TOMORROWLAND (transfer) review

These “transfer” reviews are from when I only did reviews on my Facebook page back in 2015. Bare in mind when reading these, I didn’t have the same formula in my review writing that I do now, and my usual “who starred and who directed” information is completely absent, so everything “italicized” is new. With that said, enjoy this review from 2015.

Won’t lie, I didn’t exactly have the highest of expectations when I heard that this movie, based on A SECTION OF DISNEYLAND, was getting made. Of course, then I heard Damon Lindelof (wrote LOST – TV series) was working on the story and screenplay with Brad Bird (directed and wrote THE INCREDIBLES and RATATOUILLE, and directed MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL) and then those low expectations skyrocketed. The first trailer really gripped my attention and the second sealed the deal. Then I learned that Hugh Laurie (HOUSE M.D. – TV show) was in the movie, this was shaping up to be a real hit. Saw an employee screening at work and I was pretty excited.

Starring: Britt Robertson (THE SPACE BETWEEN US [2017], SCREAM 4 [2011], and DAN IN REAL LIFE [2007]), George Clooney (MONEY MONSTER [2016], MICHAEL CLAYTON [2007], and BATMAN & ROBIN [1997]), and Raffey Cassidy (THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER [2017], ALLIED [2016], and DARK SHADOWS [2012])

Support: Hugh Laurie (ARTHUR CHRISTMAS [2011], FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX [2004], SPICE WORLD [1997], and the upcoming HOLMES AND WATSON [2018]), Tim McGraw (THE SHACK [2017], COUNTRY STRONG [2010], and THE KINGDOM [2007]), Kathryn Hahn (CAPTAIN FANTASTIC [2016], WANDERLUST [2012], THE LAST MIMZY [2007], and the upcoming A BAD MOMS CHRISTMAS [2017]), Keegan-Michael Key (WHY HIM? [2016], WANDERLUST [2012], ROLE MODELS [2008], and upcoming films THE STAR [2017] and THE PREDATOR [2018]), and Judy Greer (WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES [2017], MARMADUKE [2010], WHAT WOMEN WANT [2000], and upcoming films ANT-MAN AND THE WASP [2018] and HALLOWEEN [2018])

Director: Brad Bird (MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL [2011], RATATOUILLE [2007], THE IRON GIANT [1999], and upcoming films INCREDIBLES 2 [2018] and 1906, no release date announced). Writers: Damon Lindelof (WORLD WAR Z [2013], PROMETHEUS [2012], COWBOYS & ALIENS [2011], and the upcoming TV show WATCHMEN [2018]) and Brad Bird (RATATOUILLE, THE INCREDIBLES [2004], THE IRON GIANT, and upcoming films INCREDIBLES 2 and 1906). Composer: Michael Giacchino (WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, INSIDE OUT [2015], SUPER 8 [2011], and upcoming films COCO [2017] and JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM [2018]). Cinematographer: Claudio Miranda (OBLIVION [2013], TRON: LEGACY [2010], FAILURE TO LAUNCH [2006], and upcoming films ONLY THE BRAVE [2017] and 100 YEARS [2115])

(STORY) – SPOILERS AHEAD

The story follows Casey Newton (Britt Robertson). She’s a brilliant teen girl with an incredible penchant for not giving up. Her dad, Eddie Newton (Tim McGraw), is a NASA engineer, but the platform he works at is being dismantled and Casey is trying really hard to disrupt its deconstruction, though her dad isn’t aware of that. For good reason, as it’s VERY illegal. Unfortunately, she gets caught and goes to jail. She quickly gets bailed out by her father, but something weird happens when her things are returned to her. A strange looking pin that upon, touching it, she is instantaneously teleported to a whole new dimension. And upon immediately letting go of the pin, she’s just as instantaneously teleported back to her own world, though it appears to the outside world that she hadn’t gone anywhere and that she’s just acting crazy. Not to mention this pin’s feature only seems to work for her, as when her father touches it, there’s nothing. Incapable of getting this beautiful world out of her mind, she touches the pin again and explores the world in more detail; a world of futuristic technology and a peaceful and prosperous city. Everything is wonderous and amazing. However, the pin is on a timer and runs out before she can get to the truly amazing stuff. Investigating the pin’s origins, she discovers that someone is looking for it. She sneaks off to discover what this buyer knows about it. Turns out, this buyer isn’t the only person looking for the pin. A little girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) seeks both the pin and very specifically Casey. Casey arrives to find out that the buyers are evil robots intent on killing Casey for the pin and information regarding Athena, whom Casey hasn’t met yet and don’t believe her when she mentions that tid bit of information. Luckily, Athena rushes in and saves Casey’s life and destroys the robots, soon revealing that Athena herself is a robot and wants nothing more than Casey to continue pursuing the world she saw. But time is of the essence as more robots are revealed to be around and still seek the pin and Athena. Obviously, something’s not right, seeing as both the homicidal robots and Athena are from that world, and Athena hints that something bad happened there and if Casey is to reach Tomorrowland, then she’s going to need help. That help comes in the form of Frank Walker (George Clooney). Frank was once a child genius who had invented a jetpack, albiet a flawed one that didn’t quite work. Athena invited Frank to Tomorrowland and stayed for a good long time, losing himself to invention and wonder, until one day he was kicked out. There’s even a hint of young Frank falling in love with Athena, but he ends up outraged when he finds out that she was a robot; information that he wasn’t privvy to before. Over the course of the last few decades, Frank’s been in isolation, continuing to tinker with inventions, even creating a machine that predicts the exact time and day that the world will end and doesn’t believe it can be avoided. Frank is now a bitter, even hostile man. Enter Casey. Athena has ditched the girl on the side of the road right next to Frank’s house and Casey is left to basically deal with him. Frank is incredibly reluctant at first, but the reinforcements of murderous robots appear and Frank is forced to protect Casey. Reunited with Athena, they must now hitch a ride to Tomorrowland, believing that Casey can save both Tomorrowland and Earth. Upon arrival, via a rocket ship, Tomorrowland isn’t what Casey was led to believe. It’s empty, lifeless, practically a desolate wasteland. Sure, the skyscrapping buildings are standing and looks fantastical enough, but there’s nothing there. No one there. But things take a turn when the mayor of Tomorrowland, Nix (Hugh Laurie), whom was established as a particular dick toward Frank when he first arrived in Tomorrowland, is also revealed to be the reason why Earth is about to end, and now the three companions must stop him. Chaos and fighting ensues, Athena sacrifices herself to stop the countdown that will destroy Earth, Nix dies, and Tomorrowland rebuilds its former glory with the need for new creative thinkers and dreamers alike.

(REVIEW)

I am incredibly divided on this movie. On the one hand, it does SO much right, but on the other, so much goes wrong as well.

