Movie Review ~ Here After

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A struggling actor dies right after a bad breakup, awakening to a singles Purgatory where he must find his soul mate in order to cross over to the other side as if dating in New York wasn’t hard enough already.

Stars: Christina Ricci, Andy Karl, Nora Arnezeder, Jackie Cruz, Michael Rispoli

Director: Harry Greenberger

Rated: NR

Running Length: 121 minutes

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review:  Doing this long enough you know not to make up your mind about a movie in the first five minutes because, more often than not, a film (especially an indie one) needs some time to settle in and shake off some jitters.  It’s almost a common courtesy to give some extra breathing room and I’m more than happy to grit my teeth a little longer, giving a movie the benefit of the doubt as long as possible.  I tell you this so you know that I tried, I really tried, to give Here After (or, Faraway Eyes, it’s listed as both on IMDb and in the end credits) the widest berth to win me over during its incredibly overstuffed run time.  After 125 minutes, I’m afraid that my thoughts toward it at the beginning hadn’t changed much.  This was a seriously problematic movie with an especially pungent lead character.

You don’t KNOW how much this bums me out because I truly enjoy Andy Karl (Joyful Noise) who plays Michael, the unfortunate soul who dies in a car crash shortly after breaking up with his girlfriend at the airport.  Opening with Michael on a gurney giving a monologue directly to the camera about a sexual escapade he had at 16 involving handcuffs and a cute redhead from school, I’m unsure how writer/director Harry Greenberger thought this would go over to the majority of audience members.  Did he think this story would be endearing?  Funny?  Charming?  It’s sort of…misogynistically putrid and everything that happens to Michael after that point you almost completely don’t care about because of how we meet him.  Yet we still have two hours to go.

After he dies, Michael has a meeting with Scarlet (Christina Ricci, Mermaids) a platinum haired, glassy-eyed corporate-type heavenly being in a red suit that tells him he died without ever finding his soulmate.  He can’t “proceed” without finding his soulmate among the other souls that are currently wandering around without a match.  Michael doesn’t take this news well and heads straight for the bar where he launches into another bit of odd stream of consciousness ramblings. Finally, he remembers he has a schmuck uncle (Michael Rispoli, Cherry) who died recently and perhaps he also stuck around and could offer some advice.

This is where the movie truly goes gutter because Rispoli’s character has got to be one of the most repugnant and repulsive creations put to film.  Always ready with some trashy remark about the opposite sex or a tired slur about the same sex, Michael’s uncle eventually takes him to a women’s locker room for a man to man talk where they can discuss their situation on finding a mate while invisibly watching naked women walk around.  Interspersed through all of these uncle scenes are a bevy of totally filthy comments about body parts, cavities, and sex devices that were almost enough for me to throw in the towel.

The movie thinks it’s picking up when Michael meets Honey Bee (Nora Arnezeder, Army of the Dead) but that’s just when it begins ripping off Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight series.  Ever wanted to know what it’s like being on a date with two boring people that are getting to know one another…especially when they start to talk about what kind of music they like?  Fire this one up!  Loading plot complication upon plot complication, not only is Honey Bee alive but can still see the undead Michael (so couldn’t be the soulmate he seeks), but she also has a psycho stalker (Alex Hurt) that won’t leave her alone.  I mean…has he walked around talking about music with her?  He’d run for the hills if he had.

I’m a little surprised Broadway star Karl (and he’s great on Broadway, I’ve seen him, I’ve met him, he’s a star, no question) showed up in this.  Either he’s a friend of Greenberger or the chance to star in a film was too big of an opportunity to pass up.  It’s a shame because Here After is a real dog, for everyone involved.  Even the supporting players get stuck with lame dialogue and this odd CGI space that looks like a Zoom background set to ‘Blur’.  Poor Jackie Cruz (Midnight in the Switchgrass) …not only does she have to say Greenberger’s gaggingly smug dialogue but she’s wedged into this weird wig.  The small bright spot of Jeannie Berlin (Inherent Vice) as Michael’s mom doesn’t burn bright for long, Greenberger keeps making her reference jars of pickles she gave him that he kept in his refrigerator.  I know, this sounds odd.  Now think about my having to watch it and then recount it for you.

