Gold (2016)


They may be in the middle of nowhere but at least they have a good pot of coffee.

They may be in the middle of nowhere but at least they have a good pot of coffee.

(2016) Adventure (Dimension) Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramirez, Bryce Dallas Howard, Corey Stoll, Toby Kebbell, Bill Camp, Joshua Harto, Timothy Simons, Craig T. Nelson, Stacy Keach, Macon Blair, Adam LaFevre, Bruce Greenwood, Rachael Taylor, Frank Wood, Michael Landes, Bhavesh Patel, Vic Browder, Dylan Kenin, Stafford Douglas, Kristen Rakes. Directed by Stephen Gaghan

 

A wise man once wrote that “all that glitters is not gold” but gold does glitter and its pull on some men is irresistible. It is the lure of riches and fame but also of conquering the odds. Not many who go looking for gold actually find it.
Kenny Wells (McConaughey) is once such. His company – the Washoe Mining Company that he inherited from his respected and revered dad (Nelson) and which had been founded nearly 80 years earlier by his granddad – is foundering, a once-thriving organization doing business out of a bar and down to a few loyal employees who hadn’t been paid in months. The economic downturn of the 80s has hit Washoe and Kenny hard. As it turns out, Kenny is a bit of a carnival barker, trying to get funds from disinterested local bankers to take one last stab at the dream. While his girlfriend Kay (Howard) remains loyal and believes in him, things look pretty bleak for Kenny Wells.

Then he discovers the largely discredited theories of Michael Acosta (Ramirez) who had discovered a sizable copper deposit years earlier. A rock star among geologists at one time, Acosta is also on a downward spiral. However, Acosta believes there is a major gold deposit in one of the most remote areas of Indonesia.

At first, things go badly. Kenny has sunk every last dime he has and what little he is able to borrow into the venture. To make matters worse, he’s contracted malaria and nearly dies. Acosta nurses him back to health and even as the miners (who also haven’t been paid) have left in droves, the patience pays off as gold is discovered and not just a little bit – billions of dollars worth. Kenny and Michael have just hit the big time and for Kay, her ship has just come in.

Immediately as word spreads of the small company’s find spreads, Wall Street sharks begin to circle in particular in the form of Brian Woolf (Stoll) who is all smiles and white teeth but means to wring every penny out of Washoe that he can. It looks like easy pickings, too – Kenny’s drinking, always a problem for him, has reached massive proportions. He also smokes like a fiend and is paunchy and sometimes he’s not all together mentally speaking, or at least so it appears.

But Kenny proves to be cannier than people give him credit for. The small time operator has a few tricks up his sleeve as he fights to protect what he worked so hard to obtain. And for awhile, it looks like he might succeed until a bombshell drops that threatens all he has earned – and then some.

This is loosely based – VERY loosely – on the Bre-X mining scandal of the 1990s. For one thing, that took place in Canada rather than in Nevada and led to some major reforms on the Canadian stock exchange as well as in mining practices. The investigation also overwhelmed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who simply didn’t have the resources to investigate the scale of corruption that took place so there were never any charges filed.

Otherwise most of the salient facts that are shown here jive with what happened in Canada back in the 1990s. Some of the characters here were based on people who were involved in the real case (primarily Wells and Acosta). Otherwise, this is mainly a yarn about greed and dreams.

McConaughey went the “de-glamorize” route, wearing a set of crooked false teeth, gaining 45 pounds on a cheeseburger diet to get quite a bit of a paunch and wearing a hair piece with a bald spot and thinning locks. McConaughey, who is a very handsome man, doesn’t look that way here. In the past, I’ve praised Hollywood actors for going this route for the sake of their art but it’s becoming a much more prevalent event these days so I’ll refrain from a whole lot of compliments; let’s just say that the acting performance that McConaughey delivers is as good as anything he’s done regardless of the sideshow about how he looks here. He’s come a long way since the laidback Texas surfer dude he seemed to always be playing.

The movie runs two full hours and to be honest I’m not sure it needed to. Once the gold is discovered it begins to drag a little bit as the corporate setup takes most of the focus and that portion of the film isn’t nearly as interesting. The ending is definitely Hollywood too – I would have liked it to have been less heart-warming, particularly after everything the principles did to each other. It doesn’t seem terribly realistic to me.

Like many other films that Weinstein distributes, this bounced around the release schedule for a time before settling on a Christmas release in New York and Los Angeles and expanding nationwide in January. I’m frankly mystified that they’d open this up in the holiday season at all; there was never any real chance of Oscar attention here and to be honest this feels a little bit more suited to the less competitive January release schedule. Still, it is competently done and reasonably entertaining which given what dogs we usually get in January is saying something.

REASONS TO GO: McConaughey does a stellar job here despite all the make-up and hair tomfoolery..
REASONS TO STAY: Overall, the film feels long and seems to lose steam in the middle.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of sexuality, some nudity and a fair amount of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Gaghan’s first film in eleven years, his last being Syriana.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/24/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 41% positive reviews. Metacritic: 49/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fool’s Gold
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Live By Night

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Dark Skies


Things that go bump in the night.

Things that go bump in the night.

