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.

Down From the Shelf ~ Poltergeist III

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Carol Anne is staying with relatives in a high-rise building and the supernatural forces that have haunted her previously follow her there.

Stars: Heather O’Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Tom Skerritt, Nancy Allen, Lara Flynn-Boyle

Director: Gary Sherman

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 98 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: The best thing that can be said about Poltergeist III is that at least it’s better than its predecessor…though the bar was set so low by Poltergeist II: The Other Side that that’s not saying much.  The third sequel to one of my all-time favorite films had a troubled production and limped onto the screen amidst a cloud of doom.  Still, it has one or two interesting sequences and is more than competently made…but fails to deliver on anywhere near the same level at Poltergeist.

Young Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) has been sent to live with her aunt (Nancy Allen, Carrie) in a new high-rise apartment building in Chicago.  She’s there to attend a school for the gifted but it’s clear that it’s maybe more to give her beleaguered family some distance from the girl that attracts ghosts…and most likely because JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson wanted nothing to do with the movie.  Her aunt lives with her new husband (Tom Skerritt, Steel Magnolias) and stepdaughter (Lara Flynn-Boyle) in a gloriously late ‘80s mirrored apartment…a perk of his job as one of the developers of the building.

It’s not exactly clear how it happens but somehow the vengeful spirit of Reverend Kane wasn’t totally vanquished in the previous film and has tracked Carol Anne down with the intent to finally take her to the other side.  This traveling ghost takes a page from the shark in JAWS: The Revenge and travels out of his comfort zone to lay claim to the girl that got away.  Over the course of an evening, Carol Anne and her family are hunted by Kane and his minions of spirts throughout the building, from the parking garage to the swimming pool.

Now I firmly believe that a good movie could have been made of the material here…but director Gary Sherman was either too limited by the paltry budget or his imagination to deliver a worthy film that wound up putting the final nail in the Poltergeist coffin.  Not that he was helped by the numerous maladies that seemed to plague the film…chief being the tragic death of O’Rourke before the film was finished.

Performances are all over the board here with Skerritt and Allen showing up for their paychecks (though Allen seems to have fun with how alarmingly insensitive she is to her niece) and O’Rourke improving slightly on her dreadful previous performance as Carol Anne.  It’s nice to see Flynn-Boyle’s first screen appearance but stormy weather arises when Zelda Rubinstein shows up to preside over a master class of bad acting.

A film that’s literally just smoke and mirrors, it’s a shame that Poltergeist III couldn’t make something of material that should have worked better than it did.  With multiple deaths associated with the series that came to be known as the Poltergeist Curse, it’s no wonder the studio took one look at the finished project and anemic box office returns and decided to call it quits on future installments.

 

Down From the Shelf ~ Poltergeist II: The Other Side

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The Freeling family has a new house, but their troubles with supernatural forces don’t seem to be over.

Stars: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Heather O’Rourke, Oliver Robins, Zelda Rubinstein, Julian Beck, Will Sampson, Geraldine Fitzgerald

Director: Brian Gibson

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 91 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: It’s no secret that the mid ‘80s produced a bad case of sequelits in most major studios and after 1982’s Poltergeist scared the pants of audiences throughout the summer it didn’t take a genius to see that a sequel would be on its way.  Released in May of 1986, Poltergeist II: The Other Side is one of the worst sequels ever and while it doesn’t tarnish the memory of its predecessor it sure gives it the good college try.

It’s been one year since the Freeling family encountered some nasty goings-on in their storybook like tract-house in suburban California.  Steve (Craig T. Nelson, Silkwood), Diane (JoBeth Williams, The Big Chill), Robbie (Oliver Robins), and Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) are living with Diane’s mother (Geraldine Fitzgerald) while they find a place to live.  In the original film there was a third child and she’s never mentioned…at all.  Tragically, the young girl that played the role was murdered shortly after the film was released, the first to die in what was later called the Poltergeist curse.  I get that they didn’t want to recast the role but to not mention her at all was very strange.

Anyway, our feisty medium Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) has enlisted the help of an Indian shaman (Will Sampson) to help dig through the remains of the original Freeling home to discover secrets of the bodies that were buried under the development.  She uncovers the skeletons of a religious cult that died with their leader, Reverend Kane (Julian Beck, the second actor to die, this time before the movie was even released).  Somehow the spirit of Kane is released and again targets Carol Anne…hilarity, sorry, hysteria ensues.