You roll the dice with every movie you watch, and they aren’t all going to be winners.  Sometimes you roll the dice so hard they bounce back and hit you in the forehead and that’s what Here After felt like.  It’s so thick with heavy-handed plot devices that rely on toxic maleness it’s almost stifling.  Speaking of stifling, try not to full on yawn during the closing song from Debbie Harry played over the credits.  Advertised on the poster, it was the one thing I was looking forward to as things were drawing to a close but it was just as off-key and strange as the film. 

In Praise of Teasers ~ The Addams Family (1991)

In 2013 I was feeling pretty blue about the state of movie trailers.  For a time, it was imperative for me to get to a theater in time for the previews or else some of the fun would be missing from the experience of going to the movies because, let’s face it, sometimes the coming attractions were more entertaining than the feature presentation.  That started to change when the previews became less of a creative way to market the film and more of way for studios to put all their cards on the table with little artistry.  Like I said back seven years ago, it seems like nearly every preview that’s released is about 2:30 minutes long and gives away almost every aspect of the movie, acting more like a Cliff Notes version of the movie being advertised rather than something to entice an audience into coming back and seeing the full product.

Sadly, in the years since I did my first run of the In Praise of Teasers series, not a lot has changed and it may have gotten worse.  It’s gotten to the point where I almost avoid watching a trailer all together because so much of the plot is given away.  This site used to feature a wealth of movie previews but I just can’t bring myself to post too many because they’re so spoiler-y.  Only the rare well-done coming attraction or preview for an “event” film gets through…and even then I can’t think of anything recent that could go toe-to-toe with the brief bites I’m going to share with you over the coming weeks.

That’s why I’ve decided to revive In Praise of Teasers now.  In this day and age where all aspects of a movie are fairly well known before an inch of footage is seen the subtlety of a well crafted “teaser” trailer is totally gone…and I miss it…I miss it a lot.  Let’s revisit some of the teaser trailers I fondly remember and, in a way, reintroduce them. Whether the actual movie was good or bad is neither here nor there; but pay attention to how each of these teasers work in their own special way to grab the attention of movie-goers.

The Addams Family (1991)

Any dissection of the art of the teaser trailer simply must include a look at the one for The Addams Family.  Notable for its length and also because it was produced solely for the teaser with no other footage from the final film used, it’s a real winner.  Personally, I always get a kick out of these cinematic moments that break the fourth wall and acknowledge the audiences.  Movie buffs that like to go over the finer details will notice actor Christopher Lloyd’s Uncle Fester’s make-up differs greatly from how he looked when the movie was released and there are some that speculate it isn’t even Lloyd you see here.  Reading the recently released autobiography of the films director, “Barry Sonnenfeld, Call Your Mother: Memoirs of a Neurotic Filmmaker”, I found out how arduous it was to get the movie made but as you can see from the rarely seen short teaser below, the creative team assembled really got it right from the beginning, leading the movie to be a certified hit.  I do remember seeing this a few times in theaters the summer of 1991 but once the full trailer was released it understandably vanished, but it’s nice to see it again after all these years.  It also speaks to the audience recognition of the characters that there isn’t even a title listed at the end!

For a refresher on my previous series back in 2013, check out my posts on Alien, Misery, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Showgirls, Jurassic Park, Jaws 3D/Jaws: The Revenge, Total Recall, Halloween II: Season of the Witch

31 Days to Scare ~ Halloween Treats

So here we are, it’s Halloween!  We’ve made it through 31 days of monsters, slashers, hauntings, old classics, new favorites, and just the occasional disappointment.  Overall, it’s been a good time and I thank you for taking this ghoulish journey with me.  I wanted to leave you with not just one review but with five movies to think of this year if you can’t decide on what to watch after the trick-or-treaters have gone home or if you turned out the lights early and wanted the evening to yourself.  These are some well-tested favorites of mine and even if you have your own list of movies that are Halloween traditions keep these five scary selections in mind for the future.

Hope you had a great 31 Days to Scare!  

The Facts:

Synopsis: When the king of Halloween Town, Jack Skellington, gets bored of his job preparing for Halloween every year, he discovers Christmas Town and is inspired to take control of Christmas season for a change. Unfortunately his ghoulish subjects have difficulty getting the festive holiday quite right.