(2013) Sci-Fi Horror (Dimension) Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo, Kadan Rockett, J.K. Simmons, L.J. Benet, Rich Hutchman, Myndy Crist, Anne Thurman, Jake Washburn, Ron Ostrow, Tom Costello, Marion Kerr, Alyvia Alyn Lind, Josh Stamberg, Tiffany Jeneen, Brian Stepanek, Judith Moreland, Adam Schneider, Jessica Borden Directed by Scott Stewart

6 Days of Darkness 2015

In one’s home, one feels secure, safe as if locked doors and a deadbolt can keep the outside world at bay. The terrors of the outside world however are insidious and some of them can’t be deterred by a closed door or a security alarm.

Daniel Barrett (Hamilton) is an unemployed architect unable to find a job in a recession-era environment. His wife Lacy (Russell) is a real estate agent in a market when NOBODY is buying houses. They are surviving on her meager income and the bills are rapidly becoming an issue that is affecting their relationship.

Their kids Jesse (Goyo) – the eldest – and Sam (Rockett) – the youngest – are aware that their parents are under some strain but don’t really know why. And then some odd things begin to happen. They find the refrigerator door open and all the vegetables eaten. The canned and packaged food is stacked up in a neat pile on the kitchen table. The chandelier over the table begins projecting strange symbols on the ceiling.

The incidents begin to escalate. Sammy has some kind of seizure during a soccer game. Lacy witnesses hundreds of birds flying into their home and killing themselves. Lacy sees an alien figure standing over Sammy’s bed who disappears when she turns on the light. As the incidents get worse and worse, Lacy does some research and comes up with a single cause – U.F.O.s. She consults an expert (Simmons) who tells them that these cases usually end up in child abduction.

That night, which happens to be the Fourth of July, Daniel and Lacy load up for bear, sealing up their home and awaiting an alien onslaught. But how can you fight an enemy you can’t see – and whose motivations you don’t know?

There have been plenty of alien abduction movies ranging from Communion to The X-Files: Fight the Future. Where does this one stack up on the list? Somewhere in the middle. Director Stewart, whose background is in visual effects, manages to set a great suburban environment where everything is normal – at least normal for this time and place. At first the villains are purely financial – bill collectors and the possibility they might lose their home bring in modern horror we can all relate to.

But as the movie goes on, it slowly begins to come off the rails until it builds to a climax that is to put it mildly disappointing. I can’t stress enough that this is a movie with enormous potential that you watch with a stupefied catatonic expression on your face as it completely blows it.

Keri Russell is a really fine actress and normally she can be relied upon to keep a film centered but here, she – like everyone else in the cast – overacts almost to the point of parody. All the gestures are wild and overbearing; all the dialogue delivered like they’re pronouncements rather than lines. I have never seen a movie in which there was such universal scene chewing as this one, or at least none that I can remember.

The two actors playing the kids – Royo and Rockett – are completely unconvincing and as wooden as a treehouse. I get that having children put in jeopardy is part of the movie’s whole reason to be, but at least make the children believable. I can’t believe they couldn’t find better juvenile actors than these.

The most major failing however is that this sci-fi horror movie isn’t as scary as it could be. For one thing, we never see the aliens clearly. If you’re going to have an alien movie, the least you can do is show us the aliens. And as the ending dives over the cliff of futility, the sense of jeopardy that the director worked so hard to establish disappears entirely. By the end of the movie you’ll be hard-pressed not to check the time.

The first half of the movie is actually pretty terrific and if they’d maintained the momentum they set up, this could have been a horror classic. Instead we get a movie that is a bit of a mess. There are definitely some features worth exploring here but overall this is fairly unsatisfying and despite a decent cast, falters in nearly every important way.

WHY RENT THIS: Establishes a sense of normalcy. Hits close to home.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Abundant overacting. Not scary enough.
FAMILY VALUES: Situations of terror, a fair amount of violence, some sexual material, a little bit of drug use and a fair amount of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dark Skies was also the original title for Sharknado.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $26.4M on a $3.5M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, Flixster, Vudu , M-Go
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fire in the Skies
FINAL RATING: 4.5/10
NEXT: Six Days of Darkness continues!

1408


John Cusack waits for housekeeping to take care of his room.

John Cusack waits for housekeeping to take care of his room.

(2007) Horror (Dimension/MGM) John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Tony Shalhoub, Mary McCormack, Len Cariou, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Jasmine Jessica Anthony, Kevin Dobson, Paul Kasey, Benny Urquidez, Gil Cohen-Alloro, Drew Powell, Noah Lee Margetts, Jules de Jongh (voice), William Armstrong, Emily Harvey, Alexandra Silber, Kim Thomson. Directed by Mikael Håfström

Our Film Library 2015

There are places that have a presence in them, a kind of echo from the past. There are other places that have a feeling in them, one that tells of contented lives – or contorted ones. Then there are places that are just effin’ evil.

If Mike Enslin (Cusack) seems bitter it is with good reason. His career as an author has all but faded into oblivion and the death of his daughter Katie (Anthony) has split he and his wife Lily (McCormack) even further apart. He is intent on doing a sequel to one of his most successful books, Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Houses with a new conceit, Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Hotel Rooms. However, the cynical Mike doesn’t believe in the paranormal. He really doesn’t believe in anything.