It’s been rumored that Poltergeist II: The Other Side went through some major cuts in the editing room and it shows.  At a scant 91 minutes, the film doesn’t have the luxury of the slow burn that made the first film so enormously enjoyable. It’s a very get in and get out affair with a special effects heavy third act that inspires more snoozing than shrieking.

Especially disappointing is how bad the performances are here.  Nelson and Williams seem like they’re serving community service, but I’d be mad too if I had to pretend to vomit up a gigantic animatronic tequila worm like Nelson does in one particularly nasty scene.  Robins was never an especially, um, gifted child star and when he’s attacked by his braces you may be rooting for the metal to win.  The angelic O’Rourke was a tiny six year old in Poltergeist and her performance felt spontaneous and without guile…but in the four years between films she must have enrolled in too many child acting classes because she stinks.  While I loved Rubinstein’s unexpected charisma in the first film, her Razzie Award nomination for the sequel was absolutely deserved.

The worst thing about Poltergeist II: The Other Side is not that it’s a cheap money grab for fans of the original…it’s that it’s so very boring.  Though loaded with decent effects and benefiting from Jerry Goldsmith’s haunting score, it barely holds your interest for even seconds at a time.  It’s a silly mess that doesn’t even deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the landmark film it followed.

Down From the Shelf ~ Poltergeist (1982)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: As a family moves into their new home, they notice strange events that mostly affect their young daughter.

Stars: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Heather O’Rourke, Oliver Robins, Dominique Dunne, Beatrice Straight, Zelda Rubinstein, Richard Lawson, James Karen

Director: Tobe Hooper

Rated: PG

Running Length: 114 minutes

TMMM Score: (10/10)

Review:  How sweet it is to feel the tingle that goes up your spine when you’re sitting down watching a truly satisfying horror film…there’s just no other feeling like it.  Horror films have come and gone over the years, each one a more cannibalistic example of mindless copies of something original.  But try as they might, no haunted house ghost tale can hold a candle to classics like 1963’s The Haunting and 1982’s Poltergeist.  Both films are handsome, classy productions that aren’t cheap scarefests and each delight in playing (or rather, preying) on the things that scare you.

Poltergeist is one of my favorite films of all time because it fits into several categories at once (like the best horror films do…see JAWS as an example).  It’s a drama, a mystery, a midnight movie freak out, a paranormal thriller, and a period piece all centered on one suburban Regan-era family out to live the good life in a new home development that holds its share of buried secrets.

Life for the Freeling family is pretty typical of the time period.  Dad Steve (Craig T. Nelson, Silkwood) is a sales agent for the residential development where he lives with his wife Diane (JoBeth Williams, The Big Chill), and three children (Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robins, Heather O’Rourke).  The kids go to school, the mom cleans the house, sports are watched on the television over the weekend, and the biggest problem they face is worrying about the new pool they’re putting in the backyard.

Strange things begin to happen, though, seemingly out of the blue.  Little Carol Anne (O’Rourke) starts to talk to the television and the “TV people” that want to play with her.  A scary tree and ominously stormy nights keeps young Robbie (Robins) from getting a peaceful slumber.  Not to mention the kitchen chairs that stack themselves and some strange gravitational pull that moves things across the room at an alarming pace.  It all culminates in the film’s first big scare and before you know it, Carol Anne has vanished yet her presence and voice remain in the house.

What happens next involves a team of paranormal investigators (lead by Oscar-winner Beatrice Straight) and one tiny medium (Zelda Rubinstein) as they attempt to help the Freelings find their daughter and rid their house of the titular entity that for some reason has targeted them for trouble.

Directed by Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and written/produced by Stephen Spielberg (Lincoln), the film is a welcome blend of the eye-popping scares that Hooper was famous for capturing under the watchful hand of Spielberg’s sensitive script.  I’ll admit that there’s a part in the film which always causes me to tear up a bit…how often do you find that in a film that literally tosses skeletons and rotting flesh at the screen?

What’s so wonderful about Poltergeist is that even though it spawned two disappointing sequels, inspired three decades worth of copycats, and is clearly a film from the early ‘80s it manages to remain timeless and timely.  The scares continue to work like gangbusters and no matter how many times I’ve seen it I never manage to lose interest in the story being told.

Down From the Shelf ~ Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A former Australian policeman is rescued by a tribe of children when he is banished from a desert town and sent into the desert to die by the desert town’s evil queen.

