Archive | August, 2015

RIP Wes Craven

31 Aug

I just wanted to write a few words on here about one of my favorite film makers of all time.

Wes Craven redefined what it meant to make a horror movie and knew the perfect balance between being scared and laughing. He’s legendary amongst his peers and has created a huge filmography to prove his greatness.

From The Last House on the Left all the way to Scream 4, his works are legendary. The world has lost a great mind today.

craven

Advertisements

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. – Review

31 Aug

Hollywood seems to be in a very nostalgic mood these past few years, what with all the remakes and reboots of movies and shows that newer generations may have never seen or heard of. It’s a nice idea, but it’s kind of being overloaded. Probably the strangest choice I’ve seen recently is Guy Ritchie’s newest film The Man From U.N.C.L.E. I say this because it was a show that was deeply rooted in the Cold War paranoia of the 1960s, even though it was a very light hearted, tongue in cheek kind of show. Of course, I trusted Ritchie’s skill with making this movie, and while it is far from being his best, it’s still an entertaining ride that breathes some colorful life during the end of the summer blockbuster season.

the-man-from-uncle-poster

The movie wastes no time getting started with American spy Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) on a mission in East Berlin to extract a woman named Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) and bring her over the Berlin Wall. During the mission, and unbeknownst to him, a KGB agent, Ilya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) is hot in his heels to stop him. What the two soon realize, is that they are being set up by their respective governments and soon Solo and Kuryakin are teamed up to stop an even bigger threat to both the Soviets and the Americans. This threat is a nuclear bomb being manufactured for a family of Nazi sympathizers, and the physicist building the bomb is Gaby’s estranged father. Now it’s up to Solo, Kuryakin, and Teller to gather all the information on this family as they can and stop them before they do serious damage to the world, and possibly start a war.

In 1963 when the television show was aired, it was pretty crazy to have an American and Soviet spy working together. It’s actually a really cool idea and made the stories seem more global. That being said, the show is incredibly dated, and while it is a lot of fun, it can be just as silly. What is really cool about this new adaptation of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is that Guy Ritchie doesn’t try to make this a dark story with life ending drama and suspense that is almost too sharp. Negative. This film actually feels like a 2 hour long episode, but with different people of course. That may be a problem for some people who want to have something deeper to watch, but that’s just not going to be found here. This is light hearted summer fun.

mfu-04428_wide-ddb56b120e7e15f35a0b5611686deefd517c6fc0-s900-c85

With Snatch and the Sherlock Holmes movies and the rest of Ritchie’s filmography, there’s one thing that is always present in every single one of his movies. Style. Lots and lots and lots of style. Then some more style, probably enough for three movies. Really, who best to mush together the vibes of the swingin’ sixties and the paranoia and fear of the Cold War? The colors in this movie really pop, but never does it feel like an exaggeration. There are certain scenes, however, where the style is exaggerated. The camera flies all over the place, the pictures spin and blend together, there’s split screen shots, and all of this combined with the music that any Guy Ritchie fan knows all too well.

Now, while this is a spy movie, it’s also a comedy. Cavill’s and Hammer’s chemistry is great, and it’s fun to see the two start their mission hating each other and grow closer to the spies that were scene in the original television show. The actors also have their characters down perfectly. Solo is pompous and snide, but also certainly likable while Kuryakin is a tough as nails Russian who’s weaknesses are revealed throughout the course of the movie. Seeing both of these people in scenes where they’re out of their element provides some of the most enjoyable parts of the film, even though some of the more straightforward jokes fall flat.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. feels like a much smaller blockbuster than most of the other movies to come out this summer, but it still provides a few hours of serious fun and a lot of laughs. Compared to SnatchSherlock Holmes, and even Rock ‘n’ Rolla, this film feels like one of the weaker movies made by Guy Ritchie, but that’s not to say that it isn’t quite good. It’s not necessarily action packed or thrilling, but it’s a fun ride into the vintage world of Cold War espionage, and one that doesn’t take itself to seriously.

