CORALINE (2009) 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.

CORALINE (2009)

Starring: Dakota Fanning (AMERICAN PASTORAL [2016], CHARLOTTE’S WEB [2006], I AM SAM [2001], and the upcoming OCEAN’S EIGHT [2018]), Teri Hatcher (RESURRECTING THE CHAMP [2007], 007 TOMORROW NEVER DIES [1997], and 8 episodes of TV show SUPERGIRL [2015 – ongoing]), and Keith David (THE NICE GUYS [2016], HERCULES [1997], video game MASS EFFECT [2007], and the upcoming THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS [2018])

Support: Robert Bailey Jr. (THE HAPPENING [2008], MISSION TO MARS [2000], and TV show THE NIGHT SHIFT [2014 – ongoing]), Ian McShane (JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 [2017], THE GOLDEN COMPASS [2007], SEXY BEAST [2000], and upcoming films HELLBOY [2018] and JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 [2019]), Jennifer Saunders (ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE [2016], SHREK 2 [2004], and MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND [1996]), Dawn French (ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE, THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE [2005], and HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN [2004]), and John Hodgman (PITCH PERFECT 2 [2015], MOVIE 43 [2013], and BABY MAMA [2008])

Director: Henry Selick (MONKEYBONE [2001], JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH [1996], THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS [1993], and the upcoming TV show LITTLE NIGHTMARES [2019]). Writer: Henry Selick (short films). Composer: Bruno Coulais (a ton of foreign films). Cinematographer: Pete Kozachik (CORPSE BRIDE [2005], JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, and NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS)

Is LAIKA trying to be synonymous with Halloween?

Their feature film was something of a marvel. It’s by the same director as NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, and stop-motion animation hasn’t always had a consistent presence in film, but I think LAIKA’s keeping interest in it alive and CORALINE is owed a huge thanks for that. What would follow are extremely creative and memorable ventures like PARANORMAN (2012), BOXTROLLS (2014), and the two-time Oscar nominated KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS (2016). All of which leave their own special impact a memorability, a true testament to the talent that goes into these wonderfully creative movies.

The story follows a young girl named Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning). She’s just moved to a new place and is having a classic case of adjustment. She meets an odd, but well-meaning local boy named Wybie (voiced by Robert Bailey Jr.), but Coraline doesn’t care for him much. This doesn’t stop him from giving her a doll that looks just like her. While exploring her new home, she happens across a small door that leads her to a world seemingly exactly like her own, except her parents, called her “other parents” are different. As opposed to her real parents, who are too busy for her, hints of a troubled marriage, and rarely crack a smile, her other parents are more creative, give Coraline their undivided attention, and try their best to give her a fun world to be a part of, especially Other Mother. But as Coraline spends more time in this world, the more it becomes clear that in order for her to stay there, Coraline has to pay a price, one she isn’t ready to pay.

I love this movie. You know how the “G” rating for movies might as well be extinct, even though plenty of PG-rated movies are just G movies with maybe one weak swear word or one adult innuendo? Well, this is the movie you look at when you want to see what a real PG-rated movie looks like. It’s a kids movie, but make no mistake, it’s a horror film. There’s some dark and creepy imagery that gets pretty extreme. I know adults who get squeamish around this movie. From the moment Coraline enters the “other world,” it’s presented innocently enough, but it doesn’t take long for some of the oddities to stand out and you get a sinking feeling that this world isn’t quite right; that it’s way too good to be true. And when things start to unravel, the world gets scarier and more disturbing. I can definitely see some kids being too scared to watch this.

But in a way, that’s part of what makes Coraline such a great character to follow. She’s probably around the age range that this movie is targeting, younger teens and older kids. But anyone younger can probably look to Coraline almost like an action hero. She’s brave, smart, resourceful, determined, and barely phases at the scary stuff at all, even though I’m scared out of my wits looking at Other Mother’s final form. With that said, she is also a little mean-spirited. When she first meets Wybie, she gives him a nickname “Why were you born,” a play off of his proper name, Wyborne. Granted, when they two first met, Wybie almost runs her over with his bike, wearing a creepy skeletal mask with triad of different scopes attached to it, but it’s still surprisingly kind of mean, not that he seems particularly insulted by that.

Actually, this does present my first smaller problem with the story. Coraline is something of a mean girl. She been forced to move away from everything that she knows and her first encounter with the locals nearly hurt her. Within the first five minutes no less. Weak justification, but justification all the same. But why is Wybie so unaffected by the name-calling? He makes it clear that he doesn’t go into the flats, but it can be assumed that he at least has interacted with the other residents, who are clearly just as eccentric as he is. One would think the put-downs would be uncommon. Plus, wouldn’t the emotional hurt be a fine enough reason for him to drop off that Coraline doll? The movie states that he gave it to her simply because it looks like her. Um… is he seriously not questioning how creepy this is? If he was operating on hurt feelings, he could have purposely given Coraline the doll as a means to purposely creep her out, and as the events of the story unfold, we could easily beg the question if Wybie knew about Other Mother and keep Wybie’s knowledge of the other world as secretive as possible, only to reveal that he was only trying to get even with her, not try to put her in harms way and had no idea about the other world or what the doll’s purpose was. Wouldn’t all of this give Wybie some depth to his character and add to some mystery within the story? Also… doesn’t Coraline accept that doll a little too easily? I mean, it’s a doll that looks exactly like her and she hasn’t lived in the flat for longer than half a day and already something creepy just happened.