Stars: Mel Gibson, Tina Turner, Bruce Spence, Angry Anderson

Director: George Miller & George Ogilvie

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 107 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: It’s interesting to look back at Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and realize that it arrived in theaters before Mel Gibson ever took up with Danny Glover in the Lethal Weapon films.  Though the actor had increased his street cred with roles in dramatic films, he wasn’t yet a household name as an action star…but he sure was on his way when the third film in the Mad Max series was released in 1985.

Some have turned up their noses at director George Miller’s second sequel to Mad Max, his landmark film of 1979.  While Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior had done good business in 1981, it had a shiny little R rating to keep the violence high and make it a more enticing option for teens to sneak into.  With the arrival of the PG-13 rating in 1984, studios realized the value in a movie that could be given the stamp of approval as more than a tame family film but less than an adults-only affair.  So Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was shot with a PG-13 rating in mind…and while certain fans scoffed at Miller going soft with his mythological hero Max Rockatansky, I found this to be the best of the Mad Max films starring Mel Gibson.

Admittedly, the film is probably the most dated of all with its synth score (from Maurice Jarre, taking over for Brian May) and cineplex friendly three act structure.  While Mad Max had the most story to tell, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior eschewed most plot contrivances and just became a locomotive of action scenes and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome falls somewhere in the middle.  It’s been said that Miller was less focused on this film after the tragic death of longtime friend and producing partner Byron Kennedy and it shows.  The overall effect of the film feels handled with less care than its predecessors, though it still advances the legend of the cop turned seeker of vengeance.  Miller actually shares directorial responsibilities with George Ogilvie who helmed the action-less scenes, freeing up Miller to add his flair to the over the top chase sequences that had at that point become the calling card for his Mad Max adventures.

The first half of the film is arguably better than the latter, with Max entering into Barter Town and meeting up with Aunt Entity (a marvelously game Tina Turner) who enlists his help in regaining control over rogues that threaten her rule.  When the deal goes south and Max takes a spin inside the death match of the Thunderdome, it sets the stage for an unexpected detour into a tale that involves a lost band of children who see Max as their champion (inspiring Turner’s closing credit jingle We Don’t Need Another Hero, one of two good sound tunes she contributes to the proceedings).

Though the film stumbles a bit on the way to its soft ending, I still found myself engaged more than ever with Gibson (The Expendables 3) and the plot cooked up by Miller.  It may be rather typical fare, especially considering the era, and it’s too long but it’s an enjoyable example of the mid ‘80’s summer blockbuster offerings.  Plus, it has a fabulous poster…the last one created by legendary artist Richard Amsel.

Down From the Shelf ~ Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

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The Facts:

Synopsis: In the post-apocalyptic Australian wasteland, a cynical drifter agrees to help a small, gasoline rich, community escape a band of bandits.

Stars: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Michael Preston

Director: George Miller

Rated: R

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: With 1979’s Ozploitation epic Mad Max being made on the cheap and going on to become the highest grossing film in Australia, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that a sequel would find its way to cinemas Down Under…but what about the United States?  The original had a release that was famously bungled by its indie studio so when Mad Max 2 made its way stateside Warner Brothers was ready to snap it up.  They had a problem though…how do you give a profitable wide-release to Mad Max 2 when most audiences hadn’t heard of Mad Max?  The answer, rename the film The Road Warrior.

When I was young and started browsing the video store shelves, I never could remember which came first, Mad Max or The Road Warrior but the differences between the two films is totally clear.  Where Mad Max was a revenge tale (a genre popular with the Death Wish-heavy 1970s) The Road Warrior cantered on the fine line between car chase action and apocalyptic sci-fi.  Also, with the central character of Max (Mel Gibson, The Expendables 3) getting his revenge at the end of the first film (sorry, was that spoiler?) screenwriter and director George Miller chooses to bring Max forward as less of a man and more of a myth-based savior for a band of rebels fighting to protect their stash of the now-rare gasoline from a band of outlandish psychopathic thieves.

It’s 94 minutes of near non-stop action, with Miller using his added budget and resources to focus on creating death machines that race through a dystopian Australian Outback where no one is safe.  There’s precious little in the way of dialogue (Gibson has about 20 lines) or special effects, a formula Miller would use on all of his Mad Max tales.  While the central bad-guys may lack a little of the terrifying nearness of Mad Max’s Toecutter, it’s a muscle-bound lot of crazies that bring purposeful color to Miller’s barren wasteland.  Ending with a whopper of a chase, The Road Warrior is what Aliens was to Alien…a film that takes a valuable character and enriches them.

Check out my review of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome!

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