Movie Review ~ Valley Girl (2020)


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A valley girl and a punk rocker from the city defy their parents and friends to stay together.

Stars: Jessica Rothe, Josh Whitehouse, Mae Whitman, Judy Greer, Rob Huebel, Chloe Bennet, Ashleigh Murray, Jessie Ennis, Logan Paul, Alicia Silverstone

Director: Rachel Lee Goldenberg

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 102 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: I hadn’t thought about the original Valley Girl for quite a long time.  The 1983 indie comedy was made for peanuts but went on to gross a tidy sum at the box office, inspiring a new wave of vernacular and introducing a stellar soundtrack on top of it all.  Oh, and it also gave leading man Nicolas Cage (Color Out of Space) his first taste of Hollywood hunkdom…a title well-earned as the rock n’ roll Romeo to Deborah Foreman’s Juliet of the California valley.  The film is firmly considered a cult classic and, watching it again recently I was reminded how much of a time capsule it is while remarkably remaining timeless at the same time.  It’s a strong, funny, touching film.

So when the first preview popped up for this remake I, like I’m sure many others did, wondered “why now?” and “who gave them the right”…you know, your typical rumble and grumble any time a new version of a old chestnut is announced.  Originally filmed two years ago but with its released delayed until now, that didn’t put a lot of confidence in this musical (yes, you heard that right, musical) reworking of Valley Girl so I was prepared to grit my teeth through another uninspired rehash of something that worked just fine. Now, I’m not sure if it’s because the quarantine blues are getting to me but I have to tell you…this is one totally tripindicular remake and exactly the kind of shot in the arm delight I needed.

The story is essentially the same.  It’s 1980-something and Julie Richmond (Jessica Rothe, Happy Death Day, Happy Death Day 2 U) is a high-school senior living a pastel colored, mall-going life with her equally side-ponied friends.  Between stops at The Limited and days at the beach, they plan for life at community college and talk boys and fashion.  Yet Julie longs for something more…even just over the hills of the valley into Hollywood…something her plastic friends scoff at.  Then she meets rocker Randy (Josh Whitehouse) at a costume party (you’ll want to have your pause/rewind button handy to catch the brilliantly referential attire the kids are wearing) and her world is opened up to a new beat.

As Randy and Julie grow closer, she drifts away from her friends and the path she thought she was originally headed for.  This causes unplanned relationship cracks not just for Julie but for Randy and his bandmates (The Perks of Being a Wallflower’s Mae Whitman and Mario Revolori) and it’s a credit to Amy Talkington’s script that more time is given in this remake in fleshing out the lives of both Julie and Randy.  In the original, all Randy had was Julie so his love felt a little desperate…now he has some ambition of his own outside of their relationship so you get the impression his eggs aren’t all in one glittery basket.  In the end, Julie and Randy need to figure out if their love is strong enough to rise above the naysayers and make the leap forward together.

Set to a hefty score of familiar 80s tunes, this is a jukebox musical that is pretty much nonstop fun.  I spent most of the film wondering why this hadn’t been turned into a stage musical already (something I also wondered while watching Moonstruck recently, too) because it translates into a musical with smooth ease.  Opening with a candy colored dance at the mall ain’t a bad way to kick things off and it’s followed by head bopping musical numbers staged at the beach, an aerobics studio, and a roller rink, among others.  Director Rachel Lee Goldenberg leans into the 80s setting and campy nature but avoids falling into the trap of making it overly goofy.  The costumes may be turned up to 12 but that doesn’t mean the dialogue and performances have to follow suit.  That’s why you easily forgive some of the plot contrivances that get you from point A to point B.  What always has held me back from fully embracing the 1983 film was that there never seemed to be a lot of reason behind actions — here we get to know each character a bit more so every cliche plot device thrown at us goes down a little easier because by the time it arrives we understand people a little bit better.  It’s not deep stuff but it helps things out more than you can imagine.