He gets a mysterious postcard from the Dolphin Hotel in Manhattan with the cryptic message “Don’t Go in 1408.” He takes this as a personal challenge and heads promptly for the Dolphin. He demands to be given room 1408 to stay in but Olin (Jackson), the manager of the hotel, is reluctant. Mike invokes a New York state law that requires the hotel to rent the room to him so long as it is up to standards. Olin responds that 56 people have died in that room in 95 years and nobody has lasted more than an hour. Mike thinks that Olin is trying to create a mystique that will attract people to the hotel and dismisses his claims. Reluctantly, Olin allows Mike to rent the room.

At first, the room seems like any other room in any other hotel. Then, little things start to happen; the clock radio begins playing “We’ve Only Just Begun” by the Carpenters for no reason. Strange calls from the front desk about food Mike hasn’t ordered. Then, he begins to see spectral visions of past inhabitants of the room and the clock radio begins a countdown from 60:00.

The visions begin to grow more terrifying and his dead daughter appears on the hotel TV set. Mike’s attempts to leave the room are fruitless, the door knob breaking off in his hand. An attempt to leave through the air conditioning ducts gets him attacked by a mummified former guest.

Soon it becomes apparent to Mike that the room isn’t just interested in him; it wants his estranged wife to come to the hotel and enter room 1408. Knowing that he was wrong about the room, that it is indeed an evil place, he must somehow prevent the room from claiming the last vestige of his family.

This adaptation of a Stephen King short story is one of the finest adaptations of his works ever, right up there with The Mist and the first Carrie. Some have compared it (favorably and not) to King’s other haunted hotel story, The Shining although like King himself, I never warmed to Kubrick’s version of the novel and never found it particularly scary. Not so for this one.

Cusack was at his best here, playing an embittered man and failed novelist (a favored protagonist of King’s) who still deep down has love in his heart, particularly when he is forced to confront his deepest pain. Cusack has a knack of making guys like Mike Enslin relatable and even admirable, despite being not the easiest guys to get along with in the world. While you can clearly see why Lily would have given up on their marriage, you still end up rooting for Enslin to survive.

This isn’t as effects-driven as other movies based on King’s works nor does it use as much CGI as popular horror movies. Much of the effects here are psychological and Håfström goes out of his way to implant seeds of doubt that everything happening is occurring in Mike’s head, which leaves you with a sense of not being able to trust what you see which is deliciously disorienting to the viewer.

There are false endings here – scenes that make it appear as if Mike’s ordeal is over but then something else happens and horror movies have had a tendency lately to go to that particular well a bit too often. It works okay here but it did make me grumble a bit, curmudgeonly critic that I am. You may not find it quite as annoying as I did depending on how many horror movies you watch.

Once this gets rolling it is quite a ride, although it takes a good long time to get going as Olin attempts to dissuade Mike from entering the room. Hey, if Samuel L. Jackson is scared of a room, I would certainly think twice about going inside. Of course, if Mike didn’t, we wouldn’t have had much of a movie.

WHY RENT THIS: Leaves us questioning reality throughout. One of Cusack’s best performances ever.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Might have gone to the false ending too often.
FAMILY VALUES: Some very disturbing images of violence and terror as well as some adult themes and horror.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The axe wielded by the fireman late in the film is the same one Jack Nicholson used in The Shining.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is an extended director’s cut with an ending different than the theatrical version (which is also included here). There are a couple of brief webisodes here as well.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $132.0M on a $25M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray rental/Streaming), Amazon (buy/rent), Vudu (buy/rent),  iTunes (buy/rent), Flixster (not available), Target Ticket (not available)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Amityville Horror (1979)
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Our Film Library continues

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For


Born to be wild.

Born to be wild.

(2014) Action (Dimension) Mickey Rourke, Josh Brolin, Eva Green, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Powers Boothe, Rosario Dawson, Jamie Chung, Jessica Alba, Dennis Haysbert, Christopher Meloni, Jamie King, Bruce Willis, Alexa Vega, Jeremy Piven, Christopher Lloyd, Stacey Keach, Martin Csokas, Ray Liotta, Juno Temple, Jude Ciccolella, Julia Garner, Kimberly Cox. Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller

The world is a rough place and nowhere is it rougher than Sin City. A place where the corrupt wield absolute power with ruthless brutality, where tough guys hook up with even tougher dames, where anything can be had – for a price. That price might just be your soul.

Like the original Sin City, the story here is told in vignettes. In one, the ultra-lucky Johnny (Gordon-Levitt) finds a poker game which is run by Senator Roark (Boothe), the spider at the center of all the corruption of Sin City – and he doesn’t like to lose. It’s bad for business.

In the next, Dwight (Brolin), a former newspaper photographer turned private eye is looked up by his ex-girlfriend Ava (Green) who dumped him for a rich man (Csokas). He never could turn down a damsel in distress, and the brutish Manute (Haysbert) who watches Ava for her husband, isn’t about to let Dwight get in the way of the plan.

 

Nancy (Alba) still mourns the death of her love, Detective John Hartigan (Willis) who watches over Nancy from the other side. Nancy longs to take her revenge on Senator Roark who was responsible for Hartigan’s early exit, but she doesn’t have the nerve to pull the trigger. However, when Roark comes after her she knows that she has no choice but to take on the powerful senator. She can’t do it alone and so she enlists the aid of Marv (Rourke), the iron mountain of a man who protects her as best he can in a city that has no mercy.

It has been nine years since the first Sin City has been released and times as well as movie-going audiences have changed. However, the look of the sequel/prequel is pretty much the same as the first, shot in black and white with bursts of color – a headful of red hair, a bright blue coat, burning green eyes – with highly stylized backgrounds. I would imagine nearly the entire film was shot on green screen.

