Movie Review ~ Lady of the Manor

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The Facts:

Synopsis: An aimless ne’er-do-well becomes a tour guide in a historic estate and winds up befriending the manor’s resident ghost.

Stars: Melanie Lynskey, Judy Greer, Justin Long, Luis Guzmán, Ryan Phillippe, Patrick Duffy

Director: Justin Long and Christian Long

Rated: R

Running Length: 96 minutes

TMMM Score: (2.5/10)

Review:  This last month has been awfully good for ghosts…and it’s not even October yet.  You may recall that just a few short posts ago I gave a marginal thumbs up to the rather decent Afterlife of the Party, a Netflix film starring Victoria Justice that was pleasant in a goopy, Clorox-wiped clean sort of way.  I also broke the news that I’m a closet fan of these types of films where a ghost haunts a living human and either works with them or against them to right a wrong so they can rest in peace.  I’m sticking by that statement, even after being truly haunted by the presence of Lady of the Manor, another movie with some similar themes.  If you asked me two weeks ago which of these ghost movies I’d be less impressed with, I’d surely have said Afterlife of the Party based on who was involved with Lady of the Manor…sadly, this one is a D.O.A. P.O.S.

Remember when Justin Long dated Drew Barrymore and it was weird?  And weird only in the sense that Barrymore has always seemed like such an adult and Long has felt like a forever teenager so the pairing felt like a May-December romance that even though it was more like a May 12 and June 18 one?  Long clearly remembers it too because he’s cast the talented Melanie Lynskey in a role I have a hunch Barrymore would have played if they were still together (and possibly written with her in mind) and then asked her to emulate the kewpie doll mannerisms of the star so easy to imitate to seal the deal.  Even at a subconscious level, it’s impossible not to watch the movie without having Barrymore firmly in your mind and, not to take anything away from Lynskey, wonder if she’d have brought a tad more sparkle to the role.

Lynskey (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) plays Hannah, described in the press notes as a “ne’er-do-well” which is fancy talk for the lay about freeloader she is, occasionally delivering drugs via bike but too dim to even do that right.  When she’s mistaken for a sexual predator (cue an uncomfortable sequence involving pedophile jokes) she’s hauled off to prison where she’s dumped by her boyfriend and kicked to the curb.  As she drowns her sorrow at the local watering hole, she attracts the attention of spoiled lothario Tanner Wadsworth (an extremely puffy in the face Ryan Phillippe, Wish Upon) heir to the Wadsworth estate and recently tasked with its operations.  He’s in need of a new tour guide to dress like the former, you got it, lady of the manor and decides Hannah is the best one for the job.  Mostly, he just wants to sleep with her.

Before she knows it, Hannah has a new job that comes with a free place to live.  The only trouble is that the estate already has a permanent live-in guest (Judy Greer, Halloween) and she isn’t happy with the new arrival that’s loud, obnoxious, and brings with her a large supply of rubber bedroom toys named after famous movie stars.  Dead for a number of years, Lady Wadsworth still holds some values close to her heart and is horrified to see Hannah exhibit the type of extreme unladylike behavior that can only be found in a movie written and directed by men.  Where else can you see a childless female ghost murder victim from colonial times and a rudderless loser men use as little more than a sexual object discuss breaking wind and the best way to excuse yourself from the room when you have to let one rip?

When the validity of Lady Wadsworth’s will is questioned, Hannah will have to step up and help out her phantom friend (spoiler alert?  I mean, c’mon…you have to know they start to get along eventually) prove what her original intentions for her estate were before it falls into the wrong hands for good.  At the same time, Hannah balances a physical relationship with Tanner and something a bit sweeter with a local historian (Long, Tusk) who initially went on one of her disastrous tours.  I feel like I should at least mention Luis Guzmán (Guilty as Sin) seeing that he appears so high up in the credits but has little to do as a nameless bartender other than dry a few glasses and wipe down a counter or two while the main actors get sloppy drunk in front of him.  Surely there was more to this role…or was Guzmán visiting his friends on the set and they needed a last minute replacement?