Like the previous incarnation, the film thrives on the charisma of its leading actors and Rothe and Whitehouse make a charming couple, with good singing voices to match their movie star looks.  The screenplay gives Randy a female companion to make it less a boys v girls standoff and while Whitman plays off Whitehouse nicely I missed the interesting male dynamic created between Cage and Cameron Dye from the original.  As Rothe’s gal pals, Chloe Bennet, Ashleigh Murray, and Jessie Ennis (Life of the Party), may get less arcs than their previous counterparts but what they lack in development they gain in song with Bennet and Murray getting full out musical numbers and Ennis having a sweet presence on screen.  The film is bookended with Alicia Silverstone (The Lodge) as an older Julie recounting her younger days to her teenage daughter and while I loved seeing 90s star Silverstone popping up and can see why the framework was used, every time the movie went back to her it took me out of things a little bit. Special note, keep your eyes open for cameos from two stars from the original…both used in nice moments that make you go “Was that?  Really?  No!  Yes?  Maybe!  It was!”.

At this point of the #StayHome #StayHealthy quarantine days I’m starting to feel a little blue, if I’m being perfectly honest, and I felt like this movie came along at just the right time.  Like the original movie, it’s not going to change the world in any major way but for 90 or so odd minutes it gets the job done and does it with a totally rad amount of good will and heart.  Best of all, it pays extremely decent homage to its predecessor without sullying our fond memories of it.  Take on this one…

The Silver Bullet ~ Valley Girl (2020)

Synopsis: Set to a new wave ’80s soundtrack, a pair of young lovers from different backgrounds defy their parents and friends to stay together. A musical adaptation of the 1983 film.

Release Date:  May 8, 2020

Thoughts:  In Hollywood, the phrase ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ doesn’t really apply…it’s more like ‘If it’s ain’t broke, remake it’ and that could explain why we’re finally getting a look at this trailer for the long in development new edition of 1983’s Valley Girl.  Now, at first, I was, like, totally horrified at the thought of a true time capsule of cinema getting re-done because, like, why? Gag me with a spoon.  Then I heard it wasn’t just a simple remake but would add some gnarly tuneage from the era to become a full blown musical so I was, like, open to the idea.  I’m pretty sure I’ll be all ‘Whatever’ about the end product but after, like, six weeks of stay at home quarantine I have to admit the fun frolicking in Day-Glo neon on display looks like totally tubular fun right about now.  Starring Jessica Rothe (Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2 U) with a little cameo from Alicia Silverstone (The Lodge), I’ll probably swing by this party….but only if the apps are tasty. 

Movie Review ~ The Prodigy


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A mother concerned about her young son’s disturbing behavior thinks something supernatural may be affecting him

Stars: Taylor Schilling, Brittany Allen, Jackson Robert Scott, Colm Feore, Peter Mooney, Paul Fauteux, Oluniké Adeliyi

Director: Nicholas McCarthy

Rated: R

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: At this point early in the new year, audiences are easy targets for cheap, mindless entertainment that goes in one ear and out the other before you are back to your car and warming your hands. Most often, the easy targets are horror fans looking for a decent scare they can’t get from firing up their streaming service. They have to be inspired to get all gussied up (for me that’s basically putting on pants), head to the theater, pay an exorbitant ticket price, and then hope for the best. I don’t really blame Hollywood for preying on viewers in this fertile hunting ground but you do wish that once in a while they would get it right and make it worth our effort.

The latest wilted offering is The Prodigy, a fleetingly scary but most languid “evil child” story being released from the recently resuscitated Orion Pictures. I don’t know about you but every time I see that Orion logo there are two movies that come to mind. The first is 1989’s black comedy She-Devil starring Meryl Streep and Roseanne Barr and the other one is 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs. Each time I see the starry sky that forms the Orion title card I get a chill up my spine and I think the producers of The Prodigy are counting on that. They even go so far as to mimic some font titles emblematic from The Silence of the Lambs that show the location where the prologue takes place.

