31 Days to Scare ~ Eyes of a Stranger

The Facts:

Synopsis: A reporter suspects a creepy neighbor, who lives in the high-rise building across from hers, is a serial killer terrorizing the Miami area.

Stars: Lauren Tewes, Jennifer Jason Leigh, John DiSanti, Peter DuPre, Gwen Lewis, Kitty Lunn

Director: Ken Wiederhorn

Rated: R

Running Length: 85 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: This is a movie with a serious case of bad taste. It’s true that many similar early ‘80s slasher films had elements that called into question the morality of the filmmakers but Eyes of Stranger is a particularly good case study in just how far the limits of sleaze can be pushed. While it is better made than its modest budget would suggest and has one or two genuine ‘jump’ moments, the heart of the movie is so lurid and black that I’d question anyone that would recommend it without a major ‘buyer beware’ warning before doing so.

Eyes of a Stranger went into production just as the original Friday the 13th became a huge hit. Made by the same production company and featuring gore effects created by Tom Savini (often called the Father of Jason for the work he did on Friday the 13th and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter), it was after the cameras were already rolling that more sex and blood were added, much to the dismay of several people involved. You can easily spot what’s been goosed up, mostly all of the elements that pander to the young audiences that were clamoring for more guts and gore.

A serial killer is on the prowl in Miami and an ambitious news reporter (Lauren Tewes, famous for her voyages on TV’s Love Boat) grows more fascinated with the case. We know she’s ambitious because she regularly interrupts the news anchor live on air to editorialize the lack of attention being paid by the police force. Living with her blind, deaf, and mute sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight, in her first major role) in a fancy tower apartment, she’s guilt-ridden over an event from her childhood that resulted in her sister’s current condition. It’s this guilt that screenwriter Ron Kurz (Friday the 13th Part 2) uses to provide rationale for the reporter to be so gung-ho in tracking down the killer. It’s not a bad set-up, if I’m being honest, but it’s in the execution (pardon the pun) that the film becomes pretty icky.

Director Ken Wiederhorn doesn’t shy away from the scuzzier elements of the killer (John DiSanti) who likes to terrorize his victims with threating phone calls before he rapes and murders them. Decapitations, throat slashing, stabbings, it’s all part of his oeuvre yet there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to why he’s doing what he’s doing. A mindless maniac disguised as a schlubby loner, he strikes out with women so therefore he strikes back at them.

Several of these stalk-and-stabs are well staged and Savini’s effects are nearly too realistic, there were a few moments I got a good jolt or had to look away from the flowing blood. Still, by the time DiSanti is ripping Leigh’s shirt off and exposing her breats while he tries to kill her I just felt like I needed a Silkwood shower to wash off the thick layer of grime the movie leaves on you. While it’s nice (and rare for the time) to have two female leads in a film like this and not to have at least one of the lead protagonists be a total dimwit, Tewes and Leigh don’t have any real sisterly bond going. It’s clear which of the wo would have a lasting career.

I’ve seen a lot of these films over the years and it’s not hard to spot right away how effective they’ll be. I could see that Eyes of a Stranger was going to be a better-than-average entry in terms of production values but wasn’t expect to find it so garish at the same time. It’s one of the few films from this era that I could see possibly getting a remake, should the right writer/director come along that can smooth out some of the rougher patches and expand more on the scary sequences that leave a lasting impression.

31 Days to Scare ~ The Spiral Staircase (1946)

The Facts:

Synopsis: A serial killer stalks a mute servant girl in a remote mansion.

Stars: Dorothy McGuire, George Brent, Ethel Barrymore, Kent Smith, Rhonda Fleming, Gordon Oliver, Elsa Lanchester, Sara Allgood, Rhys Williams

Director: Robert Siodmak

Rated: Approved

Running Length: 83 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Back in the 1940’s when The Spiral Staircase was first released, horror movies were a much different fare. Without the rising amount of blood, guts, and gore that came to define the genre in the late ‘60s up through today’s offerings, earlier films relied on the suggestion of danger and moody atmosphere to gnaw at the nerves of their audience. A prime example of how to get underneath the skin of moviegoers, The Spiral Staircase is spooky as all get-out and quite a find for horror fans looking to class up their act.

Based on the 1933 novel Some Must Watch, The Spiral Staircase centers on a mute girl (the gorgeous Dorothy McGuire, Swiss Family Robinson) working at an elegant manse far from town targeted by a killer preying on disabled women. On a stormy night, she’s stranded in the house with her mistress (the grand dame of theater Ethel Barrymore) and a host of suspicious characters, one of whom may be the killer that’s out to get her. It’s great fun trying to pick out who may fall prey and who is doing the hunting throughout the house as the night wears on.

McGuire is lovely in the leading role, able to convey more with her eyes than any dialogue ever could. Recognizable forever as the Bride of Frankenstein, Elsa Lanchester (Mary Poppins) is a hoot as the curious cook and you can see why later in her career the actress blossomed into a valued character actress that knows how to get the job done with flair. Barrymore steals the show out from under everyone, though, in her Oscar-nominated role as a cranky biddy that has a fondness for McGuire and pretty much no one else. She senses danger is afoot and tries to get McGuire to safety but by the time anyone figures out what’s happening it may be too late for them all.