There’s been a lot of fingers pointing lately toward movies that are deemed “more like TV movies” and the plot for Lady of the Manor is torn directly from the listings on Hallmark or Lifetime.  At its heart, it’s your typical ghost meets girl story and uncovering a not that interesting mystery is a way to spend the time while you reorganize your sock drawer.  Long not only stars in this but wrote and directed it with his brother Christian and it’s as if they took that vanilla plot and wiped their noses with it.  It’s such a snotty booger of a movie and takes every chance to go low with the cheapest possible jokes always seemingly the first choice.  Even blessed with someone comedically talented like Greer, the script favors gross-out humor and dialogue laced with trash talk – there’s little trust shown in the actors or the audience to find the comedy.

What’s most disappointing is that Long has been at this for so long now that you’d think for this first time up to bat he’d have something a bit more to offer, something better to represent him (and his family) on his debut.  Even if Barrymore had taken the lead from Lynskey (and, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with what Lynskey is doing, she deserves some sort of medal for surviving this train wreck) it wouldn’t have saved things because Lady of the Manor is just rotten, a few laughs along the way notwithstanding.

31 Days to Scare ~ I Know What You Did Last Summer

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Four young friends bound by a tragic accident are reunited when they find themselves being stalked by a hook-wielding maniac in their small seaside town.

Stars: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze, Jr., Ryan Phillippe, Anne Heche, Bridgette Wilson, Johnny Galecki, Muse Watson, Stuart Greer

Director: Jim Gillespie

Rated: R

Running Length: 101 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  You can thank 1996’s Scream for reinvigorating the largely dead teen slasher franchise that went toe up in the mid ’80s, at least for an extended period for the next decade.  Though it may be starting another renaissance soon with remakes of films that were made during that fruitful period at the cinema, between 1997 and 2002 you’d be hard pressed to go several weeks without a carbon copy movie hitting your local theater.  Many of these were rush jobs that deserved to fade into obscurity along with their forgettable, flash in the pan cast members.  Yet early on you actually had some decent options to choose from and one of the best of the bunch that still holds up on repeat viewing today is 1997’s I Know What You Did Last Summer.

Adapted by Scream-scribe Kevin Williamson long before he sold his blockbuster franchise starter, the script for his modernized take on Lois Duncan’s 1973 popular YA novel was snatched up by Columbia Pictures.  Lucking out in the casting department by signing a roster of reasonably bankable stars and, more than anything, good actors, the film benefits from Williamson’s love of horror flicks of his youth and a desire to re-create a straight-up slasher film he could call his own.  Whereas Scream had satire on the brain and worked that into something unforgettable in a way that only that particular film could, Williamson didn’t try to punch up his script for I Know What You Did Last Summer with the same self-referencing quips.  The teens in the film are well-spoken and no dummies, but they aren’t self-aware enough to know the rules of the horror film like the young adults in Scream were.

Most of us know the plot from the book, the movie, or maybe even a campfire tale growing up.  Four teens out for a night of fun are involved in a hit-and-run cover-up that then drives a wedge between their close bond.  A year later, they start receiving notes from someone that saw what they did and has deadly plans to make them pay for their crime.  Duncan’s novel was (and is still) a moody and spooky cautionary tale of owning up to one’s mistakes or paying the consequences later.  It’s not quite as deadly as Williamson’s more brutal way of making the four (and several of their friends/family) atone for a sin but it proves a solid base for Williamson to jump off from.  For his part, Williamson has made the mystery a little deeper and given the characters a bit more personality, ably giving the movie a solid three act structure.

Director Jim Gillespie also delivers as well, not just encouraging fun performances from the cast but staging the movie with nice scares and more than a few stalk and stab sequences that get the tension rising.  The only way the movie starts to take a downward turn is that the more interesting characters are the ones we start to see, uh, less of so that by the end we’re meant to be rooting for possibly the blandest of them all.  No matter, this one has a high re-watchability factor and always seems to get the job done if I’m in the mood for an above average slasher film that won’t require the full commitment of the Scream franchise but won’t have me trolling around Netflix for hours searching for something.  I’ve seen it countless times and never seem to tire of it or find a desire to poke holes in it.

