Friday, June 27, 2014

Robocop (2014)

Back in 1987, a masterpiece of sci-fi was created by a relatively unknown director by the name of Paul Verhoeven which seemed like an accident at the time.  When released, hearing the title sounded like a bad science fiction B-movie that wouldn’t work and I don’t think anyone thought much would come of it.  But it worked and, very quickly, Verhoeven showed a signature style to his movie direction, becoming the go-to filmmaker for many other hits to come.

Unfortunately, that stroke of genius Verhoeven created was treated poorly in its sequels and television series (both live-action and cartoon)—not to mention that god-awful part three—allowing it afterwards to lie dormant for a number of years before the Hollywood trend of reboots, remakes and reimagining took hold and revived it for a retelling in the 21st century.  So…back in February of 2014, we’d received the reassembled and rebuilt version of Robocop.

Of course, just like all the countless re-creates we’ve been bombarded with from movie studios, I had cried foul when it was announced that this classic was going through the redo -ringer.  The 1987 version was—and still is—such an archetypal sci-fi masterwork (which I still remember going to see when I was 19 years old) and I can’t understand why studios keep green-lighting all these do-overs.  To hear that filmmakers are just going to start over and retell the same story again seemed asinine and redundant. 

What made the 1987 version so memorable was the hard ‘R’ rating it acquired upon release, nearly garnering an ‘X’ due to the graphic violence it portrayed throughout the film.  However, before this new version was released—and before the rating was announced—it was evident that the movie studio would be too chicken to go all out as the original film had with its violence-in-your-face filming and make sure to release a neutered PG13 film.

Now, this film seemed like it took forever to film and produce, making me think the filmmakers were taking their time to give us something with substance.  I started rethinking about my disdain for the reboot and decided to give the unseen film the benefit of the doubt.  I opted to myself that I would wait until I at least witnessed a preview trailer before I would give any type of criticism towards the film.  Although the photos leaked out—either purposely or accidentally—and showed us some unsatisfying views of the new crime-fighting character, I still held hope that the film might do well.  When Robocop started rearing its ugly head with a teaser trailer, I found myself agreeing with all the premature examinations of the film.  But before I get into all the drawbacks and shortfalls of this film, let me synopsize it.

The year is 2028 and most of the world is being protected by droids created by the world conglomerate, OmniCorp.  However, because of an act issued by a Senator Dreyfuss (Zach Grenier), OmniCorp cannot develop the same technology for law enforcement in America.  But the CEO of OmniCorp, Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), wants to push their technology for police organizations and, with the help of Dr. Dennett
Norton (Gary Oldman), who works with robotic prosthetics for amputees, search for a way to incorporate OmniCorp’s technology with a human counterpart.  In this film, Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is an undercover cop trying to get to the bottom of some illegal arms dealing that may lead to corruption in the precinct.  But after getting too close to the crime boss, Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow), an attempt on Murphy’s life is made in front of his house by setting up a bomb in his car.  The explosion leaves Murphy critically injured with loss of his legs, one arm, and blind in one eye.  Meeting with Dr. Norton, Murphy’s wife, Clara (Abbie Cornish), is given a choice to save her husband by using OmniCorp technology and she agrees.  When Murphy wakes up, he finds that he has a robotic body and is now a cyborg they call…Robocop.

Now, there is good and bad about this film that I’ll point out shortly.  Before I do, however, I’d like to note that this movie is directed by José Padilha.  If the name doesn’t sound familiar, you’re not alone.  Looking over his résumé of films, I don’t see one—before or after this—that I recognize.  It’s almost as though the studio picked his name out of a hat and went with it.  From what I’d read, the guy went through some frustrations during filming, like how he was scrutinized the whole time by the studio to make sure he produced a PG13 film, and, overall, wasn’t satisfied with the finished product.  Anyway, whatever disparagements I give from here on out, I don’t blame on Mr. Padilha.

Okay, I’ve already denigrated the studio’s choice to remake this film, so I won’t retread on that too much.  But I’ll compare the hell out of both of them…so here goes.

In this new film, the way they deal with Murphy needing to be made into the cyborg is handled a little unthinkingly, going with less shock.  In 1987, one of the bad guys and some goons put a hundred bullets in him as well as shooting off his hand and putting a bullet in his head.  Now THAT was shocking!  In this one?  Car go boom.  Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to belittle the act of someone being unfortunate enough to be blown away by a bomb, because I certainly would never want that to happen to me.  But if I were to write a scene where our hero is critically hurt only to reemerge as half-man-half-machine character, I’d go with the 1987 scene. 

As for the revenge aspects of this new film?  It’s very unsatisfying when Murphy catches up to Vallon—the crime boss who ordered the hit on Murphy—to exact revenge on him.  The scene consists of a big shoot-out only to assume Vallon died in the barrage of bullets.  Later, OmniCorp CEO, Sellars, is made into a bad guy, but it’s sort of thin how they made him into one.  Yes, he was a douche bag and a typical head honcho of a big company, but in the great scheme of things he was only looking out for his company by shutting down the product of Robocop.  How they suddenly showed him as a villain in this film was sort of forced.  In the 1987 version, you knew who the bad guys were and there was no mistaking it—when the two baddies of the film are dispatched of, it’s very satisfying and gives the audience a reason to cheer.  In this new version, it’s a bit confusing.  Is it Vallon?  Is it Sellars?  Is it Sellars’ military consultant, Rick Mattox (Jackie Earle Haley)?  Who’s the big baddie?

So what’s my final “bit” on Robocop?

All in all, this film had superb special effects and excellent design in all the robotic technology.  I liked the 
angle on how OmniCorp wanted to get their robotics in America to help police forces fight crime and how it was a very political perspective.  However, it was pretty obvious how rushed this production was—even though they had a few years to perfect it—and that it was meant to be a castrated composition to keep it a PG13 movie.  Unlike the 1987 film, there was really nothing memorable about this reboot and they should’ve just left well enough alone.  2014’s Robocop is worth a look, but I’d wait until it shows up on cable.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the movies!

Cinema Bits is on Twitter and Facebook.


You know, a lot of horror movies over the years tend to grab well-known inanimate objects that we all recognize upon seeing and turn it into an entity of terror.  Sometimes it’s done well, like many movies about dolls coming to life (take Child’s Playfor example) or done as a tongue-in-cheek comedy (like they did with the killer snowman inJack Frost).  But there’s one thing that’s never been done right and that’s making a horror movie about scarecrows.

Now, some of you may cite Dark Night of the Scarecrow or the opening scene of Jeepers Creepers 2.  A lot of you may say that there havebeen a few films, like 1988’s Scarecrows or the little-known Scarecrow of 2013.  With the exception of the Jeepers Creepers 2 opening (the whole movie wasn’t about killer scarecrows anyway), all those other movies weren’t good or scary at all.  So it just surprises me that no one has tried to take the subject matter to make the pinnacle of scarecrow movies.
A killer scarecrow movie would be perfect for a terrifying movie to play in theaters to big crowds, especially around the Halloween season, but it has yet to happen.  However, in 2011, After Dark Films released a movie straight-to-DVD that would’ve fared well if it was brought to screens for the masses.