Fright Night (1985) – Review

30 Aug

Imagine a world where vampires were still not the bud of jokes. Lets face it. Vampires are overused in the horror genre, and also have bled (no pun intended) into genres that they don’t even belong in. That isn’t to say that all modern vampire films aren’t cool, but they can be few and far between. Making light of the over usage of vampires can actually be a fun thing, too. Just look at Tom Holland’s 1985 film Fright Night. This movie has become a cult classic in the horror genre, but to call it purely horror would be a lie. It’s an excellent blend of comedy and horror mixed with a true love of everything terrifying, and is proud of its roots in classic Hammer films and anything worthy of a scream.

frightnight

Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) is nor stranger to horror movies, with his nights spent staying up late to catch cheesy horror movies on t.v., hosted by Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell), an aging actor in Hammer-esque horror movies. You’d think that given the opportunity to face the supernatural would mean a lot to someone like Charley, but when his new neighbor, Jerry (Chris Sarandon), turns out to be a vampire responsible for dozens of murders, he is anything but thrilled. Charley doesn’t find any help with the police or his family, but his friends Amy (Amanda Peterson) and Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) gives him the benefit of the doubt and convinces Peter Vincent to help Charley, who has the utmost faith in the t.v. star’s ability to hunt vampires. What happens next is Charley’s and Peter’s showdown with the supernatural that won’t end pretty.

Sometimes I’ll watch a horror movie and enjoy it immensely for what it is. Most of these movies serve to startle or create some sort of reaction of fear with the audience. On the other hand, there are some horror movies that just seem to be made for fans of horror movies. What I mean by that is that there are some movies that are just so full of in jokes, references, allusions, and recreations that will make any horror dork squeal with delight. This is the case with Fright Night, Much like Tom Holland’s later film Child’s Play, this film is purely meant to bring joy to fans. It isn’t a particularly scary movie, but it’s one of the most entertaining “horror movies” you’ll ever see. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s a comedy more than it is a horror film.

_1391696849

I’ve written quite a bit of reviews on Hammer horror films, and have firmly stated that they are some of my favorite examples of how to make a scary movie. It seems that Tom Holland feels the same way, as this movie quite literally looks and feels like a Hammer film from the 1960 or 1970s. Even the name Peter Vincent is not only a nod to Vincent Price, but also Hammer icon Peter Cushing. There’s another scene that takes place in Peter Vincent’s apartment where the room is filled with horror memorabilia. There’s a painting of Bela Lugosi in Dracula, a bust of Count Olaf’s head from the remake of Nosferatu, and if you look hard enough you can see the mask that Roddy McDowell wore in Planet of the Apes. There’s another scene that carefully recreates an iconic scene from The Exorcist. What I’m saying is that part of the fun of watching Fright Night is spotting all of the homages that Holland wrote in, but that’s not all, folks.

Where this film really succeeds, though, is putting it all together. It’s a fantastic combination of horror and comedy that can actually be a tricky thing to pull off. I’ve heard people say that all horror has a touch of comedy since laughter helps keep people unafraid, but Fright Night is legitimately hilarious. The acting is good across the board, but Roddy McDowell and Chris Sarandon (whose character I refer to as the Vampire Humperdink, thanks to The Princess Bride) really own their roles. You can see how much fun they’re having in the way they perform their roles. They both ham things up quite appropriately. Finally, while there may not be too many special effects shots, all of them are memorable and some of the make up is just downright fantastic.

Fright Night is an example of exemplary horror film making. While there was really only one scene that made me jump, it’s still incredibly well made altogether. What has to be remembered is that this film is a horror/comedy and is meant to be laughed at. For fans of horror, it’s a must see for so many different reasons. Hell, even if you hate horror movies, this one may just be worth your time.

Christine – Review

29 Aug

I recently reviewed the first ever Stephen King adaptation, Brian DePalma’s film Carrie and its remake. I guess I just can’t stay away from his stories, since I’ve got another one for you today. In 1983, King released a novel called Christine which was adapted into a movie by John Carpenter that same year. As you might expect about a movie where a car is the primary source of fear, this isn’t a particularly scary story, but there is just enough flair and personality to make it another success for both King and Carpenter.

christine-movie-poster-1983-1020154758

Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon), who along with his friend Dennis (John Stockwell), are starting their senior year of high school with high hopes. The only difference between the two boys is that Dennis is popular, on the football team, and has girls fawning over him. Arnie has a different sort of appreciation that comes from the school bullies. While the two still remain good friends, Arnie finds a real companion in a 1958 Plymouth Fury named Christine. He loves the car so much that it begins pushing him away from everyone he formerly cared about, including his new girlfriend, Leigh (Alexandra Cabot). As Arnie and Christine spend more and more time together, Christine begins getting jealous of the people around Arnie, and they soon begin to disappear one by one.