What makes this such a memorable watch is how slyly it develops, never providing random misdirects or red herrings but letting the action flow from scene to scene in a naturalistic fashion. We’re not privy to any information not also available to our stalked star, nor are we kept in the dark as the killer’s motives gradually become clearer. While it has a too-quick finale (not uncommon for this era of filmmaking), the previous 87 minutes are quite entertaining, even a known watch-checker like myself didn’t notice the time passing at a rapid pace. Though made over 70 years ago, The Spiral Staircase keeps its shape in a superior fashion. While I haven’t seen any of the subsequent remakes over the years, a quick glance at the reviews tells me that you’re to avoid those at all costs and stick with the original.

31 Days to Scare ~ Tales from the Crypt (1972)

The Facts:

Synopsis: Five strangers get lost in a crypt and, after meeting the mysterious Crypt Keeper, receive visions of how they will die.

Stars: Joan Collins, Peter Cushing, Roy Dotrice, Richard Greene, Ian Hendry, Patrick Magee, Ralph Richardson

Director: Freddie Francis

Rated: GP (the old-school PG)

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: As evidenced before in this blog, I love anthology horror!  Brief tales of horror and madness serve as short bursts of fun that are pretty perfect for the short attention spans of most modern audiences.  Films like Cat’s Eye, Asylum, From Beyond the Grave, and After Midnight are nice examples of big screen releases that put recognizable stars in various states of terror.  The good thing is that if a segment doesn’t speak to you, you only have to wait 10 or 15 minutes for the next one to start up.

Many people will hear Tales from the Crypt and instantly think of the popular HBO series that ran from 1989 to 1996.  That series, like the movie featured in today’s post, were based on the popular comic of the same name that was published from 1950-1955 (tales from The Haunt of Fear and The Vault of Horror eventually made their way into the HBO series as well).  I actually thought I had seen 1972’s Tales from The Crypt long ago when I was trying to feast my eyes upon every anthology offering out there.  When I recently reviewed the And All Through the House episode of the HBO show, I discovered it had already been filmed before for this movie…so I took steps to get my hands on this pronto.

I’m sure glad I caught this one because Tales from the Crypt is a highly entertaining film, with nice production values, solid performances, and strong direction from Freddie Francis (Nightmare, and the cinematographer for numerous Hollywood films like the remake Cape Fear).  There’s great atmosphere and even its outlandish ‘70s styles don’t distract from the horror at hand.  For a B-movie, it looks great and holds up quite nicely some forty years after its original release.

On a tour of a local cemetery, four men and one woman get separated from the group and find themselves locked in a room with the mysterious Crypt Keeper (Ralph Richardson, looking far less ghastly than the withered puppet that hosted the HBO show).  None of the five individuals know quite why they’re there but the Crypt Keeper helps them see how they’ll wind up six feet under.

The first tale is the aforementioned And All Through The House starring the gorgeous Joan Collins.  She’s a materialistic wife that kills her husband on Christmas Eve, just as a maniac in a Santa suit comes a-callin’.  There’s a wonderful jump scare here which sent me out of my seat with a jolt with its unexpected arrival.  It’s a 12-minute wonderful nugget of tension, and it surprised me how much this one put me on the edge of my seat seeing that it takes place in bright light with holiday songs playing constantly in the background.

The subsequent tales are a bit longer and have varying degrees of interest.  There’s the tale of the cheating husband who leaves his wife but comes back a bit on the dead side, a couple that wishes for riches and pays the price for their greed, a young man that brings about the downfall of a harmless but dotty neighbor, and a cruel doctor at an institute for the blind that gets a taste of his own medicine.   All are fine to pass the time but none have the instant impact of the Christmas-set first sequence.

From the shag carpeting to the flared jeans and oversized belts, the production values on this are perfect time capsules of the era and it’s a little funny to see blood that looks like Pepto-Bismol used to show death’s aftermath.  If you’re willing to check your modern tendency to be jaded at the door, you’ll really get into the swing of this one.  If the tales feel a bit on the familiar side, it’s likely they served as inspiration for countless imitations over the years.

Well-made and scary, this nightmare omnibus is one to remember if you’re looking for something from the past that holds up quite well.  Very much worth seeking out, it’s available as a double feature with The Vault of Horror – more anthology fun for all!

31 Days to Scare ~ Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

The Facts:

Synopsis: After being mortally wounded and taken to the morgue, murderer Jason Voorhees spontaneously revives and embarks on a killing spree as he makes his way back to his home at Camp Crystal Lake.