From this point, it’s just grand tour of the house until Coraline happens upon the magical door, leading her to the other world. Actually, this was about to be my second issue with the movie, the stuff in the real world being too boring. But then I thought about it for a minute and realized… I think that’s the point. Coraline is supposed to be fed up with her boring and mundane existence in her own home and around her parents, which is what fuels her to go to the other world where she’s the center focus. The dullness of the makes perfect sense. You can’t have it be lively, colorful, or visually interesting to look at, otherwise anyone could rightfully call Coraline a spoiled brat. You couldn’t have the parents get along or seem too loving, otherwise she could be called ungrateful. Her motivations for going into the other world are perfectly explored. It’s only later that we realize that at least the mother, Mel (voiced by Teri Hatcher) really is trying to be there for her daughter and empathizes that Coraline is going through her own thing right now, but times are hard for everyone, so sacrifices have to be made, further fueling Coraline’s desires to visit the other world. Even though the adults would now understand the parents and their reasons for being so distant, we still understand that Coraline is too young to understand the choices a parent makes for the greater good of the family.

Okay, I’ve been yammering on and on about the other place. Now it’s time to geek out about it. This place is unbelievably imaginative and wonderfully dark for Coraline to explore. Already the button eyes are disturbing because of the implications. Buttons have to be sewn on with threads and needles… yeesh. But when we’re introduced to Other Father (voiced by John Hodgman) that some measure of whimsy is presented. The mechanical hands built into the piano that allow him to play that piano. It’s a fun little moment, including the dinner scene where they’re eating a delicious buffet. A mango milkshake dispenser? Science, get on that, pronto! And then install it in my house immediately upon completion! Except… not a mango milkshake. Strawberry for me. Mango milkshake sounds gross. But then Coraline’s second visit includes a beautiful stroll through the garden. You have colorful frogs with button eyes, glowing tulips, or whatever they are, and flowers in the shape of dragon heads, it’s wonderful to look at. My absolute favorite thing is when Other Father shows up on a giant mechanical praying mantis that he uses to trim or cut down plants. I thought this was incredibly creative, the forelegs used like scythes, that was cool to watch. Yo, science! Here’s your second project for me! Oh man, that Other Bobinsky’s (voiced by Ian McShane) bouncing mouse circus… phenomenal. All those bouncing mice in perfect unison, running on rolling balls, playing instruments, I don’t even want to think about how long it took the animators to do that sequence, but it’s positively gorgeous to behold. And once the creepy stuff starts to happen… pure nightmare fuel. Other Spink (voiced by Jennifer Saunders) and Forcible (voiced by Dawn French) turned into a conjoined taffy monster, the rats that assume the form of Other Bobinsky, my skin is already crawling. And as I mentioned before, Other Mother’s final form… I don’t sleep well for days.

I love this movie. This is that kind of movie where it doesn’t matter if you’re a kid or an adult, there’s something for everyone to find engaging. Creepy imagery that’s loaded with creativity and imagination coupled with a dark tone, a great and unique protagonist in Coraline, and a wonderfully sinister performance by Hatcher, this is a truly amazing film that should be seem by anybody who has an appreciation for this kind of film making and storytelling and maintains its hold as my favorite LAIKA film, as well as my favorite film to watch around Halloween.

My honest rating for CORALINE (2009): a strong 4/5

I know there’s quite a few more Halloween themed or horror films that I could have reviewed and written about, some more obvious than most, but these were the ones that hit me the most and motivated me more to write about. Have a safe night of partying or trick-or-treating, everyone! Happy Halloween!

 

 

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THE CONJURING (2013) 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.

Starring: Vera Farmiga (THE CONJURING 2 [2016], SOURCE CODE [2011], THE DEPARTED [2006], and upcoming films THE COMMUTER [2018] and GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS [2019]), Patrick Wilson (THE FOUNDER [2017], WATCHMEN [2009], THE ALAMO [2004], and upcoming films THE COMMUTER and AQUAMAN [2018]), Lili Taylor (TO THE BONE [2017], THE HAUNTING [1999], and MYSTIC PIZZA [1988]), and Ron Livingston (LUCKY [2017], LITTLE BLACK BOOK [2006], SWINGERS [1996], and the upcoming THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT, no release date announced)

Support: Joey King (WISH UPON [2017], THE DARK KNIGHT RISES [2012], HORTON HEARS A WHO! [2008], and the upcoming SLENDER MAN [2018]), Mackenzie Foy (THE LITTLE PRINCE [2016], INTERSTELLAR [2014], TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN – PART 1 [2011], and the upcoming THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS [2018]), Sterling Jerins (PATERSON [2016], THE CONJURING 2, and WORLD WAR Z [2013]), Shannon Kook (THE CONJURING 2 and TV show DEGRASSI: THE NEXT GENERATION [2001 – 2015]), and John Brotherton (FURIOUS 7 [2015], GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY [2014], and TV show FULLER HOUSE [2016 – ongoing])

Director: James Wan (THE CONJURING 2, INSIDIOUS [2010], SAW [2004], and the upcoming AQUAMAN). Writers: brothers Chad and Carey Hayes (THE CONJURING 2, WHITEOUT [2009], HOUSE OF WAX [2005], and upcoming films, both with unannounced release dates, JOURNEY 3: FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH 4). Composer: Joseph Bishara (THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR [2016], ANNABELLE [2014], INSIDIOUS, and the upcoming INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY [2018]). Cinematographer: John R. Leonetti (INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 [2013], MORTAL KOMBAT [1995], and THE MASK [1994])

The first time I ever heard of THE CONJURING was actually through a promotional poster that a local cinema of mine was doing. A sort of “re-screening” of critically acclaimed movies from the last decade, or whatever it was. But I wasn’t interested in horror films at the time, so I didn’t watch it then.