Now, while this movie is regarded among a lot of people as a small classic of the horror genre, there certainly is an elephant in the room and I just want to point it out. The premise to this movie is…like… really weird. A sentient car seduces a teenager, which pretty much turns him into a totally different person, and then the car goes on a rampage to prove just how much she (the car) cares for the guy. It’s not an easy task to take a story as ludicrous as this and make it into something that is easy to believe. That being said, it’s pretty necessary to suspend all disbelief for Christine. Once that is done, I feel like most people can have a pretty good time with this movie.

christine-on-fire

What the story does very well is present characters and, certainly in Arnie’s case, the arc that the character goes through over the course of the movie. There’s also characters that get along that you don’t really expect to, and in that sense Christine is a pretty unconventional movie. Dennis and Arnie get along right from the get go, which gives these two main characters a past, and therefore make them feel a lot more real. The only character who doesn’t feel like there’s much of a past behind them is our title character, Christine. There’s a lot of mystery surrounding Christine, especially when she begins her murderous rampage. Is it Christine or Arnie committing these crimes? This builds a lot of suspense, but there’s mystery around Christine that doesn’t really need to be there. Why is Christine sentient? Where did Christine really come from? I know in the book there’s more of an explanation, but it unfortunately didn’t really translate well to the screen.

This being a John Carpenter movie, there are a few things you can expect. The first is that this film is shot better than your average horror movie. Carpenter knows how to block shots using wide lenses to get the most into a shot as possible. There are also great scenes where Christine fixes herself, which was accomplished using plastic, vacuums, and reversing the footage. Really creative stuff. Now the idea of a car that’s actually alive isn’t particularly frightening (Pixar did it after all), but Carpenter knows how to use what material he has to the fullest. The black tinted windows add a nice layer of suspense, and this film probably has the best use of headlights you’ll ever see. It gives the film more menace than it probably would have had under a less talented hand.

John Carpenter and Stephen King are two masters of their genre, so seeing them both work together is something to really enjoy. Would it have been a little cooler if it was a different, more scary story of King’s? Maybe, maybe not. I do know, however, that while Christine isn’t a particularly scary story, it’s one that is told with clever writing, a confident hand behind the camera, and a vision provided by both of these minds that comes together quite nicely. While this isn’t the best of either of these two titans, it is a very good movie that is accessible to more people that some of their other works.

The Blob (1958 & 1988) – Review

22 Aug

When I think about movies from the 1950s, I immediately think of alien invasion films. There are classics like The Day the Earth Stood Still and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and then there are those that are classics for totally different reasons like Plan 9 from Outer Space. Arguably one of the most celebrated of these invasion films is the 1958 cult smash, The Blob. Like many sci-fi and horror films, it got a remake in 1988, but surprisingly enough, it stands up to and in many ways surpasses the original.

Let’s look at the original version first.

c2399714c67c31cf8024534d98bd2d5d

Steve Andrews (Steve McQueen) and Jane Martin (Aneta Corseaut) are out on a date one night in rural Pennsylvania. The night seems ordinary enough, until Steve notices what looks like a meteor hurtling towards the woods. When the contents of the meteor, a small gelatinous blob, is inadvertently brought into town by an old hermit (Olin Howland) people begin disappearing. Steven finally notices the blob, which has grown a lot bigger, consuming the town’s doctor, but when he begins telling people, only Jane seems to believe him. As the night goes on and more and more people begin disappearing, the blob finally grabs the town’s attention when it attacks people in a movie theatre in its iconic climax.

What could have been a pretty standard B-grade alien invasion story is bolstered into becoming something of a genre masterpiece. But what is it that really puts The Blob a step above the rest? Like a lot of these genre films from this time, there’s an underlying theme of communism making its way into the American way of life, but it’s done with what I think is the most simple but affective way. The blob, which is red, literally consumes everybody and becomes bigger and bigger. This blob, by the way, is a real achievement of special effects. Sure it looks dated now, but there’s certain scenes that made me excited at the clever usage of practical effects.

blob-58-2

The 1958 version of The Blob is a lot of fun. So much fun that there’s even a festival named after it which is dedicated to celebrating the film and other movies like it. It’s also fun to see a young Steve McQueen, who would go on to be an action megastar, in probably his most timid role. Unfortunately, this movie really won’t appeal to everyone. You have to be a fan of the genre to really appreciate what this movie was trying to do and the ways it succeeded. Still, it remains a cult classic that will never be forgotten.

