31 Days to Scare ~ An American Werewolf in London

The Facts:

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

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

Director: John Landis

Rated: R

Running Length: 97 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Movie Review ~ Dallas Buyers Club

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Loosely based on the true-life tale of Ron Woodroof, a drug taking, women loving, homophobic man who, in 1985 was diagnosed with full blown HIV/AIDS and given thirty days to live.

Synopsis: Loosely based on the true-life tale of Ron Woodroof, a drug taking, women loving, homophobic man who, in 1985 was diagnosed with full blown HIV/AIDS and given thirty days to live.

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Denis O’Hare, Griffin Dunne, Steve Zahn

Director: Jean-Marc Vallee

Rated: R

Running Length: 117 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: I remember when A Time to Kill came out in 1996 and the then relatively unknown leading man Matthew McConaughey was heralded as an actor to watch.  For a time, that proved to be true as the actor had his pick of Hollywood directors and high profile film projects to choose from.  Then, as is often the case with success, the actor with so much promise began to make some bad choices and it looked like McConaughey was destined to be yet another forgotten star that hit big and faded out with an endless stream of forgettable romantic comedies.

Then a minor miracle happened.  McConaughey seemed to realize what was happening and instead of just taking the checks and sloughing off the sideways glances of those that knew his potential, he stepped back and took stock of what kind of actor he’d become.  And he decided to change things up…which led to McConaughey hitting on a string of films over the last several years (like Bernie, Magic Mike, The Paperboy, Killer Joe, Mud) that showed the actor to be dexterous, intriguing, and willing to put his career on the line for projects he believed in.

Never more is that evident than in his career-high performance in Dallas Buyers Club.  As the rough Ron Woodroof, McConaughey doesn’t just physically transform into the man diagnosed with HIV that takes his life into his own hands, he goes deeper than he has before to produce a character that makes no apologies and still earns the affection of the audience…no small feat for playing a man that starts out so smarmy you can practically smell the cigarettes and cheap alcohol emanating from him.

After Woodroof was diagnosed with HIV in 1985, his doctors (Denis O’Hare and Jennifer Garner) aren’t able to offer much hope for a disease at a time before the government admitted it was a problem and funded research to learn more about it.  Frustrated, confused, and unwilling to admit his time is running short, Woodruff loses his good ‘ole boy friends who only thought of AIDS as a gay disease.  Woodruff’s homophobia runs rampant and keeps him from attending any support meetings to help learn more about the disease that is ravaging his body.

Doing his homework, Woodruff learns more about available medical treatments and how the popular drug AZT may not be the life saving solution everyone thinks it is.  A chance meeting with a doctor (Griffin Dunne) in Mexico gives him the idea of how to combat this disease, buying him more time off of his death sentence.  In short time, he grudgingly partners with Rayon (Jared Leto), a transvestite also dying of AIDS who possesses the street smarts and compassion that Woodruff is lacking.  Together they form the Dallas Buyers Club, a “club” that disperses non FDA approved drugs to the HIV community that may not otherwise have access to them.

For a movie with such a somber subject, there’s great life to be had in Dallas Buyers Club.  Aside from McConaughey’s committed performance, there’s the equally impressive transformation that Leto undergoes.  Maybe even more so than McConaughey, Leto truly gets under the skin of his character…resulting in a mighty powerful and vividly drawn character.  There’s good work from Dunne and supporting players O’Hare and Steve Zahn, all seasoned character actors that know how to stay out of the way of the leading actors.  It’s only Jennifer Garner that hits a few wrong notes…I’ve always considered Garner more of a television actress that occasionally pops up in movies and her work here only confirms that.  While her effort is better than other projects, she has a way of taking a serious scene and being a tad too invested in it, which sniffs of an earnestness that doesn’t ring true.

It’s McConaughey and Leto that you should be focusing on anyway and director Jean Marc-Vallee wisely keeps them front and center for the majority of the film.  Though as audience members we can do the math and probably know how the ending will play out, there’s more than enough surprising turns in the script from Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack to fill out the two hour running length.  I like that the movie didn’t allow the characters to compromise or be compromised and let them act and react as people would in real life – it’s not a movie where everyone holds hands and realizes the errors of their ways by the final reel.  There’s no Hollywood ending to be had but a real-life ending that provides a strong impact and lasting message.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ Movie 43

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Synopsis: An ensemble comedy intertwining different tales.

Release Date:  January 25, 2013

Thoughts: Here’s a film I’ve been hearing about for a while now thanks to a word of mouth publicity campaign.  Though it reminds me a lot of the uneven semi-classic Kentucky Fried Movie, this particular entry sold me on the cast list alone.  You have Oscar nominated/winning females (Naomi Watts, Uma Thurman, Kate Winslet, Halle Berry) side by side with men that run the gamut from A-List (Hugh Jackman, Richard Gere) to has beens (sorry fellow MN Seann William Scott).  Many famous faces/names also wrote and directed the shorts so here’s hoping that the good stuff is great and the bad stuff is short.  I’ve laughed at this trailer (and its Not Safe For Work red band trailer here) and do anticipate liking this when it’s released later in January.