But at the time, THE CONJURING 2 was on the horizon and have a huge aversion to watching a sequel without having seen its predecessor, even if you don’t need to. World building is important, as well as having a deeper appreciation for characters and possibly why things lead up to where they do in the sequels. So I hopped onto my laptop and watched what I would think would be a bad movie.

Boy howdy, was I wrong. So… so wrong.

Before I begin, let me just say that I don’t know anything about the real life Ed and Lorraine Warren. To my understanding, there’s a bit of controversy surrounding their careers as demonologists and investigators of the paranormal. Even in the sequel, the Warrens barely had anything to do with the Enfield incident. So I can’t attest to any “facts” or anything. So everything I’ll be talking about is purely from a story, character, and all around “movie” standpoint.

A year ago, I considered this film to be “my favorite” and “the best” horror film that I’d ever seen. Now that some of the initial love has subsided, I say today… it’s one of my favorites, and out of the horror films that I’ve seen in my life, it’s still one of the best made.

The movie’s opening does a great job on its own with its atmosphere and terror, though of the more subtle variety in contrast to the rest of the film’s more obvious scares. The Annabelle doll is creepy looking and in just a few minutes, the loud banging in the walls would normally be a lame jump scare, these bangings are pretty unsettling. What makes them so different? Mostly because the characters don’t consistently treat each bang as a jump scare, as any lesser horror movie would.

Beyond that, what really sells this movie for me is the incredible chemistry between Wilson and Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine Warren, respectively, which would only get better in its sequel. But here, it’s still great. They had a case which lead to an exorcism that caused Lorraine to see something that terrified her so much that she didn’t leave her bed or eat for several days. Though currently living life as normal, talking at universities and such with her husband, there is still this lingering fear of bringing Lorraine along for new cases. But she has an unshakable determination to continue their work, especially when it comes to the Perron family. Between her and Ed, she’s the only one that actually sees the paranormal stuff, like the witch’s body hanging in the tree, or has visions of seeing her daughter under water. Despite her gift, she is always afraid as you can argue that her visions can represent anything from a benign warning, a threat, or any number of things that only she can know.

Ed is her stalwart husband. Fiercely loyal and protective of Lorraine, and probably shows the least amount of fear between the two. Having said that, he’s never reckless about what they do. He knows the stakes and knows that in order to purge any soul of the inhuman presence, extreme care has to be taken. He won’t conduct exorcisms without the explicit consent of the church’s authority, and even then, he knows that there’s no guarantee that it would work and could even make the situation worse. More than anything, he would love to simply get the physical, indisputable proof that there’s paranormal activity going on and leave the rest to a trained professional, but if circumstances force his hand, he won’t hesitate to jump in.

***SPOILERS***

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And now for Taylor as the possessed mother. I can’t help but ask if this is a joke. Oh, not that I’m saying Taylor is a bad actress. Far from it, she’s incredible in this. But when I ask if this is a joke, I mean… does her involvement in this feel like an apology for THE HAUNTING? Really think about it. She’s the target of the ghostly figure, who once inhabited the home where the ghostly figured originally died and did horrible things to its children, and the ultimate resolution of the story is that the ghostly figure is defeated by the power of love. Of course, the reason why this is an apology is because all of this is done so much better here than in THE HAUNTING. The witch is a far more threatening than Hugh Crain ever was. Plus, these Conjuring films have a wonderful talent of showcasing connection between between characters. Even though the kids of the movie aren’t especially memorable or have the most distinct personalities, they’re written in such a way that the Perron family does indeed feel like a family. Little things like, “Who’s going to eat this pizza? It’s expensive feeding you girls!” I don’t know, I really like little things like that. But those little things really go a long way by the end because it comes back into play, a dueling war between two mothers. One who’s trying to protect and love her children, the other who gave birth as a means to proclaim her love for Satan and sacrifice it when it’s just a week old. I really enjoyed the poetry in this. So much so that this movie now holds a unique distinction for me: it was the only horror movie up until the sequel that has ever made me cry. That’s how well-written I felt the characters were, how real I felt their struggles were, how high the stakes were, the desperation in preventing the unthinkable, it all culminated in one of the greatest feel-good endings to a horror film that I’ve ever experienced. While I think CONJURING 2 would improve on this, it’s done extremely well here.

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***END SPOILERS***

The scares are pretty decent too. In retrospect, the ones that are less jumpy were the more unsettling ones. Like the infamous clapping hands, those always get me. Oh! And when Lorraine is doing laundry outside and the wind starts picking up, then one of the bedsheets gets loose and then covers an unseen figure, which then flies to the second story of the house, right into a window, the bedsheet flies away, revealing the witch, who then leaves to go torture Carolyn. I thought that scene was pretty chilling and well done.

About the closest thing to a complaint that I have toward the film, which stacking it up to everything that this movie does right isn’t a big deal, but I kind of disliked how the other ghosts that are seen in the film just sort of show up and do practically nothing. The weeping mother holding her dead child, the suicidal maid, I know they’re referenced, so it’s not like them showing up doesn’t make sense, but they have such brief appearances. Wouldn’t it be kind of better if they were subtly trying to warn the family of the witch, or try and help the Warrens discover her weakness through their cryptic ramblings? I don’t know, I feel like there was something more practical and useful to their inclusion than cheap jump scares. But like I said, their presence makes more sense than the average ghost, and they do give a better idea of how long the witch’s influence has been going on and what she’s made others do, so I give it a pass.

