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 ~ 2001: A Space Odyssey (IMAX)


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Humanity finds a mysterious, obviously artificial object buried beneath the Lunar surface and, with the intelligent computer HAL 9000, sets off on a quest.

Stars: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Daniel Richter, Leonard Rossiter, Margaret Tyzack

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Rated: G

Running Length: 149 minutes

TMMM Score: (10/10)

Review: Hello and welcome to another episode of Confessions of an Embarrassed Movie Fan. Today’s episode will briefly cover my red-faced shame in admitting that before catching Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey projected in glorious IMAX I had never seen the film all the way through. Yes, it’s true. Though not for lack of trying, up until yesterday my efforts in taking in this masterpiece where thwarted by distraction, sleep deprivation, and, gulp, a little boredom. The Blu-Ray has played from start to finish in my house a grand total of 3 times and each time I fell asleep. I think it was because before I was seeing it out of necessity rather than true interest so it failed to capture my attention or keep me awake.

I had no trouble staying awake, however, seeing the film during its one-week engagement in IMAX at the Minnesota Zoo. For the first time I was able to sit back and truly take in the beauty and wonder of Kubrick’s grand epic and be totally enveloped in the dazzle of it all. For a film celebrating its 50th birthday, it has lost none of the grandeur and awe it inspired when it was first released. Sitting here now in the midst of seeing one CGI-fest after another, it’s truly an amazement to recognize the magnitude of the work that went into 2001: A Space Odyssey and marvel at the countless movies, actors, directors, and effects technicians it has inspired in the years since it was first released.

To explain a summary of the movie in full would be to oversimplify things because the plot is very clearly secondary to the portals of self-interpretation opened up to us by Kubrick and writer Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke’s short story provided the genesis of the project, which, after Kubrick’s ambiguous movie came out, he spent the next years trying to explain in greater detail. Kubrick was ok with leaving the film (especially its divisive ending) open to interpretation and so am I. There’s a refreshing sentiment in a filmmaker trusting the audience enough to let them make up their own minds.  By the time the film ends we’ve been on such a journey that it feels right for Kubrick to hand it back to us and let us discover what it all means to us.

The connective tissue of the movie surrounds a mysterious black monolith. Appearing first in a 20-minute dialogue-free opening segment following primates in the Africa desert millions of year ago, the presence of the monolith seems to grant the great apes knowledge that helps them advance in evolution with the use of tools. That leads us to the next segment several million years later when the monolith is discovered buried on the moon. When the monolith is first exposed to the sun it seems to send a signal through the universe directed at the planet Jupiter and that’s when the most familiar elements of the plot take hold. The Jupiter mission, led by Dave (Keir Dullea) and Frank (Gary Lockwood), is on its way through the stars to the far off planet when they run afoul of HAL 9000, the sentient computer that oversees the operations of their ship and their life support.

At 149 minutes (not including a 20-minute intermission 90 minutes in), the film is a commitment to get through but it does fly by. Even numerous prolonged sequences set to classical music, mostly involving spacecraft landing places with grand majesty, don’t feel overindulgent or repetitive. It’s the incredible visuals from cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth aided by Kubrick’s Oscar-winning way-ahead-of-their-time visual effects that give the film its sheer size.  There are several camera shots done practically that you’ll be scratching your head wondering how they achieved such a feat.  An extended light sequence near the end as our hero passes through time and space might test your visual and aural limits but its best to just grip your seat (or your companion) and take it all in.  Kubrick is attuned to every element of what is coming off the screen.  There’s silence when necessary, exposition only when required, and large sequences without dialogue that are presented visually in such a way that we are able to narrate for ourselves almost subconsciously.

The film is massive in cinematic size, emotional scope, and cognitive scale and is easily the most recommended on the biggest screen you can find. For one week you can catch this in IMAX theaters near you and if you’ve never seen the film, never made it through without falling asleep (apologies again, Mr. Kubrick!), or haven’t seen it in years, now is your chance to check another classic off your list in the most deluxe way possible.

Movie Review ~ Room 237

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A subjective documentary that explores the numerous theories about the hidden meanings within Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.  The film may be over 30 years old but it continues to inspire debate, speculation, and mystery.

Stars: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner

Director: Rodney Ascher

Rated: NR

Running Length: 102 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  At one point in the “subjective” documentary Room 237 one of the unseen commentators qualifies his theory regarding Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror film The Shining by stating “I may be grasping at straws here” – a not so off the mark statement.

The majority of this entertainingly watchable but ultimately far-fetched examination of the various conspiracy theories surrounding the movie version of Stephen King’s novel is focused on obsessive minutiae that the casual movie-goer won’t notice.  That’s not to say you’re going to need a film degree to appreciate what director Ascher has complied here, but even the most dedicated Kubrick/Shining fan may have their work cut out for them as five points of view surrounding hidden meanings behind the carpet, costumes, setting, food cans, and so much more  that are used in the film are explored.

Released in 1980 to disappointingly mixed reviews considering the caliber of talent involved, The Shining has grown in popularity over the years and its with repeated viewings that some of the true genius of director Kubrick’s vision emerges.  What on the surface looks to be a standard horror yarn surrounding a family taking care of an isolated inn over a chilly winter and the various evils they encounter could really be about the genocide of the American Indians, or the holocaust, or a thinly veiled confession by its director that he helped fake the footage of the Apollo moon landings.

At least that’s a few of the ideas the five individual theorists put forth over the brisk running length of the documentary.  It’s a classic case of seeing what you want to see in the images displayed and I can’t disagree that some of what it presented makes a lot of sense when you ponder on who was behind it all.  Kubrick was notorious for his obsession with the smallest detail in his films so when its pointed out that props disappear or change color from one shot to the next it’s worth thinking it over because something so glaring is clearly intentional – but what does it all mean?

It’s when the movie goes into theories that involve looking at the film frame by frame that the documentary gets a bit thin in the supporting information.  True, some of the extra long dissolves from one scene to the next have definite cinematic clues in them but claiming that one freeze fame shot makes a file inbox look like a phallus may raise your eyebrow in a “give me a break” arch.

Agreeing or disagreeing with the theories aside, I can’t imagine anyone watching this documentary and not having a strong urge to revisit the source material again right away.  You won’t be able to view The Shining the same way again once you’ve learned about the set-up of the Overlook Inn (with its impossible windows and contradictory lay-out) or the poorly hidden (when pointed out) references to the Apollo 11 mission.

Ascher plays these carefully edited interviews over even more carefully edited footage from not only The Shining but every Stanley Kubrick film released (save for some of his short films) in addition to other Hollywood films that help the story. It’s a remarkable compilation of clips, animations, diagrams, models, and a few recreations that help tell the story and illustrate the theories presented.

The Shining is a film I’ve learned to appreciate as the years go by and Room 237 adds another layer of interest to viewers both new and old alike.  Though I thought a hefty portion of the theories read way too far into what Kubrick was presenting, it’s hard to deny that Room 237 is a fascinatingly obsessive look into a film crafted by a fascinatingly obsessive filmmaker.