A sequel was no equal (not by a long shot) and a third film was beyond bad.  Williamson would be behind a number of similarly themed fare over the next decade but none came close to his one-two punch of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer.  I generally liked many of these and even would buy a ticket for the lesser-than selections week after week.  For 90 minutes, it was fun to see what new start of tomorrow (that never was) would get killed in a fun and interesting way.  The fun really began, though, with I Know What You Did Last Summer and, it seems the Summer continues even today because this is a great title to revisit this month.

Movie Review ~ Wish Upon

The Facts:

Synopsis: A teenage girl discovers a box that carries magic powers and a deadly price for using them.

Stars: Joey King, Shannon Purser, Sydney Park, Ki Hong Lee, Mitchell Slaggert, Sherilyn Fenn, Elisabeth Röhm, Ryan Phillippe

Director: John R. Leonetti

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review: This movie sucks. Let’s just get that out there at the start so you can never ever say you weren’t warned. I’m pretty forgiving when it comes to these types of PG-13 horror flicks but even I have a breaking point. Maybe it was because I lament the mid-level studio film that’s slowly disappearing in favor of endless sequels and franchise starters, but I really was rooting for Wish Upon to be 90 minutes of harmless fun. Be careful what you wish for.

Supposedly, the budget for Wish Upon is a staggering 12 million dollars, not exactly cheap considering decent horror films like Split, Insidious, The Visit, and The Purge franchise were made for considerably less. I’m not exactly sure where that 12K was spent. It surely wasn’t on the director, John R. Leonetti (Annabelle) who doesn’t seem to understand how to assemble a movie, much less how to create any kind of sustainable tension. It definitely wasn’t on Barbara Marshall’s threadbare amateurish script which feels an outline of an idea never fully fleshed out. It certainly wasn’t spent on a decent casting director based on a ensemble of forgettable faces almost entirely dead behind the eyes.

A Chinese wish box is the MacGuffin at the center of our tale. Given as a gift to high schooler Clare (Joey King, White House Down) by her dumpster diving dad (Ryan Phillippe, I Know What You Did Last Summer) it’s a good thing Clare is taking Intro to Chinese because she quickly translates that the box will grant her seven wishes. If only she had been in an AP class, she’d have been able to see the warning that went along with it. See, for every wish granted someone she knows will meet a gruesome end…well as gruesome as Wish Upon’s teen friendly rating will allow. As she uses her wishes up on important things like wealth, admiration of her peers, the attention of a hot senior, revenge on a tyrannical mean girl, and for her dad to be less embarrassing (no, really), she gets ever closer to the final wish for which she’ll pay dearly.

A big problem is that our lead protagonist vacillates between being so bafflingly clueless and knowingly reprehensible that you feel nothing for her. It doesn’t help that King is far from up to the task of carrying a movie on her own, too often looking like she can’t decide if she wants the chicken or the beef for lunch. Phillippe is a sad sack in his taped on beard that mysteriously grows and shrinks in size and the less said about his badly faked saxophone playing, the better. Though she’s etched herself on a commercially large canvas, I at least appreciated Sydney Park’s energy as King’s sassy friend…she’s light years better than Shannon Purser (crazily Emmy-nominated as Barb from Stranger Things) who’s acting chops are so green she literally can’t walk and talk onscreen at the same time.

I’m wondering if the studio gave Leonetti and editor Peck Prior a note to tighten the film up because there’s an alarming number of short scenes that don’t make sense when stitched together. Some people are barely introduced only to be swiftly killed before you ever know their name.   It’s just a mish-mash of plot contrivances spewed forth with no one to corral them into anything resembling a cohesive product. As it strenuously plods to its conclusion, the shrieks shrink and the laughs loom large.

It’s not an entirely thumbs down idea for a movie if I’m being totally honest and with a better director, a more polished screenplay, and just more risk-taking in general (clearly the film was edited down from a gorier R-rated escapade) something far more entertaining could have been accomplished. There’s a myriad of problems with countless aspects of the movie, so many in fact that if the film has any redeeming quality it’s that it could be used as grave warning for future filmmakers on just how badly you can screw up.