Overall, this still holds up as one of my favorite horror films of all time. While it may be technically better than it’s successor, it’s not better by much. This movie has fewer script related goofs and… I still can’t over the resolution of the sequel. This movie is unbelievably well done, in terms of practical effects, acting, directing, and so many other aspects that put it above the common horror crap that we usually get. There is real effort to make it a unique story, or at least one that you can emotionally invest in. But more than that, it’s definitely one that I’ll revisit every Halloween and highly encourage anyone to check out, whether you’re a horror fan or not. It’s a truly great horror film and worth conjuring up around the spookiest month of the year.

My honest rating for THE CONJURING (2013): 5/5

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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.

***

 

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***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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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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THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (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 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.

CABIN IN THE WOODS:

Starring: Kristen Connolly (REVOLUTIONARY ROAD [2008], and TV shows ZOO [2015 – ongoing] and HOUSE OF CARDS [2013 – ongoing]), Chris Hemsworth (GHOSTBUSTERS [2016], THOR: THE DARK WORLD [2013], STAR TREK [2009], and upcoming films THOR: RAGNAROK [2017] and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR [2018]), Fran Kranz (THE DARK TOWER [2017], ORANGE COUNTY [2002], and TV show DOLLHOUSE [2009 – 2010]), Bradley Whitford (MEGAN LEAVEY [2017], THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS [2005], BILLY MADISON [1995], and GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS [2019]), and Richard Jenkins (KONG: SKULL ISLAND [2017], THE KINGDOM [2007], THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD [1995], and the upcoming THE SHAPE OF THE WATER [2017]).

Support: Anna Hutchison (TV shows ANGER MANAGEMENT [2012 – 2014], SPARTACUS [2010 – 2013], and POWER RANGERS JUNGLE FURY [2008]), Jesse Williams (BAND AID [2017], THE BUTLER [2013], and THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS 2 [2008]), Brian White (12 ROUNDS [2009], BRICK [2005]. and TV show CHICAGO FIRE [2012 – ongoing]), Sigourney Weaver (A MONSTER CALLS [2016], HAPPILY N’EVER AFTER [2006], ALIEN: RESURRECTION [1997], and upcoming films THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES [2017] and AVATAR 2 [2020]), and popular mocap actor/stuntman, Terry Notary (WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES [2017], THE INCREDIBLE HULK [2008], HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS [2000], and upcoming films AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR [2018] and an untitled Avengers movie [2019]).

Director: Drew Goddard (4 episodes of TV show THE GOOD PLACE [2016 – ongoing] and the upcoming X-FORCE, no release date announced). Writers: Drew Goddard (THE MARTIAN [2015], WORLD WAR Z [2013], CLOVERFIELD [2008], and the upcoming X-FORCE) and Joss Whedon (AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON [2015], SERENITY [2005], TOY STORY [1995], and upcoming films JUSTICE LEAGUE [2017] and BATGIRL, no release date announced). Composer: David Julyan (THE PRESTIGE [2006], THE DESCENT [2005], and MEMENTO [2000]). Cinematographer: Peter Deming (NOW YOU SEE ME 2 [2016], THE JACKET [2005], AUSTIN POWERS [1997], and the upcoming THE NEW MUTANTS [2018])

For those not in the know CABIN IN THE WOODS was actually a creation of Joss Whedon. Yes, the same Joss Whedon who gave us TV shows BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1997 – 2003), FIREFLY (2002 – 2003), and films THE AVENGERS (2012) and AVENGERS: THE AGE OF ULTRON, and briefly took over filming for the upcoming JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017) and is slated to make a Batgirl movie that may or may not have anything to do with the DC Extended Universe. My point is, Whedon is one of the most celebrated names in Hollywood, for his smart stories, brilliant direction, creating some of the most kick-ass women on screen, he’s an all around icon in geek culture.

I bring this up because this is weirdly enough one of his films that got pushed to the wayside. Yeah, though I don’t know the full history, CABIN was originally made years before. Hell, I have a theory that the only reason it was released was because of the success of Marvel’s THOR (2011) and the popularity of Chris Hemsworth, whom is in this film. Kind of funny how things turned out. The common person is probably still looking at this title and wondering why they haven’t heard of it. If it had such big names attached, why aren’t more people talking about it? Well, the sad fact with Whedon is that many of his projects in the past, post-BUFFY and pre-AVENGERS, weren’t always given the best chances, likely due to marketing failure. FIREFLY, for example, is considered to be one of the greatest sci-fi TV shows of all time, but much like CABIN, not many people have heard of it, and seemingly fewer have seen it. So what does that usually mean? Popular, fresh, different, and amazing work that goes completely over mainstream becomes, what else, a cut classic. There’s plenty who talk about these slices of celluloid wonder. You just have to look for them. That was the case for FIREFLY, such is also the case for CABIN.

So what makes CABIN IN THE WOODS so special? Well, take a look at the trailer when this movie first came out.

 

Doesn’t seem too special, right? A generic horror film about a group of teenagers that get out of town to get high, get drunk, have sex, and an all around good time in a cabin in the woods. But then shit starts to get real and they start getting picked off, one by one. Yup, it’s about a generic as it looks, right?

HA!!! Fools, the lot of you!

The film lets you know exactly what kind of movie you’re really in for in its opening sequence, which is what threw off more than a couple people who saw this. It’s a comedy. A horror-comedy, one of my favorite mash-ups when it comes to the horror genre. The very first set of images we get are of ritual sacrifice from ancient civilizations and then cuts to a pair of business suit-wearing men, Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford), who talk about their normal everyday lives combined with some ominous talk about something something or other. It’s a lot funnier than I’m making it sound.

