Tag Archives: time travel

House Series – Review: Part 1

20 Nov

Horror and comedy go together better than most genre combinations. It’s fun to be scared at the movies and it’s also fun to laugh at yourself being scared, so why not mix both into one movie? In 1980, Sean S. Cunningham created one of the most iconic horror franchises ever with his movie Friday the 13th, and Steven Miner continued his franchise with two sequels. What some people may not know is that they collaborated again in 1986 with a horror comedy called House. It wasn’t as big of a success as their previous works, but it did spawn a series that I’ve never really heard anyone talk about. Could there be a reason for that? Let’s find out.

Roger Cobb (William Katt) is an author who is struggling to find inspiration for his new book about his experiences in the Vietnam War. After his estranged aunt (Susan French) commits suicide in her home, Roger decides to move in and take care of the place while also hoping to be inspired in the house he used to live in before a tragedy forced him and his wife, Sandy (Kay Lenz), to separate. What Roger wasn’t expecting was that this house would be a portal for all sorts of creatures and ghouls to come through and torment him during the night and threaten his very existence. Now, it’s up to Roger and his especially nosy neighbor, Harold (George Wendt), to stop the specters from threatening the rest of the neighborhood and completely destroying Roger.

There are plenty of reasons that make House an appealing movie to see. For one thing seeing the Greatest American Hero and Norm from Cheers teaming up to fight creatures in a haunted house is hilarious. Both William Katt and George Wendt bring their comedic chops to the table while also functioning well in the film’s more serious scenes. There’s also some clever special effects and creature design that don’t use any kind of computer effects, of course. I’m a sucker for things like that so any movie that utilizes these kind of costumes already has a leg up in my book. While House is definitely more of a comedy, it does also touch on the PTSD that many soldiers go through after a war, with this one being Vietnam. It adds a layer of drama that was a little unexpected, but certainly welcome.

While there’s plenty to enjoy with House, it really isn’t all that special. A lot of the comedy is very childish despite the movie being rated R, and I don’t feel like it really embraced the off the walls insanity it may have been going for. I just felt like something big was missing from this movie. There’s no scene that’s exactly memorable and it’s a movie I feel like I may not remember too much about as time goes on. It also takes quite a while for things to really start happening, which is kind of strange because this is a pretty short movie at just an hour and a half. There’s also a character who exists solely so that there can be a funny scene with a kid in the middle of the movie. It was a really entertaining bit, but this character was just useless and didn’t make any kind of impact on the story.

One of the first words I used to describe House after I just finished watching it was “cute.” It’s a serviceable horror comedy that can be easily watched and disposed of. I really wanted a lot more from the movie, however. For an R rated horror comedy, it’s really quite tame, and that’s surprising since it’s coming from the creative forces behind Friday the 13th and a few of its sequels. This is a movie that seems to have sort of faded into obscurity despite the fact that it has William Katt and George Wendt fighting demons. That in and of itself was enough for me to watch it. House isn’t a bad film, but don’t go in expecting too much.

Final Grade: C

While House wasn’t that much of a success, there was still a sequel released one year later, and I have to say I love the title: House II: The Second Story. Get it? Like the second floor? Story? Moving on.

Jesse (Arye Gross) and his girlfriend Kate (Lar Park Lincoln) are a well off couple who move into a mansion that has been part of Jesse’s family for generations. While they’re there, Jesse does some investigating into his past and finds that his great great grandfather found a crystal skull in an Aztec temple and it may or may not be buried with him in the graveyard on the hill next to the house. This prompts Jesse and his friend Charlie (Jonathan Stark) to head over and dig up the grave. What they don’t know is that the corpse isn’t a corpse, but is very much alive and insists on Jess and Charlie calling him Gramps (Royal Dano) after being dug up, crystal skull in hand. Now, Jesse, Charlie, and Gramps have to keep their secret from Kate and her nosy boss, John (Bill Maher), while also defending the skull and the house from extra dimensional beings and time travelers who want the skull for themselves, especially Gramps’ old foe, Slim Reeser.