As a quick side note, After Dark Films has put out some great titles, really scary and gory stuff that I find entertaining almost every time.  For more on their films, check out the site here.

So the other day, as usual, I tool around the Netflix titles to see what I can add for my next shipment.  I have around 300 or so in my queue, but I occasionally mix them around to match the mood I’m in.  The other day, I was in a horror movie mood—surprise, surprise—and, after seeing the awesome cover art, decided to have 2011’s Husk sent to me in my next delivery.

Horror movies, these days, are so different than the ones I’d seen in my teenaged years.  I admit, I can’t relate to what teens do these days for fun or what type of lingo they use in speaking to one another, so I was worried that would’ve turned me off while watching.  But Husk doesn’t take long for the shit to hit the fan and gets interesting right away.

The story opens with a quintet of friends—Scott (Devon Graye), Johnny (Ben Easter), Chris (CJ Thomason), Brian (Wes Chatham), and Brian’s girlfriend, Natalie (Tammin Sursok)—driving to a lake to spend some time for some R&R.  Suddenly, a murder of crows starts flying into the vehicle’s windshield and causes them to swerve off the road, incapacitating the vehicle.  Stuck on the side of the road, next to a
cornfield and seemingly in the middle of nowhere, they first notice that Johnny is missing.  Seeing a farmhouse within the cornfield, they set off to find their friend and to see if they can get some help from the residents of the property.  Instead, they find themselves surrounded by killer scarecrows that have mysteriously come to life and the group must find a way to fend them off and try to get away.

The first thing I’d noticed when embarking on this film is the feel of it and how it felt like a horror movie from the 80s.  Without the cheesiness and dumb subplots that gave flicks of the 80s a lot of questionability, Husk tends to be more serious and spooky, striking more fear in the audience than the fun movies of the 80s had.  As the opening went on, it kind of reminded me of Children of the Corn, but probably only because of the immense cornfields on either side of the road shown in the film.  Not only that, but the nature of a group of friends driving cross-country also made me think of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  So thinking of those films in my head as I started watching this movie kind of helped me enjoy it more.

I’d mentioned in a review before (I believe it was 1988’s The Blob) that there are a number of things a film needs to include to make it a great horror movie.  One of those items was having 75% or more of the movie take place at night.  Director Brett Simmons follows that logic perfectly, having the characters crash their car in a day trip only to have them lose daylight very quickly, especially when they all find themselves on the property of this dilapidated farmhouse in the middle of this huge cornfield.

The characters, also, were not unlikable or annoying at all.  In fact, all of them have their own individualities that you can identify with right away to tell them apart.  First, you’ve got Chris, the sort of bad boy troublemaker, but not in an irritating way; there’s Chris’s good friend, Johnny, who seems to be the tagalong; Scott is the nerdy intelligent kid, complete with glasses (in case you don’t get how smart he is); Brian is the jock and surprisingly doesn’t exhibit it obnoxiously within the story (like most movies of this ilk tend to do); and finally Natalie is the only female in the film and is Brian’s girlfriend.  Although it doesn’t seem like we get too much development of their backstories, it’s pretty easy to see what each one is about as the film goes on.
The story, as a whole, seems to be a bit of mystery and a very dark one that isn’t very comprehensible as it initially begins.  But instead of hindering the film, it actually helps it as we feel what the characters feel—utter terror.  As you can tell by my summary of the story, and even if you read the synopsis on the back cover of the DVD, the story features animated scarecrows, so I don’t think I’m spoiling the movie for you. 

The scarecrows are pretty terrifying—and, of course, don’t speak—as they have no face but just a burlap covered head, reminding us of so many masked killers of yesteryear that wear a guise with little to no features.  With the cover of darkness and the cornfields, the filmmakers cleverly edit the scenes to show
these creatures easily darting in and out, striking at the characters and creating quite a few jump scares.
If I have to nitpick at anything within this film, it’s the way they choose to give us a back story as to how these creatures came to be.  Using the annoying device of giving one of the characters a sudden parapsychological power, where they unexpectedly develop the power to see visions, one of the central characters sees how this came to be (sort of).  Not only did the abrupt clairvoyance bother me, but what they see still didn’t explain why these scarecrows are able to be alive and running around.  I guess we can speculate, but it’s not consummately explained.

Anyway, if you can put that nitpick aside and enjoy the bulk of the film for what it is—a scarecrows-coming-to-life movie—then I think you’ll enjoy it immensely.

So, let me give you my final “bit” on Husk.

As I’d said, the movie totally reminds me of the horror flicks I’d seen when I was a teenager, where we get right to the problem and terrorize the characters immediately.  With no 21st century lingo and no constant talk of what kids do these days for fun, the film seems timeless.  I definitely recommend it and think you should add Husk to your library of horror.  I know I’m planning to do so myself.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the movies!

Cinema Bits is on Twitter and Facebook.

Thursday, June 26, 2014


Back in 2009, a movie was released that really made a big splash in the science fiction realm of cinema called District 9.  Recalling the trailers for it, I remember it was a bit different, had a documentary feel to it that no other sci-fi film had tried, almost like a found-footage type of movie.  It was mysterious and had a realistic feel to it like we were really watching a never-before-seen look at human interaction with aliens.  I also recall in the trailer that, for some reason, when the alien was speaking, its vocal orifice was blurred or digitized out—that intrigued me as well.

Cut to a few months later, when the movie was released, I didn’t go see it and I can’t recollect why—I guess I wasn’t sold over enough to go watch it during its theatrical run.  However, most critics—especially science fiction critics—praised the film and cited its comparisons to the turmoil South Africa went through during the apartheid era.  It was praised as a success, staying on top of the box office and, after hitting home media, I went out and purchased the Blu-Ray—sight unseen.  After watching it, I agreed with the critics.
As a result of the critical success of District 9, two stars emerged from the film: the actual star of the film, Sharlto Copley, and the director, Neill Blomkamp.

Although Copley has gone on, and is still going on, as a successful actor (his part as Murdock in The A-Team was the best thing about that movie), the main focus after the release of District 9 was on the director, Neill Blomkamp.  From what I’ve heard, right after the film was released, Blomkamp was considered the go-to-guy for sci-fi films.  His name has been rumored for a while to be the director of Steven Spielberg’s production of Halo.  Understandably, Blomkamp left the production citing the long delays and how he likes to do his own thing.  I can appreciate that and the latter explanation makes sense as he wrote and directed District 9 and also did the same for 2013’s Elysium.

In 2154, the Earth is over polluted and over crowded with all the wealthy living on a space station called Elysium.  Head of security for the space station is Delacourt Rhodes (Jodie Foster) and she makes sure no illegal immigration will happen, keeping the floating paradise safe for only the rich and making sure any
unauthorized ships are blown out of the sky.  On Earth, Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) is a lowly worker at a robot factory who is also on parole, complete with an ankle home/work arrest bracelet.  Although his friends try to get him back into a life of crime, he resists, citing he wants to live a life of simplicity.  As it so happens, Max reconnects with a girl from the past, Frey (Alice Braga), who he had loved, and finds out she has a daughter with leukemia.  At work, when getting a group of robots ready for particle emission, a mishap causes Max to get a lethal dose of radiation, giving him only five days to live.  Knowing full well that Elysium has medical chambers that can cure him, he decides to do whatever he can in order to get to Elysium so that he can save his life.