Then we get right to the traditions of horror: the five victims of circumstance. Dana (Kristen Connolly), Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Jules (Anna Hutchison), Holden (Jesse Williams), and Marty (Fran Kranz). Though the difference here is that unlike most horror films, as generic as they appear, there is a likability to each of them. They’re written in such a way that you may not be able to talk about them very much, but they still have some charm to them. Marty is probably my favorite character, being a pothead and a conspiracy theorist, but he’s so damn funny and barely takes what he himself says seriously that I can’t help but laugh my ass off.

On the surface, the film is about a super secret organization that periodically must sacrifice at least four of five victims to giant ancient gods to keep them in their slumber. A slut, an athlete, a scholar, a fool, and the optional virgin. They lead the young people to this cabin in the woods and basically rig this system in a way that these young people choose how they die. How do they do that? By making them curious enough to go into the creepy basement and fiddle with a bunch of knickknacks that will ultimately trigger a horror that ultimately kills them, like, a conch shell will decide on a merman that will kill them, or a creepy journal that if read, will trigger a zombie torture family to kill them. Things like that. What’s hilarious is that the people in suits take bets on what will be the horror that the teens face. At this point, the teens must die in a specific way. The whore dies first, then the others, so long as the virgin is last. There’s also clichés that are played with. You know that age old “let’s split up, we can cover more ground that way” bullshit that even Scooby Doo made a career out of doing that? Well, this is addressed in brilliant way. At first, one of them will say that they should stick together at all costs. But then the guys in suits will release a tiny amount of gas that fucks with their brains and then that same teen will say, “On second thought, let’s split up.”

However, things go wrong when one of the deaths doesn’t happen as intended. Marty, the fool, was originally thought to be killed, but ended up surviving and accidentally stumbled upon an elevator that would them to the underground facility of the people that have been doing this to the teens. It’s here that they discover all sorts of horrors, the list of which is too great to go through. But eagle eyed fans of the video game franchise Left 4 Dead may notice a boomer, a tank, and a witch in the cubes. Upon entering, the organization desperately tries to nullify the situation by sending their own personal SWAT guys after them, but equally desperate to stay alive, Dana and Marty unleash the monsters upon the SWAT guys and it’s a shit load of gory fun, from giant snakes, giant a giant octopus, ghosts, and . They navigate to the heart of this facility and discover where the leader of this crap is, The Director, played amazingly by Sigourney Weaver, and basically reveals everything, only for her to die in a climactic fight and dooming the world to extinction because Marty was unwilling to die for humanity and Dana sorta failed at killing him. The gods rise up and the movie ends. Just like that.

Well, alright, that can sound like a bit of fun, right? But what makes it such a modern classic, aside from the video game and countless pop culture references, like THE EVIL DEAD (1981), which heavily influenced this set-up? Because it’s social commentary, specifically about horror fans who love the formula of bad and repetitive horror films. Really think about it. The Old Gods that are referenced in the movie represent those audiences who need that formula. See what’s happening? When you go to a horror movie like this, you expect the whore to die, you expect the asshole jock to die, and because these movies are bought and paid for so frequently with no wide-spread demand for diversity, these movies become “another day at the office,” getting the same ole routine down to appease you, the audience, that demands this formula, and any deviation or defiance of it results in y’all being angry and shunning it. The perfect example that I read about that the movie uses is in the line, “We haven’t had a glitch since ’98.” If it’s not too far off the mark, this line references the movie THE FACULTY (1998), in which none of the young people die by the end of the movie. And if I’m not mistaken, it wasn’t the best received by viewers.

But the fun-poking doesn’t stop there. I think the corporation represents the producers that finance these movies, as represented by the betting pool of what horror the teens will face and who makes the profit, and the teens represent the minority of audiences that want change, that want an overhaul of the system, but either succumb to the will and demands of those more powerful and in control, or die trying break the mold. All of this is just the tip of the iceberg of what people can extrapolate and it’s a load of fun to read other opinions… except from those that didn’t like the film. Fuckin’ old gods. GO BACK TO SLEEP, YOU FORMULA-LOVING BASTARDS!!!

About the closet thing to a problem that I have with the movie is of the playful variety. Like, now that Whedon and Goddard have incepted this into my brain, you know what, you forward-thinking genius bastards, I want to see a merman killing spree! Fuck the sequel that people have been asking for- how would that even work, dumb-asses? – I want a prequel with the merman! If you can find a way to make space cowboys work, the you can make a god damned movie about a killer merman! Get on it, Whedon and Goddard, or I’ll… I’ll… bitch and moan online some more?

Overall, I think this is probably one of the best and most unique films of its class. It’s hilarious, it’s intelligent, it’s a brilliant love-letter and middle finger to the conventional. I say if you haven’t seen this film, you’re doing yourself a grand disservice. This is one of my favorite movies to revisit around Halloween, so get together with some buddies and have a magnificent time with it.

My honest rating for CABIN IN THE WOODS (2011): 5/5

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HAPPY DEATH DAY review

Ugh… didn’t we do a bullshit GROUNDHOG DAY (1993) movie earlier this year with BEFORE I FALL (2017)?! Now we need a slasher-horror version?! What’s next?! An action movie with Liam Neeson… actually… that sounds awesome. We couldn’t do that instead?!

The story looks like it’s about this young woman who is murdered on her birthday by a killer in a baby-face mask. She relives the day over and over, desperate to figure out who’s trying to kill her.

Here’s the cast. Starring is Jessica Rothe, known for LA LA LAND (2016). She, like the rest of the cast, is a jamboree of unknowns.