Remember how I used the word “cute” to describe the original film? Well House II is even more so, and I may have to go so far as saying it isn’t even a horror movie. This film is heavy on the comedy and fantasy but very light on the scares. This works both for and against the movie. Let’s start with the negatives so I can focus a bit on the fun stuff later. House II is a follow up to a horror comedy, so I went in expecting a horror comedy. Since I didn’t get that I feel like the movie comes off as both a little unnecessary and kind of disappointing. For most of the movie the comedy also comes off as excruciatingly obvious and not delivered all that well. Arye Gross isn’t much of a heroic presence and his line delivery often times comes out very awkward. The same can be said for Jonathan Stark, which is a problem since he’s supposed to be the main source of the comedy for most of the movie.

If I’m going to be completely honest, this is kind of a hard movie to be overly critical with because it is such a light hearted film. In fact, in terms of it’s tone, it was more in line than the first House. Royal Dano as Gramps is hilarious and Bill Maher works great as the slimy boss with eyes for Kate. John Ratzenberger also has a small part towards the end and he is easily the best part of the movie. If I can be honest again, I have to say that this movie was very entertaining. There was some cool make up effects for Gramps and Slim Reeser and there’s also some fun puppet work when dinosaurs get involved. Yeah, I said it. Dinosaurs. This is a movie that knows exactly what it is and has fun with it, and it never gets bogged down with drama. Drama’s absolutely great, but House II was determined to be a comedy so it stuck with that.

I honestly can’t believe I’m saying this, and I may be in the minority here, but I enjoyed House II: The Second Story more than the first movie. Both have their positives and negatives, but my biggest complaint with the first one was that it didn’t go far enough. The second movie dives head first into weird and doesn’t stop to take a breath. It is a tame outing, but it’s fun and so light hearted it’s hard not to enjoy it just a little bit. If you’re going in expecting a horror comedy like the last film, you may be disappointed. This one is more of a fantasy adventure mixed with comedy. If that’s still your cup of tea, I recommend this one with a smile on my face.

Final Grade: C+

Well there’s the first two House movies for you. Both aren’t masterpieces, but they certainly aren’t bad. They’re both light comedies that blend horror, fantasy, and some adventure. They aren’t movies you have to watch right this second, but they’re completely serviceable entertainment. Check back soon for the second part of this review where I’ll be talking about House III: The Horror Show and House IV.

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X-Men: Days of Future Past – Review

11 Jun

The X-Men franchise, which has been around for over a decade (their movies at least), is a franchise that has had some strong up and some really strong downs. Bryan Singer’s X-Men and X2: X-Men United were both triumphant examples of how a superhero movie should be made. That’s when tragedy struck. X3: X-Men United was a complete disaster that ruined everything Singer had done, X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a mediocre entry, and The Wolverine was downright boring. Only with Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class did the series seem to get its footing once again with one of the best entries of the franchise. Now, Singer’s back in the director’s chair and has created the most exciting, dramatic, and action packed entries yet, X-Men: Days of Future Past.

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The future is a bleak place for both humans and mutants. Giant robots called Sentinels have ravaged the planet killing both mutants and normal people who have the mutant gene, leaving the world completely devastated. It is revealed that the cause of this is because the mutant Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) assassinated the designer of the Sentinels, Boliver Trask (Peter Dinklage), and prompted the government to capture her and use her genes to create the murderous robots and making Trask appear as some sort of martyr for humankind. Now, the only chance of survival lies with a small group of remaining X-Men, particularly Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), whose consciousness is sent back in time by Kitty Pride (Ellen Page) to bring together the young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and find Mystique to stop her before she can carry out her assassination. Meanwhile, in the future, the Sentinels are closing in on the X-Men’s hide out, forcing the survivors to fight for their lives so Wolverine can complete his near impossible mission.

Of course, I’m leaving a lot out of that quick little plot summary because there really is so much going on in this movie, to the point that it’s almost mind boggling. Time travel movies are rarely simple, but I found that this one was not too difficult to understand, and that has a lot to do with the writing and directing. I could tell, right from the opening scene (which might be one of the most violent scenes in this entire series) that this movie was not only going to be entertaining, but it was also going to impress me. There’s so much to love in this movie from the action and drama to its strong sense of style and humor. Finally, but the end, it becomes obvious that Bryan Singer fixed everything that was ruined, at least for the most part.

