Tuesday, May 31, 2016


R.L. Stine, outwardly, is a very popular author in the variety of children’s horror fiction and became a phenomenon in that genre throughout the 1990s.  Many call him the “Stephen King of Children’s Literature” as he’s the author of hundreds of novels, most notably for the “Goosebumps” series of books.  In that period, Mr. Stine had published 62 books which garnered a television series that ran for a few years during the late 90s, as well as a direct-to-DVD movie, The Haunting Hour Volume One: Don’t Think About It.

Well, I’ll tell you, I knew very little about Mr. Stine, his books, the TV show, and that made-for-DVD movie, only recognizing “Goosebumps” as some series targeted towards kids.  Since the mid-80s, I’ve been a strict Stephen King fan, never really reading any other authors’ works until the late 90s, and that would consist of Bentley Little and Richard Laymon, later reading Brian Keene during the turn of the century.  So if someone during that time asked me to pick up an R.L. Stine book and give it a try, I would’ve asked them what they were smoking.

You can probably guess what my reaction was when I’d heard the announcement that a movie was to be made adapting Mr. Stine’s books—it wasn’t favorable.  Even as I’d caught wind that Jack Black was set to star in the film, I took no notice.  Seeing that he’d been voicing the main character in Kung Fu Panda for a while, I thought he was strictly using his talents for children’s movies.  So hearing about the movie, Goosebumps—especially being a Nickelodeon production—it went in one ear and straight out the other.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t until I watched a YouTube presentation from an ongoing channel of videos by CinemaSins, that I really took notice of the film (I really recommend watching that channel on YouTube…it is hilarious).  The video showed enough of the film to gain an interest from me that I decided to seek it out that very day…and as luck would have it, the movie was featured on Netflix’s list of streaming movies.  So that night I sat down and watched Goosebumps.

The movie is directed by Rob Letterman, who only has a handful of movies under his belt as a director, and he’s worked with Jack Black before, directing him in the 2010 film, Gulliver’s Travels.  Letterman has only worked on a couple of animated films before that, but he’s solidified himself as a proficient enough director, so much so that it was announced he’s set to helm the sequel to this film.

So without further delay, here’s the synopsis for Goosebumps

A teenager, Zach (Dylan Minnette), teams up with Hannah (Odeya Rush), the daughter of young adult horror author, R.L. Stine (Jack Black), after the writer’s imaginary demons are set free on the town of Madison, Delaware.

You know, I never thought a movie today would ever duplicate the feel of some of the best 80s movies that featured a team of children banding together to save the day.  But Goosebumps succeeds in that quite a bit.  I was constantly reminded of The Monster Squad at times and even Fright Night (the 1985 version, not the one from 2011) during the beginning.

Jack Black, playing the fictional version of the author, wondrously plays the part pretty straight, never acting too goofy but is still funny in his portrayal.  In one scene in the film, where his character’s ousted as actually being R.L. Stine (the story has him and his daughter in hiding and not letting people know who he is, even using the fake name of Mr. Shivers), Jack Black delivers a funny line as to why R.L. Stine is a better author than “Steve” King.

Although I remember Dylan Minnette best for the deleterious bully in Let Me In, he easily slides into the protagonist’s role as the handsome-new-boy-next-door, Zach.  I love his reactions to Jack Black’s character of the overly protection father when he first meets the girl next door, Hannah, and felt he handled the role well as the hero.  Dylan Minnette and Odeya Rush were good together, displaying good chemistry on screen, you actually feel for these two as the story comes to an end—first feeling sad, then a moment of happiness towards the end.

Featured in this story as the comic relief is the character of Champ (Super 8’s Ryan Lee), a scrawny geek that latches on to Zach right away, naming him as his best friend and fits in perfectly for the tone of this film.  Champ’s heroic deed later in the movie that gets him the girl that he has a crush on made me laugh and smile, especially since he’s such a comical chicken throughout most of the film.

Besides the feel of those movies from the bygone era of the 1980s, the one movie that you’ll probably parallel it with is Jumanji.  Yet this film has more feeling and emotion—not a sense of believability per se, but a lot of fun.  I like the scenery, how the story takes place in a small town—I’ve always enjoyed films that have these types of settings.  Near the end of the movie, as the story takes place at night, the film started to resonate some of the 1950s monster movies I’d watched as a kid, especially when the “blob that ate everyone” shows up.

Of course, the CGI monsters were something to be desired, not really rendered that well and sometimes appearing laughable.  However, seeing that these were merely characters coming to life from fictional books, it’s forgivable and didn’t really take away from the film.  The standout, of course, was the main baddie, Slappy (voiced by Jack Black), which is a ventriloquist dummy that speaks and moves on its own.  This is where Jack Black leaves the straight-faced part of R.L. Stine to inject his over-the-top comedic talents—there, and when he voices “The Invisible Boy.”

It’s funny…something that came to mind more than once when watching this film is that I kept thinking I was seeing a Tim Burton film.  It’s not that the movie has his visual style or quirky type of characters and I almost couldn’t understand why Burton came to mind.  But when I glanced at the end-credits and saw who’d composed the music, I understood completely—Danny Elfman.  Elfman’s music definitely works for this movie and I really couldn’t see (or hear) anyone else’s music in this soundtrack.

