Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Wes Craven: The Man, The Legend

I've told the story many, many times over the years but it's time to tell the story again. Way back in 1997, I was a dorky, little fool who really only liked comedies and Disney movies. But, one thing I hated more than anything was horror films. I refused to watch horror films because I just didn't like them. When a little film called Scream came out everyone, everywhere were raving about this movie. And I, for one, just didn't care. Finally, I just gave into peer pressure and finally, reluctantly, sat down to watch this little horror film.

I sat there riveted. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time and when the movie was over I realized I had just watched something special. Scream would go on to spawn 3 sequels and a successful 2015 TV series. But, at least in my generation, the film kind of became a joke. So, me saying that this film is special to me and "changed my life" makes me feel kind of goofy. But it did change my life, it completely changed my life.

After seeing "Scream", I made it a mission to see as many horror films as I could so I would understand any of the references in any of the films. And now, almost 20 years later, I get all the references!

You may be asking yourself, why am I even bothering telling this story again? If you really wanted to read the story you could go back and read my "Scream" review from years ago. The reason is because, not only did the film get me into horror films but it introduced me to the person who would go on to become my favorite director and aside from one movie that followed "Scream", I would see every single one of his movies in the theater. That man, was Wes Craven.

Unlike most of the general public, I had never heard of Wes Craven when Scream came out. I had heard of "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and knew it involved Freddy Krueger and how he looked but that was it. Didn't know the director or the cast or anything else. But after seeing "Scream" one of the things I did was make it a mission to see more films by Wes Craven. This led me down a path I was never coming back from but enjoying the hell out of.

I spent the next, nearly 20 years, enjoying horror films and changing my passion from nothing to writing. The writing aspect came from Mr. Craven himself as I began to realize he wrote a lot of the films he directed and I found that the films he wrote were far better than the ones he didn't. And so began my passion for writing.

On August 30, 2015 we lost Mr. Craven after a battle with brain cancer. Words could not describe the pain I felt. Wes Craven was a big part of my life through his films. I would watch anything and everything he worked on from his big budget theatrical films to his garbage TV movies to films that he simply produced all the way down to the film "Wes Craven Presents They" which he had absolutely nothing to do with. I felt like I lost a friend and even though I knew the day was eventually coming that he would be gone, I never really thought about that. It had been a dream of mine to meet the man and tell him how much he changed my life and how I majored in writing in college because of his films. I spent many years of my life studying writing because I loved the movies he made. Some might looked at his films as low budget trash, especially films like "The Last House on the Left" and "The Hills Have Eyes" but I look at them as groundbreaking and very interestingly those films look very tame nowadays compared to the torture-porn crap we have today.

I'm writing this really to just get my feelings out there. I wanted to do this right away the day after he died, but I just couldn't put any of this into words until today. Most people nowadays will remember him for Scream, but he did so much more, he worked on films and TV. He was a director, writer, producer and actor. One of his greatest films he ever made "New Nightmare" brought all of those aspects of him together.

Wes, even though I never got to meet you and tell you this, but you changed my life. You meant so much to me and you will never be forgotten. Not by me and not by the millions of others who were touched by your work as I was. Your legacy lives on and I want to thank you for all the wonderful films you have left us with.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

When a Stranger Calls (1979)

"Have you checked the children?"

Before there was "Scream" there was 'The Stranger'...

"When a Stranger Calls" is horror film from the late 1970s that was inspired by a classic urban legend. The babysitter alone in a house being terrorized by a man who keeps calling asking if she's "checked children", only to find out the call is coming from inside the house! And that, ladies & gentlemen, is the first 20 minutes of the film. The rest of the film drags and drags and drags. After the initial 20 minutes of the movie we jump 7 years where we find that the psychopath from the first film has escaped and is now roaming the streets, stalking some ugly middle-aged woman. The film spends a good 40 minutes with this whole thing and it never pays off!

Charles Durning plays a private detective who is tracking down this psycho. After he almost catches him we jump back to Jill (played by Carol Kane) where she is now a stay at home mom with 2 kids. First thing I have to say is, how is Jill old enough to have 2 kids THOSE ages. They look to be at least 7 and 3. We are led to believe that she is a teenager in the beginning of the film and then the film jumps 7 years, which would make her in her early to mid 20s. Just seems kind of odd to me.
Anyway, she and her husband are going out to dinner and leave their kids with a babysitter. Somehow the psycho knows where she lives and what restaurant she will be at and calls her and starts her freaking out all over again. The film ends abruptly and you walk out wondering what the hell you just saw.