Let’s start with the pros. This movie is beyond visually captivating when it comes to Tomorrowland itself. The pin is an invitation to those who are chosen to come to Tomorrowland and gives them a promise to be a part of something great and will fuel their imagination and curiosity. When Casey is exploring her invitation, we are given a front row seat to a vast, immersive world where technology is everywhere. It’s whimsical and just plain fun. As Casey explores everything and shows her excitement and wonder, we can’t help but get caught up in this as well. It is so incredibly well-shot, this is just pure Disney magic at its best. We even feel just as frustrated as Casey when her pin’s timer goes 0 and she’s booted out of the fake Tomorrowland. No, bitch, I wanna go on the rocket that will take me to my destiny!!! That moment is quite hilarious, and says something about a movie that can make an audience feel that way. You can just tell the art and prop department went wild and crazy with their designs and it shines like a beacon of fun and excitement. Can I also give a shout out to the performances in this movie as well? Robertson as Casey is pure energy and is a terrific presence on screen. This might also be my favorite role by Clooney. He basically plays every over-the-top role he’s ever done, but like Brad Pitt who always plays Brad Pitt in his movies, but makes it work for him in FIGHT CLUB, Clooney does the same here in TOMORROWLAND. He’s big, he’s funny, he’s just so much fun to watch and really makes you wonder about why he is the way he is. Also, a big shout out to the talented young Raffey Cassidy. While her intro to her powers and abilities is at first off-putting and a little too bizarre, once you find out the how and why, you quickly accept her role as a sort of protector and guide for Casey. Cassidy’s portrayal is oozing with layers and subtlty that I am very eager to see what her career will be like in the future and hope she continues to take solid work that showcases her talent like this.

And now the cons. While the movie is brilliant in teasing us about Tomorrowland as a whole, the story goes a little too fast-paced to clearly get a grasp of what is really going on. When the movie should have taken a moment to catch its breath and help the audience understand why these robots and why this and that guy are doing this and that, the explanations that are given are driven right on through and I couldn’t quite catch up. At its most crucial points where the audience needs to understand what is happening, the movie doesn’t take its time to easily explain, possibly requiring a second viewing to fully comprehend the rhymes and reasons. Also, the film is titled “TOMORROWLAND,” yet we only get glimpses of the actual world of Tomorrowland itself. Granted, they are spectacular glimpses, but dear god the movie is anchored to the real world. We only get glimpses of technology, which isn’t always bad, don’t get me wrong, but we came here to see a futuristic world to get lost in. Not the garden-less front yard of an unknown Texas house, though the hologram dog was pretty f**kin’ amazing. But where the movie loses me is how this technology manages to get here to Earth at all. I might be more inclined to let that go, but, get a load of this:

***SPOILERS***

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Remember how Casey, Frank, and Athena reach Tomorrowland by hitching a ride via a rocket ship? Wanna know where that rocket ship came from? Underneath the Eiffel Tower… which neatly splits apart like a STAR WARS landing platform and a rocket comes out from the ground. How does that fucking work?! Even that’s explained in a half-assed way. Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and two other scientists of that era, built this rocket. Let me say that again. EDISON AND TESLA INVENTED A SPACE ROCKET!!! …. Movie, dear sweet movie, at that time in history, we hadn’t even invented the first airplane. About ten years away from it in fact. But you expect me to believe that Edison and Tesla invented a ROCKET THAT GOES INTO SPACE, SUCCESSFULLY, AND CAN PERFORM TRANS-DIMENSIONAL TRAVEL, AGAIN, SUCCESSFULLY?????? Uh… nope.

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***END SPOILERS***

Overall, characters are well-conceived, it’s masterfully shot, and captivates your imagination. Tomorrowland, via the pin’s invitation, is an incredible world radiating with glee and majesty, begging to be expanded. But we don’t get that for a majority of the movie despite how great the in-world technology and action scenes look. The actors’ performances hold up the movie for the most part, but the story is not kind to the audience when crucial information is glazed over, treating it like unimportant exposition. Don’t get me wrong, I want to see it a second time, it’s worth seeing even once. It might be easy enough to lose yourself in this potentially wonderful world that Lindelof and Bird have created, but one cannot deny the problems that bog this movie down from being truly great.

My honest rating for TOMORROWLAND: a strong 3/5

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SAN ANDREAS (transfer) review

These “transfer” reviews are from when I only did reviews on my Facebook page back in 2015. Bare in mind when reading these, I didn’t have the same formula in my review writing that I do now, and my usual “who starred and who directed” information is completely absent, so everything “italicized” is new. With that said, enjoy this review from 2015.

“It’s 2012, but with The Rock!” That was my first thought. It’s a disaster flick that could have been made by Roland Emmerich, I didn’t exactly have the highest of expectations. I didn’t have a problem with Dwayne Johnson, I think he’s a decent enough actor, but I doubted that this film would showcase his true abilities. I didn’t expect it would. It’d just be destruction porn. It was either choosing this or ALOHA, and I was hearing even worse things about ALOHA than SAN ANDREAS. I opted for the best of the worst.

Starring: Dwayne Johnson (BAYWATCH [2017], G.I. JOE: RETALIATION [2013], RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN [2009], and upcoming films JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE [2017] and RAMPAGE [2018]), Carla Gugino (THE SPACE BETWEEN US [2017], RISE: BLOOD HUNTER [2007], HOMEWARD BOUND II: LOST IN SAN FRANCISCO [1996], and the upcoming SAN ANDREAS 2, no release date announced), Alexandra Daddario (BAYWATCH, TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D [2013], PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF [2010], and the upcoming SAN ANDREAS 2), Hugo Johnston (stuff I’ve never heard in), and Art Parkinson (KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS [2016] and DRACULA UNTOLD [2014])

Support: Paul Giamatti (MORGAN [2016], SHOOT ‘EM UP [2007], MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING [1997], and the upcoming SAN ANDREAS 2), Kylie Minogue (MOULIN ROUGE! [2001], BIO-DOME [1996], and STREET FIGHTER [1994]), Ioan Gruffudd (JUSTICE LEAGUE: WAR [2014], FANTASTIC 4: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER [2007], and TITANIC [1997]), Colton Haynes (ROUGH NIGHT [2017], and TV shows TEEN WOLF [2011 – 2017] and ARROW [2012 – ongoing]), and Will Yun Lee (SPY [2015], THE KING OF FIGHTERS [2010], and DIE ANOTHER DAY [2002])

Directing: Brad Peyton (INCARNATE [2016], JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND [2012], CATS & DOGS: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE [2010], and upcoming films RAMPAGE and JOURNEY 3: FROM EARTH TO THE MOON, no release date announced). Writing: Carlton Cuse (TV shows: 2 episodes of THE STRAIN [2014 – 2017], BATES MOTEL [2013 – 2017], and LOST [2004 – 2010]). Composer: Andrew Lockington (THE SPACE BETWEEN US, JOURNEY 2, SKINWALKERS [2006], and the upcoming RAMPAGE). Cinematographer: Steve Yedlin (DANNY COLLINS [2015], LOOPER [2012], BRICK [2005], and the upcoming STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI [2017]).

