31 Days to Scare ~ Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Tucker & Dale are on vacation at their dilapidated mountain cabin when they are attacked by a group of preppy college kids.

Stars: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Philip Granger, Brandon Jay McLaren

Director: Eli Craig

Rated: R

Running Length: 89 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Check out the list of any of the “best of” horror films in the last five years and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil will likely be on all of them…with good reason. Effectively lampooning every aspect of the slasher film genre of the last 40 years, this is awesomely funny in addition to being rapturously gory. It’s perfectly cast and earns every laugh and groan along the way. So if you’re looking to go light on the scares but not venture into stupid or too family-friendly territory, fire up Tucker and Dale vs. Evil for an assured good time.

31 Days to Scare – Last Minute Ideas

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Boy, where did the time go?  October just flew by and, though I went a bit AWOL toward the end, I hope you’ve found your way to one or two new movies to add to your horror watchlist.  Until next year, I leave you with some last minute ideas if you’re looking for something different.

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The Woods

The Facts:

Synopsis: Set in 1965 New England, a troubled girl encounters mysterious happenings in the woods surrounding an isolated girls school that she was sent to by her estranged parents.

Stars: Agnes Bruckner, Patricia Clarkson, Rachel Nichols, Bruce Campbell, Marcia Bennett, Emma Campbell

Director: Lucky McKee

Rated: R

Running Length: 91 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: The Woods didn’t get much attention when it was released back in 2006, bypassing a wide release and arriving for home consumption with little fanfare. Pity. It’s quite a good little scare show with some nicely creepy moments. The performances are on target (notably Patricia Clarkson, an expert at mellow menace) and I loved how the forest elements made their way into the school corridors and even the wardrobe of the increasingly tightly wired staff. Though it gets a tad overstuffed toward the end and betrays a bit of its ‘girl power’ intentions, it’s an overall taut watch.

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Killer Party

The Facts:

Synopsis: A group of friends get trapped at a baby shower when a mysterious outbreak starts turning people into homicidal maniacs.

Stars: Drew Benda, Stephanie Beran, John Brody

Director: Alex Drummond

Rated: NR

Running Length: 80 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I’m not too keen on films that deal with mass hysteria surrounding the population turning into raging monsters but there’s something fun just on the edges of Killer Party that keeps things interesting. This low-budget effort earns high marks for its appealing cast and its attempts to both poke fun at the genre while making a not totally unsuccessful attempt at breaking some new ground. There’s a bevy of uber fake blood and guts and at 80 minutes feels too long, but the unexpected moments of humor and the feeling that everyone in front of behind the scenes are pals makes me look forward to the next film from these guys.

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 The Conspiracy

The Facts:

Synopsis: A documentary about conspiracy theories takes a horrific turn after the filmmakers uncover an ancient and dangerous secret society.

Stars: Aaron Poole, James Gilbert, Ian Anderson, Alan C. Peterson, Julian Richings

Director: Christopher MacBride

Rated: NR

Running Length: 84 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Please don’t run away when you hear the word found footage, ok? If you pass up The Conspiracy you’re missing a golden opportunity to take in a most surprising descent into the secret society the filmmakers discover. Most effective in its final act, the buildup may feel like it’s taking too long but the ultimate pay-off is worth the wait. This one gave me some good chills!

 

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Clown

The Facts:

Synopsis: A loving father finds a clown suit for his son’s birthday party, only to realize the suit is part of an evil curse that turns its wearer into a killer.

Stars: Andy Powers, Laura Allen, Peter Stormare, Elizabeth Whitmere, Christian Distefano

Director: Jon Watts

Rated: R

Running Length: 100 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Those with even the slightest fear of clowns likely recoiled at the above poster so let me make this clear…if the sight of Bozo or Ronald McDonald gives you the slightest bit of the heebie jeebies, steer clear of Clown. Though it feels like it should have been shorter and part of an anthology package, Clown gets it right most of the time by not being afraid to go to some dark places. Well designed with solid gore and splatter effects, this one sat on the shelf for a bit before being released but it’s well worth a watch. Just make sure anyone with coulrophobia isn’t anywhere near the vicinity.

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Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil

The Facts:

Synopsis: Tucker & Dale are on vacation at their dilapidated mountain cabin when they are attacked by a group of preppy college kids.

Stars: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Philip Granger, Brandon Jay McLaren

Director: Eli Craig

Rated: R

Running Length: 89 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Check out the list of any of the “best of” horror films in the last five years and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil will likely be on all of them…with good reason. Effectively lampooning every aspect of the slasher film genre of the last 40 years, this is awesomely funny in addition to being rapturously gory. It’s perfectly cast and earns every laugh and groan along the way. So if you’re looking to go light on the scares but not venture into stupid or too family-friendly territory, fire up Tucker and Dale vs. Evil for an assured good time.