Though there are a few things I can nitpick, it’s not detrimental to the film—or at least not enough to take you out of the movie.  But I just wish there was a little backstory or reasoning as to why the monsters come to life.  As each manuscript is unlocked and opened, the creatures from each story come out of the book and run rampant until someone can open the book near them to suck them back in.  However, it’s never explained how this came to be.  Yes, Stine explains that he imagined these creatures and says that they can only be brought to life with the special typewriter he uses (which unexplainably ends up in a glass case at the very high school Zach attends).  But it would’ve been nice if there was some sort of explanation that the typewriter became cursed or something.  Like I’d said, it’s not that troublesome, just a little picked nit.

So, with all that, what is my final “bit” on Goosebumps?

I have to admit, I really didn’t think this movie would be anything but a little G-rated romp for kids.  But I was wrong…way wrong.  Although it may be a little scary at times for children, I see nothing wrong with having your little ones see this, considering they’re okay with some scary monsters here and there.  The film contains enough references to adult-themed material for us adults to understand and a lot of eye candy to keep the kiddies in their seats, but it isn’t tasteless or profanity-laced (well, maybe there were a few minor swear words here and there).  I thoroughly enjoyed this movie from start to finish and recommend it for people of all ages…you’ll have fun with Goosebumps.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Green Inferno

Eli Roth's reputation precedes him—I think a lot of people have heard of him or have seen him in the handful of movies he has been in—but I’m not sure if it really is for his role as a film director. Certainly, I’ve enjoyed some of his films and have found them interesting if not entertaining.  Whatever the populace knows him best for, I definitely know him for the film that invented the description, “torture porn,” and solidified it as part of the film subgenre vernacular—Hostel.

Not only did that film inadvertently conceive that category, but it also made me never want to travel to a foreign country…ever again.

During many interviews I’ve seen Eli Roth take part in, he usually mentions a movie that he’s very fond of and has said it’s one of his favorites, and that film is Cannibal Holocaust.

As a full disclosure, I will say that I will never watch that 1980 film by director Ruggero Deodato.  I’ve heard enough film talk and discussion about that film to know of its storied history and controversy, mainly about the filmed deaths of animals.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I know that people hunt and that animals are put down every day for human consumption.  I can’t sit here and say that I’m a vegetarian in any respect of the word.  So I won’t protest if animals are humanely killed for those purposes.  But for someone to go out and have animals killed for entertainment purposes, as Mr. Deodato had done for his film, there’s no way I can condone that.  If it were the case of an actual tribe killing for a ritual, as what was captured during the filming of Apocalypse Now, I can understand it but not like it (I was caught off-guard when viewing that and I don’t think I can watch that film again).  From what I’d heard, the scenes filmed in Cannibal Holocaust took a toll on some of the cast and I can understand that.  It just repulses me to think that the director giddily came up with those ideas to slaughter animals for his entertainment.

With that said, it kind of bothers me that Eli Roth cites that film as his favorite.  So much so, that you can see this film, The Green Inferno, as sort of a love letter to that 1980 Italian horror film.

Let me break this down with the help from the IMDb.com synopsis.

College schoolgirl, Justine (Lorenza Izzo), joins a group of student activists, led by Alejandro (Ariel Levy), and travel to the Amazon to attempt a protest to save the rain forest from destruction.  Soon, they discover that they are not alone and that no good deed goes unpunished.

As this movie began, I couldn’t help but notice the few instances of foreshadowing. As our main protagonist is sitting in class and watching the Amazonian tribe’s ritual that is done to the women, I just knew that we were going to see it—or the threat of it—later in the film.  Also, there was a plot point given to us as Justine’s dad, Charles (Richard Burgi), asks about her necklace which had happened to be made by her grandmother before being given to her.  It’s given so much attention as if Eli Roth was screaming to us, “Hey, pay attention!  This necklace is going to be a huge plot point later in the film!”  And it seemed quite forced as to how the necklace is used later that I don’t know if I’d call it a payoff near the end.

Definitely deserving to be the star of the movie is Lorenza Izzo.  She was certainly the best actor in the flick and held her own quite well, even as she was involved in some uncomfortable situations.  I really can’t say there was any type of connection or chemistry with the other cast members, because they all seemed pretty wooden next to her.  I’d say that probably her roommate, Kaycee (Sky Ferreira), was a little interesting, but she grew very annoying as she was featured throughout.  She was just so one-dimensional as an mad-at-the-world youth and I couldn’t see how these two became friends, even if it was because they had ended up roommates in their dormitory.

As some may predict, there were some situations during the film that were just plain hard to watch and without getting into spoilers (but we all know that this film involves a group of people being captured by cannibals), I’ll just say that the first instance had my finger hovering over the stop button on my remote.  Knowing that there was quite a bit of time left in the movie by this point, I didn’t want to subject myself to another hour of scenes like that.

I don’t know if certain scenes were intentionally set to be funny or ridiculous, but whether they were or not, they just didn’t belong and should’ve been left on the cutting room floor.  As serious a tone as this film was set, you’ve got a girl who gets dysentery and takes a watery shit in front of her fellow prisoners; the leader of the group decides to jerk off to relieve the stress of the situation they’re in; and they come up with a ridiculous plan of getting the tribe high so that an escape can be attempted. All these scenes comes across as ludicrous and laugh-inducing. It may have been intentionally directed as such by Roth, but I think this movie should’ve kept the serious tone throughout.

