love a good shot of cynicism, leave it to Clooney to inject some emotional honesty right alongside it.

Movie Review ~ Goodbye Christopher Robin

1


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A behind-the-scenes look at the life of author A.A. Milne and the creation of the Winnie the Pooh stories inspired by his son C.R. Milne.

Stars: Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald, Will Tilston, Stephen Campbell Moore, Alex Lawther, Richard McCabe, Nico Mirallegro, Geraldine Somerville, Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Director: Simon Curtis

Rated: PG

Running Length: 107 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: Lord, do I love Winnie the Pooh. A longtime fan of that honey-loving bear, I admit that I first came to the Hundred-Acre wood via the now-frightening live-action television series that first aired on the Disney Channel. Remember that one? The one with the puppets that rarely blinked and sometimes talked without moving their mouths? I watched a few minutes of an episode recently and was aghast at how scary it was to me as an adult, obviously I was much less critical (and less easily terrified) when I was six or seven. Anyway, I digress. What I mean to say is that it was only as I became an adult that I went back to the works of A.A. Milne and read the source material that served as a jumping off point for Disney animators and Imagineers.

So that’s all a preface to say that I had high hopes for Goodbye Christopher Robin, a look into the life of the famous author and his family and how he created the world of a hungry bear and his forest dwelling friends. While the early previews promised a heart-tugging drama (don’t worry, hearts are tugged are tears are shed) it didn’t hint that the film winds up to be pretty boring in its heavy first half before finally finding its footing nearly an hour into its runtime.

Coming back from the first World War, playwright Alan Alexander Milne (Domhnall Gleeson, About Time) struggles to adjust back to civilian life. His socialite wife Daphne (Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad) not so much longs for a child but thinks that it will do her marriage good. The arrival of Christopher Robin Milne (first played by Will Tilston, then by Alex Lawther) is a rough one, mostly because it’s hinted that Daphne wasn’t aware exactly where babies come from…literally. Quickly hiring a nanny nicknamed Nou (Kelly MacDonald, Brave), the parents resume their showbiz lifestyle, often leaving their son for weeks on end as they travel.

It’s only when Milne grows tired of “making people life” and after he moves his family to a beautiful estate in the English countryside that the father is forced to get to know his son. With his wife flying the coop back to London after becoming exasperated at his sluggish ways and Nou off to care for her ailing mother, Milne starts to explore the woods and that’s when the stories are born. First as a play-game and then put to paper and illustrated, the tales of Christopher Robin and his woodland friends become a sensation, blurring the lines between the real boy and the boy featured in his father’s books. This creates a growing resentment from Christopher Robin that permeates his entire childhood, a childhood that may have been stolen away by a limelight he didn’t ask for.

Director Simon Curtis (Woman in Gold) along with screenwriters Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan front load the movie with too much Milne moping. A.A. and Daphne are painted as such neglectful ninnies that your heart goes out to their son that can’t find a way into their social circle. Raised to be caring and compassionate by his adored nanny, his life is ultimately sheltered which makes the instant celebrity he achieves so difficult to deal with. Excellently played by young Tilston, the movie takes off when he’s center stage and the same goes for anytime MacDonald is onscreen (why people aren’t mentioning her for an Oscar nom is beyond me) as the sole voice of reason.

I’m not sure if it’s because Robbie is so painfully miscast that her character comes off so horribly but it’s got to factor into the equation. Robbie is a bit of a puzzle actress, she’s never great but seems to be given the benefit of the doubt in Hollywood more often than she should. She’s certainly terrible here, botching her accent and aging too gracefully as the years pass by. When Gleeson ditches his eternal scowl he becomes a tolerable presence but both A.A. and Daphne were so clueless to the pain they were causing their son that it’s a hard thing for an actor to overcome without some blowback.

Goodbye Christopher Robin’s middle section that explains how these fondly remembered characters were created is the best part while it’s poor opening and rushed closing provide an imbalance that the movie can’t recover from. Truth be told it has some emotional heft as it nears the conclusion, but it doesn’t feel totally earned and the tears are delivered via a fairly manipulative plot device that might put some audience members off. I for one was a little miffed at the game that was being played, I just wanted to know more about why the characters were playing it to begin with.

31 Days to Scare ~ An American Werewolf in London

The Facts:

Synopsis: Two American college students on a walking tour of Britain are attacked by a werewolf that none of the locals will admit exists.

Stars: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine, Brian Glover, Lila Kaye

Director: John Landis

Rated: R

Running Length: 97 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: This fondly remembered horror flick from 1981 is one I personally tend to forget about every few years, prompting a re-watch to refresh my memory. It’s not that the movie doesn’t hold up over time, but it starts off so good that by the time it reaches the halfway mark it’s run out of steam and sputters to the finish line. While it’s widely regarded as a classic genre film and even nabbed the first ever Best Makeup Oscar for Rick Baker’s creative werewolf transformations and elegant gore imagery, there’s something chilly to the whole picture that fails to linger too long in the memory.

Coming off the one-two punch of Animal House and The Blues Brothers, it seemed like a strange choice for director John Landis to take on a horror film, albeit one with a heavy dose of sardonic comedy. There are so many in-jokes and enough rapid-fire yucks to make your head spin, but they serve as increasingly less-appetizing distractions from the horror main course. When the film stays on its mission it’s gold, it’s when Landis gets goofy that the film starts to unravel for this viewer.

Americans David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are wandering through the Yorkshire moors when they stop in at a local pub to warm their hands and their bellies. Sensing some tension from the locals, the two hitch up their boots and head out but not before being warned to stay on the road and not to venture off the path. Sure enough, as most dumb Americans are wont to do, David and Jack have strayed and get lost in the highlands at night and eventually find themselves stalked by someone or something they cannot see.

While one of these men won’t live past the first reel after being mauled by a giant beast, he returns often as a decaying ghost that haunts the other who was merely bitten by the monster. Like a bleeding Jacob Marley, he warns his friend that when the next full moon arrives he’ll be turning into a true blue werewolf. The living friend tries to write-off these visions as side-effects of the trauma and warms up to a kindly (and, really, rather unprofessional) nurse who takes him home to her flat and her bed. When the next full moon arrives, the poor guy goes through a whopper of a hairy growth spurt and begins a rampage through the London nightlife.

Funny, having only seen this a few weeks ago I’m already fuzzy on how the movie wraps up but I know that it was a far cry from the creepy opening sequence that sets the stage so nicely. Landis is a decent filmmaker who would go on to direct several classic films of the ’80s before striking out again and again. While he and Rick Baker would catch the attention of Michael Jackson and be hired to direct and design the make-up for his landmark Thriller video, I’m not sure Landis ever satisfactorily returned to horror even though he made a few vain attempts.

It is right and just that An American Werewolf in London became a touchstone of early ‘80s comedy-horror and Baker’s effects are really a sight to behold. I just wish the movie had more going for it than the effects and a strikingly good first 1/3. Whatever you do, don’t confuse this with the wretched sequel, An American Werewolf in Paris which is a follow-up in name only.