(STORY) – SPOILERS AHEAD

Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) is a seismologist and, like the lot of them, wants to predict earthquake occurrences and make the world a safer place. He and his trusted assistant Dr. Kim (Will Yun Lee) might just have unlocked that secret. They decide to test out their theory on a fault near Hoover Dam that’s been ruptured. Unfortunately, a powerful earthquake begins and Dr. Kim is tragically killed, leaving Lawrence to go back home to do what he can to warn the world that the quakes are not over. Meanwhile, Ray (Dwayne Johnson) is a rescue-helicopter pilot and has an impressive rescue history. Unfortunately, he’s also in the middle of a divorce with his wife, Emma (Carla Gugino), who is about to move in with her new rich and successful boyfriend Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd). This is news that he doesn’t take very well as he still holds a torch for his wife. Even their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) seems to not quite know how to feel about the situation. But they all go their separate ways. Ray goes to the Hoover Dam to save people, Emma goes to see Daniel’s sister Susan (Kylie Minogue), and Daniel and Blake visit Daniel’s job for a quick… something, and Blake relaxes in a waiting area where she meets two lovable British brothers, the older Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) who is seeking employment under Daniel, and the younger Ollie (Art Parkinson). This is about the time another quake hits and Ray turns his chopper around to go save Emma, who’s nearby. Though Susan is one of many casualties, Emma is indeed saved by Ray, and now the two of them start on a journey to look for Blake. Blake and Daniel try to escape the collapsing building, but a piece of the building crushes the car. Though both Blake and Daniel are fine, Blake is trapped in the car and Daniel abandons her to go seek help, but instead leaves her for dead. She is eventually saved by Ben and Ollie and the two of them successfully escape and try their hardest to find somewhere that Ray can find them. Essentially, that’s the rest of the movie. Daniel gets killed at some point, Ray has to steal a couple of vehicles to progress, and they find her, save her from another building about to be destroyed, quakes stop, and yay for Americans who will find a way to rebuild.

(REVIEW)

If it wasn’t already apparent from the trailers, this movie wasn’t exactly supposed to be a good film. It was, as I predicted, 2012, but with The Rock. Now while the movie isn’t going to challenge audiences or really showcase Johnson’s or Gugino’s acting chops, it doesn’t do them a disservice to their résumés either. I find it difficult to believe that Gugino can be bad in anything and as long as Johnson is given a decent script, he CAN act. I think I’m just going to get “the guy” shit out of me and say ALEXANDRA DADDARIO IS SO HOT!!! *ehem* Incredibly gorgeous aesthetics aside, she actually pulls a surprisingly great performance. Blake is an intelligent and resourceful young woman who knows exactly what to do in many of the given situations that she’s forced into. This isn’t even “fun-fact” knowledge either. It makes sense that she has a father who works for the fire department and would impart necessary information in his daughter’s mind. Blake isn’t annoying, she isn’t a know-it-all, she’s a surprisingly well-written character. Most of you have probably heard other reviews raving about Giamatti’s performance, that he’s the best on set. While I may argue with that bit of detail, his performance’s high praise is well-founded. He is indeed the reason why you would see this movie. His sense of urgency, constantly making the right decisions to help as many people as he can by getting the word out, he can be a true voice of seismologists out there, even though the science in the movie is 90% bullshit.

As per usual, I do have a gripe. Why exactly does there need to be a romantic sub-plot between Blake and Ben? This movie’s credibility as an emotionally driven story would be amplified by a factor of 10 if the struggle of the survivors and the trauma of those lost in these real-world events were to be the primary focus instead of a British dude succumbing to the power of his boner at the sight of Blake’s piercing (blue?) eyes and big rack. Granted, the man falls for her BECAUSE she’s so smart and resourceful, but… can’t you keep it in your pants and fantasize about your future date and worry more about getting your younger brother to safety RIGHT NOW? Also, as previously mentioned, the science is basically fiction. Though this isn’t a surprise, there’s some character choices on how to… “confront” the devastation wrought by the quakes that makes me go… “why?” Look, INTERSTELLAR may have had bullshit science too, but they at least took the time to explain SOME of the science in a way to understand it easily. This movie sort of does that, but it’s incredibly forgetful. Maybe pieces of paper and pencils being poked into them weren’t used. Either way, I know the theory behind wormhole travel, but I still have no idea what the hell a fault line is, or tectonic plates are, or how exactly they relate to earthquakes. Of course, we could easily and rightfully chalk that up to simple lack of education on my part.

While the movie succeeds in being amazing to look at and performances range from nothing spectacular to surprisingly good, I feel like movies like this dealing with real world events can really be an opportunity to educate the audiences who may not be armed with knowledge on how exactly quakes work and what to do should one happen. All I gathered from this was Giamatti was a great actor, Johnson has big muscles, Daddario is unbearably beautiful, and destruction is fun to watch… which might be the wrong message to convey. In any case, as a movie by itself, it isn’t bad. In certain aspects, it’s pretty good. But it isn’t challenging and it’s obvious it could have been far more than what it is.

My honest rating for SAN ANDREAS: a strong 3/5

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THE OTHERS (2001) review – Halloween Special

Hey there, folks. Due to some personal matters, I’ll likely be taking a break from doing theatrical reviews for awhile. But because I am by my very nature, a writer, I can’t just not write. So in spirit of the encroaching holiday of Halloween, I have opted to use this month to write reviews of my favorite movies to watch this time of year, basically horror films, or Halloween-themed movies. For those of you that don’t know, I generally hate horror as a genre. Far too often the movies follow a very specific formula: stupid character making stupid decisions getting other stupid characters killed. By the day’s end, there’s nothing to invest in. It’s just violence porn, which I’m not a fan of. It’s too cheap and easy. But for this month, I’ll be writing about the ones that I think break that formula and actually look like they gave a shit about making a good movie, with good characters, good scares, and above all else, a good story. At least, for the horror films. Like I said, I’ll be touching on Halloween-themed films that could be for kids. So sit back, relax, and enjoy my opinions.

THE OTHERS

Starring: Nicole Kidman (THE BEGUILED [2017], THE GOLDEN COMPASS [2007], BATMAN FOREVER [1995], and the upcoming AQUAMAN [2018]), Alakina Mann (GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING [2003]), James Bentley (THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS [2004] and 1 episode of TV show THE DEFENDERS [2010]), and Fionnula Flanagan (THE INVENTION OF LYING [2009], YES MAN [2008], and TV show LOST [2004 – 2010])

Support: Charles Eccleston (THOR: THE DARK WORLD [2013], G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA [2009], and 28 DAYS LATER… [2002]), Eric Sykes (SON OF RAMBOW [2007], HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE [2005], and TV show SYKES [1972 – 1979]), Elaine Cassidy (THE LOFT [2015])

Directing: Alejandro Amenábar (REGRESSION [2015]). Writer: Alejandro Amenábar (REGRESSION and VANILLA SKY [2001]). Composer: Alejandro Amenábar. Cinematographer: Javier Aguirresarobe (THE PROMISE [2017], FRIGHT NIGHT [2011], VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA [2008], and the upcoming THOR: RAGNAROK [2017])

It actually took a long time for this movie to really sink in. Not because I didn’t understand it or anything, but remember when I said that the horror genre wasn’t my thing because of the formula it follows? Well, there was a time when horror movies weren’t my thing because I just simply didn’t like to get scared. I’m nightmare prone. What can I say? In fact, there was a good long time where after I saw it as a kid, I never thought about the movie again. In fact, it was maybe a year ago, around October no less, where the movie came back to my mind.