One aspect of the credits piqued my curiosity, as a lot of the cast and crew had their Twitter handles alongside their names.  I guess if you’re happy/unhappy with the film, you can contact each individual to convey your thoughts on it.  Regardless, that was pretty cool to see.

And speaking of the credits, there was a mid-credits scene that was mildly interesting.  I guess watching all the Marvel Comics movies has trained me to stay in my seat when credits roll, figuring that something may show in between or at the very end.  So that’s what I’d done when watching The Green Inferno.  Even though I was in the comfort of my own home, I sat there as the credits started and noticed something halfway through that would indicate we may see a possible sequel in the future.  I don’t know if that’ll happen—my guess is that it won’t—but I thought it was interesting nonetheless and kind of ties up a loose end at the end of the movie.

As a director, Eli Roth shows some pros and cons.  He definitely knows what he wants when he begins a project, as he shows us that he wanted a group of people stranded in the Amazon and has them caught and eaten by cannibals.  But how he gets them there and their actions during their capture is strange and sometimes boring.  Some of the dialogue is off—and I don’t know if I can blame Roth or the actors—and, at times, there really is no believability behind their words.

Before getting into my final "bit" about the film, I've got to give big props to Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger for their work on the practical special effects.  Though it added to the uncomfortable feeling I had during the first kill, the realism they're able to show, aided with the editing of the film, worked so well in this movie.  Nicotero and Berger are old school special effects artists and deserve a lot of praise, being in the business since the early 80s.  Working on such classics as Day of the Dead, Evil Dead II, Creepshow 2...these guys are idols in the industry.

So, my final “bit” on The Green Inferno is that the movie didn’t really accomplish anything but to take us on a ride to see some violent gore, some unrealistic situations, and some unfunny moments that were supposed to be comical or amusing instances that were not supposed to be funny.  At first, I’d thought Roth was trying to convey a message to save the rain forest, but then there’s a line that’s uttered about how the whole protest they’d staged was to help out another company get the contract to take over the demolishing.  So, I’d mentioned about the mid-credits scene and showing us that a sequel may be possible, but I’ve got issues about the ending that we see before the credits roll.  I don’t quite understand the thinking of it and can’t really get into without spoiling aspects of the movie.

Taking all that into consideration, should you see this film?  Hmmm…well, it keeps your interest and if you’re a horror gore-hound, you may like this film very much.  Can I recommend this to the average movie-goer?  No.  Is this a good divingboard movie to get a normie to start watching horror movies?  No.  The Green Inferno is clearly for Eli Roth fans and not much more.  Watch at your own risk…and well after or before you have something to eat.

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Lost After Dark

If a reviewer, movie web site, or just anybody spreading the word is going to call out a movie as being an instant classic or a perfect throwback to 80s horror, you can bet I’m going to venture out to find it and watch it.  In my mind, if someone can recreate the gold of horror films during that decade, they’re going to have a hit.  I think it’s high time that someone should start an 80s horror cinema resurgence.  If not to introduce that special subgenre to the young generation of moviegoers, but to also satisfy old fogies, like myself, who have missed the glory days of those flicks.

In my world, I make it an annual event to watch all the 80s horror I own on home media, usually watching a handful during the summer and a boatload when fall comes around.  I’m also constantly trying to find any gems I might have missed during those days of gory wonderment.  Sometimes I’m successful, discovering a few like Chopping Mall or Night of the Creeps, but sometimes they fall flat like when I’d tried out The Ripper (avoid that one at all costs) or The Boogens.  I’m starting to think I’ve seen them all…but I’ll keep chasing that dragon.

So the film, Lost After Dark, had come up in an internet review and I’d liked what I’d read as it referred to it as being the best 80s horror film not made in the 80s.  So, of course, that instantly had me set my sights on that movie and I'd patiently waited until it arrived on home media (I don’t think it had a theatrical run in my town).

Directed and written by Ian Kessner (as well as co-written by Bo Ransdell), a simple slasher movie was made, seemingly with ease and pays respectful homage to the days of yore…or is it gore?

A group of teenagers—Laurie (Sarah Fisher), Tobe (Jesse Camacho), Adrienne (Kendra Leigh Timmins), Jamie (Elise Gatien), Sean (Justin Kelly), Wesley (Stephan James), Marilyn (Eve Harlow), Heather (Lanie McAuley), and Johnnie (Alexander Calvert)—decide to ditch the school dance to spend the weekend at a cabin.  Hotwiring and stealing a school bus, the teens make their way to the woods.  However, the bus runs out of fuel and the kids are stuck on a deserted road miles away from the cabin.  Discovering what they think is an abandoned house, they prepare to stay for the night so that they can decide what to do the next day.  Yet, the house belongs to the Joads—the legendary murdering cannibalistic family believed to be long gone—but one member of the family is still around…and hungry. 