There was a sequel to this film in 1972 called Beware! The Blob, but I’ve never seen that one, and I really have no interest in seeing it. Instead, I’m gonna jump ahead to 1988 to look at the remake.

1988-the-blob-poster1

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, a meteor crashes in Arborville, California (that’s new) and is soon brought to the city by and old homeless man (Billy Beck) who gets it stuck on his arm. The amorphous, acidic substance soon disintegrates and consumes the man and begins working its way through the small town, growing larger and larger as it consumes more people. Brian Flagg (Kevin Dillon) and Meg Penny (Shawnee Smith) are two teens caught in the middle of all of the chaos which only gets worse when scientists and military personnel, led by Dr. Meddows (Joe Seneca), get involved and reveal a large government conspiracy that could be the end of the world.

Just like the original fit in nicely with other 1950s alien invasion films, this version of The Blob fits in great with the sci-fi/horror film of the 1980s. Like a lot of those films what really stands out to me in this movie is the special effects. The blob is much larger and much more aggressive, so the death scenes in this movie are much more explicit. This means we get a lot more of those practical effects I was talking about, except a whole lot better. People are disintegrated, snapped like twigs, limbs are pulled off, and faces are melted all in the name of cheesy horror.

j

Another thing this version has is a great sense of humor that borders on the line of self awareness. There are a lot of jokes in this movie that genuinely made me laugh, and it’s pretty safe to say that everything that happens in this movie is done in a sort of tongue in cheek kind of way. That being said, the humor makes for characters that are easy to like which causes a reaction when one of them dies. Let me just say also, that this movie has some guts in killing off the people it does and when. There are plenty of shocks, laughs, scares, and great special effects that makes The Blob from 1988 not just a good remake, but a great and, dare I say, superior remake.

For both of the films, you have to already like the genre or be open to the idea of liking the genre. With the silliness of the first one and the excessive gore of the second one, these movies aren’t for everyone, but both have garnered praise and celebration which is all well deserved.

Straight Outta Compton – Review

18 Aug

Between 1986 and 1991, N.W.A took what was considered decent in the music industry and practically turned it on its head, but not without good reason. Their raps reflected the truth of their everyday life, and that just didn’t resonate well with some people. Straight Outta Compton, the new film by F. Gary Gray, finally tells the story of the rise and fall of N.W.A, but also how Ice Cube and Dr. Dre became household names. While this film is a biopic, what makes it really exceptional is its indictments of the police, the music industry, and greed.

Straight_Outta_Compton_poster

After growing up and living in Compton, Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.). Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), MC Ren (Aldis Hodge), and DJ Yella (Neil Brown, Jr.) form the rap group N.W.A. Together they write and produce songs about Compton and the only lifestyle they’ve ever known, which is plagued by violence and police brutality and harassment. After being found by their manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) and picked up by Priority Records, the group takes the world by storm and causes an uproar fighting censorship of their music. As greed and ego finds its way into the group, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre break off to form their own careers, but their past efforts as N.W.A can’t be so easily shaken off.

The Academy Awards seems so far away, but like… Straight Outta Compton has to be considered. I mean, it just has to. This movie isn’t just a great biopic, it’s also a great examination of race relations, the music industry, and personal friendships. What only makes it more powerful is that it’s a true story filled with characters who are still alive to tell the tale. Dr. Dre and Ice Cube actually worked as producers on this film, which is comforting since you know they gave some input on what actually happened. It’s a really incredible story but that’s just where things begin. There’s so much more to this movie that it was almost hard to wrap my head around everything.

Film Review-Straight Outta Compton

 

Stepping away from what the movie is about, I’d like to look at everything that aesthetically makes Straight Outta Compton so pleasing. Having worked on music videos before (some for both Ice Cube and Dr. Dre), F. Gary Gray brings a real visual flair to this film. There are scenes where the camera swoops, turns, and glides with effortless ease. Add the skills of cinematographer Matthew Libatique, who has worked with Darren Aronofsky on films like Pi and Requiem for a Dream, and you have a visually beautiful movie. The soundtrack to this movie is exactly what you’d expect it to be, and I loved every minute of it. They played songs by N.W.A that I heard before, but now I have some welcome additions that I didn’t know before this movie. Thank you, Straight Outta Compton.