Now, one thing you’ll notice about this film is that there’s the parallel real-life struggle of immigration, like we’re experiencing these days in America.  But Elysium shows such a simplistic view of it that the point really doesn’t come across that well.  It’s only a vague connotation that most countries in the world go through today, so it’s quite forgettable.  But I don’t think he wanted that as a basis to this film anyway, nor did he want to convey any type of message as he had before, in my opinion.  Instead, I think he wanted to give us a big, special effects laden spectacle with a hero overcoming tyranny.

Now, if there’s anything I have a problem with is the casting of Matt Damon as the Hispanic, Max Da Costa.  Damon is the epitome of Caucasian and I found it hard to accept him as anything but.  He did a fine job and has always pulled off heroic characters in other films, so as long as you forget he’s supposed to be Hispanic, you can enjoy his performance.

Jodie Foster as Delacourt wasn’t bad, but she was playing the part with a strange British accent that came and went.  I get that fact that the space station was housing wealthy people from all over the world, making the station a world with no boundaries, but she could’ve played the part with her normal accent.  As the movie’s villain, she was believable and you were able to understand why she was perceived as malicious—she wasn’t evil just for evil’s sake.

The contrast between the world of Elysium and the world of Earth was very well done, showing us such beautiful settings on the space station with lush green scenery and the capability to cure any disease—even the slightest indication that skin cancer may sit in after laying out by the pool—with the medical chambers accessible throughout.  With the comparison to Earth’s atmosphere, how the skyline is hazy with plumes of black smoke and the downtrodden look of the remaining populace, Elysium looks like paradise.

Finally, like the special effects we’d witnessed in District 9, the scenes in Elysium are spectacular and jaw-dropping.  The robots appear pretty real-looking and I found myself thinking that they were actors in robot suits.  They move around fluidly with CGI-use unnoticeable so that it doesn’t take you out of the movie.

Earlier, I had mentioned that I didn’t think the director was trying to pass forth a particular message with this film, but with the look of the futuristic Earth, maybe he was.  With the narrative of Elysium, I think Blomkamp tries too hard to push this fictional poisoned and diseased world down our throats, trying to make us believe Earth will soon be too inhabitable and polluted to accommodate the world’s population.  I found myself asking why the people chose to stay in Los Angeles and why they didn’t travel to some other part of the world.  Are we to believe that every inch of the Earth looks this way?  Pretty far-fetched if you ask me.  Since global warming has been a hot topic for the last decade or so, and every time I hear debates on how we’re going to destroy the planet one day, I’ve always remembered the preface to Michael Crighton’s “Jurassic Park” novel.  I’d like to copy & paste it here in this post, but it’d be way too long.  Instead I’ll leave you the link to read at your leisure, here.  Paraphrasing it, it’s basically telling us, as humans, that we’re pretty vane to think that we can destroy this planet, emphasizing that this planet has always contained life and will continue to do so, no matter what we, as humans, will ever do to it.

Okay, so I’ll step down from my soap box and give you my final “bit” on Elysium.

It’s an interesting science fiction flick, giving us an unlikely hero to stand up against oppression in the future.  With a lot of special effects titivating the screen, you’ll like it a lot, but I doubt you’ll take anything away from it.  The heavy-handed, yet insignificant, messages may put you off, but if you can get past that, you’ll enjoy this movie for the few merits it contains.

Cinema Bits is on Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Strangers

Every so often, a horror movie is released that punches us in the gut with its shock value, yet gives us a simple tale of fright that makes us wonder why there aren’t more movies made like this.  So many films of this genre out there try to place such a complicated strategy, confusing the audience in trying to convey a clever plot.  Most of the time I can applaud filmmakers for doing that, but sometimes we just need a scary little tale that’ll make us cringe in the corner of our house with the lights on long after the movie has ended.  In 2008, that movie was The Strangers.

Part of a newer subgenre of horror, home invasion films are starting to be made more often with some really cool ideas.  In the past, there’ve been movies like 1967’s Wait Until Dark, 1971’s Straw Dogs (remade in 2011), and 1972’s The Last House on the Left (remade in 2009).  Recently, we’ve had films like 2008’s Inside (French film), 2013’s The Purge, and 2013’s You’re Next.  All are terrifying as it plays into what we would do if the subject matter happened upon us.  Would we be lucky enough to get out of the situation alive?  Would we fight back?  The Strangers falls into the category of home invasion films and gives us a wide range of emotions, mainly…fright.

If you think about it, this film has a perfect setting and scenario to express the isolation that the characters are experiencing: a vacation home in the woods, with no neighbors nearby, no phone service, and setting the story in the dark wee hours of the morning.  The film already gives one shivers even before the terror begins.  Plus, the lack of motivation and explanation as to why these characters happen to pick this one house—this one couple—to intimidate and threaten is brilliant.  I love the line near the end, when one of the masked assailants is asked why are they doing this, and the person replies, “Because you were home.”  It’s so eerie and maddening at the same time, leaving us wanting answers, yet not getting any.  In my opinion, some of the best movies—especially thrillers or horror films—use this type of framework and that’s what makes it more frightening.

More filmmakers should follow the specs of this movie in order to make successful horror films:  Story takes place at night, in an isolated house/cabin, no communication with the outside world, and unidentified masked villains who do what they do without any motives whatsoever.  Some may call these clichés, and in a sense they are, but when you watch this film, you forgive those banalities very quickly.

I must admit, when this film first started advertising on television and showing up on trailers before other films I’d been watching at the time, I had little to no interest in it.  I don’t know if it was the timing of it or if I just couldn’t make time on my schedule to see it…maybe it was the featured stars of the film, Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman, that steered me away…but I made no plans to see it during its theatrical run.  But it’s kind of funny what made me want to see the film…and that’s seeing the character villains running around during Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights in 2008.  Seeing two females with simple plastic masks of different doll faces and a guy with a sack over his head, all holding weapons (knives and an ax—I’m assuming plastic or rubber), gave me a bit of a shock and was the deciding factor in my decision to watch The Strangers, albeit on a DVD rental.

The film opens with a couple—Kristen and James (Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman)—arriving at a remote vacation home late at night following a wedding reception they had attended.  Obviously upset with each other after Kristen turns down a marriage proposal from James, they sit and ruminate until they hear a knock at the front door.  Upon answering the door, they see the silhouette—due to the porch light being
mysteriously burnt out—of a girl, asking for someone named Tamara.  The couple tells the girl she has the wrong house and she leaves.  After a few minutes, James leaves to go to buy some cigarettes and while he’s gone, the girl comes back and asks for the same person.  Kristen tells her that she already came by here, that they told her she had the wrong house.  Soon, knocks and bangs are heard throughout different areas of the house, freaking out Kristen.  When James returns, things gets worse and they quickly realize they’re being targeted by three masked individuals.