Going into this movie, the one expectation that was constantly in my head was if the look of the film—being set in the 80s—would be believable.  I mean, if you’re going to try and sell this film as being period-correct, then I better believe that I’m watching a movie from that era.  And…I did…most of the time.  The teens wore the correct outfits, had the hairstyles down, and had a somewhat good grasp of the lingo…so, yeah, it was credible.   If there was anything I could pick on was the wig Stephan James wore…it was clearly a wig and not a very good one.  Living in that time, I had my share of friends who decided to go with the Jheri Curl look, but this was a sad representation of it.  The filmmakers should’ve consulted with the filmmakers of Straight Out of Compton to get this aspect of the movie correct.

One might wonder, Why set a movie during that era?  Why not have it take place in present day?  And I have to admit, I was kind of in that same mindset, but I came up with one answer that really seems obvious once it’s said out loud—cell phones.  Back in the decade of 1980 through 1989, there were no cell phones.  Oh, maybe some douche bag had a car phone where it was mounted in the vehicle, but there were maybe a handful of people who had any type of portable phone.  I say handful, because my buddy, Ron, was one of the first people I knew who had one...and that was sometime in the late 80s.  And I say portable, because, technically, it was portable.  It consisted of a large box that held a huge battery, similar to one you’d find in a small car, which had a strap so you could sling it on your shoulder to carry it around.  The receiver was attached by its cord and the whole thing looks pretty ridiculous if you would see it today.  But the number of times I’d seen anyone with one of those contraptions in movies during the 1980s?  I'd say less than one.  So having this being set in that time period automatically gives them a pass as to not have a way to get help when they break down in the middle of nowhere—there’s nothing I hate more than the use of the “no cell service out here” or "my phone's battery is dead" excuses in a movie.

Now I don’t think this movie would be as credible if they hadn’t included at least one well-known actor in it and that actor is none other than the T1000 himself, Robert Patrick, as the school’s principle, Mr. C.  I honestly can’t remember what's his full name in this story—he actually says it a couple of times, but it’s only listed as Mr. C in the IMDb credits.  Although he does just a bit more than phoning in his performance, just the fact that he’s in this movie is enough to give it credence.

All in all, I feel the filmmakers went so far as to make sure the feel of the film was that of an 80s flick, but they failed to give us an entertaining enough story to match.  It’s a run-of-the-mill tale you’d find in most horror flicks of yesteryear, and that’s not really a horrible thing, but maybe they should’ve added a twist to it or give it a more refreshing take.  It just fell a little flat with me—not saying I completely hated it, but it’s something I probably would never see again.  And I really hate to give it such a low rating because I really hope some other filmmakers will keep trying to revive the style of the horror films of the 80s and give us something spectacular.

I’ll say this for Lost After Dark (and, mind you, this is sort of a spoiler), they had me fooled in who I’d thought was going to be the final survivor of the story.  Usually, horror movies—even today’s films—telegraph who the survivor is going to be right from the beginning, setting them up as being the hero who will stand up to the maniac and get the better of them at the end.  Not this one…and it was kind of a shock.

With all that said, here’s my final “bit” on Lost After Dark.

A good try is what I would call this film, as it did capture the essence of the 80s, but gave us a boring story to go with it.  Although the performances are perfect for this type of film, it just wasn’t enough for me.  The killer wasn’t your typical maniac from the 80s—back then, they were usually masked or face concealed from view whenever they appeared on screen—and I didn’t feel this one was that threatening.  The teens played their parts right, having the looks and attire believable, but they all just appeared to be a handful of millennials playing 80s dress-up.  I wouldn’t say you should skip this one, because there were some good scares here and there, but if you want something to warp your brain, just go out and rent one of the first four Friday the 13th films or some of the early Halloween or A Nightmare on Elm Street movies…those are the pinnacles of 1980s horror and you won’t forget them anytime soon.

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Monday, May 16, 2016

The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight had a lot on its side as it came into fruition and I, for one, was interested in its creative inception from the start.  It’s not to say I’m a huge Tarantino fan—I’ve seen all his films and have enjoyed them all—but I’m not one to chomp at the bit once I’ve heard one of his films is scheduled to be released.  Most of his films I’ve seen were usually viewed in the comfort of my home and not in a theater.  In fact, Inglourious Basterds is the only one I’d seen in a theater and that’s because a friend of mine wanted to see it so I reluctantly went (subsequently loving the movie).  I think that’s always my mindset when I hear of a Tarantino film—I always plan to watch it when it’s released on home media.

It’s funny…the world almost didn’t get to see this film due to the script being leaked online, angering Tarantino to the point where he’d said he was going to scrap it.  I can see his point in some regards, but we all have to understand that it’s nearly impossible for any studio or filmmaker to keep anything a secret in this day and age—especially any project by a well-known filmmaker such as Quentin Tarantino.  Ultimately, he changed his mind and in December of last year, the film was released and garnered very favorable reviews.

Without further ado, let me give you a breakdown of the story…

In the dead of a Wyoming winter, a bounty hunter, John Ruth (Kurt Russell), is travelling to the town of Red Rock to bring his prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to be hanged and collect on her ten thousand dollar bounty.  Along the way, Ruth is soon joined by Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins) as they need to get to the town of Red Rock for their own reasons—Warren is collecting on bounties of his own and Mannix says he’s the new sheriff of the town.  However, a blizzard is on their tail and they need to find shelter for a few days.  They finally find a cabin currently inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters that may or may not have ill intentions of their own.

