Synopsis: Set in contemporary Chicago, amidst a time of turmoil, four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities, take fate into their own hands, and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.
Stars: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, Daniel Kaluuya, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Garret Dillahunt, Carrie Coon, Elizabeth Debicki, Brian Tyree Henry, Jacki Weaver, Jon Bernthal, Manuel Garcia Rulfo, Robert Duvall
Review: If there’s one truly unfortunate thing that happened at the movies this year it’s that Steve McQueen’s Widows failed to catch fire at the box office. The director of 12 Years a Slave and Gillian Flynn, the writer of Gone Girl, have adapted an ‘80s UK crime series and updated it to present day Chicago and cast some of the best actors working today. It’s a gritty, great film and that it went largely unnoticed just totally baffles me. Oscar-winner Viola Davis (Suicide Squad) turns in what I think is the best performance of her career as a woman whose life is totally turned upside down and then is tossed sideways by a series of revelations that shock her and the audience. Gathering together a group of disparate women (Elizabeth Debicki, The Great Gatsby, Michelle Rodriguez, Furious 7) to follow through on a crime their husbands were planning, just when you think you’ve figured out where the movie is going it throws in multiple twists that I just did not see coming. It’s hard to pull one over on movie-goers but McQueen and Flynn do it twice.
Hopefully, this is one movie that people will rediscover when it arrives on streaming services and then kick themselves for missing it when it was on the big screen. Perhaps it was marketed wrong or maybe it was released at a bad time of year, but something strange happened with Widows because this is one of the best films of the year that just totally vanished way before it should have. Find it, see it…you’ll understand what I’m saying when you do.
We did it! We made it through another summer and while the outdoor heat wasn’t too bad (in Minnesota, at least) the box office was on fire.
I’ll admit that I indulged in summer fun a bit more than I should, distracting me from reviewing some key movies over the last three months so I wanted to take this opportunity to relive the summer of 2015, mentioning my thoughts on the movies that got away and analyzing the winners and losers by month and overall.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride read.
I just wasn’t prepared for July. It hit me like a ton of bricks, a wave of cinematic excursions that made my head spin. So many movies were released that it was hard to keep track from week to week what was arriving and what was still waiting for its release date. As you can see below, I had a lot of catching-up to do
The month began with the disappointment of Terminator Genisys. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting from the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger but it for sure wasn’t the muddled misfire that was supposed to reboot this franchise. Badly cast with shoddy special effects, this was supposed to be the beginning of something but should likely be the end (though it did do well overseas so we may yet get another one of these in a few years).
A few summers back I lamented how bad the original Magic Mike was. Trading eye candy entertainment for any semblance of watchable narrative, it was another dud (for me) from Steven Soderbergh. So you’d understand why I wasn’t keen on Magic Mike XXL because I felt we’d already been there done that. Much to my delight, the sequel was much better than its predecessor, maintaining the fun frivolity of the world of male strippers while injecting some personality into the proceedings. Quite possible the biggest surprise of the summer for me.
I learned a lot from the wise documentary Amy, chronicling the rise and fall of Amy Winehouse, the singer with the bluesy voice and broken butterfly backstory. She had a lot to overcome and the film made a compelling argument that she would still be here today had she had a better support system.
Though I loved the Minions in the Despicable Me films, I didn’t care for their solo outing with its half-baked story and less that inspired vocal work. It felt like a quick cash-grab and it looks like it accomplished its goal. Hopefully next time they’ll come back with a better story and more convincing actors.
The found footage horror movie had its death knell with The Gallows, a brainless exercise in tedium peppered with cheap scares and lousy acting. Could have (and should have) been much better.
Now we approach a stretch where I checked out for a bit – but I’m atoning for it now with these mini-reviews.