The Silver Bullet ~ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Trailer #2)

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Synopsis: Rebels set out on a mission to steal the plans for the Death Star.

Release Date: December 16, 2016

Thoughts: Not that it’s a very high bar, but this second trailer for December’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is better than most films we’ve seen so far this summer.  Maybe even more than 2015’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, this spin-off prequel sends waves of nostalgia over the viewer. Director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) seems to have created a movie made now that feels like it was lensed in the ‘70s and has cast it with a striking group of fresh faces creeping their way up into the A-List.  I’m even more excited to see how this ties into the saga of films that it takes place before and it’s a given that the film will be a swell Christmas gift in just a few short months.   Watch the first teaser here.

Movie Review ~ Zootopia

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The Facts
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Synopsis: In a city of anthropomorphic animals, a fugitive con artist fox and a rookie bunny cop must work together to uncover a conspiracy.

Stars: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, J.K. Simmons, Idris Elba, Alan Tudyk, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer, Bonnie Hunt, Jenny Slate, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, Don Lake, Raymond Persi

Director:  Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush

Rated: PG

Running Length: 108 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: Here we are in the first week of March and I think I’ve found the first truly delightful film of the year. We’ve just emerged from a season of heavy dramas and a start of the year that featured a seemingly endless supply of disappointments and cheap cash grabs. So to find a film as breezy and bright as Zootopia is most welcome, it’s a place you’ll want to visit more than once.

Young Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is an idealistic young bunny rabbit that stands up to bullies and dreams of moving from her country life to Zootopia, an animal metropolis where predator and prey live in perfect harmony. With her sights set on becoming the first rabbit police officer, she overcomes the adversity of being 10 times smaller than her fellow police academy trainees and lands a job in the heart of the city. Relegated to the safety of being a meter maid, Hopps longs for more than just issuing parking tickets, though, and in short order gets involved with a plot to disrupt the peace between species.

It’s a surprisingly complex plot that’s dreamed up here, giving Disney Animation the opportunity to explore a world of anthropomorphic animals with no human presence. It’s also the longest fully animated film produced by Disney since Fantasia in 1940 and carries an earned PG rating for some scary moments. The length and rating may give parents cause for pause but I’d encourage families to get out and see this one because not only does it have a typically Disneyfied message of being true to oneself and kind to others it’s wonderfully animated and, at times, hysterically funny.

I like to laugh but don’t find myself often truly breaking down in movies so I have to admit that Zootopia hit my funny bone on several occasions. From a delightfully droll spoof of The Godfather to hilarious trip to the sloth-run DMV there are also references to Breaking Bad and a visit to an animal spa that really left me rolling. That the humor feels so genuine is a tribute to the script from eight screenwriters (the film went through some tweaking/reworking several times during production) .

It’s such a sunny romp that when there are dark turns, they land with the right amount of nuance instead of stinking of a laboriously false tonal shift. Zootopia is divided into several different sections meant to recreate the inhabitant’s native habitat. The city center is your typical city setting while there are occasional detours to a rainforest, desert, and frozen tundra. Each world is designed to look and feel different and Disney animators have gone all out with fine details that keep each section separate yet still related to the others.

The voice talent used here is also one of the most enjoyable casts that Disney has put together in quite some time. Goodwin is a bundle of joyous energy as Judy, as is Jason Bateman (Bad Words) as a sly fox who teams up with Judy in her investigation. Idris Elba (Prometheus) is commanding as Judy’s superior officer and J.K. Simmons (Terminator Genisys) pairs nicely with Jenny Slate (The Lorax) as Zootopia’s lion leader and his lamb second in command. And any chance to hear Bonnie Hunt (Monsters University) onscreen is welcome in my book.

Zootopia is being released in IMAX and 3D and while I normally go for the biggest and best presentation I can find, this is one that won’t suffer from a traditional viewing and in fact may be preferred as the 3D doesn’t have the same impact as other films of its kind.

Movie Review ~ Trumbo

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The Facts:

Synopsis: In 1947, Dalton Trumbo was Hollywood’s top screenwriter until he and other artists were jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs.

Stars: Bryan Cranston, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Louis C.K., Elle Fanning, John Goodman, Diane Lane, Alan Tudyk, Michael Stuhlbarg, Helen Mirren

Director: Jay Roach

Rated: R

Running Length: 124 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: Though it’s not a great movie, Trumbo has been enthusiastically received by the lords and ladies of Tinseletown and I think I know why.  There’s nothing Hollywood loves so much as a good redemption story…especially one that it’s involved with.  Any chance they have to pat themselves on the back is taken with glee, even if it’s involving a dark stain on its history that never should have happened in the first place.

