31 Days to Scare ~ The Willies

The Facts:

Synopsis: Two brothers camping with their cousin try to frighten each other by telling stories.

Stars:  Sean Astin, Jason Horst, Joshua Miller, James Karen, Dana Ashbrook, Kathleen Freeman, Jeremy Miller, Clu Gulager, Michael Bower

Director: Brian Peck

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  It’s around this time of year that I really start to miss video stores.  I know there are a few left here and there but they’re often packed to the brim with overstock DVDs and VHS tapes culled from shuttered mom and pop stores.  These can be an overwhelming mountain to climb, only worth it if you have a truckload of time to spare or are aren’t looking for anything specific.  I still prefer the days when the rental franchises hadn’t kicked in yet and your friendly neighborhood video store had full but not packed shelves of titles to choose from.

Every store did their checkout process their own way but my favorite was always the ones that had the display box sitting in front of the rental case (if it was in).  That way you could always see what movies the store had and could keep an eye on a title if you happened to miss it on that particular trip.  In 1990, when The Willies was released, finding the single copy of the movie in at Good Neighbor Video in South Minneapolis was a nearly impossible feat.  The store didn’t do reservations so you had to be in the right place at the right time to snag a copy.  I remember waiting for weeks to rent it, making a beeline for it’s location every time I entered the store only to be disappointed when there was no rental case in place.  Then, one day, there it was and it was finally my turn to get…The Willies.

Another entry in the line of popular anthology films like After Midnight and Cat’s Eye, The Willies is a teen-targeted horror comedy that’s best viewed now through the lens of forgiving nostalgia.  After looking for a copy and not willing to pay a high price tag (it’s since come out on a cheaper disc), I watched the film on YouTube and was surprised at the quality.  It’s no 4K BluRay but for a low-budget, mostly-forgotten film from the ‘90s it doesn’t look too shabby streaming on the popular website.  In fact, if you’ve been on the hunt for a particular movie (or, better yet, a television movie from the ’70s or ’80s), YouTube is the place to go because I’ve found a lot of good content there recently.

The basic premise of the film finds three boys (including Sean Astin, Gloria Bell) telling campfire tales, each trying to outdo the other in the scare department.  After three initial quick-fire tales that are amusing in their own juvenile gross-out ways (the woman trying to dry her poodle in the microwave has stuck with me for the last 29 years), we move on to two longer tales with a bit more meat on the bones.  A bullied kid finds an ally at school that gives his tormentors something more sinister than a week of detention is a bit rough in the narrative department but boasts some fun performances from familiar faces James Karen (Poltergeist) and Kathleen Freeman (Hocus Pocus).  The next yarn involves a young outsider obsessed with insects that makes the mistake of stealing enhanced manure from a local farmer.  When he introduces the fertilizer to his bugs, they turn the tables on him and do more than put him under the magnifying glass.

Writer/director Brian Peck has managed to put together the film in a neat little package, often suggesting it’s better than it’s obviously small budget.  Most of the effects are handled well, as are the gore and make-up for the more ghoulish scares.  There are some clever in-jokes related to some of the cast members (listen for the reference to The Goonies directed at Astin’s character) and Peck managed to call in a few favors by featuring recognizable TV stars of the time in brief cameos.  Amassing a decent amount of fans over the years, this is one I think would be a nice candidate for some company to pick up for a Collector’s Edition BluRay.  It would be nice to hear more from the people involved in the making of it or at least see the film print cleaned up a bit.  It’s not anything that will keep you up at night (from fear or regret from watching it) but it serves as a nice reminder of how effective a movie can be based solely on positive intent.

Movie Review ~ Gloria Bell


The Facts

Synopsis: A free-spirited woman in her 50s seeks out love at L.A. dance clubs.

Stars: Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Caren Pistorius, Holland Taylor, Michael Cera, Sean Astin, Alanna Ubach, Brad Garrett, Rita Wilson, Jeanne Tripplehorn

Director: Sebastián Lelio

Rated: R

Running Length: 102 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: I already have a conflicted relationship with remakes in general and the internal battle I wage with English language remakes of foreign films is even greater. If a film is so revered in its native language why can’t it exist on its own merits and let audiences discover the film on their own terms in their own time? Must it always be necessary to, let’s face it, pander to the lazies that can’t be bothered to put on their reading glasses? It frustrates me mostly because rarely are these U.S. remakes in the same league as their foreign counterparts so the lasting impression most audiences have are watered down versions of what were dynamic originals.

An added complexity to the American remake is when foreign directors adapt their own film for the English language. This is not a new concept. George Sluzier remade his dynamite 1988 thriller Spoorloos in 1993 as The Vanishing and turned it into a tepid vehicle for Jeff Bridges. Michael Haneke’s 1997 Funny Games made it’s remake debut on our shores in 2007. In 2002 Takashi Shimizu released Ju-on: The Grudge two years before he would direct an English language remake that is getting yet another remake in 2020.

The latest auteur circling back to his own work is Sebastián Lelio, the Oscar-winning director of 2017’s Best Foreign Film A Fantastic Woman. Based on his surprise 2013 hit Gloria, Gloria Bell is one of those rare remakes that allows both films to stand on their own without either suffering by comparison. Each may have the same story to tell and center on a woman of a certain age not often well represented in mainstream cinema but Lelio and star Julianne Moore bring a profound depth and realism to the character and her adventures. This helps the movie out of the remake shadow and into it’s own vibrant light.