Movie Review ~ Batkid Begins The Facts: Synopsis: On one day, in one city, the world comes together to grant one 5-year-old cancer patient his wish. Batkid Begins looks at the ‘why’ of this flash phenomenon. Stars: Miles Scott Director: Dana Nachman Rated: PG Running Length: 87 minutes TMMM Score: (7/10) Review: Can I admit something to you and not have you hate me? When I first saw the media frenzy around this back in 2013 I remember rolling my eyes are the saccharine nature of the whole endeavor. Why would an entire city be brought to a screeching halt because of one kid’s wish to be Batman for a day? Well, the documentary Batkid Begins showed me why and by the end I was feeling like a lout for my initial feelings and wiping away the happy tears the film easily brings forth from the viewer. Following the planning and execution by the Make-A-Wish Foundation to give a 5 year old leukemia survivor the day of his dreams, viewers get a glimpse at what goes into even the smallest wish granted by the organization. While it at times comes off like a big advertisement, it’s heart is most certainly in the right place and I found myself getting choked up with each good deed and promise fulfilled by a host of people involved in making the day come off without a hitch. An audience-pleasing winner.
Movie Review ~ The Overnight The Facts: Synopsis: A family “playdate” becomes increasingly interesting as the night goes on. Stars: Adam Scott, Jason Schwartzman, Taylor Schilling, Judith Godrèche Director: Patrick Brice Rated: R Running Length: 79 minutes TMMM Score: (7/10) Review: There and gone in an instant, The Overnight is a film better suited for home viewing anyway. A couple (Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling) new to the area meet Jason Schwartzman at a local playground where both of their children are playing. Their kids have hit it off so Schwartzmann invites the family over for more fun, but when the kids go to bed Schwartzman and his wife Judith Godrèche have more interesting games to play for the unsuspecting couple. Saying more would spoil the fun but it’s an adults only evening with oodles of twists and turns as both couples bare their secrets (and their bodies) before the night is over. Already famous for its full frontal shots of Schwartzman and Scott (sorry, both are wearing prosthetics), at 79 minutes the movie is short but does start to feel long in the middle section. It helps immensely that all four actors are competent and comfortable with the material…the story doesn’t hold back and neither do they.
Movie Review ~ Ant-Man The Facts: Synopsis: Armed with a super-suit with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, con-man Scott Lang must embrace his inner hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym, plan and pull off a heist that will save the world. Stars: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Michael Pena, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, David Dastmalchian, T.I. , Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale, Martin Donovan, Wood Harris, John Slattery, Gregg Turkington, Abby Ryder Fortson Director: Peyton Reed Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 117 minutes TMMM Score: (6/10) Review: Early troubles with the start of production with Ant-Man and some seriously questionable teasers/trailers didn’t get me very excited for this mid-summer superhero movie. I think Marvel was hoping that Ant-Man would score along the lines of last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxybut it’s sadly missing the humor that made Guardians so much fun. It’s not a total wash though because for every 10 minutes of standard origin-story developments, there’s a solid 5 minutes of exciting action sequences to wake audiences up from their slumber. I know that with an origin story you need to cover a lot of ground and Ant-Man, to its additional credit, doesn’t waste much time in getting to the goods…but it’s a cheap-o undertaking and one that feels like a second-string entry in Marvel’s blockbuster universe. Paul Rudd makes for a surprisingly solid action lead as does Corey Stoll as Rudd’s nemesis, but Evangeline Lilly labors too much under her severe wig (that seems to change lengths multiple times, in the middle of scenes) and isn’t a good enough actress to carry some weighty responsibilities. A decent entry as far as Marvel films go…but I’m not clamoring for a sequel any time soon.
Movie Review ~ Irrational Man The Facts: Synopsis: A tormented philosophy professor finds a will to live when he commits an existential act. Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Jamie Blackley, Betsy Aidem, Ethan Phillips, Sophie von Haselberg Director: Woody Allen Rated: R Running Length: 96 minutes Trailer Review:Here TMMM Score: (6/10) Review: It happens every year and every year you never quite know what to expect. I’m speaking, of course, of the annual Woody Allen release and like many of the directors works, it’s a hit or miss affair. I’m constantly in awe that Allen has churned out a film a year (sometimes two a year) for the last three decades and even the really bad ones aren’t as terrible as the other dreck dumped on us during the summer. Last year Magic in the Moonlight was dismissed as too slight even for Allen but I enjoyed its frothy charm…something that was missing from the more serious-minded Irrational Man. As a boozy professor that gets into hot water in his New England college town, Joaquin Phoenix was perhaps the wrong choice because the actor plagues himself far too much for Allen’s light material. At least co-star Emma Stone helps keep Phoenix from the quicksand of his own creation but she can’t be in every scene and it’s when Phoenix is on his own that the film goes slack. Then there’s Parker Posey who I’m becoming convinced is simply not of this earth and doesn’t try to hide it anymore. Bizarre line readings and the tendency to let her mouth hang open are only the tip of Posey’s strange acting iceberg. Very much in line with the dark humor of Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, Irrational Man should hold your interest for a time but it’s quickie ending feels like Allen was ready to move on to his next film rather than put a period at the end things.