There couldn’t be a better group of actors portraying these larger than life people. O’Shea Jackson, Jr., the son of Ice Cube, plays his father in this and it’s sometimes eerie how similar they look. Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell as Dr. Dre and Eazy-E, respectively, also give exceptional performances, and Mitchell’s work is part of the reason this movie needs to be remembered during the awards season. When the actors all come together, their chemistry is fantastic and they work great with an already great screenplay. I just wish that DJ Yella and MC Ren had a bit more to do.

Straight Outta Compton is, unsurprisingly, a very powerful movie. While showing the rise and fall of one of rap, and arguably music’s, most influential groups, the film also treads over deeper themes that could have easily not been included. Fortunately, everything in this movie clicks together and works perfectly making the two and a half hour runtime not something to be intimidated by. Even if you don’t care for rap music, this is a powerful story that will now surely stand the test of time.

The Iceman – Review

15 Aug

Between the 1960s and the early 1980s, Richard Kuklinski murdered over 100 people as a hitman working for various mob families. Since his arrest in 1986, there has been a biography written about him and also an HBO documentary that features and interview with the Iceman, himself, from 1992. With all of this information already out there, and the fact that it was a huge media sensation, it seems only right to have a movie made after the guy. We got this movie in 2013 with Ariel Vroman’s The Iceman. While this movie does have a lot going for it, like the title performance, there’s a lot to this movie that just falls short which makes it not achieve a place a small gangster classic.

The-Iceman-Poster

Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) is a violent and unpredictable man, but he finds joy when he marries his girlfriend, Deborah (Winona Ryder). After losing his job dubbing bootleg porn for the mafia, he is hired by mob boss Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta) to act as an enforcer and hit man. This job forces Kuklinski to channel the rage and violence that he has hidden away from his family in order to get the job done, and it turns out that he’s very good at what he does. As the years go by and the amount of bodies becomes ridiculous, Richard finds himself in a position where he could either lose the way to provide for his family or team up with another mafia hit man, Robert Pronge (Chris Evans). Whatever his choice may be, the consequences could be big enough to tear his entire world apart.

I have to be honest here. I never heard of Richard Kuklinski before this movie, but his story really is an interesting one. With a career that spanned over two decades that was filled with violence and malice, you’d think it would be enough to make a great gangster film. Well, yeah it is, but the screenplay to The Iceman keeps it from ever really achieving that greatness. Since there is so much to work with, you’d think that this would be a pretty long movie, but it’s actually under two hours. How is that possible? There is way too much to cover for it to be that short. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of scenes that had the potential to be awesome and memorable, but is glazed over in a matter of seconds. The best part of this movie is a montage when it should have been stretched out to build character and create suspense. Oh well…

the-iceman

Despite the screenplay being less than spectacular, there’s still something that makes The Iceman well worth seeing. That is Michael Shannon’s fantastic performance. I’ve yet to see Michael Shannon give a less than perfect performance, be it as General Zod in Man of Steel, Nelson Van Alden in Boardwalk Empire, or even his small role as Petie in Cecil B. Demented. While some of the stuff he’s in may be awful (I’m looking at you Pearl Harbor and Jonah Hex), Shannon is never the weak link. In the role of Richard Kuklinski, he is both demonic and loving, good and evil. He is a family man and also a cold blooded killer. This is the kind of stuff that makes his character, and many other characters in cinema, so interesting and he pulls it off with such menace, it’s hard not to be terrified of him.

It’s also easy to get lost in the production design. I recently reviewed Parkland, and I talked about how well the designers pulled off making everything look and sound like 1963. I have the same thing to say about The Iceman, except that it showcases design from the 1960s through the 1980s. It really puts you into the scene, but unfortunately there is plenty to take you out of the scenes. I’ve heard complaints that a lot of the dialogue is stereotypical gangster lines, but that wasn’t the issue with me. Going back to what I said before, the pacing of this movie is too sporadic and things just seem to happen too quickly. The choppiness of the film’s plot is enough to take you out of what’s happening onscreen and start thinking about what could have been done to make the movie better.

What makes me so disappointed is that The Iceman had a lot of potential to be a great gangster film, but it only is a pretty good gangster film. Michael Shannon’s performance as Kuklinski is enough to make this movie worth watch, but there’s too much that’s lacking. While I didn’t expect it to have the size or scope of a movie by Martin Scorsese or Francis Ford Coppola, it would have been nice to see a little bit more work done with the screenplay. The bottom line is that The Iceman is a good movie, but is sorely lacking.