THE OTHERS is a brilliantly crafted ghost story. Set in 1945, a little after World War II, the story is about a religious mother, Grace (Nicole Kidman), trying her very best to raise her photosensitive children, her older daughter Anne (Alakina Mann), and her younger son, Nicholas (James Bentley), in the confines of their large and empty house. Three former occupants show up to her house in regards to seeking employment to help around the house, the wise and comforting Bertha (Fionnula Flanagan), the oddball Mr. Tuttle (Eric Sykes), and the young and mute Lydia (Elaine Cassidy).

As they all get acquainted to the new adjustments in the household, we learn what we can about the characters. Grace is a strict Catholic with a strict upbringing for her kids and what must go on in the house. She’s obviously very stressed due to her previous servants leaving without a single notice, and to top it all off, her husband Charles (Charles Eccleston), has not returned from the war and fears he may have died. Nicholas is a young a naive kid, easily frightened by Anne’s stories of ghosts. He just wants to be a good kid and get by, but Anne makes it hard for him. Anne, while not a bad kid, is certainly the more troublesome of the two. She alludes to a “that day” when their mother went “mad,” but never really explains what it was that happened, so there’s always a disconnect between her and her mother. Things are never helped when Grace catches wind of the ghost stories she tells Nicholas.

But as it turns out, Anne’s stories may bear some truth. Grace hears the crying of a child that never came from her children, as well as ominous footsteps from upstairs, Nicholas hears Anne talking to a boy that he can’t can’t see. These are some of the best moments in the movie. The echo of the crying child throughout the halls is chilling. The whispering between Anne and the ghost boy Victor, it’s all wonderfully executed and leaves you pretty uncomfortable. I also love the scene involving Grace’s first real encounter with the intruders. At first, she thinks that the incessantly loud footsteps on the second floor are from Lydia. Requesting that Mrs. Mills tell her to keep it down, she does so, but the footsteps don’t stop. Having enough, Grace is about to give Lydia a piece of her mind, but sees Mrs. Mills talking to Lydia outside. Suddenly, we know something’s going down. Grace heads into a bright room with a ton of white sheets covering a slew of knickknacks. She hears both footsteps and voices, which causes her throw the sheets off of everything in hopes to find the intruders, obviously still not believing that they’re ghosts. But as much as she searches the house, she can’t find anyone.

This movie is one of the most perfect examples of a horror film with good scares. They’re subtle. It’s not about jump scares to wake you up from dozing off. That’s cheap. You can have someone follow you around with a blowhorn and have them scream through it in your ear at random intervals and get the same effect. It’s about leaving you in a state of vulnerability, isolated, claustrophobic, no help, all of this accumulates into a fantastic horror. But in my opinion, what makes this particular scene so great, the scares are happening in a room that’s brightly lit and during daylight. Any lesser horror film would constantly keep the horrors at night. Well, okay, to be fair, the darkness is definitely creepier to shoot scary scene in, and it’s not like this movie doesn’t do it either, but it’s still a brilliant feat to have in a bright setting and make it legitimately uncomfortable, and far more memorable.

The acting in this movie is phenomenal. Kidman delivers probably one of her finest performances of her career and reminds me why I had the biggest crush on her for the longest time. Awe hell, who am I kidding? I still do. I still think Kidman is beyond gorgeous and impossibly talented. You really feel for Grace who is thrust in this supernatural situation that goes completely against her beliefs as a Catholic. Religion and otherworldly encounters certainly intersect in horror films a lot, but I feel like Grace is played into it much more effectively. It’s not just a simple denial of the evidence right in front of the protagonist’s face, Grace has legitimate reason to not believe in anything that’s happening. She’s a die-hard Catholic who believes that God wouldn’t allow the world of the dead to collide with the world of the living. While it still is a denial of something that can’t be explained, her lashing out at Anne, and by extension, furthering the disconnect between the two characters, is completely understandable. Grace doesn’t believe in fantasy stories and Anne really is seeing and interacting with ghosts, you can see where this created brilliant drama. But Grace isn’t completely devoid of rationale. When it becomes clear, too clear to ignore, she does eventually take action and decide to leave for the church to bless the house. It doesn’t end up happening, but it’s still a nice moment to know that she isn’t that character that is either coincidentally not around for the supernatural occurrences, or is frustratingly closing her eyes and covering her ears, denying the obvious. Characters like this are always easier to identify with.

Speaking of the child actors, both Mann and Bentley are terrific and it makes me sad that talented young actors like them didn’t quite pursue acting. Yeah, we get weirdos like Lindsay Lohan and Macaulay Culkin, but those with actual talent like these two fade from memory. Why, God!? Anyway, Anne can be mean-spirited at times, but the reason why you buy it and still sympathize with her is because she is just a kid, and an older sister. It’s always that pecking order among siblings; the younger one is always going to get teased. But not only that, she is raised in this spooky house. She and her brother are forced to stay confined and can’t go outside, lest they break out into sores, suffocate, and die. When you have that kind of upbringing with zero interaction with the outside, no electricity to listen to a radio or a television, I would accept that she’ll look for entertainment in any possible form. No friends, no extended family, it’s really more of a surprise that she’s as well-adjusted as she is. But there are quick subtle moments that are pretty heart-warming. As previously mentioned, Anne and Nicholas are both photosentive, so Grace covers all the windows in the house with curtains that are always closed and the only lighting that exists is a candle flame. There’s a scene where Anne wakes from sleeping and sees that the curtains have been ripped off the windows. The next time we see Anne and Nicholas, they’re taking over next to their beds, but Anne is holding her brother, trying to shield him from the light. It’s quick and probably easy to miss, but having it in there makes for a great little sisterly-love moment.

About the only person that doesn’t get much development is Nicholas. He’s sort of just there to be abused by the circumstances. If it’s not him being teased by Anne, he’s at the business end of a haunting. The poor kid barely ever gets a scene where he can laugh or smile. The closest to real development we get is when these ghostly figures are slowly approaching him and Anne and she’s trying to convince him that they’re ghosts, but because they don’t fit the profile of “bedsheets and clanking chains” that she’s always told him, he doesn’t know if he believes her. That’s about it.

The side characters are sadly pretty hit or miss. The best is obviously Mrs. Mills. Like most older women in horror, she’s kind of creepy, like she knows more about the intruders than she’s letting on. But she’s also so comforting and honest toward Grace and her children, so there’s this brilliant ambiguity that you never know what exactly she knows or doesn’t know. The mystery surrounding her is downright masterful. Sadly, the others don’t get enough of that. Mr. Tuttle is pretty much just another person in the house. He doesn’t interact with the family much, or really with his servant compatriots either, same with Lydia, who could have been a little more interesting, seeing as she’s mute. But sadly, she’s succumbs to that bit of writing where quirks replace identity.

