Top 5 “I Can See Dead People” Movies


Charlie St. Cloud (see review) playing catch with his deceased brother is only the latest in a long line of Hollywood films in which the living interact with the dead. There is a certain appeal in knowing that death is not The End, either of consciousness or box office receipts as well. The theme continues to be while not a certain box office draw, at least extremely marketable even now – perhaps especially so given the use of digital effects to make the dearly departed even more spectacular than ever.

HONORABLE MENTION

There are several movies that didn’t make the top five but were worthy of mentioning here. Beetle Juice (1988) was one of Tim Burton’s most bizarre and delightful films, and the delightfully kitschy afterlife still resonates with hipsters everywhere – I would love to do the calypso to Harry Belafonte in the next life. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) explored the love between the dead and the living much more believably than the over-earnest (and in the case of Demi Moore, overacted) Ghost. A Christmas Carol (1938) is my all-time favorite holiday film but doesn’t make this list because it is the Spirits that are the central supernatural characters, not Jacob Marley’s ghost. Finally, 13 Ghosts (2001) had some truly terrifying images but just missed because the means of seeing the dead people came with wearing special glasses, and this list is organic if nothing else.

5. GHOSTBUSTERS (1984)

 

Saturday Night Live veterans Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd were at the top of their games when this supernatural comedy became an icon of 80s movies. “Who ya gonna call” remains a catchphrase we still use today, a quarter of a century later. Second City TV alum Harold Ramis (who would become a fine filmmaker in his own right) and character actor Ernie Hudson would make up the rest of the Ghost Buster team, while Sigourney Weaver made for one hot femme fatale, getting possessed by a demon in her refrigerator. Usually the demon in my refrigerator looks a lot more like cheesecake (although come to think of it, she had a couple of scenes where she looked an awful lot like cheesecake). Rick Moranis, he of SCTV and Honey I Shrunk the Kids fame was designated comedy relief. New York was threatened by a supernatural event of biblical proportions, not to mention a gigantic Sta-Puft marshmallow man, and only Egon, Stantz, Venkman and Winston stand in the way. Together with their proton packs and containment devices, they take the horror elements, temper it with a little science fiction and make it dang funny. The movie did spawn a sequel as well as a couple of animated kiddie shows centered around Slimer, the ghost that, ummm, slimes Venkman in the original. Fans of the movie will be gratified to note that the long-rumored much-delayed third movie is finally greenlit and will be filming this fall for a Christmas 2012 release.

4. TOPPER (1937)

 

Made during the height of the screwball comedy era, this is the movie where Cary Grant perfected his screen persona of the debonair and charming rake. George and Marion Kerby, a pair of gadabouts, played by Grant and Constance Bennett, live the good life during the Depression but its cut short when they die in a car accident in their beloved speedster. The car is ultimately purchased by Cosmo Topper, played by Roland Young, who also has an accident but survives; however, the result is that he can see the Kerbys and they take it as their life’s ambition….um, make that afterlife’s ambition…to turn around the stuffy Topper’s prim and proper life and teach him the meaning of fun. The point was that life was too short not to live it to the fullest, a point that may have been lost on Depression-era audiences who were struggling just to keep their families fed. Still, Topper is and remains an iconic movie of the era, one that would inspire not only several sequels of its own (although none with Grant, who had become too big a star by that time) but also a TV series in the 50s, a TV movie and now, a remake starring Steve Martin that is reportedly going to begin filming soon.

3. FIELD OF DREAMS (1989)

This not only has the distinction of being one of the greatest “I See Dead People” movies of all time, it is also one of the greatest baseball movies of all time as well. Kevin Costner became a baseball legend for this movie as a farmer who hears voices in his cornfield, telling him to build a baseball stadium…well, actually it says “If you build it, he will come.” He turns out to be Shoeless Joe Jackson, who eventually brings the rest of the Black Sox, and then later other dead baseball players as well. The movie uses baseball as a metaphor for America, and addresses all sorts of issues but primarily the regaining of lost innocence. Not everyone could see the ghosts, but those that needed to did. With a cast that included Amy Madigan as Costner’s long-suffering wife, Timothy Busfield as his skeptical brother-in-law, James Earl Jones as a reclusive writer from the 1960s and the great Burt Lancaster as a doctor and ex-ballplayer, the movie touches a chord in every heart, American or not, who sees it. Certainly I still get misty every time I put it on. The cornfield ballpark that the production crew built in Iowa still stands as a tourist attraction, although it was listed as for sale as of July 2010.