Now for the crew. Directing, we have Christopher Landon, known for SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE (2015) and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES (2014). Penning the screenplay is Scott Lobdell, known for 1 episode of TV show GODZILLA (1998 – 2001), a story credit for MAN OF THE HOUSE (2005), and 5 “created by” credits of episodes for TV show X-MEN (1992 – 1997). Composing the score is ever-amazing Bear McCreary, known for REBEL IN THE RYE (2017), KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM (2013), and STEP UP 3D (2010). Finally, the cinematographer is Toby Oliver, known for GET OUT (2017), THE DARKNESS (2016), and the upcoming INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY (2018).

Overall, this movie better not take itself too seriously and secretly be a horror-comedy, or else I might lose it. If it does, all this movie will do is make this protagonist dumb as hell, make repeated mistakes or never get creative in progressing what she’s supposed to find out. The best this movie will offer by way of comedy is self-awareness humor, but I highly doubt it’ll be that good. I’m honestly not expecting anything good at all. This is yet another movie that got released too early and should have saved itself for a January/February release.

This is my honest opinion of: HAPPY DEATH DAY

(SUMMARY)

Today is a special day for Theresa “Tree” Gelbman: it’s her birthday! But she doesn’t seem to be in a celebratory mood. In fact, she’s very mean-spirited about it toward everyone she comes into contact with. Carter (Israel Broussard), who’s had a crush on her for some time, her roommate Lori (Ruby Modine), her father David (Jason Bayle), just about everyone. She’s even having an affair with her school professor Gregory (Charlie Aitken), who’s married to a loving wife. But at the end of the night, on her way to a party, she finds herself in a tunnel and is attacked by a person in a mask and murdered. But here’s the thing, she doesn’t stay dead. In fact, she wakes up experiencing the same day again and despite doing a couple of things differently, she is murdered again by the same masked killer. Freaking out over why this is happening, Tree eventually sets out to try and figure out who is killing her and put a stop to this repeating nightmare.

(REVIEW)

Objectively speaking, no, it’s not a very good movie, but personally… I kind of liked it. So I owe this movie an apology from my initial impressions.

Well, let me start with the negatives as I would enjoy talking about the positives a lot more. The cardinal sin is the first twenty some odd minutes where the movie takes itself way too seriously. I mean, the first day is fine. It’s all basically character introduction until Tree’s killed for the first time. But here’s where the movie frustrated me: the second day. She wakes up in that dorm, obviously questioning just how insanely similar the circumstances are, but confusingly bounces from acknowledging that this day is repeating, as well as thinking that it’s a dream. She’s pointing out where the aspirin is, but is still late for her first class. She’s trying to seek help from her professor, but she still slaps on the same outfit for her party. You see what I’m getting at? Her reactions aren’t consistent. I can believe that someone in a loop like this would think the first day was some kind of crazy, realistic dream, but when a pattern of familiarity crops up, paranoia would sink in and I’d be doing everything different. She eventually does, but it also gets a little ridiculous that she continues to scream in agonizing fear as the murderer gets her. You’d think the experience of constantly getting killed would get more repetitive and annoying than frightening after a time.

One of my biggest pet peeves about movies like this is that there’s always a syncing issue with timing and actions. What I mean is this: for argument sake, let’s say the time it takes between Tree to wake up in bed to when Ryan (Phi Vu) comes through the door takes exactly one minute. No matter how many times Tree wakes up, that time should never shift. She should never be able to oversleep, or wake up too early. It’s always on the dot. Yet, there are some loops where she wakes up and goes to that door early, but Ryan will still be at the door as if the whole minute had gone by. See what I’m getting at? If Tree goes to the door early, Ryan shouldn’t be at the door early as well. The events outside of Tree’s personal actions shouldn’t be playing out any differently. Most loops are okayish about it, but in a story like this, continuity cannot be an issue and it is here. The same sort of goes for certain lines of dialog. For example, when Tree comes back to her sorority house and goes into her room with Lori in it, the power eventually goes out and Lori sarcastically remarks, “Our tuition dollars at work.” I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I come up with a fun line that I want to say like a cool catch phrase, it’s usually because I’m waiting to say it. Fine if you’re just that clever in the moment, but it has to be in that moment. In another loop, Lori won’t even be in the room, the power will go off, and she remarks with the exact same line with the exact same fluctuations in her voice, despite a difference in circumstance. That sort of thing does bother me a little.

And considering what is presented to the audience in the beginning of the film, it’s a huge wonder why there’s so many people who are trying to be nice and be friends with Tree. Before the events of the story, she was still not a kind person. Why is Carter still pining after someone who doesn’t like him? Why was her previous fling taking their one date so personally when she doesn’t call or text him back? Why does Lori go so far out of her way to bake a cupcake from scratch for her birthday when the two aren’t at all close?

Other problems include Tree finding a car and having the means to run over her killer and not taking the many opportunities. Trying to get herself arrested and using excuses like she’s high and drunk, but not once saying, “I also stole this car.” And final pet peeve: finding yourself in an impossible situation and trying to tell someone about it, hoping they’ll believe you, and they don’t. Well… no shit!

Thankfully, and surprisingly, the movie does pick itself up around the middle.

For one thing, I think Rothe sells this movie like a champ. She brings an infectious energy that you can’t help but love. When Tree is frustrated, we feel her frustration. When she’s being a bitch, we don’t like her. When she’s cheering, we cheer with her. When she cracks a joke, we laugh. When she has a bad-ass moment, I challenge you to not smile at it. But more importantly, when she’s trying to be sincere, we believe her. We feel for her and connect with her. Rothe is clearly having a blast playing this role and I thoroughly enjoy her performance. I really hope to see her in more movies in the future that really showcase her talent. I wouldn’t mind seeing her in a comedy either. Whatever it is, consider me on board.