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One of the most impressive parts of this movie is the cast, but I feel like that really goes without saying. When I first heard that the casts from both the original X-Men movies and First Class were going to be in the same movie that involves Sentinels and time travel, I was immediately down with the entire idea. Everyone really brings their A-game to this film as well. Hugh Jackman gives his expected performance as Wolverine, which has really been a perfect combination right from the start. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen also give their expected performances as well, which says a lot because I’ve never seen them off their game in anything that they’ve been in. In my opinion though, the real scene stealers come from the people in the past. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender have difficult jobs in this entry, being that both of their characters appear to be at the lowest points in their lives. McAvoy, especially, delivers his lines with such emotion and power, it’s hard not to get just a little choked up. How could I forget Evan Peters, though, and his brief role as Quicksilver? Not only was his brief role one of the most memorable parts of the movie, but it also showed Singer’s strength as a film maker.

To go off from the main story a little bit, this movie got me very curious for what’s to come with the X-Men movie franchise. The post credit scene was crazy enough, but I just mean with things that were added in the plot itself. It’s almost as if Bryan Singer was standing on the side, wiping off his hands, and proclaiming “There. I fixed it.” Not only is the story put completely back on track, but there’s finally some style that’s returned in both the writing and the directing. That being said, kudos have to be given to the screenwriter, Simon Kinberg.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is, without a doubt, the best entry in this franchise and is also a refreshingly awesome and dramatic summer blockbuster. There’s a lot to marvel at with the outstanding special effects that add a level of epicness, but the dramatic story and social critique is just as excellent. The characters aren’t stupid and neither is the story, which only makes this film all the better. If you’re looking to just be mildly entertained, watch X-Men Origins. If you want to be blown right out of your seats with pure amazement, check out Days of Future Past.

 

Primer – Review

13 Mar

When I think of time travel stories that push the realms of science fiction farther than what may seem possible, I think of movies like The Time Machine and the Back to the Future movies. Mainly, I think of Doctor Who, because that may be the most innovative and groundbreaking piece of work to ever deal with the concept. Never would I have thought of Primer, a super low budget time travel movie that shows how much you can do with some money and a great idea. With its technical jargon, mind bending story, and characters out for their best interests, Primer plays out like some sort of strange Shakespearean science journal.

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Aaron (Shane Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan) are engineers hoping for any sort of major discovery to come their way. Operating out of Aaron’s garage, the two are working on a machine that can reduce the weight of an object, but to their surprise they accidentally invent time travel. This invention opens up a world of possibilities for the two engineers, and they decide to use this new found discovery to travel back through time and use their knowledge of the future to make big money on the stock market. With a set of rules in place to make sure they don’t severely mess up the space/time continuum, everything seems to be working until the two friends begin working behind each other’s back and changing events to their own desires.

This is one of the most difficult movies that I’ve ever sat through, and despite it just being a little over a hour, it felt like a much longer movie. The beginning of the movie really takes no prisoners in terms of scientific and mathematical dialogue. Carruth, the writer/director/star of the movie, stated that he didn’t want to dumb any of the dialogue down for audiences. I can really respect that, especially in a time where filmmakers really want to cater to their audiences. The fact that Carruth can write in such a way may be due to his degrees in mathematics and engineering. The dialogue may be hard to understand, but it sure is cool to listen to.

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What actually makes Primer so cool is how low budget it is (it was only made for $7,000, and most of that money went to buying film stock). Everything about it feels low budget, and I’m not just talking about the aesthetics of the movie. Even the whole time travel machine feels like it could’ve been made in someone’s garage, and it was. There’s no cool sound effects or flashiness that helps a lot of time travel films and shows. This one is completely an idea. We know how the machine works (sort of) and we believe science will happen without special effects telling us. Don’t get me wrong, flashy science fiction is awesome, but for  Primer it is completely unnecessary.