Stars: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix, Catherine O’Hara, Paul Reubens

Director: Henry Selick

Rated: PG

Running Length: 76 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  You’ve stuck with me all month so I’m going to let you in on a big secret that I’ve kept – I HATED this movie the first time I saw it.  I thought it was so slow, so stupid, and I couldn’t wait for it to be over.  Flash forward several years and I watched it again on video and wondered what the hell my problem was when I originally caught it in theaters.  This stop-motion animated film based on a poem by Tim Burton has now become a treasured favorite of mine, not just for its clever wit and gorgeous technical elements but for its beautiful music and story.  Watching Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon but sung by Danny Elfman) grow weary with his reign as king of Halloweentown and finding pure joy when he discovers Christmastown is a delight whether you consider this a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie.  If you can’t decide, maybe split the difference and make it a Thanksgiving option… It does skew a bit older due to some intense sequences with impish kidnappers and a main villain that’s bug-infested, so it’s not for young children (hence the PG rating) but for kids not yet old enough for more adult fare (and PLEASE, let them be kids a while longer!) this is a good option.  You just might get sucked in too!  I just love this one.

The Facts:

Synopsis: In a tiny California town, high school students discover a strange, gelatinous substance that melts the flesh of any living creatures in its path.

Stars: Kevin Dillon, Shawnee Smith, Donovan Leitch Jr., Jeffrey DeMunn, Candy Clark, Joe Seneca

Director: Chuck Russell

Rated: R

Running Length: 95 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: You can keep the memories of 1958 original version of The Blob safely in your heart and still find immense fun with this dynamite 1988 remake.  Director Chuck Russell pivoted off the success of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors to this wonderful update about an outer space goo that lands on the outskirts of a California town and begins to feed off of any living thing it comes in contact with.  The more it eats, the bigger it gets and it proves to be an unstoppable force capable of getting in anywhere it wants…like it has a mind of its own.  Recently released in a new Collector’s Edition BluRay from Scream Factory, The Blob is often mentioned in discussions of best modern remakes and for good reason.  It moves like a locomotive and boasts some great effects…and it’s funny too!  Aside from star Kevin Dillon’s remarkable mullet, it’s aged fairly well also.  This is a good one to have in your back pocket if you have friends coming over – it’s short enough to not take up all of your night and so surprisingly entertaining that you’ll earn points for suggesting it.  A fun ride — this is a title I always wished I was old enough to have seen when it first played in theaters.

The Facts:

Synopsis: Ichabod Crane is sent to Sleepy Hollow to investigate the decapitations of three people, with the culprit being the legendary apparition, The Headless Horseman.

Stars: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien, Michael Gough

Director: Tim Burton

Rated: R

Running Length: 105 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: So here’s another one that I eventually came around to after not loving it the first time.  With Sleepy Hollow, I think my expectations were so high that it came down to me just feeling like it wasn’t the movie I wanted it to be when actually Tim Burton gave me something much more sophisticated.  I watched this one again a year or so ago and was surprised at a) how fully immersed into the time period the movie brought audiences and b) how deliciously frightening some moments were.  Burton and his often used muse Depp were firing on all cylinders here and even if Depp’s Ichabod Crane was painted as a bit more of an outcast than an odd duck, he’s still presented as a sympathetic lead audiences could relate to.  Burton hadn’t fully given himself over to being so CGI heavy and while there are large portions of the movie relying on computer effects an equal amount is practical as well.  Add to that some fun supporting performances by a stable of faces familiar to old school horror fans as well as a whodunit mystery element that diverged from Washington Irving’s original story and you have something that feels fresh.  A good date night scary movie thanks to some nice jolts, a decent amount of blood, and a quirky Gothic romance between Depp and co-star Christina Ricci.

The Facts:

Synopsis: A family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter where a sinister presence influences the father into violence, while his psychic son sees horrific forebodings from both past and future.

Stars: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Philip Stone

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Rated: R

Running Length: 144 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: You don’t have to use the November 8 release of Doctor Sleep, the Stephen King-penned sequel to his 1977 novel The Shining as an excuse to revisit Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation.  This is one movie that works any time of year but add in that extra layer of Halloween atmosphere and the tale of a man driven insane while serving as a imposing hotel’s winter caretaker and you have a doozy of a scare fest.  Kubrick infamously made alterations to the novel that King didn’t approve of but audiences haven’t seemed to care much over the years, routinely naming The Shining one of the all-time great horror films.  It’s extended running time requests your full attention and Jack Nicholson’s lead performance demands it – that indelible image of his crazed face pressed against a door as he tries to get to his unraveling wife (poor Shelley Duvall who really suffered making this film) and troubled son (a grating Danny Lloyd) is burned into many a memory.  The supernatural elements of the movie are handled by Kubrick with a mix of reality and fantasy, blurring the lines constantly so we’re as off-kilter as Nicholson is by the time he fully loses it.  It’s a completely unforgettable film that I’ve come to appreciate more the older I get.  Those wanting to do an even deeper dive into the mythology behind the movie should check out the documentary Room 237.