Playing like a made for TV movie that could have aired on HBO (where director Jay Roach has seen several of his political projects find great acclaim over the last decade), Trumbo is a hammy take on the years when numerous Hollywood players were put on the blacklist thanks to the McCarthy hearings.  Thought to be Communists in a time of great fear of the unknown, friends turned on friends and the mere mention of affiliation with the Communist parties saw careers, not to mention lives, destroyed.

Already explored in countless films/documentaries over the years (including a fictionalized take like 1991’s also mediocre Guilty by Suspicion), the way that Trumbo could have set itself apart was not playing like a standard biopic of one man’s downfall.  Yet it falls prey to every convention, every plot trap, every pothole that you can think of.  It may be a mildly diverting piece of entertainment, but it doesn’t go beyond the surface.

What elevates the film is the presence of several star players.  Helen Mirren and John Goodman have some solid screen time and make the most of it.  Mirren (Hitchcock) is Hedda Hopper, the notorious Hollywood gossip columnist with a poison pen for anyone that crosses her.  Mirren’s demeanor changes on a dime when challenged and the actress balances that sweet/sour persona with ease.  Goodman (Flight) is also notable as the hot-headed small-time studio exec that isn’t one to be pushed around.  And before Diane Lane (Man of Steel) fades into the background as her role becomes mere wallpaper, she’s a strong matriarch in a family that’s struggling.

These three performances can’t save the picture, though, mostly because they aren’t the leading player.  I’ve long struggled with Bryan Cranston (Godzilla, Rock of Ages) onscreen, feeling that he’s never as good as people think he is and certainly lacking the charisma that made his Breaking Bad character such a legend.  He’s off the mark here for most of the picture, cartoonishly impersonating Dalton Trumbo’s voice and mannerisms that suggest he’s older than he really is.  It’s only when the character actually ages that the performance matches up.

Worst of the bunch is Louis C.K., completely out of his league as a disgraced writer dealt even more devastating blows as he falls from favor.  The comedian seems uncomfortable in front of the camera and with his dialogue, never convincing us that he’s to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor.  It’s a woefully poor performance, and put up against the roster of other strong cast members it just can’t be considered on the same level.

As a biopic, I guess Trumbo earns marks for its draft of events.  It’s workmanlike in its execution and the production design is pleasing.  Still, I kept waiting for the film to be better, to say something extraordinary…instead of just playing by the rules.  Aside from Mirren, Goodman, and Lane…it’s a fairly insignificant telling of a painful part of history.

Movie Review ~ Big Hero 6

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The special bond that develops between plus-sized inflatable robot Baymax, and prodigy Hiro Hamada, who team up with a group of friends to form a band of high-tech heroes.

Stars: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, Maya Rudolph, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk, Daniel Henney

Director: Don Hall, Chris Williams

Rated: PG

Running Length: 108 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: When Disney agreed to buy Marvel Entertainment for the cool sum of 4.64 million dollars they not only started to churn out live-action superhero movies by the truckload (just do an internet search for the multi-year slate of films recently announced) but they began to develop future animated collaborations with Marvel based on their comic book properties.  The first production of this union is Big Hero 6 and if this high energy, vibrantly colored adventure is any indication of what’s to come, both Disney and Marvel execs can start looking at purchasing those beach houses in the Hamptons and 40 foot yachts they’ve been holding off on.

In the city of San Fransokyo, young Hiro (Ryan Potter) is headed down the wrong path, wasting his tech-savy gifts on secret behind closed doors robot battles that may pad his pockets but gets him into hot water with thugs and his watchful brother. A chance visit to his brother’s elite school harnessing the best ideas from the brightest minds gets Hiro interested in following his brother’s footsteps. When tragedy strikes, Hiro must work with a rag-tag group of awkwardly diverse geniuses and one puffy vinyl nurse-like robot to save the world.

With characters first introduced in 1998, Big Hero 6 is an interesting concoction of East meets West styles and the classic origin story that all films of this type need at their genesis.  It plays very much like Guardians of the Galaxy, Disney’s surprise hit from August that slipped in at the last minute to be the most enjoyably film of a rather blah summer.  Even with echoes of Guardians of the Galaxy dancing in your head, Big Hero 6 emerges as its own entity with a fair share of honestly funny moments and the kind of every color of the rainbow animation that practically leaps off the screen.