The Strangers is definitely not a movie you should choose to watch while you’re sitting at home, alone and in the dark—especially if you live in the sticks like the vacation home depicted in the movie.  I know I kept on thinking I heard noises outside and shadows at the windows, so be warned that this movie will work on your nerves.  But you’ll be completely immersed in this film and find yourself feeling for this couple, sometimes thinking they’re doing the right things and sometimes not.  For instance, when Liv Tyler’s character goes to the door after Speedman’s character leaves to get smokes, you feel she does the right thing by not opening the door when the girl comes back again.  Instead, she opts to talk through the closed door to tell the girl she’d already been there.  However, there are times when the couple makes choices that would go against any moral decision-making.

If there’s anything I can nitpick about the film is the overabundance of moodiness throughout the beginning of the film.  The story opens up with such gloom as we see that the couple have been fighting and are not talking to one another.  It’s sort of a downer and I’d always thought the movie would’ve opened up much better if the couple were happy and celebrating rather than being unhappy with each other.  At the same time, however, it does help the disposition they find themselves in, so the whole critique of this opening is very minor.

Now, I had mentioned that I didn’t go see this in theaters when it was released.  I’d hypothesized some reasons for this and one of them was because of the two stars of the film.  I might have something there because that’s one thing that I don’t like about horror movies these days.  See, back in the 80s and even before then, horror movies featured unknowns in the leads.  It helped with the believability of the story because most of the audience didn’t know who the actors were and made the movie seem like a true event.  Since the 90s, horror movies have become more chic and have garnered the interest of streamline actors and actresses to take these roles.  I feel that it’s detrimental to these movies, having well-known actors and actresses as the leads, giving the films a bogus feel to them as we see the wizard behind the curtain.  Bottom line, that’s the reason why I felt that I didn’t want to see The Strangers, because of having two recognized performers in the lead roles.  But their real identities are soon forgotten and you soon believe they are two real people who are undergoing a terrifying experience.

So…my final “bit” on The Strangers?

A truly disturbing home invasion flick, brought on by the mysteriousness of the villains and how everything plays out, The Strangers is a nice little scary film to watch in a house with tight security—like dead-bolted doors and windows, not to mention a complete online alarm system.  

That’s it for now…thanks for reading!

Cinema Bits is on Twitter and Facebook.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Fantastic Four and Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer

Comic book movies are all the rage these days, from the terrific universe that Marvel has been putting together since 2008 to the X-Men series that Fox has got their death grip on and won’t ever let go, and the Spider-Man franchise that Sony is whoring out (parts three and four with two spin-off movies???  Come on!)…the films are being churned out almost yearly.  And speaking of Fox owning the X-Men movie rights, they’ve also own the rights to another comic book franchise from Marvel Comics, finally adapting a film from the series in 2005…Fantastic Four.

Now, 2005 wasn’t the first attempt of adapting the comic book superheroes…back in 1994, a film adaptation was produced by Roger Corman, but never released…and that was the intention right from the beginning.  The short of it was that in order to retain the rights to make movies out of the comic book characters, a movie had to be made by that year.  However, unbeknownst to the cast and crew (including Mr. Corman), the film was never intended to be released.  If you watch any of this film—which you can on YouTube—you see right away that the production values, the acting, the writing…everything about this movie is terrible.  An actual documentary, called Doomed, is available, telling the story of these shenanigans and you can find info on that here.

Anyway, cut to 11 years later and we get a decent production of the film. 

Fantastic Four
The film opens with Dr. Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and his friend Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) going to Reed’s former college classmate, Victor von Doom (Julian McMahon), who is now a wealthy CEO of his own company, to try and convince him to fund a space expedition.   Reed has calculated a cloud of cosmic energy will be passing near Earth soon and wants to run experiments to prove the energy has something to do with evolution.  Von Doom agrees in exchange for control of the experiment and for a majority of the profits benefitted from it.  They gather a team together, including Reed’s former girlfriend, Sue Storm (Jessica Alba)—who is now an assistant for von Doom—along with her brother, Johnny (Chris Evans), a rebellious girl-chasing pilot, and set up the mission.  Upon getting near the energy cloud, Reed discovers that he’d miscalculated the distance and the ship is inundated with the energy, irradiating all of them to the force of it.  Later, after getting back to Earth and seeming okay, each of them discover they have otherworldly powers:  Victor von Doom can consume and disperse energy as he begins to become metallic-like (Dr. Doom), Sue can turn invisible and create force field shields (Invisible Girl), Reed can stretch his body and contort it in any shape (Mr. Fantastic), Johnny can produce fire and even engulf his body to supernova temperatures (Human Torch), and Ben becomes transformed into a monstrous stone creature and has exceptional strength (The Thing).  Soon, they become at odds with Dr. Doom, as he blames Richards for the failed expedition that left him and his company in ruins, and the Fantastic Four must battle with him to keep the people of New York safe.

Where should I start?  How about the director?

Fox hired Tim Story to direct this big budget comic book action film.  Who is Tim Story, you might ask?  Well, at that time, he’d directed a couple of forgettable films, one hit comedy, and one terrible comedy.  So, with that résumé of work, why would Fox hire him to helm an anticipated and potential blockbuster adaptation?  Who knows?  It’s so typical of a studio to try to save money and thumb their noses at us comic book fans, obviously not caring about the film.  Story noticeably has some good directing chops when it comes to comedy (he most recently directed the hit comedy,Ride Along), but he definitely doesn’t have what it takes to pull off a special-effects-driven action piece that this film could’ve been.

And the cast?

The casting of the characters was fine and I had no problem with any of them.  They all played their parts well, with Chiklis and Evans being the exceptional actors of this film.  Both of them seemed to really embody the characters and channel them as they’re portrayed in the comics.  Gruffudd seemed to be a little flat at times, but I sort of attributed it to the fact that he had to hide his Wales accent.  But he had the look and was able to convey the idea that he was a brainy scientist, so I was okay with him.  Jessica Alba didn’t fit the part, in my opinion, and I thought they should’ve cast someone different in the role.  But she did have pretty good chemistry with Gruffudd, so I can forgive the miscasting.  McMahon as Dr. Doom didn’t seem to fit as well, since I had someone else in mind to play the iron-masked evil-doer.  I’ve always pictured a deeper-voiced actor to play the role, especially after his character has to wear the metal mask.

In the special effects department, I think the film features some very spectacular scenes…but some of them weren’t so well done.  Every scene featuring The Human Torch was nice with terrific fire effects showing him flying around and being able to create flames.  The Invisible Girl’s scenes were well done as well.  However, Mr. Fantastic’s stretching ability was hit-and-miss, sometimes looking okay when featured in long shots, but looking hokey when close-ups were filmed.  Now, the most aggressively done effect is the costume made for Chiklis as The Thing.  The detail on the prosthetics around his face and body was amazing, looking like real stone and rock.  I found it hard to find any seams or see any wrinkles or creases when he moved around in the suit.  The bad thing about his portrayal is that Chiklis is not a very tall man and he made a puny Thing.  In the comic books, The Thing is supposed to be as big as The Hulk, with them sometimes battling.  In this film, there were times when he was standing next to Jessica Alba and they were eye-to-eye.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved the prosthetic effects on his outfit, but I was left a little disappointed.