The Facts:

Synopsis: A group of women organize a trip into a large cave. After descending underground, the women find strange paintings and evidence of an earlier expedition, then learn they are not alone.

Stars: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, Nora-Jane Noone, MyAnna Buring

Director: Neil Marshall

Rated: R

Running Length: 99 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: For the strong-willed among you, The Descent is a great option to test your mettle.  It’s one of the best horror films to come out in the last few decades and remains one of the single most frightening movies I’ve seen.  I remember watching this in theaters and at one point wondering who just yelped so loudly…only to realize it was me.  I spent most of the running time either holding my breath or gripping my armrest, a relaxing experience this most definitely was not.  It was an incredibly satisfying one though, from a horror fan angle, because it delivered a nearly flawless presentation of a bad dream that turns into an all-out nightmare.  Opening with a bang before letting the audience get a breather for about 20 minutes, the action picks up again when friends get trapped in an underground cave and find out far too late they have more to worry about than finding another exit.  Who or what is down there with them is fingers-over-the-eyes scary and director Neil Marshall is unrelenting in the vice grip he puts on the audience.  Fighting for survival and with matters complicated by personal demons surfacing, the women are intelligent but not above pushing each other buttons when stressed.  This is horror at its most primal, consistently going for the ultimate nerve-shredding scare/visual and Marshall doesn’t make a wrong step.  The ending, usually a sticking point in horror movies, is handled well and I can say the movie got a better than average sequel without it spoiling anything for you.  If you can handle it, take a journey with The Descent.  One of the very few movies that can be called a modern classic and have it mean something.

Mid-Day Mini ~ Mermaids

Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film Posters

The Facts:

Synopsis: An unconventional single mother relocates with her two daughters to a small Massachusetts town in 1963, where a number of events and relationships both challenge and strengthen their familial bonds.

Stars: Cher, Bob Hoskins, Winona Ryder, Christina Ricci, Michael Schoeffling

Director: Richard Benjamin

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 110 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Maybe not so much a hidden gem as an underappreciated one, Mermaids is a quirky comedy about an eccentric single mom nomadically raising her daughters in the early 1960’s.  The film was a perfect fit for the talent involved…though there were several key players that weren’t originally signed on when the movie moved into production.

First off, director Richard Benjamin was the third director of the movie after Lasse Hallström and Frank Oz both were ix-nayed by star Cher.  Speaking of being replaced, blonde brit Emily Lloyd was supposed to play Ryder’s role until it became clear that Lloyd bore little resemblance to the woman supposed to be playing her mother.  So Benjamin and Ryder stepped in and I can’t imagine the film any other way.

For all the jokes and jibes Cher has received over the years, she’s a damn fine actress and hasn’t really turned in a performance that was an embarrassment.  As Mrs. Flax, she’s relaxed and carefree…keeping the kind of home we’d probably like to visit if she was the mom of our best friend.  A bit of a man-eater, she meets her match when she arrives in a small New England town and takes up with Hoskins’ lovable sh0e-salesman.

The story is seen through the eyes of Charlotte (Ryder, Frankenweenie) as she struggles with her love of all things holy and a burgeoning attraction to a local caretaker (Schoeffling).  Not wanting to turn out like her mother and feeling like she has to be a surrogate parent to her sister Kate (Ricci, in her first film), Charlotte takes several missteps that have ramifications both humorous and dramatic.

Based on a novel, Mermaids has a fair share of laughs that go in tandem with some serious exchanges.  Cher and Hoskins have an opposites attract chemistry that glows as does Ryder with the handsome Schoeffling who knows how to play conflicted with the best of ‘em.

With Benjamin’s sensitive direction, a nice attention to the early 60’s time-period, and a greatest hits soundtrack, Mermaids is received swimmingly whether it’s your first or thirty first viewing.