Fiftyish divorcee Gloria Bell (Moore, Still Alice) lives in Los Angeles and is a manager at an insurance company by day and a dance club denizen by night. Spending her drive to and from work singing along to hits from the ‘70s and ‘80s, Gloria has two children she has a typical relationship with and a few good friends she can confide in. She’s living her life…but maybe not her best life. Her nights on the dance floor are a way for her to go into her own world and lose herself and it’s there she catches the eye of Arnold (John Turturro, Fading Gigolo) another divorcee with his own baggage that quickly gets laid at her feet. As her relationship with Arnold starts to take off and throws her some unexpected curveballs, Gloria takes stock of where she finds herself and starts to enact more control of her life than ever before.

The ups and downs of the relationship between Gloria and Arnold won’t be unfamiliar to most of us but the way things play out may be. A great scene involving Arnold being introduced to Gloria’s adult children (Michael Cera, This is the End and Caren Pistorius, Mortal Engines) and her ex-husband and his new wife (Brad Garrett, Christopher Robin and Jeanne Tripplehorn, Basic Instinct) leads to some fairly awkward and embarrassing developments. It all culminates in one downright infuriating deal breaker that’s not just forgiven (though, admittedly, not easily) but actually repeated later on in the film.

The beauty in Lelio’s film and Moore’s performance is that much of the journey Gloria goes on doesn’t come in what we hear but in what we see. It’s how we see Moore and Turturro interact that informs where they are in their relationship, it’s how Moore carries herself after suffering a set-back before squaring her shoulders that tells us how quickly she bounces back from disappointment. There’s so much happening internally that it could be easy for the movie to feel small but it’s largely filled with truly lovely moments.  It also helps that I genuinely had no idea where the movie was headed and where things would wind up for Gloria.  There was no telegraphed path to conclusion or hints at what the next turn would be — such is life.

Aided by a strong soundtrack of popular tunes not to mention an intriguing score from Matthew Herbert, the film gets the overbaked sunniness of Los Angeles completely right and always places our leading lady in locations that feel like the real world. She lives in the style of apartment and drives the type of car someone with her job would and Moore, as usual, totally loses herself in the role. Though the film does have some melancholy moments laced throughout it ends with a hopeful bang (and, of course, on the dancefloor) as Moore takes us through a whole range of emotions as Laura Branigan’s Gloria plays in the background.  It’s easy to see why many people are highlighting this last scene as a standout but it’s just one of many moments in the film that showcases the star becoming one with the material/character.  Another winning performance from Moore and a worthwhile film to see.

Down From the Shelf ~ The Goonies


The Facts:

Synopsis: In order to save their home from foreclosure, a group of misfits set out to find a pirate’s ancient treasure.

Stars: Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Martha Plimpton, Corey Feldman, Jeff Cohen, Kerri Green, Ke Huy Quan, Anne Ramsey, Robert Davi, Joe Pantoliano

Director: Richard Donner

Rated: PG

Running Length: 114 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: I was still a tad too young to catch The Goonies during its first run in theaters during the summer of 1985 but boy do I wish I had.  Though I’ve seen it countless times since then on television, at sleepovers, and at any number of midnight screenings I would have loved to have been there on its June opening weekend.

Released in that magical early to mid-‘80s time when Steven Spielberg had his hand in everything, The Goonies is, like 1982’s Poltergeist, one of the few films that Spielberg either wrote or provided the storyline for and its themes of friendship, family, and love of home is classic Spielberg.  Focusing on a group of friends that hunt for a fabled pirate’s treasure as a way to help their families fight off land hungry developers, it may be turning 30 years old in 2015 but it’s held up remarkably well.

That’s partly due to the fact that the film isn’t a splashy effects driven kind of summer fare that were starting to become de rigueur in the ‘80s.  It’s filled with mostly practical effects as the gang of Goonies outwit escaped gangsters (the marvelously droll trio of Anne Ramsey, Robert Davi, and Joe Pantoliano) and maneuver past a series of dangerous booby traps as they track down the hidden fortune.  Because it’s so centered on the friends themselves and not popular culture of the day, it works as both a time capsule of teen-friendly entertainment and a timeless exercise in big thinking adventure.

There’s a lot of ground to cover in two hours and watching it again recently I marveled at how fast it gets going.  Director Richard Donner (Ladyhawke) had a lot of plot points and characters to juggle and he manages (with the help of Chris Columbus’s slick script) to give each actor their own time to shine.  It helps that the young cast is quite engaging, and it was no shocker that most went on to successful careers as adults.  Sean Astin (Rudy) makes for a splendid every-boy kinda lead, young enough to not be a hormonal threat to tween girls and old enough for boys his same age to want to be like him.  Future Oscar nominee Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice) is his understanding older brother while Corey Feldman, Ke Huy Quan, and Jeff Cohen are his partners in goofball crime.  Martha Plimpton and Kerri Green prove themselves to be more than the token sassy girl/pretty girl (respectively) because Columbus treats them as equals to the boys.

If I’m being honest the movie starts to lose steam in the last fifteen minutes, right when it starts to really count.  I’ve been known to watch the first 90 minutes before either conking out or switching to a different channel because the dénouement and wrap-up have always felt like a let-down after all that had come before it.  Even so, the film is downright hilarious at times (mostly thanks to Cohen’s uproarious performance as a roly-poly mini used car salesman of a character) and still sucks me in to the Goonies adventure of a lifetime almost from the get-go.

Rumors abound that a long-awaited sequel (or stage musical!) are in the planning stages and I’d like to respectfully request that neither come to fruition.  I don’t think the film needed a sequel in the first place and if a second installment was ever in the works that should have been taken care of in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s.  And a musical?  Yeesh…though a Ballad of One-Eyed Willie might become the new Defying Gravity if they play their cards right…