The biggest problem of this film is that it really doesn’t have much of a story.  Most of the time we see Victor von Doom angry that he lost control of his company and Reed Richards trying to figure out how to cure themselves of their predicaments.  It’s so thin that they included a ridiculous montage of how they get along living in the Baxter Building—the dumbest part showing Reed using his stretching ability to grab another roll of toilet paper from a supply room while he’s sitting in the bathroom.  Most of the film is a waste and a missed opportunity, highlighting the group as a bunch of misfits who are boring and don’t do much throughout the story until the very end.

My final “bit” on Fantastic Four?

The only interesting parts of this movie are the beginning and end.  It starts with the origin of how the group gets their individual powers and what they do when they finally discover them, then there’s over an hour of boring exposition until the final ten minutes where the foursome comes together to battle their foe—that’s it.  However, it’s still enjoyable, but the useless filler that’s peppered throughout the middle of this film might drag a bit.

Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer
So…two years later, Fox decided to green light a sequel to the 2005 film.  Again, with Tim Story behind the camera and in the director’s chair, and that was a surprise to me, the cast returned to do the sequel and gave it a little more effort.  In my opinion, I thought Fox would’ve realized that the first film might’ve been a little boring and would’ve stepped it up with another director known for helming action-packed films.  But, alas, maybe Story pitched them a good idea (which turned out to be pretty decent) and fooled Fox into keeping him around for the sequel. 

Going into this, I had my doubts about it being any better than the first.  But with a better story and an added character to focus the movie on,Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer definitely improved upon the predecessor and gave the heroes something to do without any lull time illustrated with corny montages.  Though the film still has many faults—some of the same ones that I’d just pointed out in the first film of this two-film series—I found it more entertaining and enjoyed the merits it did display in this follow-up.

Opening with a distant planet being eaten away and imploding, an entity is seen flying away from the destruction and is soon shown soaring towards Earth.  Strange occurrences start happening around the planet, like the sea around Asia freezing solid and snow beginning to fall in the deserts of Egypt.  As a result, the military asks for help from The Fantastic Four to trace and to try and capture the being—dubbed by them as The Silver Surfer—seen in areas of Earth.  Before long, however, they realize there’s a much greater danger coming to Earth.

Back are Ioan Gruffud, Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis, and Chris Evans as Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Ben Grimm, and Johnny Storm, respectively.  Also back in the mix of things is Julian McMahon as Victor von Doom.  But the star of this vehicle is definitely The Silver Surfer—embodied by Doug Jones but voiced by Laurence Fishburne.  I was never really a reader of The Silver Surfer comic books, so I’m not really familiar about him, besides his shiny chrome look.  But the film does a marvelous job at displaying him and it’s probably what’s best about this film.

Now the special effects were pretty good, as I’d mentioned about the representation of The Silver Surfer, but there’s one thing that bugged me throughout this film and that was Reed Richards’ stretching abilities.  In the first film, when displaying the power—as terrible as some of those effects were—it was established that only the suit he wore when the disaster happened could stretch with his body, not his normal clothes.  But in this sequel, whenever he stretches his arms or legs, his clothes stretch along with him.  They had never established that he’d invented a fabric that stretched with his body, so it just gave the film effects a lazy feel to it.  But everything else makes up for that little nitpick, so it doesn’t really play into my critique of the movie.  Sue Storm’s invisibility and Johnny’s flame-on powers look just a good from the first film.  But, however, the character of The Thing is still Chiklis in a faux rock suit, looking as short as before, but still putting on a good performance as the rock-strewn superhero. 

Overall, I do like that they’d stayed true to the comic books and used a storyline from it, regarding The Human Torch’s helpless ability to switch powers with his counterparts when touching them.   It gave the ending the climactic feel the film needed to make the audience cheer on the heroes.

Certainly the best thing about this film is The Silver Surfer.  The CGI rendering centered on Doug Jones’s frame was spectacular and perfectly fashioned from the illustrations in the comic books.  Some of the best parts in this film includes the character, like the chase scene between hi m and The Human Torch or when the military is firing missiles at him.  Fox once talked about making a standalone film about The Silver Surfer, but they’ve since been silent.

When the group gets together as heroes, to fight off threats or to save people, I loved it.  The team is now established and takes on a more serious tone, even involving a subplot about Johnny Storm needing to step up and take responsibility for his actions.  Gone are the goofy montages and useless fillers.  Instead, we have some added side narratives that are substantial to the whole storyline.  Even the characters are represented like they’ve been at this hero gig for years now and show that they have accepted who they are. 

Tim Story had definitely done his homework with the comic book characters, adding stories and concepts straight from the pages.  The wedding (both the attempted and actual one) of Reed and Sue was cool, incorporating the Fantasticar was actually a surprise and I didn’t see it coming (until the cat was out of the bag when the media leaked pictures of it before the movie was released)—man, it looked awesome.  Yes, Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer was definitely a better movie than the original, hands down.

Not too much bothered me about this sequel, except for the inclusion of Dr. Doom.  I know, principally, the story needed the character to make the whole movie work.  But maybe they should’ve made this movie with more of the team going up against The Silver Surfer, dealing with the bigger threat, to have the world saved with a cliffhanger involving Doom at the end, setting it up for a sequel.  It just felt like we’d seen this before in the first movie, so why bring Doom in again for nearly the exact same battle?

One final thing, without spoiling any aspect of the story, the representation of Galactus in this film was done right, in my opinion.  I know a lot of fanboys felt that the filmmakers made a mistake in deciding to depict him as a space cloud of particles, but I don’t think it would’ve worked if they showed him the way he looks in the comic books.  Essentially, he’s a giant dressed in purple clothing and armor…do you really think that would’ve played out well in this film?  People would’ve laughed at it and ridiculed this movie to the moon.  But…who knows?  Maybe they’ll try it in the reboot.

So, what’s my final “bit” on Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer?

It’s a much better film than the first part, with a better story and more action.  Our heroes have a lot more to do and take initiative—even having Reed Richards put a general of the military in his place.  I thoroughly enjoyed the movie from start to finish and I think you will as well.

So, one more thing about the franchise…it was announced earlier this year that Fox is going to (wait for it…wait for it…) reboot the series with a whole new cast and director.  In fact, one such cast member is getting a lot of mentions throughout the internet world because of his race.  You see, Michael B. Jordan has been cast as Johnny Storm and the fanboys are going apeshit (in a bad way) because the guy is black.  Now, I thought it was a little strange, but I’m willing to wait and see what he’ll bring to the movie.  I mean, look at Samuel L. Jackson.  He, himself, was cast in a role for in theAvengers film—as well as a lot of the films that are tied into that same universe—as Nick Fury…a character who’d been illustrated in the comic books as a white man.  But SamJack kicks ass in those films and I think it was a great move.

So…my advice to the fanboys:  Just wait and see.

Okay, I’m out of here…going to check the local movie times and see what’s playing.  It’s summer blockbuster season, so there’s got to be something.

Thanks and I welcome any comments!

