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.

Movie Review ~ Entourage

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Movie star Vincent Chase, together with his boys Eric, Turtle, and Johnny, are back – and back in business with super-agent turned studio-head Ari Gold on a risky project that will serve as Vince’s directorial debut.

Stars: Jeremy Piven, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara, Kevin Connolly, Adrian Grenier, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Haley Joel Osment, Billy Bob Thornton, Rex Lee, Perrey Reeves, Emily Ratajkowski, Rhys Coiro, Nora Dunn, Debi Mazar, Constance Zimmer, Ronda Rousey, Scott ‘Kid Cudi’ Mescudi

Director: Doug Ellin

Rated: R

Running Length: 104 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I’ve been a loyal HBO subscriber for years but I’m one of the select few that’s never seen an episode of True Blood or made it through the entire series of The Sopranos. I especially avoided Entourage which seemed a little, well, douche-y for my tastes. I’ve known about the big screen continuation of Entourage (which had a successful run on HBO from 2004-2011) for a while and I tried to do my homework on this one, I really did. I even had the discs of the first season staring me down on my night stand each evening before I made the judgement call to watch Friends on Netflix instead.

So I approached the screening of the film with some trepidation. Would I be completely lost with the characters, not knowing their backstory? Would the bro-tastic vibe I got from the trailers send this one up, up, up into the macho testosterone grunting stratosphere? Most of all…would I enjoy myself?

The answer to these questions of world importance were no, not really, and, surprisingly, yes.

Sensing that their movie may be playing to a specific niche crowd of loyal fans, Warner Brothers and HBO have wisely made it clear in the ads and promos for Entourage that even if you never watched the show you’ll get a kick out of the raunchy debauchery of a bunch of L.A. living dudes that party hard, love the ladies, and work for the kind of bank bucks that keep them living the big life in spacious mansions that seem to always have a naked starlet in the pool waiting for them when they come home.

Truth be told, this isn’t my kind of movie at all but in many ways it’s one of the smartest (if slightest) comedies of the year so far. Its insider look at Hollywood and numerous celebrity cameos rival Robert Altman’s 1992 film The Player but the comparisons end there. While Altman’s film is a twisty noir that savages the entertainment industry, Entourage keeps things sunny and free spirited.

Playing like an extended episode of the series, the film follows star Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) and his entourage: half-brother Johnny “Drama” (Kevin Dillon), manager E (Kevin Connolly), driver/assistant Turtle (Jerry Ferrara, Lone Survivor), and former agent now studio exec Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven, Edge of Tomorrow) as they scramble to finish Vincent’s directorial debut that Ari greenlit and is now way over budget. The film in question is a sci-fi take on Jekyll & Hyde for the new millennium and everyone that sees it thinks it’s great. Not being familiar with the show I’m unsure if it’s normal in the series to ape on Hollywood vanity projects by having everyone fawn over a film that’s fairly terrible looking but yeesh…the little we see of Vincent’s Hyde is overproduced goulash.

The film nicely divides it’s time between the pressure Vincent has to finish the film, newly promiscuous E’s impending fatherhood with his former flame (Emmanuelle Chriqui, Fort Bliss), Drama’s insecurities as he struggles to get out of his famous siblings shadow, and uber-wealthy Turtle’s romantic pursuit of mixed martial artist turned actress Ronda Rousey (Furious 7, The Expendables 3). All four actors know these characters inside and out and the years between the series finale and the film hasn’t seemed to lessen their interest in taking things to the next level.

Piven, who nabbed three Emmys for the show, is the unquestionable star of the show. The actor has had his fair share of being put through the Hollywood wringer and maybe that’s the reason why he’s able to sink his teeth into Ari so well. Short-tempered and hot under the collar, he’s especially amped up when he has to beg for more money for Hyde from the film’s financer, a deep-pocketed Texan (Billy Bob Thornton, The Judge, looking like a withered bobble head of his former self). When the Texan sends his nebbish son (Haley Joel Osment, Tusk, who has now completed his transformation into a Garbage Pail Kid) out to Hollywood to get a feel for the film, it causes a bunch of problems for Vincent, Ari, and the gang.

Though he hasn’t directed a feature film since 1998’s forgettable Kissing a Fool, Doug Ellin’s experience behind a camera on the Entourage series made him the right choice to write and direct…also helps that he’s the creator of the show. I liked that the film takes place almost entirely in the bright California sun and features a swell soundtrack that is easy on the ears. Though it does feel like a super-sized episode, it doesn’t feel like a quick cash-in on the popularity of the television show however it’s squarely targeted at fans…which can make the rest of us feel a little left out at times. That’s not the fault of the film, per se, and I’m not sure really what could have been done to fix that piece short of requiring viewing of the eight seasons before admission.

Better than I thought it would be, Entourage makes a solid bid for the attention of audiences that need a break from the bonkers mayhem of San Andreas, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Avengers: Age of Ultron. And after making it through the Pitch Perfect 2 festivities, men can hopefully get their girlfriends/wives to repay the favor and tag along to their Entourage party.