***SPOILERS***

 

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Fans of TV show DOCTOR WHO (2005 – ongoing) will likely recognize Eccleston as Charles, Grace’s long lost husband. This is probably the cardinal sin of the film. Everything involving his character is pure, concentrated fluff and could have been taken out of the film and you wouldn’t have missed a beat. After the piano scene and acknowledging that there’s an otherworldly presence in her home, she leaves to look for a priest to bless the house. But of course, before she gets that priest, she suddenly meets up with Charles on the road. The film takes a hard stop for this. Grace brings him home, he says “hey” to his kids, but then spends a majority of his screen time not interacting with his family, but rather moping in bed. The best scene we get is the final scene with Eccleston, and it’s Kidman that steals the show, not him. Grace is trying to rationalize why he went to war instead of staying home with his family and coming to the realization that he wanted to leave her. But what does the audience learn about him? Sure, we can probably guess that he’s just suffering from PTSD, but that’s only speculation, considering that he does eventually “leave” them after the final scene. And once he does leave, the movie gets right back on track with the missing curtains and what not.

If I were to change anything, I wouldn’t have Charles show up at all. He was completely unnecessary to the plot and leave his fate ambiguous to the family. Just have the piano scene, have her sleep the night off, and in the morning as she leaves, that’s when the kids wake up screaming and just go from there. Later on, Anne could easily decide to run away because she doesn’t want to live with her crazy mom anymore, instead of looking for her dad in the woods. Sure, the movie would probably be fifteen minutes shorter, but with a 101 minute run time, an eighty-five minute length wouldn’t be that noticeable to the common audience.

***

 

***

 

***END SPOILERS***

Overall, this film definitely holds up as not only one of my favorite Kidman performances, but as one of my favorite horror films of all time and I am so happy to have it back in my life. It’s not perfect, but it comes pretty damn close. Close enough that I’ll watch it once a year around Halloween. Honestly, even if you’re not a fan of the horror genre, I really recommend giving this a shot. The scares are more subtle than over-the-top, or certainly annoying. It’s an expertly crafted story with great acting from adults and kids alike. It’s smart, it’s scary, it really is one of the best of its class.

My honest rating for THE OTHERS (2001): a strong 4/5

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BROOKLYN (transfer) review

These “transfer” reviews are from when I only did reviews on my Facebook page back in 2015. Bare in mind when reading these, I didn’t have the same formula in my review writing that I do now, and my usual “who starred and who directed” information is completely absent, so everything “italicized” is new. With that said, enjoy this review from 2015.

I can’t tell you how much I’ve wanted to see this movie. Aside from the fact that it was being labeled as one of the best movies of the year, I’m also a relative fan of Saoirse Ronan. I also have to be honest, that was as far as my enthusiasm went. I guess I’m just a sucker for what people tell me. Someone tell me I’m a gopher, I’ll probably believe you. In any case, FINALLY made time to see this movie.

Starring: Saoirse Ronan (LOVING VINCENT [2017], HANNA [2011], ATONEMENT [2007], and upcoming films LADY BIRD [2017] and MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS [2018]) and Emory Cohen (WAR MACHINE [2017], THE GAMBLER [2014], and THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES [2012])

Support: Domhnall Gleeson (GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN [2017], THE REVENANT [2015], ANNA KARENINA [2012], and upcoming films STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI [2017] and PETER RABBIT [2018]), Jim Broadbent (THE SENSE OF AN ENDING [2017], HOT FUZZ [2007], THE BORROWERS [1997], and the upcoming PADDINGTON 2 [2018]), Fiona Glascott (THE DEAL [2008], RESIDENT EVIL [2002], and the upcoming FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM 2 [2018]), and Emily Bett Rickards (FLICKA: COUNTRY PRIDE [2012], and TV shows ARROW [2012 – ongoing] and THE FLASH [2014 – ongoing])

Director: John Crowley (CLOSED CIRCUIT [2013], BOY A [2007], and INTERMISSION [2003]). Writer: Nick Hornby (WILD [2014] and FEVER PITCH [1997]). Composer: Michael Brook (STRONGER [2017], TALLULAH [2016], and THE FIGHTER [2010]). Cinematographer: Yves Bélanger (SHUT IN [2016], DEMOLITION [2016], and DALLAS BUYERS CLUB [2013])

(SUMMARY)

Set in the 1950’s. The story follows a young Irish woman named Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) who has been set up with a new life in America, Brooklyn to be exact. She has a difficult time adjusting at first, what with being homesick and all, but all of that changes when she meets Tony (Emory Cohen), a young Italian romantic who quickly falls for the Irish girl, whom eventually falls for him too. Life gets much easier… until Eilis gets word of tragic news that must bring her home.

(REVIEW)

Great. A nearly flawless movie and thoroughly heartfelt.

Ronan delivers probably her career best. That’s possibly not saying much considering how little she’s done, but there’s no denial that she plays her role as Eilis so straight and convincingly. Every step she takes throughout the film is completely felt. When she gets seasick on a ghetto-looking boat, you feel her agony as she tries to simply find a place to vomit, the heartache when she’s homesick, the happiness when she’s with Tony, Ronan is every bit engaging from the beginning to the end. If she were nominated for best actress at the Oscars, I wouldn’t be surprised (nor would I be surprised if she didn’t win, what with the way that shit’s ran).

The supporting cast isn’t lacking in enjoyment either. Eilis’ romantic-interest, Tony, is indeed a very likable character. He’s a gentleman, and maintains his down-to-earth demeanor and treatment of Eilis. Although I do have to ask why he has a stereotypical Italian accent when none of his family has one. Same mannerisms, maybe, but not the same accent. That was weird. Or maybe their accents were too subtle by comparison to Tony’s over-the-top accent. Who knows?

And, this took me by complete surprise in the most wonderful of ways, Emily Bett freakin’ Rickards of TV show ARROW (Felicity Smoak) popularity was in this movie. She, as well as the other girls in the boarding house, were absolutely charming. Bitchy, but in that hilarious kind of way. I wish I could more about her in this movie, as I do love her acting in ARROW, but her role is so minor here that I wish I could just dock points for that alone: not enough of her.

***SPOILERS***

 

***

 

***

If there was a complaint I had about this movie, it’s a minor one, which is weird because I just praise him, Tony. He was almost perfectly written, up until Eilis finds out Rose (Fiona Glascott) dies and she must go home. Tony, while comforting and supportive of her decision to return home to say goodbye, he has this scene where he admits to her that he’s scared of losing her: in that if she goes home, she won’t come back. That kind of got an eye-twitch out of me because, if it were me writing the character, he would instead just full-on support her going home and try to figure out how to get her there faster. He could still be scared of all of that, but subtlety would have been preferred in this regard. Focus on the eyes, hold a shot on a remorseful face, admit it to someone else later on, but never let her see that regret. And even if Eilis does stay there, it’s for the best. That’s her home, that’s where her family is, that’s where her life was, and many opportunities will eventually open up for her. What kind of boyfriend wouldn’t be supportive of her decision to stay. Obviously, it would end in heartbreak, which is obviously not where the story ended up, but that’s the tweak I would have made. The rest of the story is fine.