Still, if you like your noir hard-bitten with sexy dames more dangerous than the big guns of the guys, you’re in for a treat. The all-star cast all are down with the vision of Rodriguez and Miller, the latter of whom penned the graphic novels that the movie is based on; for the record, two of the vignettes are from the graphic novels, two were written by Miller especially for the movie.

 

Rourke, as Marv, is a force of nature. He’s grim, not too bright and damn near unstoppable, the kind of jamoke you’d want to have your back in a fight. Rourke gives him dignity and a love of violence in equal measures. He don’t remember things too good but he can be counted on when the chips are down.

Brolin takes over for Clive Owen who played Dwight in the first movie – his work on The Knick precluded his involvement here. Brolin is less suave than Owen but captures the inner demons of Dwight far more viscerally than Owen did. They do explain why Dwight’s face changed (and near the end Brolin is wearing prosthetics to look more like Owen) but they can’t explain away the English accent that Dwight affects in the first movie. Oops.

In fact, several roles have been recast. Michael Clarke Duncan passed away between films and Haysbert takes over the role of Manute nicely. Brittany Murphy, who also passed away between movies, had played Shellie in the first movie. Rather than recast her, Miller and Rodriguez instead wrote a new character to take over her part. Finally, Devon Aoki who played Miho in the first film was pregnant at the time of shooting, so Jamie Chung took over. Miho in either actress’ hands is one of my favorite roles in the series.

What is also missing from the first movie is attitude. There’s some of it here but the movie is a little more grim than the first, takes itself a little more seriously than the first one did. Whereas there is a ton of violence and gore here, it is missing the same kind of energy that the first film had. It feels more cynical and less fun.

There is enough going on here to make it worth your while and fans of Mickey Rourke are going to enjoy him cutting loose here as he does – he’s in nearly all of the vignettes. There are also some fun cameos, like Christopher Meloni as a besotted cop, Christopher Lloyd as a medico who doesn’t ask too many questions and Ray Liotta as an amoral husband having an affair who plans to end it the hard way.

I did enjoy parts of it enough to give it a very mild recommendation, but it simply doesn’t hold up next to the first film which was over the top, and balls to the wall. This one tries to be but ends up trying too hard.

REASONS TO GO: Still a visual treat. Some hard-bitten performances.

REASONS TO STAY: Lacks panache. Grimmer than the first.

FAMILY VALUES:  All sorts of violence, bloodshed and foul language as well as a surfeit of sexuality and nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the film Eva Green and Martin Csokas play a married couple. In real life, they had a romantic relationship for four years.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/1/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 45% positive reviews. Metacritic: 45/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cold in July

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: Carriers

Scream 3


We've seen this movie before.

We’ve seen this movie before.

(2000) Horror Comedy (Dimension) Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox-Arquette, David Arquette, Liev Schreiber, Patrick Dempsey, Lance Henriksen, Kelly Rutherford, Parker Posey, Emily Mortimer, Jenny McCarthy, Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, Deon Richmond, Patrick Warburton, Jamie Kennedy, Heather Matarazzo, Carrie Fisher, Scott Foley, Julie Janney. Directed by Wes Craven

As one character says, in the third installment of a trilogy, all bets are off. That can be a good thing and bad – it gives you the freedom to deviate from the course set by the first two films but sometimes lose the essence of what made them successful in the first place. Perhaps that’s why so few of them are really that successful, both artistically and financially.

Talk show host Cotton Weary (Schreiber), the man accused of the murder of Sydney Prescott’s (Campbell) mother (and later exonerated by the events of the first movie), is brutally killed in his apartment, and of course intrepid (and irritating) journalist Gail Weathers (Cox-Arquette) is on the case. Meanwhile over in Woodsboro a movie called Stab 3 is being shot.

Soon, cast members of the third movie of a series of movies based on the events in Scream (talk about art imitating art) are beginning to turn up dead, in the exact order that they are bumped off in the script. Former deputy-turned-technical advisor to the movie Dewey Riley (Arquette), in his own laconic way, is out to protect his friend Sydney, as well as rekindle a romance with Gail, with whom he has broken up twice (art imitating life, kind of). Sydney, for her part, has secreted herself in an isolated, rural home with lots of high-tech security. Still, even Dewey can’t protect her from the visions of her dead mother and for the most part, from the Ghostface killer who continues to stalk her.

Much of Scream 3 is pretty formulaic and is just the kind of movie, ironically, that the original Scream poked fun of. Although Craven deviates here from the tradition of murdering a lovely young starlet before the opening credits (a la Drew Barrymore and Jada Pinkett) by taking out Schreiber, they do manage to send Jenny McCarthy to join the Choir Invisible, getting a hearty “Amen!” from critics everywhere. We critics are a vindictive lot.

Still, director Wes Craven knows how to yank out all the stops, but the loss of screenwriter Kevin Williamson, who penned the first two Screams, is keenly felt (he would return for the fourth installment). This one doesn’t have the hipness quotient, the humor, or the insight into horror movies that Williamson has. I didn’t guess who the killer was, but by the time the identity of the killer behind the Edvard Munch mask is revealed, I pretty much didn’t care.