Stars: Corey Feldman, Crispin Glover, Lawrence Monoson, E. Erich Anderson,  Judi Aronson, Joan Freeman, Barbara Howard, Clyde Hayes, Camilla More, Carey More, Ted White, Lisa Freeman, Kimberly Beck, Peter Barton

Director: Joseph Zito

Rated: R

Running Length: 91 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: It’s laughable now to think that upon its release in April of 1984 this was actually intended to be the swan song for masked maniac Jason Voorhees. I mean, the old guy still had six sequels, a spin-off with Freddy Krueger, and a remake yet to go before hanging up his machete…for now, at least. Remember, this was an era when multiple sequels were all but unheard of so for the Friday the 13th series to survive up until the fourth chapter was a bit of a miracle. Remarkably, instead of immediately seeing years into the future and the possible profits to be made, the producers made the conscious decision to close up shop and give the audience the finale they were owed.

After Friday the 13th became such an unexpected hit and spawned a quickie sequel followed by an otherwise lame-o 3D threequel, there didn’t seem to be much more to do with the story of a deformed killer offing nubile teens that are unlucky enough to enter his woods. So to tie up the loose ends, Joseph Zito was brought in as a new director and original make-up maestro Tom Savini was enlisted to make the film’s kills and their aftermath extra ooey and gooey. Zito had already directed the similarly themed The Prowler (check that one out, it’s a cult favorite) so he knew his way around the stalk and slash genre. Often called the father of Jason, Savini brought his superlative A-game to the screen, making some realistic effects jump off the screen with bloody delight.

Picking up right after the events of Friday the 13th Part 3, The Final Chapter takes its time in setting its star loose. First he’s brought to the morgue where he doesn’t stay on the slab for long and then he cuts his way back to his beloved Crystal Lake. Standing in his way is a house full of partying teens (including a young Crispin Glover and former Double Mint twins Camilla and Carey More) and a mother with two children, once of which will play a part in several of the sequels. It’s never explained why he targets this group, there’s no reference to the Camp Crystal Lake Jason called home nor do any of the characters have any relation to previous installments.

At 91 minutes, there’s not much time for character development and what little there is revolves around which guy is hornier and which girl is easiest. It has a relatively reserved pacing in the first act that gives way to multiple vignettes where victims find themselves alone and horrifically killed by the hockey-masked hellion. Though the movie was significantly cut to avoid an X rating, Savini leaves little to the imagination, culminating in a finale that ups the ante for gross out gore. Fans of the series that had been waiting for Jason to get his due must have gotten a total thrill out of seeing him hacked and whacked.

Previous entries of the franchise came off as retreads of the original or copies of other famous horror films but The Final Chapter felt like it strove to be better than the rest. With its effort to, ahem, flesh out its characters and take its time getting to the good stuff, there’s a reason why this one is held in high regard by fans. The success of this one at the box office meant there was an much reviled fifth installment greenlit and released barely a year after The Final Chapter but the series would get back into a fun groove with Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI before careening downward fast again. Anytime I’m doing a Friday the 13th marathon I’ll watch the first four and, depending on my mood, throw on the sixth one for fun. Also a positive thing about The Final Chapter is that if you’ve never seen any previous film you could watch this without being too lost.

Down From the Shelf ~ Jumpin’ Jack Flash

The Facts:

Synopsis: A bank employee gets a coded message from an unknown source and becomes embroiled in an espionage ring.

Stars: Whoopi Goldberg, Stephen Collins, John Wood, Carol Kane, Annie Potts, Roscoe Lee Browne. Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, Michael McKean, Tracey Ullman

Director: Penny Marshall

Rated: R

Running Length: 106 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Here’s an example of a movie I always remember being better than it is. Over the years I’ve returned often to this strange mix of comedy and intrigue with fond memories of fun only to wind up 106 minutes later wondering why I thought it was so great.  Don’t get me wrong, as a showcase for rising star Whoopi Goldberg, Jumpin’ Jack Flash is aces but considering the actress was coming off her Oscar-nominated breakthrough performance in The Color Purple and was several years away from winning her Oscar for Ghost one can’t help but see this as a minor blip on her way to the A-list.

You aren’t wrong in thinking the role of a lonely bank employee that gets roped into a real-life spy adventure is a strange fit for Goldberg.  Just like Sister Act was conceived as a vehicle for Bette Midler, Jumpin’ Jack Flash was intended for Shelley Long who opted for The Money Pit and Outrageous Fortune instead.  Aside from a few instances that were surely the result of Goldberg’s improvisation, the dialogue and overall plot seems generally unchanged from when it was Long’s…and that’s problematic.  With no discernible personality, Goldberg’s character (and the actress herself) struggles at the confines of a screenplay that often works against her more than it does her any real favors.

After original director Howard Zeiff was fired after a few weeks of filming, actress and first-time director Penny Marshall was brought in and that also doesn’t exactly help things.  While Marshall would go on to have several notable efforts like Big, A League of Their Own, and Awakenings, the rookie mistakes are evident.  Though it has comedy in fits and starts, the tone of the movie is all over the place.  One moment it’s an office comedy, then it’s an international thriller before getting Keystone Kop-y after Goldberg finds herself locked in a telephone booth tethered to the back of a tow truck.