***

 

***

 

***END SPOILERS***

This is definitely one of the better films to hit the cinemas this year. Might not be my favorite, but it’s certainly a wonderful romance tale with some powerful acting by Ronan, a great and funny supporting cast to keep the movie entertaining, it’s an emotional powerhouse that’s well worth the admission and highly recommended.

My honest rating for BROOKLYN: a strong 4/5

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CAROL (transfer) review

These “transfer” reviews are from when I only did reviews on my Facebook page back in 2015. Bare in mind when reading these, I didn’t have the same formula in my review writing that I do now, and my usual “who starred and who directed” information is completely absent, so everything “italicized” is new. With that said, enjoy this review from 2015.

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. What a powerhouse team up. Both women are fantastic actresses and their names alone would be enough to get me into the theater as well as the incessant declaration that this movie was in the running for being the best movie of the year helped a little. Of course, I’m going to take a minute to let my primordial-man to come out, so picture me with a club over my shoulder, dragging my knuckles on the ground, and building a fire in a cave: “pretty naked ladies kissing makes Daniel happy inside.” And that’s it. No more. Back to being a strong-willed human. So, is the movie as fantastic as everyone’s been saying?

Starring: Cate Blanchett (SONG TO SONG [2017], ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE [2007], ELIZABETH [1998], and upcoming films THOR: RAGNAROK [2017] and OCEAN’S EIGHT [2018]) and Rooney Mara (A GHOST STORY [2017], HER [2013], YOUTH IN REVOLT [2009], and the upcoming MARY MAGDALENE [2018])

Support: Kyle Chandler (MANCHESTER BY THE SEA [2016], THE KINGDOM [2007], KING KONG [2005], and upcoming films FIRST MAN [2018] and GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS [2019]) and Sarah Paulson (REBEL IN THE RYE [2017], THE SPIRIT [2008], WHAT WOMEN WANT [2000], and upcoming films THE POST [2018] and OCEAN’S EIGHT)

Director: Todd Haynes (I’M NOT THERE. [2007] and the upcoming WONDERSTRUCK [2017]). Writer: Phyllis Nagy (theatrical film debut; congrats, miss). Composer: Carter Burwell (GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN [2017], NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN [2007], FARGO [1996], and upcoming films WONDERSTRUCK and THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI [2017]). Cinematographer: Edward Lachman (WIENER-DOG [2016], I’M NOT THERE., SELENA [1997], and the upcoming WONDERSTRUCK)

(SUMMARY)

It’s the 1950s, and the story follows a young woman named Therese (Rooney Mara) who almost instantly falls for an older woman named Carol (Cate Blanchett), who is in the middle of divorcing her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler), whom she has fallen out of love with despite his fighting for his marriage. Carol is, however, incredibly loving to her daughter Rindy (twins: Sadie and Kk Heim). As their relationship blossoms, and Therese’s own unhappy heterosexual relationship begins to crumble, Carol and Therese leave town together and begin a passionate affair. But as Harge’s desperation grows, he goes to extreme measures to keep his family together at any cost.

(REVIEW)

Thank fucking God, I’ve been going absolutely insane with the Netflix movie’s I’ve been watching lately, I NEEDED this movie. While I might not agree that this is the BEST picture of the year, it does certainly have a lot going for it. Admittedly, my main problems with the film are purely nitpicks.

You know what, let’s get those out of the way before going into what’s great.

The beginning just really felt really pretentious. Therese works in a… high end toy store I guess and is constantly surrounded by dolls and toy sets, even lingering on a shot of her with a toy set. I can only assume that this was done as additional character contrast between her and Carol… which is pretty unnecessary, the age difference and style of clothing summed it up enough. No need to hammer it more into our minds.

Now, before I get into the next plot-point that I wanted to address, I want to make something clear to everyone. I will not be pointing this out because of some segregation toward the homosexual community. I think it’s about time that America evolved a bit with legalizing gay marriage. I do not care if you are gay. I care about whether or not you are a good person who tries to do right, and is respectful toward me and others. In turn, I will be a good and respectful person toward, and do right by, you. I have always and forever will treat everybody equally.

So, on to my biggest problem with the film, and this is even commented on in the movie, “You barely know her!” Yeah… that’s a good point. This was basically the “love at first sight” cliché. Literally, Carol walks into the store and Therese is just FIXATED on her. How long have you been out in the real world, woman? What, have NO other attractive women passed by in the store. Somehow Carol is the hot woman to end all hot women? She’s gorgeous, don’t get me wrong, I don’t disagree with her eventual feelings, but it’s the kickstart that I take issue with. I think it’s nice of Therese to mail Carol’s gloves back to her, but she literally just asked her out to dinner with very minimal interaction when the two first met. She’s still a stranger and she barely put up resistance to saying yes to having dinner with her. Remember when I said “equal treatment?” Well, how would it look if Therese was being asked out by a guy? In real life, a woman could easily feel uncomfortable and VERY easily make a declaration of the guy being a stalker or creepy. Why does Carol get a pass for being a lesbian? I disagree with this cliché no matter who the characters are.

But I’ve ranted about these nitpicks long enough. Time to rave about what’s good.

Blanchett is PHENOMENAL. She delivers a performance that is beautifully nuanced and powerful. Carol is a wonderfully confident character and isn’t afraid to speak her mind, but not unaware of the idea that certain things shouldn’t be said. She’s careful, but not paranoid. She knows what she wants, but also isn’t unaware of her limited influence, especially compared to her bully of a husband, Harge. This might be my favorite performance by Blanchett, which is saying something because the nerd inside me LOVES her as Galadriel from the Lord of the Rings franchise.

Mara’s no different. I have to express my absolute delight that PAN (2015) didn’t make a dent in her career. I guess being in a Fincher film will do that to a person’s career, and it’s not like anyone really saw PAN to begin with (myself excluded, I know, shut up). In any case, I’m ecstatic to see her in a role that showcases her acting at its finest. Therese is so wide-eyed and innocent, but she’s no push-over either. She’s uncertain of her sexuality, but knows she doesn’t live in a society that can accept who she is, or is even certain if she herself accepts who she is. But there’s genuine empathy when you see Therese interact with Carol and how free and happy she really is with her.

Of course, when reality sets in and circumstances tear them apart, you feel their anguish, making it truly awful to see the two of them unhappy. What an accomplishment to be this consistently moving to yank at every emotional string I have.

I want to say that I can overlook the logic of the film, as I do believe it could have been easily remedied with at least five minutes to illustrate a passage of time so a glorified road-trip could be more plausible. But the presence of such a cliché prevents it from being truly great. Having said that, the performances themselves and just how visceral the movie is prevents it from being more than just “good.” I may not agree that it’s the best movie of the year, but I do say it’s one of the best.

My honest rating for CAROL: a strong 4/5

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THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US quick review

Should Kate Winslet just stop traveling in the company of men? She always finds herself royally screwed in some way. Luxury cruise ships, airplanes… or maybe… she’s the problem? *pondering* Maybe men should stop traveling with her… hmm…

Boy howdy have I been seeing this trailer and a certain level of anticipation always bites at me when I see it. I love Winslet and I… well, I never watched any of Idris Elba’s most celebrated TV shows (IE: LUTHER [2010 – 2018]), but I have seen the Thor movies and I rather enjoy him in those, so I’m down to see these two work off of each other.