Movie Review ~ Trainwreck The Facts: Synopsis: Having thought that monogamy was never possible, a commitment-phobic career woman may have to face her fears when she meets a good guy. Stars: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Mike Birbiglia, Colin Quinn, Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John Cena, Vanessa Bayer, Jon Glaser, LeBron James, Method Man Director: Judd Apatow Rated: R Running Length: 125 minutes Trailer Review:Here TMMM Score: (6.5/10) Review: One of the true success stories of the summer has to have been Amy Schumer, not so much for writing and starring in Trainwreck but the collective impact she’s had on the comedy scene. Unapologetic in her crassness and wise in her observations, Schumer is a comic moving like a shooting star and it’s nice to report that I think she’s a pretty decent actress as well. As much as I enjoy Schumer I was nervous that she was attaching herself to director Judd Apatow because Apatow, as we all know, has a way of turning in muddled work. Unfortunately, Apatow’s influence led the film to be about 20 minutes longer than it needed to be and ultimately overstaying its welcome. I don’t care what anyone says about the appearance of LeBron James as a bona fide supporting player, his entire storyline should have been excised and the film wouldn’t have suffered at all. The problems get worse because Apatow likes to cast non-actors in his film and put in cameos when you least expect it…to the detriment of the flow of the narrative. He stumbles badly in several places here but is saved by Schumer and Bill Hader as the opposites attract duo that confidently lead the film. Special mention must, again, be made to Tilda Swinton for disappearing within her role as Schumer’s glam yet grim boss. Worth it for Schumer, Swinton, and Hader…but watch it at home so you can fast forward through the slow Apatow-ish parts.
Movie Review ~ Mr. Holmes The Facts: Synopsis: An aged, retired Sherlock Holmes looks back on his life, and grapples with an unsolved case involving a beautiful woman. Stars: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Hiroyuki Sanada, Roger Allam, Frances de la Tour, Hattie Morahan, Patrick Kennedy, Philip Davis, Milo Parker Director: Bill Condon Rated: PG Running Length: 104 minutes Trailer Review:Here TMMM Score: (8/10) Review: In reality, I probably should have given Mr. Holmes a more thorough review than I’m about to give here…but I have a feeling I’ll have a chance to discuss it more over the next few months because if all is right with the world Ian McKellen will find himself nominated in a few Best Actor categories during the end of the year awards round-up. McKellen plays an aged Sherlock Holmes living in the country, attended to by a no-nonsense housekeeper (Laura Linney) and entertained by her young son. There’s actually three Holmes on display here as the present Holmes recalls two previous cases he was involved with that had an impact on his life. With a smart script from Jeffrey Hatcher adapted from a popular novel, it’s directed with a mellow grandeur by Bill Condon. Condon and McKellen scored before with the fascinating Gods and Monsters and here’s hoping they go the distance with this one too. An interesting tidbit, at one point Holmes ventures out to see a Sherlock Holmes movie…and the actor playing Holmes on screen (Nicholas Rowe) played the detective in 1986’s fun frolic Young Sherlock Holmes.
Movie Review ~ Paper Towns The Facts: Synopsis: A young man and his friends embark upon the road trip of their lives to find the missing girl next door. Stars: Nat Wolff, Halston Sage, Austin Abrams, Cara Delevingne, Justice Smith Director: Jake Schreir Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 109 minutes TMMM Score: (7/10) Review: After The Fault in Our Stars became a runaway hit last summer movie studios were looking for the next big alt-teen romance that could lure YA audiences away from summer action flicks. Turns out they didn’t have to look far because Paper Towns was adapted from the novel by the same author as The Fault in Our Stars. While Paper Towns doesn’t center around a disease that threatens to tear our lovebirds apart, it has its own mystery about it as Nat Wolff goes looking for his recently vanished neighbor (Cara Delevingne) that he’s been enamored with (or more like fascinated by) since they were children. Following the clues she seemingly left for him, Wolff and his friends embark on a journey of discovery where they Learn Life Lessons. The film kept my interest for most of the running length and it’s only in the final passages when all is explained does it feel a little like a letdown. Still, there’s a smart air of riskiness that elevates the film and more often than not it lands on the good side of taking that risky step.