Although not bad by the standards of horror movies of the late 90s and early part of the following decade, Scream 3 belongs in the clutches of the robots of Mystery Science Theater 3000 which puts it far beneath the standards of the first two movies. That’s a little too much painful irony for my taste. At the time that this came out, I thought it was just as well Craven decided to bury the franchise at that point, since the corpse was smelling mighty bad. Scream 4 was a bit of a redemption but not enough to make up for this, the worst installment of the franchise to date – although it DOES get points for the Jay and Silent Bob cameo. Craven knows hip when he sees it. Honestly though, once you’ve seen the first two movies in the series you’re pretty much done.

WHY RENT THIS: Jay and Silent Bob show up. Seriously, that’s about it. There are some fans of the series who are very affectionate about this movie though.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Been there, done that, done better.

FAMILY MATTERS: Plenty of violence and foul language although not as much as in earlier films of the series.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand” is played at some point in all three films of the original trilogy.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There is a music video by Creed, an outtake reel and a montage of footage from all three films (fittingly set to “Red Right Hand”).

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $161.8M on a $40M production budget; the movie was a big hit for Miramax/Dimension.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Scary Movie (only unintentionally funny)

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Brother’s Justice

Scream 4


Scream 4

Sometimes, a rave in a barn can be a Scream.

(2011) Horror Comedy (Dimension) Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courtney Cox, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Marielle Jaffe, Rory Culkin, Nico Tortorella, Eric Knudson, Marley Shelton, Anthony Anderson, Adam Brody, Alison Brie, Mary McConnell, Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell. Directed by Wes Craven

 

New generation, new rules. The Scream franchise made its reputation for slyly skewering the conventions of horror movies (as well as any number of good-looking 20-somethings playing teens) while retaining a certain amount of hip cachet.

But that was back in the ’90s. Depending on who you talk to, Scream set off a whole new generation of innovative new horror films or were the final hurrah of a golden age of horror films (the 70s and 80s). Since then, horror films particularly in Hollywood have degenerated into mostly remakes of standards or soap operas about vampires (although there is a very strong underground horror movement in which exciting and innovative films continue to be made, some here in the United States but also in Europe and Asia). So, is it a ripe time for writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven to bring the Ghostface out of mothballs and turn their poisoned pens on a moribund industry again?

Woodsboro, the bucolic small town of the first Scream trilogy, has been immortalized and yet traumatized by the murders there 15 years earlier. The survivor of the murders, Sidney Franklin (Campbell) is returning after a ten year absence to promote her book. Gale Weathers-Riley (Cox) has settled down and married Dewey Riley (Arquette) who is now the sheriff. Gale, whose books became the lucrative basis of the Stab motion picture series, is suffering from writers block and might be just a hair jealous of Sidney’s success.

A pair of comely high school girls are murdered by Ghostface and evidence planted in Sidney’s car, leading her to be forced to stay in Woodsboro much to the chagrin of her agent Rebecca Walters (Brie). Sidney is staying with her aunt Kate Roberts (McDonnell) and her cousin Jill (Roberts) who is dealing with break-up issues with her boyfriend Trevor Sheldon (Tortorella). Jill and her friends Kirby (Panettiere) and Olivia (Jaffe) have received threatening Ghostface phone calls. They enlist the local movie club president Charlie Walker (Culkin) and Dewey’s Keystone Kops (or in this case, Demented Deputies) Hicks (Shelton), Hoss (Brody) and Perkins (Anderson) to keep Sidney alive and catch the killer. However, this is a reboot and the rules, if any, are far more different.

There are those who complained that the originally trilogy of Scream films overstayed their welcome and I have to admit that there’s a point there. The first movie was massive fun, marvelously self-aware and yet managed to have its cake and eat it too in that it made fun of all of the clichés of horror and yet it used them too when it suited the movie.

There is an attractive cast here but the movie is dually focused on Sidney’s gang (Campbell, Cox and Arquette) as well as Jill’s group (Roberts, Panettiere and Culkin). That might sound like Craven’s trying to pass the torch to a new generation but that really isn’t the case. At the end of the day, this is Sidney’s story to tell and Neve Campbell for better or for worse is Sidney. I’ve never found the character of Sidney to be anything more than the generic plucky horror heroine and to be honest I’ve never really thought Campbell has imbued the character with much of a personality, which to be fair has always kind of been the point – most of the quips and snappy dialogue have really gone to other characters in the series.

Arquette, always the comic foil of the series, still plays Dewey like a kind of stoned Barney Fife. It can be endearing in places, and annoying in others. Still, I think Dewey has kind of matured in a way the other characters here haven’t which is a bit of a plus.

The main question is whether the traditional teen audience for horror films will get behind a movie that features lead characters that are essentially in their 30s and even (gasp) 40s and I don’t think they really embraced the franchise the way the previous generation did. The reveal of the true identity of Ghostface, supposed to be a shocker, didn’t really deliver the punch the first movie’s reveal did and by the time the movie ended I was actually kind of bored.

The movie captures enough of the essence of the first film that I can give it a recommendation with some caveats in that the original still delivers the goods, even if the audience for it has moved on. Revisiting Woodsboro isn’t a bad thing in and of itself however, and if a Scream 5 is ever made I’ll probably see it (although Da Queen won’t). Not a glowing testimonial I know, but it’s all that I got.