Here’s the cast. As previously mentioned, starring, we have Kate Winslet (COLLATERAL BEAUTY [2016], REVOLUTIONARY ROAD [2008], TITANIC [1997], and the upcoming AVATAR 2 [2020]) and Idris Elba (THE DARK TOWER [2017], PROMETHEUS [2012], 28 WEEKS LATER [2007], and upcoming films MOLLY’S GAME [2017] and THOR: RAGNAROK [2017]). In support, we have Beau Bridges (THE DESCENDANTS [2011], MAX PAYNE [2008], and TV show BLOODLINE [2015 – 2017]) and Dermot Mulroney (SLEEPLESS [2017], GEORGIA RULE [2007], and MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING [1997]).

Now for the crew. Directing is Hany Abu-Assad, known for foreign projects that I’ve never seen or heard of. Co-writing the screenplay are J. Mills Goodloe (EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING [2017], THE AGE OF ADALINE [2015], and THE BEST OF ME [2014]) and Chris Weitz (STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE [2016], THE GOLDEN COMPASS [2007], and ANTZ [1998]). Composing the score is Ramin Djawadi, known for THE GREAT WALL (2017), CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010), and BLADE: TRINITY (2004). Finally, the cinematographer is Mandy Walker, known for HIDDEN FIGURES (2016), RED RIDING HOOD (2011), AUSTRALIA (2008), and the upcoming MULAN (2019).

Overall, I know early ratings aren’t being too kind to this film, but… I can’t help it, I like the core stars, it looks like it’s got some chilling moments, and I ain’t just talking about that snow, I don’t know, I think I might like it.

This is my honest opinion of: THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US

(SUMMARY)

Alex (Kate Winslet) and Ben (Idris Elba) are two strangers who meet at an airport. A storm is approaching and their respective flight was cancelled. Alex knows how to get in touch with a pilot, Walter (Beau Bridges), who is willing to fly her to her destination and upon overhearing that they have the same destination, she offers him a ride. However, en route, Walter suffers a stroke and their plane crashes. Stranded with limited food and supplies, they venture out into vast, punishingly cold and unforgiving wilderness to find help and their way back home.

(QUICK REVIEW)

Mmph… while I won’t necessarily argue the negative reviews, I don’t think I agree.

Let’s tackle the problems first. For one thing, the set-up is pretty forced. Basically, what you saw in the trailer, two strangers meeting and she offers to help him along since they share a common destination, that moment in the trailer isn’t any different than in the movie. Look, even the best of samaritans have a knack for walking past people with problems, even if they have problems that they could technically help with. But things like hitching a ride with you on an airplane, that’s pretty out there. There’s no real reason for them to meet like they do. It’s just… he’s on the phone, she overhears, she offers that ride, and he accepts. Cue the plot. That simple.

I also knew the problem would be the romance in the film, and it gets pretty painful, especially in the last fifteen minutes. For one thing, I’m not sure how realistic I would find it. Alex is married, to a wonderful man according to her later in the film, and just because Ben, who is beyond emotionally unavailable, is a fellow survivor of a plane crash, they have a romantic connection? Especially with Alex. She’s got all this optimism about making it off the mountain alive, so why would she even have urges like that? Ben, I could understand, possibly, but not Alex. The romance is pretty forced.

***SPOILERS***

 

***

 

***

In retrospect, a forced romance can still be good if the chemistry is enough to hold the relationship together. However, nothing excuses the completely different movie that takes over. Now we have this horrible melodrama involving the two characters now separated into their respective lives, but can’t stop thinking about each other. He’s been a dick and not calling her back because he thinks she’s a married woman. She doesn’t get married to Mark (Dermot Mulroney), visits Ben in London, and after a heart-to-heart in a restaurant, they decide to part ways. But in about the cheesiest crap that this movie could have possibly inserted, as the characters walk away, they start crying, and then AT THE SAME TIME, turn back around and run toward each other and leap into their arms. Oh… my god, I think movies from the 1950’s would have called this moment trite!

***

 

***

 

***END SPOILERS***

But it’s not all bad.

Elba and Winslet are both pretty solid. When their scenes require them to be at odds with each other, you feel that tension. When he gets upset with her decisions, you believe he’s an asshole. And when she believes that she’s not dying on this mountain, you legitimately want her to get out of this alive. So while their romantic chemistry isn’t believable, their chemistry as a pair of survivors is solid. The cinematography is gorgeous to look at, the death-defying scenes are tense, and certain resolutions by the end feel natural enough.

What would I have changed? Well, I would probably have Alex and Ben have some sort of chemistry before she offers that plane ride with her. Like, they both stood in line at the airport front desk, or at the bar and had a basic, nothing conversation. Just something to establish some kind of relationship, weak as it ultimately is anyway. Get rid of the obvious romance and make it a little bit more subtle, more like a “will they or won’t they” scenario and leave the emotions ambiguous to interpretation. Oh, and get rid of that last ten fifteen minutes when they’re at home, or make it incredibly brief.

Overall, the movie’s okay, leaning more toward the bad side. It’s not devoid of good things in it, but it’s not enough to elevate it very high. It’s not a good movie. I may not agree with current ratings, scores, and reviews that trash it, but I don’t plan on defending the film either. The set-up is contrived, the ending is a mountain of cheese, and the romance in the middle isn’t compelling. But the acting is good, the scenery is gorgeous, and it’s got its visceral moments. It could have been worse, but it could have been a lot better. Not the worst watch, but I’m not recommending it. At best, a rental.

My honest rating for THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US: a weak 3/5

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PARANORMAN (2012) review – Halloween Special

Hey there, folks. Due to some personal matters, I’ll likely be taking a break from doing theatrical reviews for awhile. But because I am by my very nature, a writer, I can’t just not write. So in spirit of the encroaching holiday of Halloween, I have opted to use this month to write reviews of my favorite movies to watch this time of year, basically horror films, or Halloween-themed movies. For those of you that don’t know, I generally hate horror as a genre. Far too often the movies follow a very specific formula: stupid character making stupid decisions getting other stupid characters killed. By the day’s end, there’s nothing to invest in. It’s just gratuitous violence, which I’m not a fan of. It’s too cheap and easy. But for this month, I’ll be writing about the ones that I think break that formula and actually look like they gave a hoot about making a good movie, with good characters, good scares, and above all else, a good story. At least, for the horror films. Like I said, I’ll be touching on Halloween-themed films that could be for kids. So sit back, relax, and enjoy my opinions.

PARANORMAN

Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee (X-MEN: APOCALYPSE [2016], LET ME IN [2010], THE ROAD [2009], and the upcoming X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX [2018]), Jodelie Ferland (BIGGER FATTER LIAR [2017], THE CABIN IN THE WOODS [2012], and CARRIE [2002]), Tucker Albrizzi (MONSTER TRUCKS [2017] and ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: CHIPWRECKED [2011]), and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (TROLLS [2016], PITCH PERFECT [2012], SUPERBAD [2007], and upcoming films THE DISASTER ARTIST [2017] and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 3 [2019]).