Carter was also a decently written guy. As crazy as Tree’s situation sounds, and he never sounds 100 percent convinced of any of it, he’s still open enough to offer his advice as to what her next course of action should be and how to resolve it. He shows genuine concern for her and even puts his own life in jeopardy for her. He’s helpful, contributes to her situation, and it’s hard to not like him and want to see him end up with Tree by the end.

For all intents and purposes, the movie is at its best when it isn’t taking itself too seriously. When Tree is setting out, spying on all of the suspects that she believes is trying to kill her, it’s a montage with an upbeat, fun kind of music playing that makes you laugh in some parts. And like I commented before, this is also where she sees her deaths as more inconvenient than scary. She spies on someone watching gay porn and spies on another with night-vision goggles. I have no idea where she’d get those, but the movie is clearly having fun with itself and that’s where a bulk of the enjoyability comes from. It doesn’t last forever, and it reels itself back into serious mode, but by this point, even that stuff gets better, so I wasn’t complaining too much.

One of the more interesting aspects that I wish got a little more development was how after each death, she’d retain her injuries in some fashion. For example, if she died from getting stabbed in the stomach, she’ll wake up and her stomach will hurt. Or, if she died from getting bludgeoned to the head with a baseball bat, she’ll wake up with a head injury that will cause her to pass out. There’s even instances where her legs will hurt a lot. I thought this was an incredibly unique spin on this idea.

***SPOILERS***

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My only issue with her injuries being retained after each death is that the idea isn’t pushed far enough. By the final two loops, we’ve established that she has brain trauma and injured legs. You’d think she’d be limping, or her vision would be blurred or distorted, something to add more difficulty in her confrontations with Tombs (Rob Mello) and Lori. And why wouldn’t the poisoning have any affect on her? Maybe the poisoned cupcake could have given her some breathing problems or something. For such an interesting idea that gave off such an intense sense of danger, the movie doesn’t roll with it as much as it really should have.

What I deeply appreciate is that Tree isn’t being a bitch to everyone for no reason. Her birthday is a particularly hard day for her as it’s also the day that her mom died. She’s acting out, still grieving and for understandable reasons. And Tree does have an arch. She does eventually see just how mean-spirited she’s been and does feel guilty about it later on, trying to right her wrongs. She eventually sees the kindness in Carter and is touched by his sincerity, eventually falling for him in a fairly organic way. I liked their eventual budding relationship.

And also, Tree doesn’t wind up a saint by the end. I feel like any other movie, she’d be such a good person that it would make you nauseous. But no, she goes outside and steals the sunglasses from the emo kid she passes by in a moment of celebratory triumph over what she knows she can do to get herself out of her loops. But as opposed to what she was like in the beginning of the film, she goes from a totally unlikable bitch, to a likable bitch. Considering everything that she’s been through, I’d say she earned those shades anyway.

Finally, I give props to the twist. Okay, I’m not exactly gasping at the whole “it was Lori” thing, but I definitely didn’t see the poisoned-cupcake thing. When Tree killed Tombs and that cupcake candle got blown out, and she woke up in another loop, I legitimately didn’t know how she got there. Kudos, Mister Lobdell. I didn’t predict that.

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***END SPOILERS***

Overall, this movie’s got some major problems. Problems that I definitely can’t overlook. But I can’t deny that I enjoyed this movie much better than I thought I would. I’m not entirely sure if I would own it on Blu-Ray, but I would see this again. A few more times, even. It’s got a great lead actress, some fun and interesting spins on this idea, and some well-written moments. I can’t call it a scary film, but I think it’s worth checking out if you’ve been interested. This death day was much happier than I expected.

My honest rating for HAPPY DEATH DAY: a strong 3/5

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FRIEND REQUEST review

Ugh… do I have to? No, I actually don’t. But it’s only fitting after seeing two really good horror movies recently, one of them I can’t talk about until 2018, I was bound to get a stupid horror movie in the mix. We can’t go just one year without one, can we?

The movie looks like it’s about this popular girl who accepts a friend request from the school loner out of pity. But when she proves to be too much, miss popular unfriends her and loner girl kills herself on video and begins to haunt miss popular. So… haunted Facebook now. Hey, if we can have killer VHS tapes and a slew of silly Stephen King killing things, like cars and clowns, this doesn’t seem too out there. And wasn’t UNFRIENDED (2015) basically killer Skype? Whatever, it’s going to suck balls.

Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Alycia Debnam-Carey (INTO THE STORM [2014], and TV shows FEAR THE WALKING DEAD [2015 – ongoing] and THE 100 [2014 – ongoing]) and Liesl Ahlers, making her feature film debut. Congrats, miss. In support, we have William Moseley (CARRIE PILBY [2017], THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN [2008], and NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE [2005]), Connor Paolo (SNOW ANGELS [2007], WORLD TRADE CENTER [2006], and TV show REVENGE [2011 – 2015]), Brit Morgan (BEER FOR MY HORSES [2008], and TV shows SUPERGIRL [2015 – ongoing] and TRUE BLOOD [2008 – 2014]), and Sean Marquette (13 GOING ON 30 [2004], and TV shows THE GOLDBERGS [2013 – ongoing] and FOSTER’S HOME FOR IMAGINARY FRIENDS [2004 – 2009]).

Now for the crew. Directing and co-writing, we have Simon Verhoeven, known for stuff I’ve never heard of. Co-writing the script, and red flagging the film are two more writers: Matthew Ballen, making his feature film debut (Congrats, sir), and Philip Koch, known for unknown stuff. Co-composing the score are Gary Go, known for unknown stuff, and Martin Todsharow, known for German films. Finally, the cinematographer is Jo Heim, known for foreign and unknown stuff, but more or less, this seems to be a reunion for most of the crew.