Cinema Bits is on Twitter and Facebook.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday the 13th (2009)

Before I get into this review, I must make it clear that I thought the idea of having Jason Voorhees go up against Freddy Krueger in 2003’s Freddy vs Jason (part of my Cinema Bits review, “A Nightmare on Elm Street: Ex Post Facto”) was brilliant and very courageous of New Line Cinema to green light that project.  I’d thought it was a good movie, probably the best treated Jason Voorhees movie that New Line had made (at that point in time), and I really wanted a sequel—preferably adding Michael Myers to the mix.  But, sadly, they did what most movie studios do these days and just started it all over again with a reboot.  Much like a child, playing a game that’s not going so well and instead of seeing it through until it gets better, hit the reset button…start over.  And that’s exactly what New Line did in 2009, getting Paramount back on board, together, making the reboot of Friday the 13th.

Now, I’m not too clear on the deal made to purchase the franchise rights to Friday the 13th back in the early 90s, but I think I had heard that Paramount Pictures sold the rights of only the characters and the Jason Voorhees name to New Line Cinema, but still had the rights to the moniker.  If this is so, it makes sense why none of the three movies that New Line made—especially the first two—had the Friday the 13th name in the titles.  Because of that stipulation in the contract (again, I’m not sure if this is true), it’s probably the reason why New Line had to share the distribution and release for the 2009 remake.

In any case, the deal was done, the movie was announced to be made, and fans were happy.  But when it was announced that Michael Bay’s production studios, Platinum Dunes, was to produce the film, a lot of the fans began to worry.  See, Platinum Dunes was responsible for the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its prequel, which fans of the original—and horror fans in general—did not like.  However, I thought the movies were fine and I waited patiently and neutrally to see what would come of the Friday the 13th 2009 reboot.

Directed by Marcus Nispel (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Conan the Barbarian remakes), the film opens on a stormy night with basically a redo of the last ten minutes of the original 1980 film, as we see Pamela Voorhees (Nana Visitor) going after a female camp counselor (Stephanie Rhodes), meaning to kill her.  But the girl has a machete, decapitates Mrs. Voorhees and runs off.  Out from the wet brush comes a
young, deformed boy, Jason (Caleb Guss), who had seen the whole thing and walks to his dead mother.  He takes her locket and runs off.  The film, then, cuts to present day, where a group of twenty-somethings are walking in the woods near Crystal Lake and decide to camp for the night.  Two of the kids, Whitney (Amanda Righetti) and her boyfriend, Mike (Nick Mennell), go for a walk, finding themselves at the abandoned Camp Crystal Lake, causing the adult Jason (Derek Mears) to start his killing spree.  And so, begins Friday the 13th.

First off, I’ve got to like how the filmmakers chose not to remake just the first movie, making the killer Mrs. Voorhees.  It might’ve been a bit of cowardice on their part, because most new audiences only relate the franchise with the character of Jason Voorhees and wouldn’t accept a film without him in it.  But let’s face it…even old school fans—like myself—wouldn’t enjoy it either.  The franchise of Friday the 13th is synonymous with the name Jason Voorhees, so you’ve got to have him in this reboot.  Overall, they’d made the right choice, for whatever their reason.

Secondly…Jason Voorhees’s look in this film is, at first, pretty menacing as he sports the sack on the head.  Though, in this film, they did it right as they designed the sack more streamlined by having it sort of wrapped tight on his head.  In the original part two of the series, Jason had a sack just thrown loosely over his head, making it seem a little implausible as he would have a difficult time seeing through the eyehole.  With the sack form-fitting in this reboot, he’d have no trouble seeing out of the opening.  However…the moment in the film when he gets the hockey mask seems a little obligatory and hokey.  It happens during the scene where he kills a local hick (Kyle Davis) in the upper floor of some old barn.  Before Jason kills him the guy tears off the sack, ripping it in two pieces.  After dispatching of the victim, and seeing that he can’t use the tattered remains of the sack, Jason looks on the floor and—cue the music—he finds an old hockey mask.  After watching the movie quite a few times, you start to notice a little more about this set the scene is staged on.  You can notice things in the background, making you understand the hick—or whoever owns the barn—collects junk and with that understanding, you can believe it was possible an old hockey mask might’ve been lying around.  So, I can forgive this part, but because of the filmmakers not establishing the set pieces more clearly, the scene really seems forced and insignificant.

Another point that has been complained about, and I’d like to come to its defense, is the subplot of Jason holding a girl captive.  A lot of fans say that’s something Jason wouldn’t do, that all he wants is to avenge his mother’s death by killing anyone who comes into his Crystal Lake territory.  Yes, that’s a good stance to take if this was a continuing sequel from the original film.  But seeing as this is a reboot, the filmmakers can go into another direction and have Jason do as he pleases…there are new rules and a new story, the character is not bound to repeat his conducts from the old films.  Plus, wouldn’t it be boring to have a straight re-filming of the original movies?  Isn’t it better to change up the formula? 

Lastly, I thought it was a great idea to not only remake some of the first original film, but some aspects of the following sequels as well.  Of course we see a little rehash of the climax from the original part one, then seeing Jason with the sack-head look of part two, getting his signature hockey mask as in part three, and featuring the avenging brother of a past victim as seen in part four.  All that was done well, never feeling dragged on, and established the new generation of Jason Voorhees.

Speaking of the all new Jason, in this film he’s not just a lumbering serial killer, not some slow-moving or zombie-like murderer…no, in this one, he’s like some survivalist who has plans and thinks ahead.  He has a hide-out that’s rigged on the outside to warn him of intruders.  Yes, we have an intelligent Jason, one who runs and moves around swiftly, not just walking slowly and appearing out of nowhere.  You’re able to see the reason why he does show up in places where it seems impossible.  The film makes it clear that he knows the surrounding area of Crystal Lake and why he makes the area his home.  Even though Derek Mears had some huge shoes to fill, he fit them perfectly and made the character of Jason Voorhees his own.

Now, after all the establishment of why he becomes who he is and how he gets his mask…all we’re left with is Jason stalking a group of kids in a cabin, killing them off one by one.  None of the kills are really that original, some of them shock you, but all in all this film could’ve simply been another sequel to the original storyline.  The only semi-original subplot within this film is the brother looking for his missing sister.  Other than that, it’s just kids drinking, doing drugs, and having premarital sex—nothing more, nothing less.

But I loved it.  The scenarios were believable (except for the black guy deciding to attempt masturbation in the middle of the living room where anybody can walk in—and they do, before he starts—while there are quite a few people milling about) and you do feel a sense of dread at times.  The film definitely doesn’t go back to the feel of the original first four films, but it’s certainly a few steps above the cheesy last four or five films of the franchise.

I’m getting a little too longwinded here so let me give you my final “bit” on 2009’s Friday the 13th.

A more powerful and fast Jason gives the film more terror than felt in some of the later films of the 1980s franchise.  Though not so unique in some of the killing sequences, fans of the old—as well as new—generation will enjoy this tremendously.  It’s a step in the right direction, especially if they get the sequel off the ground, and there may be saving Jason Voorhees yet.  Talks and rumors have intensified on the internet, from doing a found-footage type film to having no Jason in it (!), but a film is coming nevertheless.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

Thanks for reading…and I welcome any comments!