WHY RENT THIS: Actors settle into their roles nicely. Great seeing Campbell-Arquette-Cox combo again.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Didn’t really capture my imagination. Seems a bit “more of the same.”

FAMILY VALUES:  There is plenty of blood, gore and violence (as you would predict from a Wes Craven horror film), a bit of bad language and some teen drinking.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The third consecutive movie in which Rory Culkin has been in a movie that Emma Roberts was in (the others being Lymelife and Twelve

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a gag reel and a promo for the Scream 4 video game.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $97.1M on a $40M production budget; the movie made a bit of a profit at the box office.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Scary Movie

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Tillman Story

The Promotion


The Promotion

Seann William Scott and John C. Reilly have a competition to see which one can look the stiffest.

(2008) Comedy (Dimension) John C Reilly, Seann William Scott, Jenna Fischer, Lily Taylor, Fred Armisen, Gil Bellows, Bobby Cannavale, Rick Gonzalez, Chris Conrad, Nathan Geist, Adrian Martinez, Masi Oka, Angel Guzman, Joshua Eber, Mario Larraza. Directed by Steve Conrad

 

Ambition is a fine thing sometimes. We all want to improve our circumstances, to provide better for ourselves and our families. Generally speaking we do this through getting new jobs or promotions through the companies we work for. Getting these, however, is much easier said than done.

Doug Stauber (Scott) is a mild-mannered assistant manager at a Chicago-area grocery store. He’s extremely good at it, although he isn’t what you’d call a forceful personality. When the chain he works for announces that they’ll soon be opening a new store in the area, he figures he’s a shoo-in for the job to the point where he sinks all of the savings of himself and his wife Jen (Fischer) into a down payment for a house that they can only afford if he gets the job which he’s sure he will.

But not so fast there Sparky. Also in the running is Richard Wehlner (Reilly), who has just moved his family to Chicago from Quebec. He is a recovering alcoholic and at one time ran with a biker gang who has turned his life around.  Getting this position would really help solidify his standing and help he and his wife Lori (Taylor), a hot-headed Scot, finally get over the hump.

Now if this sounds like we’re going to see 90 minutes of two men trying to sabotage one another, think again. Mostly the two guys sabotage themselves. This is not a Judd Apatow comedy by any stretch of the imagination, although the key elements for it might be there. Had Apatow gotten hold of this, it would have been a very different movie.

The thing is that both Doug and Richard are essentially nice guys. You’re not really sure who to root for (although Doug, who also does the voice-over narration, seems to be the surrogate for the audience) since there’s no real bad guy, although occasionally the two both make weak attempts to undercut the other.

Scott, best known as Stifler in the American Pie movies (and upcoming American Reunion) usually plays characters that are much more over-the-top than this one. Really, I found this to be the kind of character usually played by Paul Rudd – nice, mostly mellow with just a hint of wild man in him. Reilly, on the other hand, has that wild man in his past big time. Still he’s much more of a hangdog now, like a dog who’s been to obedience school and been neutered in the process. Few do that kind of role better than Reilly and he does it well here.

Taylor is a very talented actress more known for her indie films but she shines in her brief on-screen appearances here, stealing scenes effortlessly with her charm and comic timing. Fischer is sometimes underrated because of her beauty and sexuality but she does a fine job as the unsuspecting wife of Doug, unaware that the job he said was in the bag really isn’t.

There are some nice bits here (like an apology to community leaders after the company determines was a racially-motivated incident that turns horribly, horribly wrong) and director Conrad, one of the finest writers in Hollywood who you’ve probably never heard of tackles his first feature directing job with a surprisingly sure hand.

The whole movie is pretty low key which can be a double edged sword. A lot of comedies will “tell” viewers when to laugh, either using visual cues, sound effects or cues from the score. You don’t really get that here; Conrad trusts in the intelligence of his audience to know what’s funny. Of course, that generally means they don’t always do.

I give the film big props for trying something new but there isn’t enough tension here to keep the viewer’s interest, nor are there enough laughs to overcome that. This goes down as a good idea with good intentions that didn’t quite translate to a good movie.

WHY RENT THIS: A competitive comedy where both the leads are actually decent guys – a very innovative set-up.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: So low-key in places that you wonder if you’re supposed to laugh.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is plenty of foul language, a good deal of it sexual. There’s also a scene of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally scheduled for release in May 2007 but was delayed for a full year, mainly to add the cameo appearance of Oka who at the time was starring in “Heroes.”

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a gag reel but other than that the usual suspects. 

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $424,030 on an unreported production budget; I think it likely that the movie lost money, probably quite a bit.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Handsome Harry

Piranha 3D


Piranha 3D

Jerry O'Connell gets a little skinnier during his dip.

(2010) Horror (Dimension) Jerry O’Connell, Elizabeth Shue, Christopher Lloyd, Steven R. McQueen. Richard Dreyfuss, Ving Rhames, Jessica Szohr, Kelly Brook, Riley Steele, Adam Scott, Ricardo Chavira, Dina Meyer, Paul Scheer. Directed by Alexandre Aja

Some movies get remade so that their story can be reinterpreted. Others, as a means of homage to the original filmmakers. Still others are plain and simple a cash grab.

This one is one of the latter. French director Alexandre Aja directed the impressive High Tension in 2003, but has been exiled to remake land since coming to Hollywood. He already has remakes of The Hills Have Eyes and Mirrors to his credit and now he takes on Joe Dante’s 1978 schlock exploitation classic of the same name, only throwing in some after-the-fact 3D conversion to pull in the crowds.