Overall… no. No, I am not looking forward to this flick.

This is my honest opinion of: FRIEND REQUEST

(SUMMARY)

Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey) is a popular college girl, especially on Facebook. Marina (Liesl Ahlers) is not. But after sending Laura a friend request, Laura attempts to be nice and accepts. But in her attempts in hanging out with the social outcast, Marina becomes a little too attached, eventually causing Laura to delete Marina from her friends list. This doesn’t bode well because Marina, in a fit of rage, commits suicide on her laptop, blaming Laura. But the sad turn of events turns supernatural as something keeps hacking into Laura’s profile, spreading the suicide video. But it doesn’t take long for Laura to figure out that Marina is still around, and when Laura’s friends start dying around her, she fights to find a way to stop Marina from killing anyone else.

(REVIEW)

Ugh… it’s about as bad as I thought. What can you possibly say about a movie like this? It’s killer Facebook. I love the backstory to the making the title of the movie. Originally, the title was supposed to be “Unknown Error,” but was changed to “Friend Request” to avoid confusion with the film, UNFRIENDED (2015). HA! Hell of a backfire on that one, marketing team! I think anyone would actually assume “Friend Request” was a prequel to “Unfriended” considering that a friend request comes before unfriending, so technically, “Unknown Error” would have been a significantly improved and less confusing title.

But hey, what’s in a title so long as the movie is good. After all, what’s a Shawshank and how do you redeem it, right? Well… this movie isn’t good. It’s bad. Like, this should have been released in January, bad. What’s so bad about it? Well, it’s boring! Like, it’s that kind of bad movie. It’s not even entertaining. It takes itself 100 percent seriously and that takes me 100 percent out of it.

So I’m just going to go down my notes and see what I can shovel out.

First off, of course this movie follows a young woman who might as well have a halo over head considering how much of a boring good girl that she is. She almost too perfect and has no flaws in her character, but not in an interesting kind of way. But what makes her character so strange is that she’s surrounded by friends who are downright bitches. They’re judgmental and never pull any punches on saying out loud how much of a “freak” Marina is. And like I said, Perfect Laura is so perfect that she looks at Marina with pity. How does someone like that become friends with people like that. I had friends in the past who made a seriously notorious habit of talking down on other people who weren’t in the same room and didn’t deserve to be talked about that way, so do you think I’m still friends with those people? Hell no! I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life, bro!

The closest thing to a redemption that this movie has, and I’m being unquantifiably generous with that word, when we’re shown Marina’s Facebook page and it’s full of dark and creepy animations. First of all, the layout of the animations is more akin to Myspace rather than Facebook. And second, I think I would rather have watched those animations for ninety minutes than to watch the rest of the movie. I was sure as shit more creeped out by them than anything in this flick.

What’s really apparent about the film is that it doesn’t feature characters. No, “characters” would imply that they have personalities and we, the audience, can find something to identify with to make us not want to see anything bad happen to them. But instead, we’re blessed with… how else would I be able to put it, roles. Just… roles. You need a protagonist to not hate, make her too perfect for no reason. Need bodies to fill a kill count? Throw in some jerk or quirky people; the judgmental friends, of which none are really distinguished in personality, other than, one’s a hot blond, one’s a hot guy, another’s plus sized, one’s a tech nerd, and the other is the fat girl’s boyfriend. Each of them is unlikable, and act more like middle schoolers rather than college kids, so you can already guess who’s going to die and probably not be too far off the money. And because all they ever do is freak out, you never care who gets axed off, so there’s no investment. Maybe if the kills were creative, like a Final Destination movie, or some shit, but no. That’s never the case here. The closest character that gets any real development is Marina, but even her backstory has been done before, so she’s not very memorable either.

But if there’s any character in this bunch that feels even more outlandish than Marina, it would have to be Kobe (Connor Paolo), who somehow figures out that Marina’s supernatural powers are a result of witchcraft. And how does he figure this out? He, “looked it up.” Oh ho! Right, how do you think that series of Google searches went? And how would he think to look up witchcraft in the first place?! Let’s pretend for five seconds that I even believed he simply stumbled upon this information, which the movie seems to imply, Kobe quickly becomes an expert on everything relating to Marina’s abilities. What?! Piss off with that shit! What a contrived way to explain these hauntings to the audience! Nobody cares!

I’m not going to lie, at some point, the movie became so boring that I just became fed up with trying to write notes and decided to just wade on through it and it never really improved.

Now, I do give this movie a slight bit of credit. I can see how a good movie could be made from this. The concept is the ghostly monster is targeting the protagonist, but not to kill her, but rather the people around her. There’s actually something to that idea. More often than not, the final girl is just lucky enough- and by “lucky,” I mean predictably – to have not been killed long enough to manage to figure out how to beat the ghost. There’s is a sense of helplessness that could have been utilized as this young woman watches her family and friends die around her and she can’t do anything to stop it. Yeah, okay, there’s something to all that. But here’s the problem. It’s all a little too millennial about it. If the characters were written to be a little more realistically, like adults rather than teenagers, then I might have been more invested. If the kills were more creative, it might have been more enjoyable. But what we’re given, it’s not executed very well, and I didn’t care for it.

Overall, I can’t say it’s the worst thing ever. I wasn’t offended by anything, it’s just standard bad horror. Tropes all over the place, pointless jump scares, imagery that tries way too hard to be disturbing and only succeeds in being silly, there’s just nothing to the flick. My recommendation, it’s hard pass. I don’t recommend it in theaters, and don’t recommend it as a rental. If you get a friend request from this, reject it like you would a creepy stalker.

My honest rating for FRIEND REQUEST: 2/5

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