This movie is a sci-fi film that’s heavy on the science, but seems pretty light on the fiction. Yes, of course, time travel is not possible, and scientists say it will never be possible. It’s set up in a way in this movie that it seems like this would be the most possible it would ever be. This is what crude time travel would look like. The whole science behind it is mind boggling, and once the two engineers begin going behind each other’s backs with the machine, the plot becomes almost impossible to follow. This was intentional, however, and trying to piece together everything that’s happening and make sense of it is part of what makes this movie so much fun.

Primer is not a movie for everyone. I feel like the way the plot twists and turns completely out of the space/time continuum without explanation is so unapologetically mind boggling, that people would lose interest. You have to know what kind of movie you’re going into see, and it’s one that doesn’t dumb down it’s theory or dialogue for the audience, nor does it take the time to completely explain everything. If you want a movie that’s going to make you think pretty hard for a couple of days in order to even remotely understand what actually happened, Primer is the low budget masterpiece you’re looking for.

Planet of the Apes Franchise – Part 1

11 Jun

 

The Planet of the Apes franchise is truly a wonder to behold. Starting as a novel written by the French author Pierre Boulle, it was adapted five years later as a film in 1968 starring Charlton Heston. Within the next five years, four more sequels would be made to build upon the philosophy and the mythology that was started in the first film. The franchise doesn’t end here, however. In 2001, Tim Burton remade the original film and most recently in 2011, Rise of the Planet of the Apes showed a brilliant return to the series and acted as a reboot that changes the original format in a very interesting way.

This will be part 1 of a two part review. In part 1, I will go through the original series from 1968 to 1973. Part 2 will highlight Tim Burton’s remake, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and what the future may hold for this franchise.

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For the sake of covering all of the movies in the original series in one blog post, I’m only going to give a very skeletal outline for every movie.

In 1968, Planet of the Apes told the story of a group of astronauts led by Taylor (Charlton Heston) who crash land on a mysterious planet that seems uninhabited at first. As they astronauts travel further and further, they come across humans who seem very primitive and unable to speak. More importantly, they find that the humans are subservient to a race of talking, civilized apes who use the humans as slaves and for experiments. They are shocked to find Taylor who defends himself and humanity with his ability to speak and understand the apes. In 1970, the sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes continued the story. Taylor now knows that the planet is a post apocalyptic earth and that humans completely ruined the world for themselves. A new astronaut, Brent (James Fransiscus), is sent to find Taylor and lands on the planet.  What Brent finds is the Ape City but also an underground civilization of mutant telepathic humans who know that the time for battle against the apes is close at hand.

In 1971, Escape from the Planet of the Apes told the story of Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy Mcdowall), who in the same manner of time travel as Taylor in the first film, finds themselves in the 1970s. They are at first welcomed, but soon paranoia begins to grow around their existence and what they say the future holds. 1972 brought about Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. This film is the story of how the apes realized that their subservient nature to the humans didn’t have to happen. Cornelius’ and Zira’s son, Caesar (also played by Roddy Mcdowall), teaches the other apes through his higher intelligence and ability to speak to revolt against their masters and begin thinking for themselves. Finally, the series ends in 1973 with Battle for the Planet of the Apes. Caesar is in charge of both humans and apes, but when a hidden group of humans radiated by nuclear fallout threaten the apes, gorilla general Aldo (Claude Akins) plans a revolution of his own. This makes the defense of the new ape city more complicated than it needs to be.

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Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

 

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Trying to cover the entire series in two paragraphs isn’t really giving the movies too much justice. Despite being called a “B-movie franchise” by many people, it still offers plenty of things to think about. The first film is an excellent piece of science fiction film making, which means it offers a grand warning. Taylor condemns all of mankind when he stumbles on the remains of the Statue of Liberty, and even makes mention of our violent nature in the beginning monologue. This, in and of itself, should serve as a clue of what’s to come. Science and religion are both contrasted in this movie, and even though it seems that science is favored throughout most of the movie, the end reveals that it carries the same weight of human error and evil that religion carries. In doing this, the film is stating that science and religion aren’t to blame. We are.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes and Escape from the Planet of the Apes deal a lot with paranoia. In reality, Beneath should have been the one and only sequel, although Escape is very entertaining. Anyway, back to the paranoia. A main plot element in these two films is the destruction of earth by a huge doomsday missile. Why is this such an important plot point? Think of the time that these were made: 1970 and 1971. The Cold War is in full swing, and with that is enough suspicion and fear to practically crumble an empire. In my opinion, these are the last films in this series that truly succeed in what they are trying to say, despite the budget being cut in half after the first film.