As we get into the meat of the story, which takes place mainly in the cabin—or Minnie’s Haberdashery as we later find out it is to be—the set-up of the plot feels like the John Carpenter film, The Thing, whereas paranoia sets in quickly as John Ruth feels someone within the cabin isn’t who they say they are (I’ll get into the references to The Thing later), thinking that one of the four men there knows his prisoner and is planning to help free her.  It’s totally set up as a mystery play—later, playing out as a “who-done-it” scenario—even evoking little musings of Reservoir Dogs in there somewhere, and this is where it all gets interesting.

With the performances throughout, the one thing that smacks you in the face—and has always been a matter of controversy in Tarantino’s films (especially Django Unchained)—is the use of the N-word.  Unfortunately, if you really want to capture the authenticity of the story, to make it feel like it really is taking place in post-Civil War, that’s a word that was thrown around a lot.  What I really take interest in are the actors who use the word in their dialogue, sometimes having to yell it into the face of the only African-American actor in most scenes—Samuel L. Jackson.  But besides the use of that uncouth word, the mannerisms and language used appeared authentic, being believable that the dialogue used would be the type of conversation you might’ve heard back then.

The standout, to me, in this film was Jennifer Jason Leigh.  She seemed to capture the essence of a vulgar female lawbreaker, being foulmouthed, unladylike, and just overall unpleasant.  However, she had some funny lines and great comic timing alongside (literally) Kurt Russell’s character.  Even though it was shown in the trailer, I loved the part where Russell’s bounty hunter character was explaining to the others how she was to be taken into Red Rock to be hanged.  At that point, she comically pantomimed herself being hanged, sticking out her tongue, and that caused a chuckle to come out of me.

Kurt Russell, as of late, has grown to be perfect in playing gruff old men, with a great head of hair and a hell of a mustache.  I’d liked him in Bone Tomahawk and he seemed to have filmed these movies back-to-back…not necessarily playing the same character because in The Hateful Eight, he plays a bit of a dick.  He’s almost to the point of unlikable as he’s constantly hitting and belittling Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character.  But since her portrayal is one of a female scoundrel and very unpleasant herself, it paints Russell’s bad character in a good light, albeit a hazy light.

Although I’d been looking forward to seeing Kurt Russell in this film, it was Samuel L. Jackson who’d received top billing in this film and deservedly so.  He’s been a staple in most of Tarantino’s films, always standing out in his performances as having memorable stories or speeches.  In Pulp Fiction, you had the intimidating conversation and the eventual biblical quote he recites before shooting his victim.  Here?  You get one hell of an account he lays out, which I'll get into in a bit.

As for the mysterious men that John Ruth, Daisy Domergue, Major Warren, and Sheriff Mannix run into, they’re quite a collection of characters: the Englishman, Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), General Smithers (Bruce Dern), Señor Bob (Demián Bichir), and Joe Gage (a very gravelly Michael Madsen).  They each had their own interesting characteristics and even had a nice development on how they came upon Minnie’s Haberdashery in a little flashback scene.

As with all Tarantino films, you get a lot of dialogue here, especially the tale that Jackson’s character recounts to General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern).  With the use of flashbacks, the story he tells is uncomfortable and makes him a bit displeasing due to the graphic nature of what he details.  In this film, you get a lot of dialogue—not so much like we’d gotten in his film, Death Proof, but almost.  But that’s what makes this movie interesting and moves it along, giving us great development of the characters and to see if we can guess whether their intentions are hostile or harmless.  Without any of their expositions or backstories, this film would be quite boring as we’d just be waiting to see if something bad is going to happen.

Now, to get into the score is a little tricky.  Ennio Morricone had masterfully composed the music for this film and I could never bad-mouth any score he’s composed.  But one thing I’d noticed when starting this film is that the music didn’t seem to match the movie I was watching.  Don’t get me wrong, the music is beautiful and is filled with a lot of emotion, but it just seemed to be describing a different film during the commencement of this film.  Maybe I was expecting your average western score with guitars and banjos…I don’t know…but I’d only had that feeling during the beginning when it featured exterior shots of the horse-drawn wagon travelling through the snow. 

I won’t give too much away from this film and its story, but there’s a scene within that becomes pretty climactic.  Before this part comes to a head, the music swells to help with what’s showing and it works pretty well.  Yet, as a huge John Carpenter fan, I’ve seen most of his films and some of them multiple times—one of them being 1982’s The Thing.  Morricone also composed the score for that film and I know it very well.  So much so, that the music in the scene I’d just mentioned is almost identical to a cue in The Thing and I couldn’t help but think of the Carpenter film when the scene played out.  Upon further research of this film, I’d read that Tarantino had said that some of the music cues here were unused compositions from Carpenter’s film.  I can’t help to think that was a bad decision—to me, it’s very obvious they were from The Thing…but maybe to the average movie-goer it’s not so noticeable.

Just to note, the cinematography by Robert Richardson is breathtaking during the exterior shots, especially the panoramic shots as the wagon is travelling through the snow.  I’d heard they had to improvise a bit to shoot the blizzard scenes but I can’t tell that there was any setbacks—it looks like they went to the arctic to film this.