2. THE FRIGHTENERS (1996)

A pre-Lord of the Rings Peter Jackson directed this cult favorite. It served as something of a bridge between his early horror films, with the black humor of movies like Bad Taste and the visionary effects sense of the LOTR trilogy. Michael J. Fox starred as Frank Bannister, a charlatan who offered to rid people of ghosts haunting their homes by using fake Ghostbuster-esque science. The kicker was that he really was psychic and could see ghosts, thanks to a near-fatal car accident (near-death experiences are a favorite way for Hollywood to explain why living characters can see and interact with the dead). He used a trio of ghostly accomplices to scare clients into believing they were being haunted. Yes, it was a bit of a scam, but one case would lead Frank to take on a malevolent ghost bent on killing the living. Jeffrey Combs had a memorable turn as a deeply disturbed FBI agent who was on Frank’s trail, and Chi McBride, John Astin and Jim Fyfe played Frank’s ectoplasmic sidekicks. The movie has a bit of a quirky side to it, but the combination of Fox’s likability, the terrific-for-their-time special effects and the mythology of the film’s reality make this a favorite that I like to revisit whenever it plays on cable, which it does frequently.

1. THE SIXTH SENSE (1999)

The movie that gave this Top Five it’s title and with one of the best twist endings ever is director M. Night Shyamalan’s magnum opus, a movie whose success he hasn’t been able to match either artistically or commercially since. Young Haley Joel Osment plays a disturbed boy who is able to see the dead; Bruce Willis plays a child psychiatrist whose life was destroyed by a patient of his (played in a brief but memorable turn by Donnie Wahlberg) who is trying to help young Cole (Osment’s character). Toni Collette plays Cole’s mom in a role that helped establish her as an important actress. The film served as a career resurrection for Willis, whose Die Hard-style action movies were falling out of vogue. It also established Willis as a more mature actor whose performances can be surprisingly nuanced given the right director. Some of the imagery is pretty terrifying, but the movie turns some pretty interesting corners before the final jaw-dropping scene which had audiences worldwide blindsided. Many believe it to be one of the best movies of the 90s and in many ways, it is as iconic to that decade as Ghostbusters was to the 80s.

Advertisements

Charlie St. Cloud


Charlie St. Cloud

Zac Efron responds when asked if there are any High School Musical alumni out there.

(Universal) Zac Efron, Amanda Crew, Charlie Tahan, Donal Logue, Ray Liotta, Kim Basinger, Dave Franco, Jesse Wheeler, Matt Ward, Augustus Prew, Miles Chalmers, Desiree Zurowski, Adrian Hough, Jill Teed, Valerie Tian, Grace Sherman, Brenna O’Brien. Directed by Burr Steers

One of the most difficult events we can go through in life is to watch a loved one die before their time. This can only be made worse by having that loved one be a child and feeling responsible for that child’s demise.

Charlie St. Cloud (Efron) is a golden boy. He’s wicked good-looking and a fantastic sailor, so much so that Stanford has given him a scholarship to be on their sailing team. His mom (Basinger) pulls double shifts at the hospital so that he can achieve his dreams, although I have not a clue how a working class kid can afford a racing sloop; it’s probably best if you try not to think about such things.

Charlie has a very close relationship with his little brother Sam (Tahan) who is devastated that Charlie is going to leave, in a sense just like their dad did. “I’m not dad,” Charlie says a bit crossly when Sam voices that fear. I can imagine that the comparison occurred to Charlie too.

Sam is a huge Red Sox fan and wants to play baseball; Charlie is only too happy to coach him every day. He’s just graduated (and the principal expects Great Things from this young man; to be sure, Charlie answers somewhat immodestly “So do I, sir”) from high school and has the entire summer in their coastal Washington town to teach Sam how to throw a slider.