Eight years ago, a woman (Brittany Allen, Jigsaw) escaped from a serial killer (Paul Fauteux) who had a thing for women’s hands. The police track him down to his home where he is taken down in a flurry of bullets. On the same night, a young couple (Taylor Schilling, The Lucky One and Peter Mooney) are rushing to the hospital for the birth of their son, Miles. When Miles is born, the blood on his body mimics the bullet wounds of our dying killer. It’s the first of several interesting visual cues director Nicholas McCarthy (The Pact) has for us and they become the smartest things about the film.

As the boy grows older, he demonstrates early signs of genius. He speaks before he’s one year old, he can solve difficult IQ tests, and he shows some disturbing social tendencies his parents and teachers shrug off as just going with the territory of children with advanced gifts. Miles is more than just socially awkward though, as we come to see he has killer instincts…and not just in solving algebra equations. When the ties to the killer become known, it’s up to Miles’ mom to put a stop to a madman that has taken over her son’s persona or risk losing him forever to a psychopath’s deadly revenge plot.

Bringing in some supernatural elements, the script from Jeff Bluher (who is also scripting 2019’s remake of Pet Sematary) is big into psychobabble mumbo jumbo (delivered with dead seriousness by Colm Feore, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) but light on logic. Main characters disappear for long stretches only to show up when the movie needs to enact some gruesome violence and the connection between how the killer winds up within Miles isn’t explained more than a passing reference to historical possession cases.

That leaves the success to rise and fall on the performances and Schlling’s sleepy acting doesn’t serve the film well. She always speaks as if she’s phonetically sounding out her sentences and isn’t able to flip from one emotion to another without physically making some adjustment. It’s a strange performance to anchor the film, which makes her scenes with Miles (Jackson Robert Scott, IT) all the more awkward because he seems like he’s come with exactly the right attention to what his job is while Schilling struggles right up to the end with metering her performance.

Even though it comes up short as a whole, I’d be lying in saying that McCarthy’s doesn’t pull off several shocking scares and a few eyebrow raising bits of dialogue that must have been recorded by a double for Miles. There’s just no way some of the things the boy says could have come from the young actor. I jumped several times and not because the music suddenly gave me a jolt, McCarthy clearly has a way with constructing a creepy visual.  Though much of the cinematography is fuzzy to suggest shooting on film stock and favors shadows, McCarthy finds ways to make what comes out of that darkness quite ghoulish.

This one could easily have gone straight to streaming and might have been regarded as a decent thriller for a gloomy day. Releasing it in theaters brings it to a higher scrutiny, though, and you have to evaluate the movie on those merits. It doesn’t meet the standard we’d expect from a wide-released horror film so I’d advise you to hold off on The Prodigy until you can give it a spin at home without much regret…and you don’t even have to put your pants on.

31 Days to Scare ~ Anna and the Apocalypse (2018) – Trailer

Synopsis: A zombie apocalypse threatens the sleepy town of Little Haven – at Christmas – forcing Anna and her friends to fight, slash and sing their way to survival, facing the undead in a desperate race to reach their loved ones.

Release Date: November 30, 2018

Thoughts: In all honesty, zombie movies are just so not my thing. You can keep your walking dead and brain loving slow walkers for all I care unless you’re going to do something different with the material.  Zombie movies like Warm Bodies gave us a unique slant to a familiar story which is another reason why the zombie musical Anna and the Apocalypse looks like it might be one to keep an eye (and ear) out for.  Anytime a movie is compared to Shaun of the Dead and La La Land well, you have to take notice.  With a nice buzz coming out of the early fall festivals, this might be a bloody brilliant movie or another non-starter that played better with festival audiences geared toward this kind of material.  I’m thinking it looks like a riot…but I’ve been fooled before.  For now, count on my attendance to this apocalypse.

31 Days to Scare ~ Amityville II: The Possession

The Facts:

Synopsis: A family moves into their new home, which proves to be evil, resulting in the demonic possession of the teenage son. Only the local priest can save him.