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Conquest and Battle are when things start to get iffy. The thematic elements are still there, this time with slavery, acceptance, and the chance of corporate dictatorship and governmental problems, a la 1984. These are all well and good, and Roddy Mcdowall does very well as an actor, as he has in all of the films he’s been in in this series. The problem lies in how cheap everything appears to have become. Conquest is really dark looking, and there were times where I was struggling to see what was actually going on. Battle looks a lot better, but by this point, I was more than ready for the series to be over. There was some weird editing and continuity problems in this movie that were glaring, but definitely something I could forgive. The real problem is that this series went on for way too long. Five movies? We really didn’t need that many. Two would have sufficed, although the third is entertaining enough.

I don’t have too much to say about the last two other than they seemed thrown together and haphazard. I could talk about the first three until tomorrow morning, but I feel like this has gone on for long enough. All five movies are on the right track with their dystopian warnings, and I feel like that, the cool make up, and Roddy McDowall are the reasons to watch this series. You have to really be in to sci-fi to really appreciate these movies, but if you love dystopian literature, cool make up, and over the top performances, then this is a cool and ground breaking series. For the history of the movies alone in relation to film history as a broad topic, these movies should be checked out.

This concludes Part 1. As I said before, Part 2 will cover Tim Burton’s remake of Planet of the Apes, the newest film Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and what to expect in the future for these movies.

Looper – Review

11 Oct

Have you ever watched a movie that made your brain feel like its been twisted and by the end it has to quickly unravel? That’s a pretty weird description, but that’s exactly how I felt at the end of Looper. I’m a hug fan of writer/director Rian Johnson, who’s done the excellent films Brick and The Brother’s Bloom. Now, Looper is added to the list and just might be his masterpiece.

 

The year is 2044, and in thirty years time travel will be invented and quickly outlawed. People are sent back through time by criminals to 2044 where they are executed by loopers, who are pretty much assassins working in the present for future employers. Joe Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one of these loopers, who up until now has had no problems. His most recent assignment is to kill an especially interesting target: his future self (Bruce Willis). His future self escapes with a plan of his own to protect the future, with his present self hot on his heels, all while being chased by his own organization.

From the opening scene to the very last, Looper is filled with outstanding dialogue, action, and though provoking concepts that guarantee much discussion hours after the movie is over. Morality and science clash in a fantastic mesh of thematic material that makes this film more than just an average science fiction film.

 

Rian Johnson has this incredible eye when it comes to setting up a scene. There was a point in this movie where I turned to my friend and told him that it was some of the best camera work I have ever seen, and that’s no exaggeration. The camera tilts, tracks, and pans in the most interesting of ways, giving each scene its own style that is appropriate for the story and the mood. There is one great shot (that can actually be quickly seen in the trailer) where Joseph Gordon-Levitt falls from a balcony and the camera tilts with his falling body. It gives the scene a very disorienting feel. This is just one of many examples.

Leaving the aesthetics of the movie, I must take time to recognize and show my appreciation to Johnson’s imagination. This is a incredibly well written movie with snappy dialogue that is both serious and sarcastic, and an entire story that sounds hard to believe until it is seen. The narrative also has a very unconventional route. I can’t really explain this, but I will say I had no idea what was going to happen next. It may be one of the most unpredictable movies I’ve seen outside of David Lynch.

There is really only one very minor detail that I wasn’t even going to bother mentioning because it is so small. There is a scene in this movie that really did not need to be there. I don’t want to say what it is, but I will say that it would have been much better to have let the idea go by a little more subtly.

Looper may very well be the best movie of the year, but I can’t say for sure since it’s only October. It goes to show the Rian Johnson is only getting better as a film maker, so hopefully he keeps on going. This film isn’t just mind bending, it’s mind twisting, warping, and blowing. Whatever you do, do not miss out on Looper. You will not be disappointed.