Movie Review ~ Pixels The Facts: Synopsis: When aliens misinterpret video feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war, they attack the Earth in the form of the video games. Stars: Adam Sandler, Brian Cox, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad Director: Chris Columbus Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 105 minutes TMMM Score: (3/10) Review: A movie where everyone involved should hang their head in shame. There’s actually some semblance of a good idea here with aliens attacking earth with classic arcade games but unfortunately it gets trampled by Adam Sandler’s lazy acting, Kevin James bad acting, and Josh Gad’s awful everything. Michelle Monaghan looks positively embarrassed to be sharing scenes (especially romantic ones) with Sandler and only Peter Dinklage comes out relatively unscathed in a campy, mullet wearing performance. For fans of ‘80s nostalgia there are some pleasant diversions as video game characters pop up in (supposedly) comical ways and I think that director Chirs Columbus really did give the material a chance to be something interesting…but Sandler and his crew suck the life out of everything and are so devoid of any vested interest that you wonder why you should care at all either.
Movie Review ~ Southpaw The Facts: Synopsis: Boxer Billy Hope turns to trainer Tick Willis to help him get his life back on track. Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Clare Foley, Miguel Gomez, Victor Ortiz, Rita Ora, Naomie Harris Director: Antoine Fuqua Rated: R Running Length: 123 minutes TMMM Score: (6.5/10) Review: By now, we know that Jake Gyllenhaal is a smart actor. With role after role from Prisoners to Nightcrawler to End of Watch we’ve seen that he’s up for most any challenge and likes to dive deep into his roles. So it’s not surprising that he was drawn to this tale of redemption concerning a famous boxer at the top of his game dealt a series of terrible blows (in more ways than one) and his eventual path back to himself. What is surprising is that while the performances are very good you can’t get away from the fact that the story feels recycled and originally intended for a different set of lower string stars. I’m always on the fence regarding Forest Whitaker but as the wise boxing manager that grudgingly comes to Gyllenhaal’s aid, the actor reminds us why he so deserved his Best Actor Oscar for The Last King of Scotland. Also turning in a great performance in Rachel McAdams (The Vow) as Gyllenhaal’s high school sweetheart, mother of his daughter, and the only one that seems to have his best interest at heart.
Southpaw was also at the center of some controversy that arose this summer about movie trailers that give away too much of the film. If you have seen the trailer for Southpaw you know what I’m talking about…if you haven’t, please go into the movie blind. I had a faint idea what the spoiler was and even that made the first ¼ of the film much less involving. Worth it for the performances but gets knocked out by an also-ran plot.
Movie Review ~ Samba The Facts: Synopsis: Samba migrated to France ten years ago from Senegal, and has since been plugging away at various lowly jobs. Alice is a senior executive who has recently undergone a burn-out. Both struggle to get out of their dead-end lives. Samba’s willing to do whatever it takes to get working papers, while Alice tries to get her life back on track until fate draws them together. Stars: Omar Sy, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Tahar Rahim, Izia Higelin, Isaka Sawadogo Director: Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano Rated: R Running Length: 118 minutes TMMM Score: (5.5/10) Review: Of all the movies I’m talking about in this wrap-up this is one I’d bet dollars to donuts that you’ve never heard of. And you couldn’t be blamed because this barely made a blip on the usually forgiving art-house circuit. From the star and directors of 2012’s dynamite The Intouchables comes this story of an immigrant man living in France who crosses paths with a burned out executive when the man is discovered to be an illegal alien. Omar Sy (Jurassic World) and Charlotte Gainsbourg don’t have that much chemistry but in a weird way it works for the oddball romance that develops over the course of the film. I never could get a real feel if the movie was a comedy, drama, or something in between…and neither could most of the people involved. Slightly recommended but only if the plot or stars appeal to you.