With all these items in the minus column of my critical spreadsheet, why do I keep returning to this one?  Clearly, it’s Goldberg and it’s thanks to her the movie remains a rainy day option.  Managing to sell most of the malarkey dialogue she’s tasked with, Goldberg’s NYC vibe creeps in at opportune times.  I still get a kick out of her conning her way into a royal gala at the British embassy dressed as Diana Ross and lip-synching to one of the singer’s tunes.  While the telephone booth scene is quite screwball, listening to Goldberg riff on her situation provides some nice chuckles.  Let’s also give a hand for a fine supporting cast of familiar faces and a great big roll of the eyes at the ancient computer technology that at one time was cutting edge.

A hit at the box office, even if Jumpin’ Jack Flash is an interesting step in Goldberg’s ladder to stardom and hasn’t aged well at all it’s still better than Burglar, Fatal Beauty, and the string of other head-scratchers she appeared in the years after The Color Purple was released.

2016 – Best of the Best, Worst of the Worst, Grand Totals

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Well hello there!  

So here we are about to start the SIXTH year of this blog!  Hard to believe it and boy, does time fly.  Below I’ve compiled my list of the best and worst of 2016.  In all honesty, by the time it came to make this list things became a bit of a jumble and I decided to choose the movies that I had the strongest reaction to when I saw them.  I don’t revisit movies often but anything in the Top 5 are films that I’d add to my collection.  

As always, I’ve appreciated your feedback, your patronage, and your general presence in my blog. Even if you read this everyday but have never commented or made contact I can still tell you’ve been here and that means a lot.  My readership and subscriptions continue to increase every month/year and it’s all thanks to your word of mouth, likes, and shares.  If you haven’t already, make sure to follow this blog, follow me on Twitter (@joemnmovieman), and like my Facebook page so you can help me continue spreading the news about The MN Movie Man.

Best Wishes to you and yours for a most Happy New Year!

~Joe (The MN Movie Man)


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5. Zootopia – no one, least of all me, was thinking Zootopia was going to be any kind of blockbuster at the box office but this intelligent and riotously funny entry from Disney animation hit a perfect bullseye.  Equally entertaining for adults as it is for children, it has your typical Disney moral but it’s disguised cleverly in a plot that encourages parents to have a deeper discussion with their children on the ride home. From a DMV run by sloths and a running joke parodying The Godfather, I don’t think I laughed harder (or longer) in any movie this year.

4. Sing Street – as he’s shown in his previous films Once and Begin Again, director John Carney knows how to seamlessly weave music and story together to form a not-quite musical but not-quite non-musical feature. For me, this is his best effort yet.  Focusing on a merry ragamuffin band of teens in Dublin during the 1980s, Sing Street wore its heart on its sleeve and won me over nearly from the start.  The songs are wonderful (much better than the ones in Moana or La La Land, in my opinion) and the performances warmly winning. This got completely ignored during its theatrical run but I have a good feeling it will have a long life once people find it on streaming/on-demand services.

3. Pete’s Dragon – oh boy was I NOT looking forward to this remake.  The original was a nostalgic personal favorite of mine but, let’s be honest, was no classic.  Still, I just couldn’t fathom why or how Disney would redo Pete’s Dragon when there are new movies to be made.  Turns out this is one reimagining that managed to respect the past while making its own path…and what a wonderfully moving path it was.  Buoyed by director David Lowery’s sensitive script and across the board excellent performances, all these months later I still remember the unmitigated joy this one brought me.

2. Manchester By the Sea/Moonlight – I’m cheating, I know but I just couldn’t decide between the two.  Though both movies couldn’t be more different (culturally, at the very least) they shared an uncanny understanding of human nature and emotion few films can grasp.  Manchester’s tale of a troubled man called back to his hometown to take care of his nearly orphaned-nephew forced to face his demons is chock full of superlatives: performances, script, direction, ambiance.  Moonlight’s triptic of the life of a black man coming to terms with his sexuality and rising above the pain of his past is representative of the bold, staggering filmmaking all films should aspire to. There’s good reason both movies are going toe-to-toe in end of the year awards talk as each film leaves a lasting impression resonating in your heart and mind.

1. The Nice Guys – I don’t remember the last time a movie ended and I wanted a sequel immediately. Though I’m sure The Nice Guys wasn’t imagined as a franchise starter and its meager box office might not inspire its studio to fund another entry, I’m praying for another two hours to spend with these characters.  A mystery set in 1970s California, the movie starts with a bang and rarely takes a breath as it piles on dead bodies, twists, and turns.  Chemistry in movies is so important and no one nailed it better in 2016 than Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe who seemed like they’d been working together forever.  Writer/director Shane Black created the Lethal Weapon series…maybe The Nice Guys could follow suit?  Pretty please?

Honorable Mentions: A Monster Calls, Jackie, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Eye in the Sky, Everybody Wants Some!!, The Invitation, The Meddler, The Shallows, Kubo and the Two Strings, Green Room

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5. The Divergent Series: Allegiant – unwisely split into two movies, this third entry in the Divergent series was so bad and performed so poorly, the second half is now likely to skip theaters and go straight to video.  If I had my druthers, they’d just stop now and let this agonizingly awful series fade from memory. With terrible effects and even worse performances, this series has always been a rip-off of The Hunger Games but with this chapter it comes off like a parody of itself…and no one is laughing. Titanically terrible.