The movie is only loosely based on the 1978 original, maintaining only the broad concept of prehistoric carnivorous fish attacking a beach resort. In a kind of tribute to the era (although not necessarily the original film which I admit I haven’t seen in about 20 years and remember very little of) Aja has amped up the blood and boob quotient, throwing in lots of bare-breasted and bikini clad babes to get their bare flesh consumed in a kind of orgy of adolescent boy fantasy frenzy.

Yes, there’s a plot but does it really matter? Jerry O’Connell is a sleazebag who shoots light porn vignettes a la “Girls Gone Wild” (whose Joe Francis has taken legal action against O’Connell and the producers for what he considers slanderous depictions of him as a drug-using, exploitative meathead for which I can only say if the shoe fits). He is visiting the spring break resort at Lake Victoria just as Spring Break festivities are getting underway.

There is a plucky sheriff (Shue), a crazed marine biologist (Lloyd) and of course the heroic sheriff’s son who disobeys not only her instructions but simple common sense as well. Dreyfuss is stunt cast as a fisherman who is the first victim (he gets about three minutes of screen time) whose name alludes to his character in Jaws. Most of the target audience however not only won’t get the reference, they won’t care much.

The camp factor is off the scale; definitely you have to watch this understanding that there is a tongue planted firmly in cheek, although you’re not necessarily sure whose tongue and whose cheek. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love naked breasts and gory fish food as much as the next guy (which is a lot) but I need more. Maybe not every adolescent boy who dreams of beautiful girls in bikinis needs a plot or characters who aren’t caricatures but while I can enjoy this on a visceral level (and I do), I simply can’t recommend it for discerning audiences.

WHY RENT THIS: Revels in its B movie-ness. Plenty of gore and boobs in a throwback to films of the era when the original was made.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little too over-the-top with the camp. The acting varies from atrocious to forgettable.

FAMILY VALUES: A surfeit of fish violence, blood and gore as well as lots of bare breasts and sexuality. The language is a bit rough too and there’s a scene of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although set on Texas’ Lake Victoria, the movie was actually filmed at Arizona’s Lake Havasu. The tequila brand used on the boat is Havasu as a kind of sly tribute to the filming location.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $83.2M on a $24M production budget; the movie was a hit.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Immortals

Youth in Revolt


Youth in Revolt

Even shades and a moustache can't make Michael Cera look dangerous.

(2009) Comedy (Dimension) Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Steve Buscemi, Ray Liotta, Justin Long, Jean Smart, Ari Graynor, Fred Willard, Zach Galifianakis, Mary Kay Place, Rooney Mara, Adhir Kalyan, M. Emmet Walsh.  Directed by Miguel Arteta

Growing up is hard enough when you are marching in lock-step with the crowd. If you are marching to your very own drumbeat, chances are it’s damn near impossible.

Nick Twisp (Cera) is a teenager in Oakland with the kind of family situation that makes you want to pull every sensory organ out of your head and stomp on them. His parents are divorced; Mom (Smart) has taken up with an unpredictable druggie (Galifianakis) who has run afoul of a group of sailors whom he sold a car to. He has run so afoul that he has thought the better part of valor was packing up his girlfriend and Nick and moving them to a trailer park in the middle of nowhere, California. Here he meets Sheeni (Doubleday), a young girl as quirky as he, someone who knows who Jean-Paul Belmondo is, and knows what it means to be hip in a conformist world.

His dad (Buscemi) is compensating with a much younger girlfriend (Graynor) and Nick prevails upon him to move into Sheeni’s complex, getting himself thrown out of his mom’s household for good measure. However, Sheeni doesn’t think Nick is dangerous enough. Nick invents an alter-ego (also Cera) with a wispy moustache, a smoking habit and who tends to give really bad advice that soon has Nick in trouble with the law, with his family and with Sheeni.

This is one of those coming of age stories (based on a novel, of course) that seems to have the idea that the more twisted and mixed up you are, the more interesting you become. The movie sat on the shelf for more than three years as Cera’s star grew brighter before it finally got a release. Even so, it milks the kind of character Cera has made a career out of playing; young, fey, sensitive, good-hearted and somewhat spineless. He has an easy manner of quipping and yet never seems to turn that intelligence into making his world a better place.

Doubleday makes a pretty nice romantic lead, except she doesn’t really pull off the quirkier aspects of her character well. She comes off therefore as a girl pretending to be hip rather than being actually hip, which matches up poorly with Cera’s character, who has the outer appearance of being hip without the inner self-confidence to pull it off.

Still, the movie is funny where it needs to be and quite frankly this is one of my favorite performances by Cera. It doesn’t hurt that he has a wealth of comic actors to work off of – from the established (Willard, Buscemi, Place) to the up-and-coming (Galifianakis, Graynor, Long – as Sheeni’s brother – and Kalyan, as Nick’s ethnic friend who may be even more of a dork than he is). The cast for the most part perform admirably, although some of the storyline just goes into ridiculous mode from the second half of the movie onwards.

It’s not a bad movie at all, and despite my low regard for hip indie coming of age movies about quirky teens who are hipper than thou, managed to reel me in thanks to some nice supporting performances (particularly from Buscemi, Willard and Galifianakis) and some good, solid laughs. What more can you ask from a comedy?