That almost did it for July…but there was still one weekend to go! Moving up several months from its planned December release, the fifth installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise had its brains in the right place but at times forgot to bring its brawn. I still prefer Ghost Protocol to Rogue Nation but as long as star Tom Cruise keeps making these films interesting I’ll keep accepting future missions. Here’s hoping he brings along Rebecca Ferguson again because finally there is a female that is every bit a match to Cruise’s daring agent.
I wasn’t sold at all when I heard that Warner Brothers was planning on remaking National Lampoon’s Vacation but as time went on I heard more that it was more of a sequel than a reboot (resequel?) and I started coming around to the idea of a new Vacation. I enjoyed Ed Helms and Christina Applegate as the hapless couple traveling cross-country with their children…but audiences and most critics didn’t. It wasn’t a great movie and was probably too crude to be part of your Vacation marathons…but I have to say the worst part about it was when original stars Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo showed up. Still, I’m hoping it made enough money to warrant a holiday themed sequel. In any event…it’s a damn sight better than European Vacation.
Wow – July didn’t skimp on variety, did it? Arguably the hottest month for releases, it carried over the promise of May and June and laid a path for August to do quite well…but could it top the three months that came before it?
Synopsis: Director/choreographer Bob Fosse tells his own life story as he details the sordid life of Joe Gideon, a womanizing, drug-using choreographer.
Release Date: December 20, 1979
Thoughts: It took me a few viewings to truly “get” Bob Fosse’s non-traditional musical drama that’s really a barely veiled re-telling of his own rise to fame and glory first as a Broadway choreographer and then as an Oscar winning director. Fosse won his Oscar six years prior for Cabaret and was nominated again two years later for Lenny. He nabbed his third and final nomination for All That Jazz and had Kramer vs. Kramer not been such a major force of nature that year, Fosse and the film both would have taken the prize (sorry, Apocalypse Now, it was never going to happen). As good as Best Actor winner Dustin Hoffman was in Kramer vs. Kramer, Roy Scheider (JAWS) delivers a performance without peer as Fosse’s screen alter ego that literally dances himself to death. Though the overall message may be more Grim Reaper than Happy Jazz Hands, it miraculously steers clear of the morbidity it inches ever closer toward. Ending with arguably one of the best finales in any motion picture ever, the film gets better each time I watch it. My Criterion BluRay is arriving any day now and I can’t wait to watch Fosse’s masterpiece again…and again…and again.
Synopsis: Two salesmen whose careers have been torpedoed by the digital age find their way into a coveted internship at Google, where they must compete with a group of young, tech-savvy geniuses for a shot at employment.
Stars: Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Max Minghella, Rose Byrne, John Goodman, Dylan O’Brien, JoAnna Garcia, Eric Andre, Josh Brener, Tiya Sircar, Tobit Raphael, Will Ferrell
Review: Though summer is traditionally the time of big budget franchise pictures that boast state of the art special effects and gigantic action sequences, it’s nice to remember that there are also high profile studio pictures that provide nice counter programming to more bombastic films. Now along comes The Internship, a comedy that takes a big gamble that pays off for the most part and proves that you don’t need superheroes and alien effects to entertain.
It’s hard to imagine everything that was on the line with the pitch that screenwriter Vince Vaughn and Jared Stern made to the studio in hopes of getting this movie made. A comedy about two washed up salesmen that worm their way into a summer internship at Google, the entire film really depended on the participation of the massive internet company. Without them, the movie simply couldn’t have been made.
Thankfully, after reading the script the company agreed to lend their name and blessing to the genial comedy and even if it could be argued that the movie is just one big ad for Google there’ s no denying that there’s a fun movie at the center of all the product placement. Giving viewers an inside look at the Google campus (though little to none of it was actually filmed there), we see the atmosphere that the company has created with free food, nap pods (I’d like to order one of those, please), slides that take you from one floor to another, and a collegiate atmosphere that stimulates creativity while pushing the boundaries of imagination.
I get the impression that this was originally targeted as an R-Rated feature but it’s relatively tame considering that the film stars the men from 2005’s raunchy Wedding Crashers. More than a few times I could tell some more explicit words and images were removed to get the film to more audience friendly PG-13 but it really doesn’t matter because the comedy comes from a more genuine place and its largely thanks to its stars.