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Fright Night

Vampire lore has had many types of themes over the last century of filmmaking.  The very story of Bram Stoker's "Dracula" had within it a love story of sorts, making it less of a horror story and more of a tragedy.  Sometimes, the vampire films we see are mostly monster movies featuring the bloodsucking character as a villainous monster.  Other times, the character is seen as a protagonist, siding with humans and even caring for them.  One theme that I hope the history of vampires in film will stay away from is the Twilight saga motif, where it's mainly a love story involving glittery vampires as a secondary theme—ugh!

As long as all the recognized rules are featured, I'm okay with it.  To be clear, vampires can be destroyed by sunlight and a wooden stake through the heart, they can't come in to one's home without being invited in by the owner, they can be harmed—if not destroyed—by garlic or blessed holy water or even touched by a crucifix.  Those are the main elements as to protect oneself from a vampire.  Other fundamentals about vampires in film are that they cannot cast a reflection and—depending upon the movie or story—they may be killed by silver.  I don't know when the silver mytho was established into the legend, perhaps within the Blade film franchise or comic book run, but it's understood now that that could be a defense against them in horror movies.

Between the decades of the late 20s into the early 60s, horror movies were pretty tame when it came to bloodletting or seeing someone—or something—getting killed.  It wasn't until the 60s and 70s—especially with Hammer Studios—that moviegoers were able to see some gore associated with vampire film mythology.  However—and maybe I'm a little biased in my opinion—I think the 80s was the best decade for horror films.  Whether it was creature features, vampire, zombies, werewolf, slasher or what have you, the 80s were the best.  Even with today's perfection of special effects and better cinematography, it can't hold a candle to 80s horror.

One of my favorite vampire films of the 80s was a little gem in 1985 called Fright Night, written and directed by Tom Holland.  Now Holland has had an interesting career as a writer and director of some of my favorite films.  He wrote the screenplay for Psycho II, which I thought was a worthy, and above average, sequel to Hitchcock's masterpiece.  Not only did he write and direct Fright Night, he also did so for Child's Play and Thinner.  If you get a chance, you should check out The Psycho Legacy; he really seems like a nice guy and enjoys recounting anecdotes about being involved in the sequel he had written.  I really wish he'd been involved in more movies back then because he really knew how to capture the feel of that decade and what moviegoers wanted to see back then.  If you grew up in my generation, then you know what I mean, especially when you watch this movie.

The film begins with high school sweethearts, Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) and his girlfriend, Amy (Amanda Bearse), making out in his upstairs room as the late night show, "Fright Night," hosted by the famed 'vampire killer,' Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), is playing on TV in the background.  In the middle of the session, Charley hears new neighbors moving in and looks out the window to see two men appear to be
carrying a coffin into the house.  Charley, from then on, becomes obsessed with the mysterious men, especially after seeing women show up to the house and then hearing reports on the news of the same women missing or turning up dead.  As Charley keeps on eye on the new neighbors, and after seeing one of the men, Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon), upstairs with a woman, noticing the characteristics he displays, it leads him to suspect Jerry is a vampire.

There's no denying this film is from the decade of the 80s when you view it.  The sets, attire, music, and style of filmmaking give it away for sure.  But that's a good thing, because I really miss the cinematography and style of movie sets you see in films like these.  For years I had thought that this movie was filmed at Universal Studios, thinking that Charley's street was the "Mockingbird Heights" portion of the back lot—I'm not sure what studio it was filmed, but it has that same quality feel to it.  Unfortunately, that's what today's movies steer clear from, for some reason...the filmmakers, I guess, don't want to feature the surrealism of a nice neighborhood or small town to be caught on camera.  I think they believe audiences won't buy into it, but, in fact, we want to go somewhere unlike the place we currently live.  I don't know...maybe they just don't want to make their pictures look the way 80s films did back in the day.

Speaking of the 1980s, one part of the film that really sends it home to let you know you're watching something from that decade, is the night club scene.  It seems that films from that era always had to make sure they featured some pop music to establish credibility of the filmmakers that they know what's hip.  On the contrary, however, the scene in the night club when Jerry is able to hypnotically keep Amy within his reach and have her dance with him is a pivotal scene.  Added to that passage of the story, you see Amy's point of view when her and Jerry are dancing in front of the club's mirrored walls and she sees that Jerry doesn't cast a shadow.

Now, Jerry Dandrige is more than your typical vampire—he's definitely a monster when called for and Chris Sarandon plays the part well.  He does the charming mystery man who has that slight edge of evilness in his smile quite well and at times he can be pretty terrifying—of course, it helps when you have some pretty terrifying prosthetics added to your body to make you look like a monster.  But there are times when he gives Charley that look that says he's going to kill him...soon...and it makes you feel the dread Charley feels.

One of my favorite characters from the film, Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys), really made this film as he was featured in some of the most memorable scenes.  Who can think of this film without remembering his high-pitched laugh and the line, "Oh, you're so cool, Brewster!"  More than the humorous sidekick to the main character, the character of Evil Ed does have a few imperative scenes that give a lift to the film.  When he's first turned by the vampire, it's such a sad dramatic scene and unsettling to see it since this movie, overall, is such a fun flick to watch.

Of course, the title of the film, Fright Night, refers to a very popular type of show throughout the country, and usually a locally produced show, at that time.  Back when I was growing up, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the late night horror show was called "Creature Features" and was hosted by Bob Wilkins on Saturday evenings.  Of course, I was banned from watching it even though I begged and pleaded to my parents to let me stay up and see it.  But, on rare occasions-usually when my cousins came over to visit and
my parents played cards with my uncle and aunt, not paying attention to us rambunctious kids—my cousins and I would flip the channel to local Channel 2, KTVU, to see what horror movie would be on that night.  As karma would have it, the movie was usually something that scared the shit out of me and would give me night terrors for weeks, but I still have great memories and a longing fondness for those times.

So, understanding that concept—especially if you didn't grow up during that era—you can appreciate Roddy McDowall's character, Peter Vincent, and what he does for a living.  Essentially, he's just a character in a position that's becoming obsolete.  That, in turn, was happening in the real world-late night horror hosts were becoming a thing of the past in the mid-80s.  He even explains in the film, which rang true at the time: "I have just been fired because nobody wants to see vampire killers anymore...or vampires either.  Apparently, all they want to see are demented madmen running around in ski-masks, hacking up young virgins."  And he was the time.  But besides all that, McDowall did a wonderful job at playing Peter Vincent.

Finally, William Ragsdale as Charley Brewster was a good choice.  The film needed to an actor with a nerdy presence, making it plausible that he would easily believe his next door neighbor is a vampire.  Yet, he has that everyday boy-next-door look to him to make you believe he isn't some outsider either.  Giving him a good-looking girlfriend (who knew that she would end up as...uh...Marcy?) and a friend goofier than him unquestionably substantiated him as the stable character in the story as well.  All in all, you see his point of view and find yourself wondering: What would you do if you found yourself in his situation?

Well, my final "bit" on Fright Night?