Of course, being that it’s graduation time, Charlie wants to spend some time with his friends, particularly Sully (Franco) and Green (Wheeler) who have joined the military and are shipping out to the Middle East in a week. However, mom has landed another shift at the hospital, putting Charlie on Sam duty, which interferes with his plans. Thinking that Sam has fallen asleep, he tries to sneak out but Sam catches him and demands to be taken somewhere where he can watch the Red Sox game – apparently quite a few of them are broadcast in Washington.

Sam gives in and perhaps he shouldn’t have. On the way to wherever it is they are going, Sam is rear-ended by a drunk driver who pushes Charlie into oncoming traffic where they are T-boned by a rather big truck. A paramedic (Liotta) brings Charlie back from the dead, but Sam isn’t as lucky.

Charlie is devastated. At Sam’s funeral, he can’t bring himself to leave Sam’s mitt and ball in the casket, so instead, having glimpsed what he thought was Sam leaning against a tombstone, he runs into the woods, only to come up to Sam’s apparition, petulantly whining that Charlie and he had a deal. They do indeed; and at sunset when the town’s yacht club conveniently fires off a cannon to signal that they are fully capable of warding off pirates, they will meet in the woods and play catch.

Fast forward five years. Charlie has put his life on hold and works as a caretaker where his brother lies buried. He has but one friend, an obnoxious Englishman named Alistair (Prew) and yes, he has fulfilled his promise to his brother each and every day, rain or shine, come hell or high water. Mom has moved on to Portland, but Charlie remains in a stasis of his own grief.

That’s when Tess (Crew), an old high school classmate of Charlie’s returns to town, apparently having become a pretty fair sailor herself. She has entered herself in an around the world yacht race, and her coach Tink Weatherbee (Logue) thinks she’s got a good shot. She’s back in town, apparently to just take her boat on a trial run, but really she’s there to run into Charlie and fall in love with him. She does both admirably.

Charlie’s deepening relationship with Tess is putting a serious crimp in his meetings with his brother Sam. Sam is terrified of being deserted by his brother and that he will fade into nothingness if Charlie moves on; However, Charlie doesn’t want to exist in this half-life anymore. Will Charlie choose Tess over Charlie, or will he remain tied to his dead brother, doomed to remain a slave to his own grief?

This is based on a best-selling novel by Ben Sherwood and was originally set in Massachusetts. Quite frankly, the novel screams New England what with prep schools, Red Sox, yachting, old cemeteries and ghosts. Unfortunately, the production (in order to save money) chose to film in British Columbia instead and perhaps realizing that the Pacific Northwest doesn’t look anything like New England, set the action in a small town in Washington state. Unfortunately, many of the New England trappings remain and their presence makes the movie look a little bit ridiculous. For example, rather than having Sam be a Red Sox fan, couldn’t he be a Mariners fan instead?

Quite frankly, even though they were filming in BC I think the movie still should have been set in New England. I might have found the movie a bit more believable (as believable as a movie about a guy who sees his dead brother can be anyway) and more palatable.

The movie took was flayed by critics when it was released; quite frankly, I think most critics dislike any movie that makes you cry. After all, in order to weep you must have a heart that can be broken and most movie critics have cast iron hearts. I will admit that the movie is quite manipulative in that regard, but quite frankly it can be awfully cathartic to have a good cry at the movies.

Efron is pretty solid in the lead; he has to be because he’s in nearly every scene. He has improved by leaps and bounds since his High School Musical days and is quite likable; he might have a long career ahead of him if he doesn’t make bad choices. Tahan is actually quite likable in his role; there are few really good male juvenile actors out there (Josh Hutcherson comes to mind) compared to the female ones, so it’s nice to find one that doesn’t ACT like he’s in child actor 101. His relationship with Charlie seems very natural and close in the way that brothers are, and forms the heart of the movie.