While Vaughn struck gold early with Swingers he only manages a good film every fourth movie released. He’s in his comfort zone here as a fast-talking dyed in the wool salesman that suddenly is up against people half his age that have double the tech knowledge he so sorely lacks. Wilson (who seems to look more like a young old man with each film) is a nicely centered counter to Vaughn’s more hyperactive character. The two work well together and even if a few of their likely ad-libbed scenes go on a little too long you can tell that there’s a real respect there.
As part of their internship, Vaughn and Wilson must team up with a group of misfits to complete challenges that will get them one step closer to a full time job at the end of the summer. The plot actually reminded me of the recent Monsters University where two goofballs are forced to work with a team of outcasts to gain admission to a highly competitive college program. Instead of monster related shenanigans, The Internship puts Vaughn, Wilson, and their outliers up against a set of Google related challenges and asks them to square off opposite a perfectly smarmy Max Minghella.
Normally I bristle at a romance that feels shoe-horned in but the playful banter exchanged between Wilson and Rose Byrne (The Place Beyond the Pines) is genuinely surprising and makes good use of the refreshing appeal of both actors. Byrne’s role could easily have been a one-note ice queen that gets melted by Wilson’s aw-shucks charm but she gives some extra gravitas to her take on her character that somehow makes a familiar romantic sparring situation feel new.
Director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum) keeps things moving at a nice pace and for a comedy that almost tips the scales at two hours the result is a breezy laugher that’s as harmless as a low-level virus that has infected your G-Mail account. Even a cameo by the sometimes unrestrained Will Ferrell lands squarely on the funny bone and doesn’t overstay its welcome. While The Internship is most likely a film with little re-watch value, there’s a lot of fun to be had if you’re up for something that doesn’t involve star treks with iron men of steel on the pacific rim.
Synopsis: A wealthy woman from Manhattan’s Upper East Side struggles to deal with her new identity and her sexuality after her husband of 16 years leaves her for a younger woman.
Stars: Jill Clayburgh, Alan Bates, Michael Murphy, Kelly Bishop, Lisa Lucas
Director: Paul Mazursky
Running Length: 124 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review:The winner of the Best Actress Oscar of 1979 was Jane Fonda for Coming Home but while Fonda was a very worthy winner, I’m still of the mind that the late Clayburgh should have taken the trophy for her bravura performance in An Unmarried Woman. The late 70’s was still working through a changing tide of independent women and the film came along at the perfect time to show the warts and all experience of a woman left by her husband for a younger model. Clayburgh never lets her character wallow but soldiers on even when the odds are stacked against her. What I like so much about director/screenwriter Mazursky’s approach to this is the way he presents Clayburgh’s rise from the ashes of a divorce not as a fairy tale of success against adversity but as someone taking control of her life and choices. Not only Clayburgh is well cast but her friends and family are uniquely credible as well including Bates as an unlikely suitor. Even if the film hasn’t aged particularly well, the overall effect of An Unmarried Woman still hits the mark three decades later.
Synopsis: A masked killer targets six college kids responsible for a prank gone wrong years earlier and whom are currently throwing a large New Year’s Eve costume party aboard a moving train.
Stars: Ben Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Hart Bochner, David Copperfield
Director: Roger Spottiswoode
TMMM Score: (7/10)
By the time Terror Train hit the rails in 1980 its star Curtis was already the anointed Scream Queen of her generation. Since 1978’s Halloween she had gone on to star in John Carpenter’s follow-up, The Fog and filmed the middling slasher film Prom Night back-to-back with this underrated little chiller. Like Prom Night, this is a Canadian made film that was picked up for US distribution by Twentieth Century Fox…and who could blame them? Curtis was an established horror star and with the popularity of Friday the 13th the horror genre was about to take off like a rocket.
Often a forgotten Curtis film when you consider her body of work as a whole, Terror Train has always been a favorite of mine. It’s not in the same league as Halloween or Friday the 13th but it holds its own with an interesting premise, devious killer, and a twist that continues to work nicely.
After a brief prologue charting a fraternity prank gone wrong, Terror Train picks up on New Year’s Eve three years later when the same frat boys and sorority girls are getting ready to board an all night leisure train for fun. As this is a college party there’s lots of booze, sex, and even a mysterious magician (Copperfield in a performance that is hysterically serious) that may be move involved with the past than anyone would expect.