All around, this film was a neat little tale and one that I wasn’t expecting.  Hearing of the title, The Hateful Eight, made me think of such classics as The Magnificent Seven or The Wild Bunch where you had a group of cowboys banding together.  But it didn’t take away from the film when I began to understand what it was all about.  If there was anything that I could complain about was the narration by Quentin Tarantino that popped in every so often.  It wasn’t so bad, but it seemed out of place for some reason.  Perhaps Tarantino should’ve had someone else perform the task, like, say, Sam Elliott? 

My final “bit” on The Hateful Eight?

As I’d said, I don’t think I’ve ever disliked a film Quentin Tarantino has directed or written.  He has a gift in writing dialogue, making it seem like it comes natural for the actor who’s reciting it, creating such interesting narrative to add to the story or include it as a subplot.  He really is nailing down all the possible film categories over his career and you really can’t hold him down to one type that he’d be known for and remembered.  But The Hateful Eight will keep you enthralled and entertained, waiting to see how the story will end and who will be left standing.  If you love the films of Tarantino, this film shouldn’t be missed. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Walk

It seems like only yesterday we were watching the little lovable mop-headed Joseph Gordon-Levitt as one of the aliens on “3rd Rock from the Sun” back in the mid-90s or even the cameo I know him best by…1998’s Halloween H20.  But somehow, between the 90s and now, Gordon-Levitt has established himself as a very talented actor and has been in quite a few movies that I’ve come to enjoy. 

From the G.I. Joe films to Inception to the fabulous Looper, I really think this kid’s got more to him than we think.  When he had hosted “Saturday Night Live” a few years back, I’d noticed that Gordon-Levitt had an energy that you didn’t see in too many performers.  He had the stamina and vigor of an all-star athlete, yet he was able to use it to entertain the audience impeccably.

I’d mentioned his role in Looper…well…for those of you who’ve never seen it, he plays the younger version of Bruce Willis’s character (it’s a time travel movie).  If you can get past the obvious colored contact lenses and facial prosthetics, take note of Gordon-Levitt’s mannerisms and demeanor…he’s so outstandingly believable as the younger version of Bruce Willis, it’s scary.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is so likable in whatever role he plays (let’s see if he can keep up that congeniality when he plays Edward Snowden in September), there’s not a movie I’ve seen that he doesn’t make me smile.

So, with The Walk, I knew I had to see it.  Unfortunately, I’d missed the theatrical run of this film and wished I had seen it on the big screen, but seeing it on a good-sized television sure gets the point across and you’ll still find yourself squirming a bit during the climactic scene near the end.  And without further ado, let me give you a bit of a synopsis of the film…

In 1974, high-wire artist Phillippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) recruits a team of people to help him realize his dream: to walk the immense void between the World Trade Center towers.

Director Robert Zemeckis—best known for the Back to the Future trilogy of films—helms a very nice look at how Petit journeyed to the USA for his calling of walking across the two towers on a wire.  The story and the way it’s carried out by the actors is well told and seemingly true (when researching after the conclusion of the movie), so the film is strengthened by that acceptability.  But let’s face it…the one aspect of this film that everybody wanted to see was the recreation of the World Trade Center by computer imagery and the very real-looking act of the high-wire walk.  However, I don’t think that this movie made itself…I do credit Zemeckis for keeping it together and structured as he filmed the story on Petit’s drive to do what he’d done.

Now, I have faint recollections of what transpired in real life.  I’d known that someone walked across on a wire and probably dismissed it as soon as I’d heard about it back then.  Heck, I was only five years old, going on six.  But to see how it would’ve been like, to walk on a small steel cable that far up between those monumental buildings…?  Ugh…I’ll get to that later.

From the moment I popped in the DVD, I’d thought I was going to turn the movie off within minutes.  The establishing shot we get is Joseph Gordon-Levitt atop the torch of the Statue of Liberty, breaking the fourth wall and narrating the beginning of the story from there.  We see him in a Justin Bieber-esque wig with blue contacts and speaking with a French accent…I thought I was going to get sick of the whole thing within the first 15 minutes.  But as the story moved along, I became very interested in the story as well as trying to pick out what was real and what was helped with computers.  Even though we don’t see the high-wire extravaganza until the end of the film, we still see Gordon-Levitt accomplish some cool stunts.  With all that going through my mind, I had become aware that his accent and wig was forgotten…his presence on the screen being acceptable and welcomed; he sure knows how to take the audience and keep them charmed.

Besides the shining star that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is within this film, you also have a wonderful supporting cast.  The great Ben Kingsley does a terrific job, as always, playing Petit’s mentor, Papa Rudy; Petit’s love interest, Annie, is played by Charlotte Le Bon (her IMDb page is filled with a few foreign films I’ve never heard of, but she holds her own and works fine alongside Gordon-Levitt); James Badge Dale is almost unrecognizable as one of Petit’s members of his “coup,” with his crazy wig and overgrown stubble…he gives a bit of levity to the group that ultimately triumphs in the plan to get Petit through the (somewhat) tough security of the buildings under construction.
The look of the film is very believable, being set in the 70s, getting the looks and styles right from the actors.  It may look funny to millennials who may decide to watch this, but to people over 40 it may take them back to some fun days.  Still, it’s astounding to think that a handful of foreigners were able to infiltrate the World Trade Center and hide out until nightfall to set up cable rigging from one building to the other. 