4. Suicide Squad – in all honesty, I was more than half-hoping Suicide Squad would be the movie that helped DC Comics get their footing back after the critical drubbing Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice took earlier in the year (for the record, BvS:DoJ wasn’t a bad movie at all…so there).  Sadly, Suicide Squad isn’t just more of the same…it manages to somehow be even worse.  All sound and fury that yields literally nothing, it’s got a strong cast and talented director whose vision was clearly neutered by the studio. An extended edition of this was released on video but I’m not sure how anyone could have fixed what was never whole to begin with.  A waste of time, resources, talent, and air.

3. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back – funny that in 2012 Jack Reacher was on my list of favorite films and this turd of a sequel nearly made it to the top of my worst of the year report.  This seven-car pile-up of an action film broke the box office winning streak of Tom Cruise and with good reason. There’s literally nothing commendable or recommendable about Cruise’s second go ‘round as the titular character.  I have carpet squares more talented than Cruise’s co-star, Cobie Smulders, and the rest of the supporting cast isn’t any better. Painfully trite and exceedingly dull, I was looking for the exit before the opening credits were complete.

2. Mother’s Day – Director Garry Marshall died shortly after this movie was released.  That should tell you something.

1. The Bronze – supposedly this film was a huge hit at various film festivals, inspiring a bidding war between independent studios but I can’t for the life of me figure out why. The most singularly repulsive film I saw in 2016 earns that honor by having zero redeeming qualities or likable characters, least of all Melissa Rauch’s one-joke (told badly) lead performance.  Rauch co-wrote the film with her husband and both should be fined somehow, someway for this crime against black comedies.  I don’t walk out of films ever but if someone were to have granted me a free pass to leave any film this past year, I would have grabbed my golden ticket less than fifteen minutes into The Bronze.

Dis(Honorable) Mentions: London Has Fallen, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Inferno, Rules Don’t Apply, Anomalisa

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Most Misunderstood: The Magnificent Seven (2016) – Despite it’s big stars, this remake of The Magnificent Seven failed to catch on with audiences or critics and I’m still scratching my head as to why.  A respectable Western that takes its time to carve out some otherwise stock characters should be celebrated instead of dinged for being too slow.  I actually enjoyed the pace of director Antoine Fuqua’s ensemble guns and guys gathering and if nothing else it’s a worthwhile experience just to see the normally stoic Denzel Washington loosen up a bit and have some fun.  It’s not as criminally misunderstood as previous choices but I was bummed out this one didn’t go further.
Honorable Mention: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Joe’s Humble Pie Award of 2015: The Choice – I’ve been burned and bored by many Nicholas Sparks films over the years so I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to get a look-see at The Choice.  Not featuring any big names and arriving with little fanfare, this turned out to be surprisingly strong and maybe the best adaptation since The Notebook.  True, it follows the Sparks pattern without deviation but I was taken with the characters and soaked up the beautiful location filming.  I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll revisit this one and feel differently than I do now, but for the time being I’ll give the film its due and say that I went in thinking I’d hate it but came out more than decently pleased with what I saw.
Honorable Mention: The Boss

Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen But Should

Captain Fantastic

Circle

Holding the Man

Housebound

I Smile Back

Imperium

Jenny’s Wedding

Kristy

Short Term 12

Tallulah

The Invitation (2015)

The Wave (Bølgen)

Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil

What Happened, Miss Simone?

Click HERE for a full listing of films seen in 2016
Total Movies Seen in the Theater96
Total Movies Seen at Home212
Grand Total for 2016 (not counting films seen multiple times)305
Where I Saw the Most Movies – Showplace Icon (48!)

Oscar Predictions 2016

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Hello!

Well, though I always find it difficult to nail down my Oscar selections pre-nomination day because I feel like I’m somehow cosmically jinxing  potential favorites, I’m once again taking part in The 2016 Oscar Contest over at Film Actually because…well…it’s just the right thing to do 🙂

This being a contest and all I threw in a few dark horse candidates and left out some bigger names just to keep it interesting.

I hope there are a few surprises tomorrow morning, though….even if it means I lose a few points in the contest 🙂

Below are my predictions for who will go to bed tomorrow night an Oscar nominee…

BEST PICTURE
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Carol
Mad Max: Fury Road
Room
Spotlight
Straight Outta Compton
The Big Short
The Martian
The Revenant

BEST DIRECTOR
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Ridley Scott, The Martian
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Todd Haynes, Carol

BEST ACTOR
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
Will Smith, Concussion

BEST ACTRESS
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Michael Shannon, 99 Homes
Sylvester Stallone, Creed

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria
Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

BEST EDITING
Creed
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Big Short
The Martian
The Revenant

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Ex Machina
Inside Out
Spotlight
Straight Outta Compton
The Hateful Eight