This is a good looking movie with plenty of sunsets, sun-dappled forests, and quaint town shots, as well as beautiful boats knifing through the sea. It doesn’t particularly add much insight to life – I think it’s fair to say that most of us are aware that there comes a time that we all must set aside our grief, no matter how intense and overwhelming it may be, to pick ourselves up and move on which is what the movie’s central theme seems to be. There’s a nice little twist I won’t spoil that elevates the movie past the realm of the mediocre. Had they not made the critical tactical error of setting this in the Northwest, I think I might have been even more charmed by the movie than I was. As it is I can give the movie a recommendation – a surprised one to be sure but a recommendation nonetheless.

REASONS TO GO: Efron is making satisfying progress as an actor and Tahan handles his role without reverting to typical kid-actor clichés. There’s some beautiful cinematography here.

REASONS TO STAY: There are quite a few logical lapses that had a lot to do with transplanting the story from New England to the Northwest. It’s also a little too over-the-top manipulative in places.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some mild language concerns and a fairly intense auto accident depicted; certainly should be okay for most teenagers and mature pre-teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While the book was set in Marblehead, Massachusetts, unfortunately it was too cost-prohibitive to film it there so the action was relocated to the Pacific Northwest and filming took place in British Columbia.

HOME OR THEATER: In all honesty I thought this might be best served by seeing it at the multiplex.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Pride and Glory

New Releases for the Week of July 30, 2010


Dinner For Schmucks

Steve Carell is no dummy.

DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS

(Columbia) Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zack Galifianakis, Jermaine Clement, Stephanie Szostak, Lucy Punch, Bruce Greenwood, Jeff Dunham, Rick Overton. Directed by Jay Roach

An ambitious young executive finally seems to be getting to where he wants to be. He’s got a great girlfriend and he’s on the verge of getting that promotion he’s worked so hard for. All that he needs to do to get it is attend a dinner that his boss is giving. The catch is that he and all the other young execs who are attending must bring a guest, but not just any guest – the strangest, weirdest, most eccentric person they can find. The one whose guest is the most whacko wins. Of course, this being a Jay Roach (Austin Powers) comedy, nothing proceeds according to plan.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of crude and sexual content, some partial nudity and language)

Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore

(Warner Brothers) James Marsden, Nick Nolte, Christina Applegate, Bette Midler. The struggle between cats and dogs for control of their humans has been eternal and at times, vicious but now it’s going to be put on hold. A rogue ex-agent of MEOWS, the secret organization of cats that uses high-tech means to keep the dogs at bay, threatens to overthrow both agencies and take over the world. To protect themselves and their humans, cats and dogs are going to have to learn to work together, or the world will become one big litter box. Yes, it’s a kid’s movie.

See the trailer and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Rating: PG (for animal action and humor)

Charlie St. Cloud

(Universal) Zac Efron, Amanda Crew, Kim Basinger, Ray Liotta. A young man with a bright future sees his world ripped apart when a tragic accident takes one of the most precious things of his life away from him. Existing in a curious half-life, he gives up all his dreams to try and make sense of things. When a high school classmate returns home, he falls in love and soon must choose between that love and the only thing connecting him to what he has lost.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for language including some sexual references, an intense accident scene and some sensuality)

Restrepo

(National Geographic) Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger. Two respected journalists are embedded with the Second Platoon, Battle Company of the 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne) stationed at Restrepo in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan, considered by many to be the most dangerous posting in the military. The two spent a year with the soldiers, sharing in their camaraderie, duties and danger. It is an intimate look at service in harm’s way that no other documentary has ever captured so fully. The movie won the Grand Jury Prize for a Documentary at the most recent Sundance Film Festival.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for language throughout including some descriptions of violence)

Winter’s Bone

(Roadside Attractions) Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Lauren Sweetser, Kevin Breznaha. This film came out of Sundance as one of the most talked-about indie films of the year. A young Ozark girl, who has already set her dreams aside to care for her family, must now find her absent father or risk losing her home. In order to do that she must take on the tight-lipped and often violent mountain folk who work in the illegal drug trade. I saw this movie at the Florida Film Festival and was blown away – it still remains the best movie I’ve seen this year.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for some drug material, language and violent content)