So, back to the stunt during the film’s third act…it’s amazing.  I couldn’t help but to wish Gordon-Levitt, as Petit, would stop after performing the stunt across the wire once.  Besides walking from one side to the other, he also does a few things that’ll make you slide to the edge of your seat, giving you a sense of vertigo even if you’re in the comfort of your own home.  From the moment he steps to the edge of the building early on when he arrives at the tower (which you see in the trailer) to the actual stunt, you’ll be mesmerized by the realism and surrealism of the fact that this man actually did this.

Overall, the one thing that this film gets right is the respect it gives to the World Trade Center.  The Walk is definitely an homage to the once-standing buildings in New York and serves as a respectful remembrance to its existence.  I like how it’s mentioned that a lot of New Yorkers weren’t happy with its presence when construction was nearing completion, but had their minds changed after Phillippe Petit established their monumental status when he performed his show atop them.

My final “bit” on The Walk?

I’ve got to admit that I didn’t think much of this film when I first saw the trailer.  I thought it was going to be a boring film that would end with the eye candy of seeing what it’d be like to walk across a wire on top of the World Trade Center.  I was half-right, as we do see what it’s like to walk (amongst other things) across that wire, but we’re also treated to a sweet story of a simple man who had a drive to do something spectacular and wouldn’t stop until he’d achieved it.  It’s inspirational, funny, and the end is definitely vertigo-inducing.  You’ll want to see this.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Captain America: Civil War

With Captain America: Civil War, Marvel Studios embarks on Phase Three of their cinematic universe of films…and boy, do they start with a big one!  More of an Avengers sequel than one for the aforementioned hero, most of the team is involved in this one, as well as a few new members that you may—or may not—have noticed in the final trailer for the film. 

Out of Marvel’s entire slough of comic books, the character of Captain America stands head-and-shoulders above the rest in distinction and valor, always doing what’s right and never putting himself in the forefront.  Let’s face it, he’s the Superman of the Marvel Universe, with a squeaky clean image to uphold as well as the duds for him to advocate.

Now, I’d never considered him a favorite of mine when I was (was?) reading comic books, I probably wouldn’t have even put him in my top ten, but he was always a household name and he’d usually show up in some of my favorite Superhero books.  I’d liked the television movies that had been released in the 70s and I thought the theatrical film (was it theatrical?) that had come out in the early 90s was pretty good, but it wasn’t until Marvel announced their first film featuring Cap that I’d become excited for the character.

As it turns out, so far, the two—now three—Captain America films are probably the best stand-alone films of all the Marvel movies.  They all had their part in building up to the Avengers film and subsequent sequel, but for entertainment purposes, Cap is in the lead.

I know a lot of people don’t like to spoil any type of aspect of an upcoming movie, so much so that they’ll avoid any and all trailers.  Sometimes I’m of that mind, sometimes I’m not.  For Captain America: Civil War, I had decided that I wouldn’t be so careful and went into online news and message boards without precaution, spoiling a few key elements for myself without even batting an eye.  But let me tell you, there are still quite a few surprises in this flick that’ll make you smile, cheer, and hoot.

I can’t help but wonder: Can the rest of the Marvel movies live up to this feature?  What the Russo Brothers created here was a very exciting film with a stimulating story and the question is out there.  Did they set the bar too high?  I sure hope not, because there are a couple of characters that we’ve been told are going to have their own solo movies in the next couple of years and I want—no, need—to see them. 

Well, before I get too far ahead of myself, let me break down the synopsis of the film.

With the actions that had taken place in New York, Washington DC, Sokovia, and—most recently—during an operation by the Avengers to intercept a biological weapon from Brock Rumlow/Crossbones (Frank Grillo) in Wakanda where there were unfortunate casualties, the U.S. government, with the backing of the United Nations, introduce to the Avengers the Sokovia Accords—an act to have the government oversee and direct the team.  The new Secretary of State, Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt), introduces this to Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and he vehemently disapproves, quickly dividing the team as a consequence—one side led by Rogers, the other by Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.).  As The Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), is sought after for a bombing that disrupts and causes many casualties at the Sokovia Accords ratification in Vienna, the team is divided even further as Captain America becomes a wanted man for helping his old friend, Bucky, evade the authorities.  Will the Avengers be divided forever?

Of course, there is a lot more to this film than what I’d synopsized in the paragraph above.  I’m stunned at how well this story was written and how all the characters were given such equal parts of it.  Whether it’s credit to the writers (Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) or to the directors (Anthony and Joe Russo) and editors of the film, they gave us a very well-rounded story that did not shortchange anyone.

Let’s talk about who’s back and who’s not this time around.

Really quick—and you’d probably noticed—Hemsworth as Thor and Ruffalo as Banner did not return for this film, which is a good thing.  I mean, if they were included in the fight between sides, all eyes would be on Thor versus Hulk.  And if both chose to stand with Cap or Iron man, it’d be no contest.  So it was the right choice to keep them out of this story.

So, here are the members of Team Captain America: In addition to Bucky Barnes, we’ve got Scott Lang as Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Sam Wilson as The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and Clint Barton as Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).

On Team Iron Man: Natasha Romanoff as The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Lt. James Rhodes as War Machine (Don Cheadle), Vision (Paul Bettany), and Spider-Man (Tom Holland).