It’s a rollicking good time and a better film that I thought it would (or could) be.  I laughed a lot and even felt some pangs of sadness, another example of the harmony that exists between the comic-book world of Marvel and the wise minds/hearts of the animators at Disney.

A winning film for parents with kids that too young for Iron Man and too old for Frozen, Big Hero 6 is clearly the start of a beautiful animated partnership.

The Silver Bullet ~ Big Hero 6

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Synopsis: The special bond that develops between plus-sized inflatable robot Baymax, and prodigy Hiro Hamada, who team up with a group of friends to form a band of high-tech heroes.

Release Date: November 7, 2014

Thoughts: Representing the first animated collaboration between Walt Disney Animation Studios and Marvel, Big Hero 6 has the potential to show off the best of what two proven franchise starters can do when they put their creative talents together. Based on a comic book of the same name, it’s interesting that you can clearly see the Disney influence reflected in the look of the film and also a clear indication that this is a Marvel adventure through and through. I’ve had zero exposure to the source material so I can’t tell you how much of a fan base this is coming in with…but Disney had a whopper of a hit last year in the same time period (Frozen) and Marvel hasn’t stumbled yet. Expect big things for this big hero.

Movie Review ~ Frozen

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Synopsis: Fearless optimist Anna teams up with Kristoff in an epic journey, encountering Everest-like conditions, and a hilarious snowman named Olaf in a race to find Anna’s sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom in eternal winter.

Stars: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk, Maia Wilson, Ciarán Hinds, Edie McClurg

Director: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

Rated: PG

Running Length: 108 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Perhaps it’s the kid that still bounces around within me, but I still get a little twinge of excitement every time a new Disney film is about to open. Though I’ve long since given up hope that the hand drawn animation of the late 80’s/early 90’s age of Disney films will ever truly make a comeback, I find myself remaining interested in what projects the studio is working on.

The latest output from the House of Mouse is a wintery musical (very) loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, refashioned as a tale of sisterly bonds and the embracing of our own individuality.  Featuring a welcome return to the musical roots of the Golden Age of the studio, Frozen boasts some very appealing tunes by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez heartily sung by a roster of Broadway actors that help to keep the movie afloat during several slow stretches.

After their royal parents are lost at sea, sisters Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell, Hit and Run) are left to rule the Nordic land of Arendelle. The sisters rarely speak due to a childhood accident involving Elsa’s powers to turn anything she touches to ice.  With the help of some magical trolls, the royal parents and Elsa decide to keep her away from Anna, adjusting her memory so that no harm can come to Elsa or the villagers that may not understand her powers.

This separation has come at a price, though, because Anna doesn’t understand why her sister has cut her off.  That all changes when Elsa comes of age to inherit the throne and accidentally unleashes a massive winter freeze on the sunny village and hills of Arendelle.  With Elsa fleeing to a wintery castle of her own creation, Anna treks after her to bring her sister home and end the chill of a winter without end.

Bell gives Anna just the right amount of pluck and spunk, not to mention a clarion singing voice that is a nice fit to the various musical styles of the Lopez/Anderson-Lopez score.  There’s some classic Disney princess-ey whimsy going on here and Bell skips right along with it.  Whether she’s dealing with a handsome prince (Santino Fontana, also lending strong singing chops) or bumping heads while climbing a mountain with the local (and now unemployed) ice delivery man (Jonathan Groff), Bell keeps Anna in good spirits and great voice.

While Menzel brings her Broadway belt with her for the Act 1 power ballad “Let it Go”, there’s something about her voice that doesn’t match up with the character that’s been animated for her.  The booming timbre and slightly raspy tones sound great on the CD but strangely feel awkward and out of place when you see it onscreen.  It’s a disappointing wrinkle and the fault lies with the concept animation, not in Menzel’s performance.

I’m not a huge fan of Josh Gad (Thanks for Sharing, jOBS, The Internship) but I have to say that this is probably the most I’ve enjoyed him in anything so far.  As charmingly daft snowman Olaf, Gad pretty much walks away with the movie thanks to his stellar timing and easy-going approach to what could have been a much sillier role.  There’s a welcome tenderness to this particular character that gives the movie extra oomph.

While the 3D animation is, as usual, crisp and intriguing I found myself less interested in it than I have in previous efforts like Tangled.  As pleasing as the voices are and as soothing as the snowflake heavy animation is, it all feels vaguely familiar…and not as original as I wanted it to be.  On the other hand, there’s something to be said about the magic of a Disney film and how it can somehow overcome its shortcomings.  Though initially pleased but not overwhelmed by the film, I find myself humming the tunes and thinking about the characters…and that’s nice when you consider how rare animated musicals are nowadays.