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Carol
Room
Steve Jobs
The Big Short
The Martian

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
A War
Embrace of the Serpent
Labyrinth of Lies
Mustang
Son of Saul

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Carol
Mad Max: Fury Road
Sicario
The Martian
The Revenant

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Bridge of Spies
Carol
Crimson Peak
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian

BEST SOUND MIXING
Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Straight Outta Compton
The Martian
The Revenant 

BEST SOUND EDITING
Mad Max: Fury Road
Sicario
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Brooklyn
Carol
Cinderella
Crimson Peak
Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Bridge of Spies
Carol
Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Hateful Eight

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Amy
Going Clear
He Named Me Malala
The Hunting Ground
The Look of Silence

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Anomalisa
Inside Out
Shaun the Sheep Movie
The Good Dinosaur
The Peanuts Movie

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Jurassic World
Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Martian
The Walk 

BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
Black Mass
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
‘See You Again’, Furious 7
‘Writings on the Wall’, Spectre
‘Love Me Like You Do’, Fifty Shades of Grey
‘Til It Happens to You’, The Hunting Ground
‘Simple Song 3’, Youth

2015 – Best of the Best, Worst of the Worst, Grand Totals

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Well hello there!  I wound up skipping my Best of 2014 list because when 2015 rolled around there were still too many “2014” movies that I hadn’t been able to catch.  Then one thing lead to another…and it was March!

So here we are starting the fifth year of this blog!  Hard to believe it and boy, does time fly.  Below I’ve compiled my list of the best and worst of 2015.  At first I was going to do a Top 10 for both because I absolutely had candidates to fill all the slots, but then I decided to stick with five each to truly highlight the best of the best and worst of the worst.

As always, I’ve appreciated your feedback, your patronage, and your general presence in my blog. Even if you read this everyday but have never commented or made contact I can still tell you’ve been here and that means a lot.  My readership and subscriptions continue to increase every month and it’s all thanks to your word of mouth, likes, and shares.  If you haven’t already, make sure to follow this blog, follow me on Twitter (@joemnmovieman), and like my Facebook page so you can help me continue spreading the news about The MN Movie Man.

Best Wishes to you and yours for a most Happy New Year!

~Joe (The MN Movie Man)

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5. Mad Max: Fury Road – like a lightning rod, the fourth Mad Max film conducted the kind of electricity that could fuel a dozen other pictures.  Director George Miller upped the ante for not only summer blockbusters but for filmmaking as a whole with his non-stop action flick that took no prisoners and left most 2015 films in its fiery dust. Starring Tom Hardy but owned by Charlize Theron, this Mad Max signaled the start of the summer season with a rocking battle cry. Truly amazing.

4. Creed – the best unexpected TKO of the year, Creed is really Rocky 7 but don’t let that stop you from entering the ring.  Star Michael B. Jordan brings a blistering intensity to the role of a young boxer trying to make a name for himself out from under the shadow of his legendary father’s career.  The biggest surprise is original star Sylvester Stallone stepping into the mentor role for his best performance since the original Rocky.  Stallone is valiant, vulnerable, and, under the direction of writer/director Ryan Coogler, fairly unforgettable.  A champion of a film.

3. Carol – anchored by two of the strongest performances of 2015, this love story between young Therese and married Carol is an achingly beautiful achievement from director Todd Haynes.  Delicate as a flower but steely enough to cut deep, it’s a picture about the understanding and acceptance of one’s own desires. Unlike anything else I’ve seen this year, it’s a gorgeous looking film that lingers in the memory long after you’ve left the theater.

2. Brooklyn – the most charming film of 2015, Brooklyn is a sweet love story set against the backdrop of Ireland and New York in the 1950’s.  It’s funny, sad, poignant, and delightfully underplayed so that by the time it reaches its emotional climax the tears it wrings from you are well earned.  Superbly acted and glowing with grace, it’s a wonderful wonderful period piece.

1. The Martian – the best film I saw in 2015 (twice) is Ridley Scott’s grand space adventure adapted from Andy Weir’s best-selling novel.  A full meal of a movie, there’s a little bit of something for everyone here from comedy to action to drama to suspense and even some surprisingly emotional arcs.  Powerfully led by Matt Damon and a small army of familiar faces, movies like The Martian are the reason why we go to movies, to be transported and changed. 

Honorable Mentions: Paddington, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Cinderella, Jurassic World, Magic Mike XXL, Far From the Madding CrowdThe Visit, Sicario, Crimson Peak, RoomStar Wars: The Force Awakens

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5. Love the Coopers – arriving like a stale piece of fruitcake, this turkey is reason enough for even the sweetest Christmas fan to say “Bah Humbug”.  It’s an obnoxious and lazy attempt at creating a warm family togetherness film with neither the direction nor the performances to help it rise from the sludge. Wasting the talents of its diverse ensemble cast, this is a White Elephant of a yuletide film.