Support: Anna Kendrick (TABLE 19 [2017], THE ACCOUNTANT [2016], INTO THE WOODS [2014], and upcoming films PITCH PERFECT 3 [2017] and NICOLE [2019]), Casey Affleck (A GHOST STORY [2017], GONE BABY GONE [2007], and GOOD WILL HUNTING [1998]), Leslie Mann (THE COMEDIAN [2017], KNOCKED UP [2007], GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE [1997], and the upcoming THE PACT [2018]), John Goodman (VALERIAN [2017], EVAN ALMIGHTY [2007], THE BORROWERS [1997], and upcoming film CAPTIVE STATE [2018] and TV revival ROSANNE [2018]), and Alex Borstein (ANGRY BIRDS [2016], TED [2012], and TV show FAMILY GUY [1998 – ongoing]).

Directors: Christ Butler (directorial debut, and only directed project) and Sam Fell (THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX [2008] and FLUSHED AWAY [2006]). Writer: Chris Butler (KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS [2016]). Composer: Jon Brion (WILSON [2017], THE OTHER GUYS [2010], PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE [2002], and the upcoming LADY BIRD [2017]). Cinematographer: Tristan Oliver (LOVING VINCENT [2017], FANTASTIC MR. FOX [2009], CHICKEN RUN [2000], and the upcoming ISLE OF DOGS [2018]).

LAIKA has quickly become a popular name when it comes to animation. While claymation and stop motion similar to NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993) aren’t exactly unheard of, they’re also not often done. But LAIKA has certainly made its career on that and they’ve certainly done a memorable job of it. From their debut in CORALINE (2009) and their most recent KUBO, they’ve done a wonderful job in creating worlds that feel surreal, dark, creepy, but overall touching and beautiful.

I actually never saw LAIKA’s second venture, PARANORMAN until later. I have no idea why, but when I finally did see it, it left a pretty decent impact on me. The story is about an eleven-year-old boy named Norman (voiced by Smit-McPhee), who sees dead people, pun intended. Thing is, while these spirits are benevolent, no one else sees them but him, and has a bit of a nasty habit of getting bullied at school and his parents being a little nasty about it. But then one day, his uncle, Mr. Penderghast (voiced by Goodman), is the only one who has the same gift and has spent decades keeping the ancient witch’s curse from wrecking terror on the town. But he dies and tries to convince Norman to take his place. But not given the best information, the witch comes back and wrecks that terror by unleashing her zombie horde.

The opening scene’s twist still takes me by surprise. As well as makes me laugh. The screaming woman and the brain stuck to her foot as she runs away from the zombie attacking her; priceless.

But more than that, this movie could almost be a spiritual successor to THE SIXTH SENSE (1999). What if Cole Sear ended up accepting his gift of seeing dead people and even embraced it? It’s a stretch in logic, sure, but it’s a fun comparison. Norman is a slightly mixed bag for me as a character. On the one hand, he is sympathetic and you feel for him for the way he’s treated. He’s a good kid and means well, doing his best to not make a scene. He’s a kid, so when it’s time for him to do something bigger than life, he’s scared, but he finds courage to do what’s necessary to save everyone, even if it means getting hurt, or worse. But my main issue with him is that he constantly tells people that he sees ghosts. At least, it’s implied that he does. Why does he do that? He’s eleven. He should be old enough by now to understand what adults will believe. At the very least, if they didn’t believe him the first time, he should be smart enough to know it won’t fly if he opens his yammer twice. Maybe if he was a few years younger, his behavior would have been more understandable, but as it is, it’s a little frustrating to watch.

The side characters are about on the same level too. Courtney (voiced by Kendrick) pretty much acts like a standard teenage girl who wants nothing to do with her brother. She does eventually go through a character arch of protecting Norman, but honestly, that arch kind of comes out of nowhere. Even when the zombies are attacking, she still treats Norman like he’s responsible for it. Never mind that zombies exist, which she barely has a reaction to, but she still treats Norman poorly, eventually abandoning him to his plan with dealing with the witch’s curse. It’s only when Norman figures everything out that she stands with him, but it happens pretty suddenly. Thank heavens this character is voiced by Kendrick, as she brings a charming energy to Courtney, otherwise I’d straight up dislike her.

Neil (voiced by Albrizzi) is mostly likable, being the only person that believes in Norman and what he can do, and does his very best to stand by him during the worst that the curse has to offer. My issue with him is that he is kind of a stereotype by constantly showing how obsessed he is with eating. And for every funny joke that he’s a part of, like refusing to leave Norman when the zombies attack in the town hall, but his muscular brother picks him up under his arm, he’s also part of an unfunny joke, like when he’s playing with the ghost of his dog and starts kissing his butt instead of his face. It’s… really strange how this pattern is repeated in the movie with the side characters.

So the characters are hits and misses. What’s legitimately good about the film. Almost exactly where it counts. For one, the animation, like all of LAIKA’s work, is spectacular. From the visuals, to the CG incorporated visuals, it’s all a wonder to behold. Norman’s home town bustles with activity and fills the streets with crowds. The yellow clouds that show glimpses of the witch’s face, those are particularly spooky and threatening and I never get tired of watching it. But above all else, my absolute favorite stuff comes from the witch herself.

***SPOILERS***

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Agatha, or Aggie (voiced by Ferland) brings home the emotional weight. Aggie was once just a little girl, but was accused for being a witch and was killed. But before her death, she placed a curse on the people that did her harm. The way she’s animated in her ghostly form is unbelievably unnerving, and is far more scary than half the things I’ve seen in legitimate horror films. An eerie yellow glow, electricity flying around, and constantly twitching like a glitch in video game graphics. Her face and the way it contorts, it’s all pretty frightening in its own right. But then you see her in her human form and you see a scared little girl who was just being a little girl and murdered for it. She was bullied, and she become angry, vengeful, wanted to hurt those that hurt her just as bad. She’s a victim who doesn’t want to be a victim anymore. You totally understand and empathize with Aggie. She was wronged. No one agrees with her causing chaos and destruction, but anyone can understand why she resorts to these measures. The way that she connects with Norman is the highlight of the film. In many ways, I would actually have preferred to see that she was calmed down and would come back in a possible sequel, but that would leave the ending less powerful and meaningful.

***

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***END SPOILERS***

This movie is absolutely wonderful to watch around Halloween. Sure, it’s got its flaws in the characters, but it’s got more than enough charm, likability, and great visuals and animation to make it worth a watch. It’s not just good enough for kids, it’s good enough for adults as well. It’s a little scary, but that’s all subjective, isn’t it. Some kids will watch this and be totally fine, others could possibly get nightmares. But as with all horror-type movies for kids, they should know that there is a happy ending and that it’s okay to be afraid. Hence the theme of the movie and the most poignant quote of the film. How did that go again, Grandma (voiced by Stritch): “There’s nothing wrong with being scared, so long as you don’t let it change who you are.”

My honest rating for PARANORMAN (2012): 4/5

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