The first 20 minutes of the film are amazing, truly terrifying. I am not scared by much, but as I watched this in my dark bedroom in the middle of the night, I found myself clinging to my blankets because it was seriously scary. But after that the film falls apart. The director spends too much time on the killer and his odd obsession with some random middle-aged woman he finds in a bar. As the audience I just didn't give a shit about this story line, especially since it leads to nothing! Once we get back to Jill and her story I feel the film finds itself, but it's literally just rehash of the beginning of the film with Jill now the mother instead of the babysitter.

The film will always be remembered for the first 20 minutes but nothing else, I don't really consider it a classic but it's worth watching at least once.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Christmas Story 2 (2012)

In 1983, late director Bob Clark (Black Christmas, Porky's) made what some consider the greatest Christmas movie ever made. "A Christmas Story" has gone down in history for that that simple fact; even TBS plays the movie for 24 hours straight on Christmas day. Personally, I feel the film is very overrated, not saying that it's a bad film just overrated. That being said, Warner Brothers in their infinite wisdom decided that what "A Christmas Story" needed was a sequel, almost 30 years later.

Being promoted as "the official sequel to 'A Christmas Story'", Warner Brothers seems to have forgotten that the film already has had TWO sequels before this one: a 1988 TV movie entitled "Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss" and the 1994 film "It Runs in the Family" (most commonly known as "My Summer Story"), but since Warner Brothers didn't make those films I guess they felt they didn't count as sequels and they have completely disregarded them.

Now that that's out of the way lets delve into this bear sized shit of a movie. The story is about Ralphie and he's an annoying 15-year old who wants a car. Him and his stupid friends wreck a car at a dealership and the rest of the movie is all about them trying to come up with $85 to fix the car. Daniel Stern (Home Alone) plays the father in this film and he comes off as a very cold hearted cheapskate. At the end of the film he seems to have redeemed himself and proves to be a loving father, but throughout the rest of the film he's just an asshole. 

The film does what I assume they felt were homages to the original film but in reality they were just blatant rip offs. This film rehashes so much from the original film it baffles me why they even bothered making a "sequel" instead of a "remake". They rehash the tongue to the pole in a rather stupid way by having the same character stick his tongue in a vacuum at a department store and then you get to see his face stretch out inside the tube as some goofy way of making this generation of retarded children laugh. Having Ralphie dress up in a stupid animal costume is rehashed having him dress as a reindeer at a department store. Somehow the leg lamp is back at the very end, though the film never really admits who the hell gave it to the father. So much is rehashed from the original film all the way down to Ralphie's brother getting a space ship for Christmas and sitting on the floor making "vroom" sounds with it (in the original film he gets a blimp and does the same thing).

This film fails so horribly it's not even funny. I didn't expect anything at all from this film but I just wanted to give it a shot. Seeing Daniel Stern embarrass himself in this direct-to-video garbage is terrible. The man made some classic comedies in his day and he has been reduced to this trash. That being said, Stern is the ONLY good thing about this film. He does give a stellar performance but his character is so cynical it's hard to even enjoy it. The only thing this film did well (and I'm using that term lightly) is they got an actor (surprisingly the writer) to sound JUST like Jean Shepard narrating. But something that small and pathetic can't save this useless, unneeded and unwanted sequel to a film that is considered a classic. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween (1978)

"It's Halloween, I guess everyone is entitled to one good scare"

The mother of them all! Halloween was made during a time when horror films were few and far between. "Psycho" started the slasher genre in 1960 but the genre laid dormant for almost 2 decades until John Carpenter came along and changed film history forever.

Halloween was released in 1978 and cost a mere $320,000 to make but it earned far more than that, becoming the highest grossing independent film at that time. The film is so simple yet so effective. The film follows Laurie Strode (played by a then unknown Jamie Lee Curtis) and her friends on the night of Halloween as they are stalked and killed by a masked assailant. By today's standards this story has been told a million times over, by in the late 1970s this was something new. Especially the tone that Carpenter brought forth. The film is genuinely scary because of the simpleness to it. Michael Myers is portrayed as a faceless character, and when you do see his face (only twice) he shows no emotion whatsoever. The film begins with a very long POV shot of a young girl being stalked and then murdered, when the scene is over you discover the person whose point of view it came from was a 6-year-old boy. Just the thought of that is enough to chill you to the bone!

This film also really established the horny, drug crazed teenagers that followed oh, so many times in the following decade. This really defined many films since then. And it was even the basis of the 2012 film "The Cabin in the Woods". 

Overall, much can be said about Carpenter and his influence on the horror genre. Halloween was his crowning achievement and sadly he has distanced himself as much as he can from the film. I guess he got tired of being constantly reminded of it, but it's a shame he doesn't like it anymore. It seems over the past few years Carpenter has really distanced himself from all of his films, he almost comes off as if he resents the films. But, he has left us with a great amount of fantastic horror/sci-fi films to choose from. 