Every time I see the movie I find myself forgetting that while it’s nicely effective in moments, its flimsy plot is filled with holes the size of the Grand Canyon. These plot holes become easier to navigate if you just give yourself over to it without fussing too much.
Knowing some of the twists that await the audience, I always find myself cringing at some of the more obvious moments when the film shows its hand to viewers that are playing close attention. Even so…I’ve introduced this to several friends and none have really picked up on where it’s headed.
While I still stick by my classic films for Halloween, a new BluRay upgrade of Terror Train was released this year and I had to pick it up and give it another spin. The thirty-three year old movie looks better than ever and has several honest-to-goodness seat jumping moments that are as effective today as when I first viewed it.
Synopsis: Down in the farm country of the US twins are born. One of them turns out to be good, while the other becomes rather evil.
Stars: Uta Hagen, Diana Muldaur, Chris Udvarnoky, Martin Udvarnoky, John Ritter
Director: Robert Mulligan
Running Length: 108 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: One of the great things about writing a blog is getting introduced to films from the past that I’ve had no real excuse not to see up until this point. I’ve seen a lot of movies, no question, but there are those elusive films that get bumped down on my list or are quickly forgotten in favor of something newer. So it’s been nice to have a good enough reason to explore these films that have passed me by.
The Other is a film from this category – one that I’ve read a lot about over the years but just never got around to seeing. In exploring the selection at my local video store I just happened to catch the spine of the movie on the shelf and decided that since I was writing 31 Days to Scare that this was a good time to buckle down and take in the early 70’s thriller.
At the end of the day, I’m glad I saw the film so I can cross it off my list but I gotta say that the movie largely left me cold. That’s too bad because the film is gorgeously shot with several interesting performances that flow nicely with the depression-era setting. As a drama, I think the film works on one level but as a horror film it didn’t do it for me. Maybe I’ve seen too many similar films that had a larger impact but the movie has a sluggishly deliberate pace that sacked any hope of tension being created.
Directed with care by Mulligan (To Kill a Mockingbird, The Man in the Moon), The Other opens with Jerry Goldsmith’s creepy score and introduces us to the Perry twins, Niles and Holland (the Udvarnoky twins) as they play around the fields of their farm house. It’s quickly clear that Holland is more than naturally mischievous and hints of The Bad Seed lend some flavor to most of the picture as it becomes a case of “It wasn’t me, it was Holland!” a little too often.
The languid pacing isn’t given any help but largely languid performances. Hagen, in a rare film appearance, is perhaps a bit too committed to her role as the clueless grandmother to the boys. She plays “the game” with Niles, a mixture of astral projection and meditation and the results are a bit stupefying. I was never exactly sure what Mulligan and screenwriter Tom Tryon (adapting his own novel) were guiding us toward in these nicely rendered but strangely empty sequences.
There’s a big twist in The Other that the film’s trailer implores you not to give away. Perhaps at the time the twist was unexpected but if you can’t tell what’s going on in the movie you need to go back to Film 101 and start from scratch. It’s not that the twist is easy to figure out that robs the movie of surprise, it’s that for a film of this length it’s so dreadfully dull that you become hungry for something, anything, that will inject some life into it.
For reasons of sheer nostalgia I would say that The Other is a film that movie buffs will want to check out. Mulligan and Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Surtees paint the film with a golden glow of yellowing fields that play in stark contrast to the dark subject matter. It’s a Sunday afternoon kind of film – one that exists as a showcase of technique and performance over any real thrills.
Synopsis: Two determined mothers, one a teacher, look to transform their children’s failing inner city school. Facing a powerful and entrenched bureaucracy, they risk everything to make a difference in the education and future of their children
Release Date: September 28, 2012
Thoughts: I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve seen this all before. Now look, I’m not against a David vs. Goliath kinda story but the trailer for Won’t Back Down seems to hit on every cliché note that these types of films can be overwhelmed by. Maybe it’s just an unavoidable pitfall of this genre brought on by poorly made feel-good films and made-for-tv movies but is it too much to ask to market the movie as something more? Davis seems to be taking up a role that her friend Meryl Streep would have played (and did play in Music of the Heart!) ten years ago. Gyllenhaal might be a spunky bright spot here as she usually steers clear of schmaltz but still…there may have been one too many “Bring it!” type moments in this trailer to sell me completely.