4. Point Break – making the original 1991 film look like High Noon in comparison, this atrocious remake diverts so far from its dopey origins that it should have just ditched the title and shrugged off the obvious comparisons from its detractors.  With his unforgivable man-bun, heinous fake tattoos, and not good enough for the Sci-Fi channel acting, Luke Bracey leads the film right off a cliff sans parachute.  More focused on being an eco-message film than a heist flick, it sports beautiful cinematography but is overall a lamentable effort.

3. The Lazarus Effect – Kudos to you, Olivia Wilde.  You appeared in two of my least favorite films of the year.  Beautiful as she is, Wilde just can’t seem to find a film that suits her in the acting department and The Lazarus Effect is a prime example. Barely 80 minutes long, there’s no amount of spiritual help that could raise this one from the graveyard of bad horror thrillers.

2. Aloha– pay no attention to the critics that championed this gigantic turd of a film in 2015…they’ve been blinded by a devotion to a filmmaker that has lost his way.  Cameron Crowe’s colossal misfire makes every wrong turn in the book, from casting pale Emma Stone as a Native Hawaiian with a half-Asian father to an inability to assemble a movie that makes any kind of sense.  Legendary in its production for going through titles and reshoots like candy, the final product was more of an ‘adios’ to Crowe’s storied status in Hollywood.

1. The Water Diviner – this waste of a film won three Australian Academy Awards.  Three.  And one of them was Best Picture.  Well, turnabout is fair play and I’m awarding Russell Crowe’s directing debut with Worst Picture of the year honors.  An interminable slog through an incomprehensible plot and ridiculously banal performances, I was praying for some sort of divine intervention to cut the screening short.  It’s bad from the moment it starts until it releases us from our agony.

(Dis)Honorable Mentions: Inherent Vice, Blackhat, The Boy Next Door, Woman in Gold, Terminator Genisys, The Gallows, Dark Places, American Ultra, Freeheld, Jem and the Holograms, Victor Frankenstein

 

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Most Misunderstood

Hot Pursuit – Ok, so I’m not going to sit here and waste my time telling you that Hot Pursuit is a good movie because it’s fairly derivative from countless other female buddy pictures, too broad for words, and in the end is an inconsequential blip on the careers of stars Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara.  Where I took issue was how the movie was dragged through the grime by critics that would laud the same type of movie had it been released with males in the leading roles.  People took actual offense that Witherspoon went from an Oscar nominated turn in Wild to something so lightweight as Hot Pursuit and I kinda just wanted to tell ‘em all to scoot up a tree.  The film plays right into the strengths (and assets) of both leading ladies and is ultimately harmless.  It’s not great entertainment, but it’s not the garbage mess that people would have you believe.

Honorable Mention: San Andreas

Joe’s Humble Pie Award of 2015

The D Train – I’m a die-hard anti-Jack Black fan but even I had to admit that The D Train was one of the more unexpected small victories of 2015.  Black is winning as a lovable loser running his class reunion that makes a bid to get a famous-ish classmate to attend.  Flying out to California to convince the guy (James Marsden) to make an appearance, the film takes an unanticipated turn that audiences just won’t see coming.  The film has a dark charm and strong performances to justify your seeking it out.  I think you’ll be surprised…I was.

Honorable Mention: Mistress America

Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen But Should:

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

I’ll See You in My Dreams

Song of the Sea

The Hunting Ground

Beyond the Lights

Playing by Heart

Good Kill

Starry Eyes

The Taking of Deborah Logan

Click HERE for a full listing of films seen in 2015

Total Movies Seen in the Theater: 146

Total Movies Seen at Home: 176

Grand Total for 2015 (not counting films seen multiple times): 317

Where I Saw the Most Movies: Showplace ICON – 66!

Down From the Shelf ~ Jurassic Park III

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A decidedly odd couple with ulterior motives convince Dr. Alan Grant to go to Isla Sorna (the second InGen dinosaur lab.), resulting in an unexpected landing…and unexpected new inhabitants on the island.

Stars: Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Téa Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Trevor Morgan, Michael Jeter, Laura Dern

Director: Joe Johnston

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: It took four years for Steven Spielberg to direct a sequel to 1993’s Jurassic Park and with the problematic reception of The Lost World: Jurassic Park in 1997, the award-winning director was understandably cool to the thought about returning behind the camera for the third entry in 2011. Instead, Spielberg gave his old pal Joe Johnston (Captain America: The First Avenger) the chance to direct and while the end result was a marked improvement over his lugubrious sequel, Jurassic Park III has its own set of problems to contend with.

Paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neil, The Vow, making a welcome return to the series) is facing budget cuts and a scientific community more interested in his adventures at Jurassic Park than the research he’s devoted his life too. When a wealthy couple want to hire him and his assistant (Alessandro Nivola, American Hustle) to guide them on a sight-seeing trip over Isla Sorna (Site B featured in The Lost World: Jurassic Park), he reluctantly agrees as a way to make ends meet. Nevermind that series fans will know that Grant never set foot on Isla Sorna (Jurassic Park took place on Isla Nublar)…it’s a detail explained later but not very well. A crash landing is only the start to the bad luck Grant and company encounter as they try to survive an island with dinosaurs that have run amok and double-crossing members of their party.