Wanda Maximoff as The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) is sort of undecided.  She kind of starts off with Iron man, then heads off with Captain America, then fights alongside Iron Man again.  Also, Prince-turned-King of Wakanda, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), shows up as The Black Panther, not appearing to be on anybodys side, just wanting to get at Bucky Barnes.

As I’ve got all that out of the way, I’ve got to say that this film is crammed with action and fast-paced fun.  The stunts, choreography, and special effects are top notch this time around, making for a stupefying visual spectacle.  I usually choose a seat that’s maybe four or five rows from the screen, but maybe I should’ve sit further back because I kept whipping my head side to side to catch everything that was going on.

Being that this film has the disparity of having the fights and battles against one another instead of a common enemy (I mean, there is an enemy featured in this film, Baron Zemo—as played by Daniel Brühl—but he only sets a key element in motion and doesn’t really get into a fight with any of our heroes), that’s what really tugs at your heart strings.  To see all your favorite heroes—or at least characters you’ve grown to admire throughout these series of films—fighting each other, you catch yourself in an inner confrontational quagmire of wanting a certain hero to kick ass, but then you realize it’s at your other favorite hero’s expense.

The story is pretty well-told in the trailers, as the heroes are asked to sign on with this new administrative act to have them report and be commanded towards a governing body to keep them in check.  It’s hard to take sides while watching this film because you can see both sides—either the heroes sign on to have some sort of assemblage and authority to keep them in line or to be in charge of themselves and use their own discretions when cause for them to act comes into play.  Giving into this will trigger repercussions either way.  You really can’t go into this or come out of the movie thinking you’re on Cap’s side or Stark’s side…it’s a true dilemma.

We all know how each actor played their parts in the preceding movies and they performed equally as well in this one, keeping their characters personified and believable (though, Elizabeth Olsen really needs to work on her accent).  Instead, I’ll focus on the newcomers—Chad Boseman and Tom Holland—and how they brought their characters to life. 

Boseman was awesome as Prince T’Challa, with some terrific—yet short—moments with John Kani who plays T’Chaka, father of T’Challa and King of Wakanda.  As The Black Panther, I was in awe.  I don’t know how much of the character was portrayed by Boseman in a suit—which was awesome—and how much of it was motion captured CGI, but the end result was perfect and makes me anxious to see the standalone film in 2018.

Now, for my favorite all-time comic book hero—Spider-Man... 

We all know that Sony has really screwed up as the rights-holder to this character in the last three or four years, but they’d really made up for it by making the deal with Marvel Studios to share the character.  By the looks of it, Sony is really giving Marvel free-rein in the look and depiction of Spidey.  I’d really liked Tobey Maguire in his run of films with Sam Raimi, but hated Andrew Garfield in the role.  Although I had liked The Amazing Spider-Man 2 a little, I could easily see the franchise was heading in a downward spiral.  In the Marvel Cinematic Universe debut, I was afraid that I was going to have the feeling of “Another reboot???” in my mind, but Tom Holland changed that instantly.  In the early comics, as his alter ego and despite being a high school kid, he was mouthy and not as sure of himself as he gets into the superhero gig, wanting to make money with it…and here in his role in Captain America: Civil War, they…get…it…RIGHT.  The look, although altered, is still reminiscent of the old Spidey comics and it was just great to see him portrayed perfectly on screen.  Even as Peter Parker, Holland made the character his own.  I cannot wait for the solo film!

The Russo Brothers sure have made a name for themselves within the pantheon of Marvel movies.  With this being their second film in the three phases of films (I’ve got to admit, I don’t know what the difference is between the phases or why Marvel calls out that these movies are in phases), they’ve rose to the occasion and earned themselves the directors chairs for the Holy Grail of superhero films: Avengers: Infinity War.  After watching Age of Ultron (which I admit I liked a lot, but admit it had its problems), I was worried about the next Avengers film, feeling that Joss Whedon might not be up-to-snuff with such a big outing the next one’s aiming to become.  I think we’re in good hands with the Russos.

Henry Jackman (any relation to Hugh?) puts out a reasonable score within this film.  It’s nothing memorable by any stretch of the imagination, but it gets the job done.  In no way could I remember any cue or track so I really can’t critique it one way or the other.  Maybe I’ll pay more attention to it the next time I see this film.

Finally, do yourself a favor and don’t pay the extra money to see this in 3D.  It adds nothing but a headache from wearing those glasses, so just watch it in standard viewing.

Let me just stop myself here and give my final “bit” on Captain America: Civil War before I give too much more away…

I’ve heard some people say that this is the best that Marvel has put out so far, but I don’t know if I can agree with that.  The first Avengers film still wows me and gives me chills from time to time (especially when the team all form a circle and Hulk roars out at the aliens), so I can’t say that Civil War is better than that film.  All the films have their own look and feel to them so it’s really not fair to compare them all to each other.  But this film does kick ass and keeps your focus on the screen the whole time, wondering what’s going to happen and who’s going to show up and who’s fighting who…man, it’s exciting!  Like I’d said earlier… Captain America: Civil War is going to be hard to top.

Oh, and don't forget...there is a mid-credits scene and a post credits scene.  You're going to want to stay for both.

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