Stars: Burt Young, Rutanya Alda, Jack Magner, Andrew Prine, Diane Franklin, Moses Gunn, James Olson

Director: Damiano Damiani

Rated: R

Running Length: 104 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: Few would argue that 1979’s The Amityville Horror is any kind of movie to write home about.  While it’s poster, preview, and press shots suggested a snazzy new twist on The Exorcist the final product was ham-fisted, poorly acted, and more funny than scary.  Still, the public that had made the book that inspired the movie a bestseller turned the feature film adaptation into the second highest grossing film of the year ahead of Alien, Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, and The Muppet Movie.  I mean…think on that…it made 86 million dollars, 20m short of the #1 title, Kramer vs. Kramer.

Three years later new producer Dino De Laurentis took over the property and made this prequel to the events that transpired in the original.  Now the movie would focus on the murders that took place in the house and supposedly were the source of the haunting that plagued future tenants.  While it’s considered one of the stronger entries in the franchise of countless sequels spawned over the next several decades, it’s easy to see where director Damiano Damiani and screenwriter Tommy Lee Wallace (Fright Night Part 2 and Halloween III: Season of the Witch) ripped off other films when piecing together their contribution to the Amityville legacy.

The Montelli family has moved into that soon to be infamous house with the windows that look like eyes.  Nestled into the sleepy hamlet of Amityville in Long Island, NY the family has relocated to start a new, quieter life.  Still, they bring some major baggage with them.  The father (Burt Young) is an abusive drunk, the mother (Rutanya Alda) is religious woman frightened of her husband’s anger, and while their two youngest children seem to adjust well to the new living arrangements it’s tougher on eldest son Sonny (Jack Magner) and daughter Patricia (Diane Franklin).

Sonny’s a loner, a perfect vessel for the evil that lurks within the house to prey upon.  It isn’t long before Sonny’s demeanor changes and he becomes more physically hostile to his father and sexually predatory with his sister, both unfortunately icky subplots that just don’t feel good.  The more the family fights to save Sonny’s soul, the deeper the possession becomes.  If you’ve seen the opening of The Conjuring 2, you’ll know what happens next…if you haven’t, well, it doesn’t end well.

Though operating on a small budget, Damiani makes his film effectively creepy and often downright frightening as Sonny begins to show outwardly the possession going on within.  There’s good use of lighting to keep figures in the dark so that they can be discovered at precisely the right moment and the tension builds slowly but aggressively.  Performances are uniformly good and, gross incest plotline aside, Wallace’s script goes for realism instead of hyperactive hysteria.  The film has several climaxes, and each arrive with an assured flair for intensity.

Far less successful than its predecessor, Amityville II: The Possession still gives me the chills all these years and multiple viewings later.  It’s a dark movie though, filled with some hard to watch sequences of physical abuse and inappropriate conduct that’s in no way glorified or excused.  The focus of the horror is on the house but it’s tenants might not have been all that good to begin with.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)

town_that_dreaded_sundown

Synopsis: 65 years after a masked serial killer terrorized the small town of Texarkana, the so-called ‘Moonlight Murders’ begin again. Is it a copycat or something even more sinister? A lonely high school girl with dark secrets of her own may be the key to catching him.

Release Date: October 16, 2014

Thoughts: I know, I know…another modern remake of a minor classic that will surely be gorier than the original, sacrificing mood for cheap thrills…ugh.  Right?  Still, there’s something about this one that has me wondering if a re-tooling wasn’t in order.  I only remember bits and pieces of the 1976 original but I do recall thinking it wasn’t anything to write to your horror pen pals about.  It does have that “We’re Going Retro” feeling to it and I’m a fan of a return to horror that’s less ‘torture porn’ and more ‘slow burn’ in the way it presents itself.  No doubt the film will feature copious amounts of flesh and blood but if it’s balanced with a strong narrative and decent acting it will all be worth it.  Bonus points for MGM resurrecting the Orion Pictures logo, something we haven’t seen for 15 years.