Halloween was such a success that a franchise began followed by the 1981 sequel "Halloween II" which was produced and written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill. "Halloween III" which came out the following year was also produced and written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill. The duo left the franchise after that never to be attached to it again. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Short Review of "The Body", an episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"

I spent my years in college studying television production and writing and received my B.A. in that in 2009. Throughout my years in college I have learned to analyze and love television shows from the stories to the production value and I continue that to this very day. Granted I have not been able to practice my art in many ways since I graduated but I still watch television shows more than anything else, regardless of this blog being specifically for movie reviews.

Today, I have chosen to speak about one of my favorite episodes of any television show out there. This episode spoke to me profoundly for many reasons, but the main reason is because something like this happened to me in my own life. In 2000, my mother suffered a severe stroke and later died in 2006 from complications related to that. It was a very dark time in my life, a time that I would never want to relive. In 2002, I began watching the television series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". I've a horror fan for many years, and I felt I would enjoy this series. I was right! "Buffy" is such a fun series to watch and re-watch, the writing is brilliant, the acting is brilliant, almost everything about this series is brilliant. In early 2001 an episode aired called "The Body" which dealt with the death of Buffy's mother. I did not see the episode until very late 2003 but when I finally did I realized how important this episode would be to me.

The episode deals with Buffy's mother who had surgery done to remove a tumor from her brain and in the episode she dies from complications due to this. The rest of the episode is basically everyone coping with the loss of her, and just that description sounds pretty boring or could be sappy, but I want to take a look at some of the things that happen in the show.

First off, there is no music. Throughout the entire episode no music is heard at all. I felt this gave off the eeriness of that feeling you get after someone dies. It's hard to explain the feelings you go through after a loved one dies, especially someone so close to you. This episode spoke to me so much because Joss Whedon did such a good job recreating a time in someone's life that is so hard to describe. In the opening Buffy finds her mother dead and tries frantically to call 911 and administer CPR, but to no avail. The paramedics show up and realize she is dead and leave Buffy alone. She then calls Giles, but her phone call is very vague as to what has happened, leading Giles to think that the main villain of that season is at her house. Buffy then wanders through her house aimlessly. The power of this scene speaks volumes, as when something terrible like that happens I think most people do the same thing. You don't know what to do but you know you have to do something. When Giles arrives he tries himself to revive the mother, but Buffy bursts out with the line "We're not supposed to move the body" and she realizes that she just referred to her mother as "the body" and she breaks down. There some sort of denial when someone dies. It's subconscious to a point but it hits you like a truck when you say out loud "she's dead" or you refer to her as "the body" instead of "mom".

One of my favorite scenes in the entire episode is when we find Willow, Xander, Anya and Tara getting ready to go to the hospital to be with Buffy and Anya doesn't understand why someone so close to them has died and why she can't just get up and go on living. The actress, Emma Caulfield, did such an amazing job performing that scene that it always touches my heart. When you're thrown into a situation like this no one really knows why someone has died and why life has to even end. I still ask myself these questions to this very day. And something that is stated during this scene is how the character was drinking something and when they heard the mother died one of the things she thought was that the mother would never drink that drink again. I don't know about other people, but when someone close to me dies I always think about how there are certain things they'll never do again or see items they've left behind and how it might have been when they left it there. When my mother died our house was filled with stuff she had touched just the day before and it broke my heart.

It's the little things that were in the episode that made it very special. I think the episode spoke volumes to me because of my own personal situation, I'm not sure if it spoke to other people like this or not, but it is a very special episode to me and I personally think it's the greatest television episode ever made. Joss Whedon did such a wonderful job perfecting this episode in every way and the actors were so unbelievable at the same time.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Music Man (2003)

"The sadder but wiser girl for me"

Meredith Willson's The Music Man was a Broadway musical that brought down the house. The year was 1959 and only a few years later a big budget Hollywood film version would be done. In 1962, Robert Preston wowed audiences with his portrayal of Harold Hill in this very film. Preston reprised his role from the Tony Award winning performance he gave in the Broadway show. Just over 40 years later Disney decided it was time to remake The Music Man for The Wonderful World of Disney...

The film is a direct adaptation of the original Broadway play and comparing it to the original plays out very much like the film version. Matthew Broderick plays Professor Harold Hill and his performance is a yawn fest. And in all fairness I did not sit there comparing this film to the original, Broderick cannot play Harold Hill to save his life. He plays the character very much like he's reading off cue cards. If you look at his performance of the songs "Ya Got Trouble" and "76 Trombones" it is very obvious he just doesn't give a shit. That character should be charismatic but he plays it like he forgot to read the script and everyone is just helping him. The songs are incredibly slow because of his cardboard performance.