At a trim 92 minutes (including credits) the film doesn’t take much time to breathe (or to think) and it’s probably best if you follow suit. Between some fairly terrible CGI dinosaurs and animatronic models that look like they were plucked out of your local science museum, the quality of the effects took a tumble here.  Odd colored dinosaurs look like they have graffiti on them and the raptors have mohawks…punk rock raptors? A big bad dino has a head that looks so fake you wonder if Johnston wasn’t making a spoof of the original film instead of a continuation of that story.

Performance-wise, only Neil (and a brief cameo from Laura Dern, The Master) have any real sense of urgency. Everyone else seems to be present to chew the scenery or be chewed on. Particularly bad is Téa Leoni who takes one too many pratfalls and apparently gets several haircuts during the 24 hours they are stranded on the island. Leoni also has an annoying way of running through the forest screaming and waving her arms and legs like she’s on fire, leading me to wonder if someone ever bothered to tell her she wasn’t in a comedy.

It’s not as boring as The Lost World; Jurassic Park but it’s far sillier. Depending on your mood, that could be either a good thing or a very bad thing. Watching it again recently I rolled my eyes a lot but didn’t have the outright disdain for it that I had when it was originally released. The script (with a contribution from Alexander Payne, Nebraska) feels like a tired third entry in a successful franchise, nothing more and nothing less. Its lackluster performance at the box office signaled the closing of this beleaguered park, a wise move if nothing of substance could be produced.

 

 

Down From the Shelf ~ The Lost World: Jurassic Park

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A research team is sent to the Jurassic Park Site B island to study the dinosaurs there while another team approaches with their own agenda.

Stars: Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Arliss Howard, Vince Vaughn, Pete Postlethwaite, Vanessa Lee Chester, Peter Stormare, Richard Schiff

Director: Steven Spielberg

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 129 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: I remember December 13, 1996 very well. I was in a theater at the Mall of America for the first showing of Tim Burton’s wack-a-doo sci-fi flick Mars Attacks! and was far more excited for the coming attractions that the feature presentation. You see, our local newspaper had let us know that the Mall of America would be one of a few theaters outfitted with a special “lighting surprise” that went along with the teaser trailer for director Steven Spielberg’s much-anticipated follow-up to his 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park.

OK…before we move on, take a moment and look at the teaser trailer I included above. I’ll wait.

Did you watch it?

OK…now for some explanation.

The lights go down and the trailer begins – a fairly simple teaser over all but every time there was a lightening flash when the words Something Has Survived appeared on screen the specially installed high powered strobe lights in the theater would flash a blinding light so it felt like you were right in the middle of the action. True, the effect was fairly unique but it also showed how downright dingy the walls and ceiling of the theater were.

I tell you this story because the gimmicky nature of the preview of The Lost World: Jurassic Park wound up being the most interesting thing about the movie. Fanboys and fangirls around the world were pretty bummed out when the sequel to one of the biggest films of all times landed like a soggy thud on Memorial Day weekend. Oh the film made bank at the box office, no question, but it lacked the energy and awe of its predecessor and played like a quick cash grab.

It’s been several years since the disaster at the original Jurassic Park and the mystery around the island still remains. When a British family picnicking on an island not too far away has a close encounter with some tiny dinos and a second site of dino creationism is revealed, mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum, The Grand Budapest Hotel) is called in by billionaire and Jurassic Park creator John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) to…well…it’s never really clear why he eventually agrees to be dropped in the middle of the dinosaur action again. It’s not for any sense of loyalty, that’s for sure…in the years after the park failure Hammond’s company tarnished Malcolm’s professional reputation.

Accompanied by a team that includes Richard Schiff (Entourage) and Vince Vaughn (The Internship), Malcolm is reunited with his girlfriend Sarah (Julianne Moore, Still Alice, slumming it for a chance to work on a big budget project with a high powered director), a research conservationist sent ahead as bait for Malcolm to follow. There’s also a pitiful subplot introducing Malcolm’s child (Vanessa Lee Chester) who stows away to spend more time with daddy.

There are just so many things going on in the film that it’s hard to pick up any thread to follow. There are too many people as well, part of the beauty of the original film was that it was easy to track the half dozen characters that fought for survival…there’s hundreds of people in the sequel and the end result is that you don’t really care who gets chomped and who lives to tell the story.

While there are a few perilous edge of your seat sequences there are far too many more stretches where nothing of import happens. A reliance on extra screen time for the dinosaurs seems like a ploy to pad the story and don’t even get me started at the hare-brained finale through the streets of San Diego. The entire film reminded me of King Kong, a film that Spielberg would toy with remaking almost a decade later.

Everyone here looks exhausted (when you can see them at all, too much of the film takes place at night or deep in the jungle ) and Spielberg himself seems to have given up halfway through. Rushed into production and only loosely based on Michael Crichton’s sequel to his mega-selling novel (Spielberg was the one that goaded him into writing it), the film feels so very heavy and devoid of the magic that made Jurassic Park a landmark achievement.