Now, many of you may have seen the remake a few years ago and probably enjoyed it (I can admit that I had as well), but it couldn't compete with its predecessor from the 80s.  I really can't understand why Colin Farrell would involve himself in a remake of an 80s horror film, but he made a decent choice in doing so (the Total Recall remake, however...not so much).  With that said, 1985's Fright Night is a great nostalgic piece of 80s horror—and vampire horror to boot—that's fun to watch and purely an awesome popcorn movie.  It's not pretentious or overly complicated—it's just a simple vampire movie for the modern day (if the modern day is 1985).  I highly recommend it and think any fan of 80s horror should look this one up and rent or buy it.

One caveat about trying to purchase this classic, however: You'll probably be able to find it on DVD, but if you want the Blu-Ray, you might be in for a shock.  Back in 2011, Screen Archives Entertainment released a limited edition Blu-Ray of the film.  When I say "limited edition," I mean they only released 3,000 copies.  I was lucky enough to be on a notification email list and was alerted when the discs were available for
purchase, but I could kick myself for not buying more than one.  The reason being?  Go on eBay and you'll see that there are astronomical prices for the Fright Night Blu-Ray.  In fact, a while back, I'd conducted a search and only saw one...for $349!  Oh least I was able to get one to enjoy...I just hope it never breaks or becomes unplayable.  But you can still buy DVD copies or rent them, so please do so.

Well, that's it for today's post...thanks for reading...and I welcome any comments!

You can also tweet to me on Twitter, @CinemaBits, or check out my Facebook page here.

Jason X

Well…as one of the longest lasting slasher film franchises, this one finally jumped the shark by doing something very drastic and very risky.  Like the lesser-known Leprechaun franchise, the Friday the 13th filmmakers—the second go-around with New Line Cinema—decided to send their series icon, Jason Voorhees, into outer space.  Although not one of my favorites, I like what they did here and enjoy it for what it is: a mindless romp filled with special effects and Jason Voorhees letting loose on a spaceship in 2001's Jason X.

Now, I must say, there are a lot of things wrong with this film, but they’re mainly little things I can nitpick and useless stuff that can be easily overlooked.  For the most part, this film is very entertaining and New Line definitely made up for the Jason Goes to Hell debacle.

The film takes place in the near future, where the government has actually caught and imprisoned Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder, reprising his role), keeping him in a research center near Crystal Lake.  The lead scientist, Rowan (Lexa Doig), wants to cryogenically freeze him since attempts to kill him have failed, as he’s able to regenerate and come back to life.  Of course, Jason is able to break free of his confines and run amok, killing everyone in the research facility, leaving Rowan as the last one alive.  She’s able to lure Jason
into the cryo area and lock him into the chamber as she starts the process to freeze him.  As she looks into the chamber, Jason slams his machete out into her, causing the chamber to leak.  As a result, not only does Jason freeze, but so does Rowan.  Cut to 447 years later, with a group coming into the research center, discovering both Rowan and Jason.  They take both of them and bring them onto their ship, flying off into space.  It’s explained that Earth has become too barren to support life, so humanity has moved to another planet called Earth Two.  The medical staff on board is able to revive Rowan, but decide against bringing back Jason, citing that his cells appeared to be too deteriorated to reanimate.   But he awakens anyway and goes after everyone on board, killing anyone in his way.

Now, I said I have some nitpicking about this film, so here they are.

First off, why couldn’t they get Jason right?  The Jason that always scared me is the ones where you really couldn’t see his eyes, being shadowed out in the hockey mask’s eyeholes.  In this film, they actually show a close-up of his eye and, knowing Kane Hodder’s appearance so well, I just saw his eye and not Jason’s.  Not only that, but did they give Jason a full head of hair?  Looks like it in some shots.  Basically, it looks like they just put the mask over his face and didn't bother to put the latex bald cap and prosthetics on his head.  A very shoddy job indeed.

Secondly, did no one else know about this research facility?  How is it possible that Rowan and Jason are cryogenically frozen and left there for 447 years?  Nobody ever came by to check on the place?  It just sat abandoned for four and half centuries?  What about the power to run that freezer?  Wouldn’t the power company come by and disconnect them for non-payment?  I don’t know…maybe it was nuclear and just ran forever.

Lastly—the dialogue.  Again, they get a little too comedic for my taste. When the girl’s about to get sucked out of the ship and into the vacuum of space, she yells out, “This sucks on so many levels!”  Really?  That’s the best you can come up with?  The lines in this movie almost left my eyes permanently rolled up into my brow.

Other than those few critiques—and even with them—I thoroughly enjoyed Jason X.  I like the concept of taking Jason to space, using futuristic concepts like the nanotechnology for medical purposes (and to create an Über-Jason) or the cryogenics in the beginning of the film.  Overall, the film is much like the first Alien film, where everyone is crammed into these tight quarters of the ship, wondering where the threat is and when it’ll strike.  Of course, the best concept filmmakers have ever come up with—since, of course, giving Jason the hockey mask to wear—is the creation of Über-Jason.  Yes, using the nanotechnology as the McGuffin in this film, they’ve produced an even more unstoppable killing machine.

After watching Jason X I kind of wished that they would’ve continued with this and gone on to make more sequels.  The conclusion of this film definitely left room for another to follow, but I guess they’d decided that staying in the present was the way to go.  How cool would it have been to see the new Über-Jason on Earth Two, dealing with a new futuristic world and finding a new place to call his territory, killing anyone who comes his way?  I would’ve paid to see that, specifically if it had been done right. 

It’s really hard to believe this is where the franchise went, especially when I remember the first few films.  It just shows that this little small-budgeted film really went places and made a lot of people money.  Gone, however, are the days of teenagers flocking to the theaters to watch the newest Friday the 13th film.  I think the last time I had to wait in a long line to see a movie is when the first Spider-Man film came out back in 2002, but that’s because it was a big budget film.  Since the 80s, I haven’t seen a rush to the movie houses to see the latest horror movie.  Even when the Friday the 13th remake came out in 2009, not very many people went out to see it.  I just think the heydays of theater-going are long gone.  With the technology of computers and phones, people really don’t see the need to go out and watch the latest film…they can probably find an illegal download of it and just keep entertained until the film is released on home media.  Even the exhilaration of watching a flick on the big screen has vanished since most people are able to afford to buy huge screen televisions to watch shows and films at home.

But, I continue to watch the art of film in a comfortable setting, being all too happy to plop down ten to fifteen bucks a go.  I still get a flutter of excitement when the lights start to dim and the previews begin to roll as I sit back and enjoy everything.  To watch a film, particularly a horror film, with a crowd of people who are into it as much as I am sends a tingle throughout my body and it’s a feeling that has never been matched.

Okay, enough of my rambling.  What, pray tell, is my final “bit” on Jason X?

Jason Voorhees runs amok in outer space!  That’s all I have to say!  Watch this film…it’s a fun ride!

As a side note, the final sequel to the original Friday the 13th series, as well as the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, Freddy vs Jason, was discussed in my look into the A Nightmare on Elm Street retrospective back on August of 2013.  Check it out here if you want to read about my discussion on the final sequel to all this.

Thanks for reading…and I welcome any comments!

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