And Broderick isn't the only offender here either. All of the actors preform as if they are made of cardboard. Even veteran actors like Victor Garber (playing Mayor Shinn) are awful. I'm not sure if the actors were trying to portray the actors from the original film or they really just didn't care, but all the performances in this film are awful.

The casting was poorly done as well. Matthew Broderick was chosen because at the time he was a big star on Broadway with "The Producers" so it was a natural selection to pick him. But, take a look at the film version of "The Producers" and he's just as bad in that film too! Molly Shannon (playing Mrs. Shinn) was probably one of the worst choices they could have made. Shannon overacts in every single thing she is in. A really good example of how bad she is and how bad the producers were on this film is the scene in which the firecracker goes off under her feet. In the original film it goes off, she yells out "I'm shot!" and falls down. A very funny scene and direct to the point. In this film, the firecracker blows her dress up over her head and she falls backward into a curtain pulling it down yelling out "I'm shot! I'm shot! George! George!", seriously over done for no reason, and it takes all the fun out of the little prank.

Victor Garber I thought was a good choice to play Mayor Shinn but as earlier stated his performance is very subpar. He was really great as Oliver Warbucks in Disney's 1999 film "Annie", but sadly he suffers in this role. Kristen Chenoweth as Marion Paroo was poorly cast as well. I've seen Kristen in other roles and she always plays odd characters. The role of Marion Paroo is a very straight forward character that I just can't seen Kristen doing well, and she doesn't. She can sing, there's no doubt about that, but she can't act.

Overall the film is awful, the opening song was so badly done it was ridiculous! The song is supposed to be fast paced, but it's slowed down for whatever reason and it's awful. Also, the fun of the opening scene is that Harold Hill is sitting in the train car the whole time and NO ONE knows about it, especially the audience! Yet in this version the director chooses to do close ups of Broderick over and over again taking the reveal of his character completely away! Also, the reaction of the character when he finds it is Hill is so elementary school stupid. He does a double take then keeps repeating "That's Harold Hill! That's the guy we were just talking about!", as if those guys or even the audience didn't already know that! His name is on the fucking briefcase! I think the director/producers think that America is really that stupid that we couldn't figure stuff like that out.

Anyway, enough of my ranting, if you want to see the film go watch the original 1962 film starring Robert Preston and avoid this one like the plague!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Rock of Ages (2012)

"I love rock n' roll"

I am a big fan of musicals, and I am actually a pretty big fan of the 2007 film "Hairspray", so when I saw a new musical was coming from the director of "Hairspray" I was pretty excited, especially since it was a musical featuring 80s music. A film with an amazing cast and some really good looking things, pretty much fell flat.

The film centers around Sherrie who shows up in Hollywood from Ohio ready to break out on the scene as a singer. She meets Drew who works at the Bourbon Room and he gets her a job. The entire film takes place over the course of a few days and involves the last ever performance of the band Arsenal, featuring lead singer Stacee Jaxx (played by Tom Cruise). The film starts out really great, a great opening musical number performed by a great lineup of performers (including a short verse by Alec Baldwin). The film seems to have quite a bit of plotlines going on. Aside from the band's final performance there's a plotline of Sherrie trying to get Drew to take the stage and perform with his band, The Bourbon Room is bankrupt, Catherine Zeta-Jones plays the wife of the mayor trying to get The Bourbon Room shut down because rock music is satan music, there's a reporter who at first hates Stacee Jaxx then loves him... there's just too much going on in this film.

The film never really feels like it has a plot at all. There's just so much going on it felt like the writer just sat down and wrote down ideas and then instead of trying to form them into a story he just threw them all in front of each other. There are a few funny moments, mainly from Russell Brand, but overall the film isn't that great. It drags on a lot, and they have some weird moments. There's a part in the film when Drew plays "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey and claims that he wrote it about Sherrie and himself. This just comes off as odd, why would they have a movie where none of the rock music in the real world exists. It would have been more believable and more acceptable if Drew had been a member of Journey, but he isn't. And in reality the song was written in 1981, the film takes place in 1987, so this makes absolutely no sense!

As for the musical numbers they all seem to be ensemble pieces. And some of them are 2 different songs spliced together. At some points it's good, but mostly it feels awkward and even some times pointless. And unlike the director's previous musical film, this film does not end on a big musical number. It ends with Stacee Jaxx and company performing "Don't Stop Believing", which at this point feels very much like "Glee" as they have made that their anthem. 

Overall the film is okay at best, if you want to see it go see it and judge for yourself. But, I feel the film fell flat and disappointed.