A special note, Frozen is preceded by a brand new neat-o Mickey Mouse animated short that gives a nice nod to the black and white cartoon origins of Disney before breaking through (literally) to a more modern day feel.  Don’t be late…and stay through the end credits of Frozen too!

The Silver Bullet ~ Frozen

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Synopsis: Fearless optimist Anna teams up with Kristoff in an epic journey, encountering Everest-like conditions, and a hilarious snowman named Olaf in a race to find Anna’s sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom in eternal winter

Release Date:  November 27, 2013

Thoughts: Disney’s update on the classic fairy tale The Snow Queen is sadly not going to be hand-drawn but should continue on in the footsteps of its non-Pixar animated slate that has been doing solid business the last few years (Tangled, Wreck-It-Ralph).  Right now, however, snow and ice are the last things that any summer loving movie-goer wants to think about in the middle of June.  I’m also getting a strong Ice Age feel from this teaser trailer that makes me hope a full preview with more substantial material is released  in short order.  Also interesting to note is that aside from lead Kristen Bell (Hit and Run), the voice talent assembled features a healthy roster of Broadway talent with the likes of Idina Menzel (Wicked), Jonathan Groff (Spring Awakening), Josh Gad (The Book of Mormon, and June’s The Internship), and Santino Fontana (Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella).  Could this mean Frozen has some music numbers thawing out…we shall see.

Movie Review ~ Wreck-It Ralph

The Facts:

Synopsis: A video game villain wants to be a hero and sets out to fulfill his dream, but his quest brings havoc to the whole arcade where he lives.

Stars: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Ed O’Neill, Mindy Kaling

Director: Rich Moore

Rated: PG

Running Length:  101 minutes

Trailer Review: Here and Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  Nostalgia filmmaking is not for everyone.  As much as something can seem like a slam dunk on paper, movie studios tend to tread carefully with films that might appeal to audiences that don’t go to the movies quite as often as they used to.  If they get it wrong, they’ve alienated your base demographic and the repeat business is a bust.  If they get it right, they guarantee their product has a longer shelf life.  Thankfully, the makers of Wreck-It Ralph fall into the latter category and have delivered a high gloss animated comedy that is a mostly winning treat.

I’ve always appreciated that the Walt Disney Studios haven’t been afraid to look for anti-heroes when creating new work.  The central character in Wreck-It Ralph is the ‘bad guy’ in an 80’s style video game that longs to be a winner.  Now, he’s not asking to be good necessarily…he just wants to win the coveted medal that his nemesis Fix-It Felix achieves every time he defeats Ralph.  We are given an inside look at the world inside Ralph’s game and see what happens when the arcade closes and the work day ends for the inhabitants of the game.

Yeah, there is more than a passing connection to Toy Story in that aspect but the similarities end there.  When Ralph goes “Turbo” (explained in greater detail with a neat-o double twist) and leaves his game for greater glory, he sets off a series of events that threatens to pull the plug on several games.  Along the way he enters a first person military game and then winds up in a Candy Land-eqsue racing game (Sugar Rush) where he meets a mischievous glitch that may hold the key to salvation.

The film is a candy color-ed adventure that works on several levels.  It’s quite creative in its employment of familiar characters to anyone that ever had an Atari or Nintendo growing up.  There are enough in jokes and references that don’t go too far over the heads of youngsters that adults will get a kick out of things as well.  It’s also (per usual Disney fare) a strong morality tale of being happy with yourself for who you are, not what people may label you as being.

Reilly is a nice choice to voice Ralph…his genial lunk headed-ness comes across well in an easy-going delivery that allows audiences to feel empathy for our nice-bad guy.  Silverman goes wild as glitch Vanellope and Lynch does her normal shtick as a hardened soldier that falls for Felix (McBrayer).  Tudyk channels Ed Wynn as the crazed King Candy who is intent on keeping Vanellope out of a big race that the film speeds toward.

With the added benefit of some swell 3D and a perfected Disney sheen, Wreck-It Ralph is an enjoyable film that probably goes on ten minutes too long.  It’s in these extra ten minutes, gathered from various scenes along the way that you start to feel a bit bogged down by some unnecessary restatements of thoughts/ideas the film has already made clear.

With a curious lack of strong family fare this holiday season, it’s no wonder that Wreck-It Ralph has cleaned up at the box office the past few weeks.  It’s getting some competition in the next few weeks but expect this one to stay on top of them all a while longer.  It’s typically strong Disney fare that has its heart and brain in the right place.