WHY RENT THIS: Well-written dialogue and some funny situations. A very strong supporting cast comes up aces.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Michael Cera is far too one-note an actor to be playing two characters.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of foul language, quite a bit of sexual content and some drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The man who sells Jerry the camper is none other than Michael Collins, the Apollo 11 astronaut who was in the command module while Armstrong and Aldrin got all the glory.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $19.7M on an $18M production budget; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Ghost Writer

Halloween II (2009)


Halloween II
You can’t keep a good supernatural serial killer down.

 

 

(Dimension) Scout Taylor-Compton, Tyler Mane, Malcolm McDowell, Danielle Harris, Brad Dourif, Howard Hesseman, Sheri Moon Zombie, Chase Vanek, Margot Kidder. Directed by Rob Zombie

 

Sequels can be very problematic. They’re almost never as good as the original, and when you throw in that it’s the sequel to the reboot of one of the classic horror series of all time, things get even more dicey.

 

Halloween II picks up where Zombie’s reboot left off, with Laurie Strode (Taylor-Compton) being pulled out of the house in an ambulance, while serial killer Michael Myers (Mane) is being carted off to the morgue, courtesy of a gunshot to the face by Miss Strode. However, you can’t keep a good serial killer horror film franchise down and Myers turns out to be not quite dead yet, escaping the ambulance that is transporting him to the county morgue when the unlucky ambulance hits a cow. Hey, Haddonfield is farm country don’tcha know.

 

He shows up back at the hospital where Laurie is being treated – a hospital that seems unrealistically understaffed – and hacks a few people to death, particularly a nurse whom he seems intent on pounding into hamburger. He corners her in a guard shack and – voila! – She wakes up from a dream. Actually, the sequence was an homage to the original Halloween II which took place entirely in a hospital. Zombie serves notice that this isn’t gonna be your pappy’s Michael Myers.

 

It’s two years after the events of the first film (although, strangely, the theatrical release portrayed it as being one year, but what’s a year between fiends) and Laurie is now living with Sheriff Brackett (Dourif) and his daughter Annie (Harris) who was the only other survivor of the Michael Myer’s previous Halloween rampage.

 

Halloween is approaching once again and Laurie has been beset by strange dreams. She confesses to her therapist (Kidder) that she’s concerned for her sanity, but she has no idea what kind of shellacking her sanity’s in for. That’s because Dr. Loomis (McDowell), Michael’s therapist from the first film, is on yet another book tour and in his new book he reveals that Laurie is actually Michael Myers’ sister (and Darth Vader is their father…but that didn’t make it into the movie). Since Laurie wasn’t aware of it, she goes bonkers and storms out of the Brackett’s happy home which is bad news for Laurie but good news for Michael, who is coming out for a family reunion, egged on by the Gothic ghost of his mom (Zombie) and the specter of his younger self (Vanek, taking over from Doug Faerch who had a growth spurt and became literally too big for the role).

 

All of this means there’s going to be mayhem in Haddonfield on Halloween, complete with strippers getting their face jammed into a mirror numerous times, a bouncer getting his head squashed in by Michael’s brogans, a couple of rednecks finding out the hard way why it is a very bad idea to mount antlers on the front of their pickup and a whole mess o’ carnage too disturbing to get into here.

 

There’s no doubt that Zombie is a visionary director – The Devil’s Rejects proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt as one of the best horror movies of the last decade. However, he seems oddly hamstrung here, which might have been due to the incredibly tight filming schedule (something which he mentions in the commentary track) or perhaps due to his own reluctance to do a sequel which he changed his mind about at the last moment, leading to said tight schedule. Either way, the movie doesn’t live up to most of his other work and has to rank as a disappointment.

 

That’s not to say it’s totally without redeeming qualities. For example, the violence here is excessive and realistic. When Michael Myers plunges the blade into a body, it is with full force, punctuated with an animal grunt. While that might make some queasy, it truly does work within the context of the movie and brings a new dimension of realism to the proceedings.

 

Where the movie doesn’t work is in the endless psychobabble that Zombie sees fit to insert, trying to get at the core of what drives Michael Myers. Now while I’m all for attempting to get inside the head of a serial killer, it gets a little too artsy fartsy for my way of thinking, with his mom showing up as a kind of Goth chick ghost in flowing white robes, accompanied by a white horse. It derails the oeuvre of the movie and takes audience right out of the mood.

 

He goes out of his way to make Laurie Strode shrill and unlikable. While this may be a realistic way of depicting someone who’s been through the kind of ordeal she has, what it also serves to do is alienate the audience from identifying with the heroine and that’s just bad juju. If the audience thinks the heroine is a whiny bitch, they’re not going to care what happens to her and if they don’t care what happens to her, there’s no reason to see the movie other than to watch Michael Myers carve up the citizens of Haddonfield and environs.

 

I also have to comment on the set design which is often incomprehensibly busy. Laurie’s room looks like the inside of a mental hospital cell, with a huge poster of Charlie Manson and spray painted graffiti reading “In Charlie We Trust.” This in the home of a town sheriff  mind you. Apparently Rob’s sense of realism and mine differ by quite a bit, so we’ll just leave it at that. In any case, you wind up with sensory overload in quite a few of the scenes, focusing in on the minutiae of the set design that you almost lose track of what the filmmaker’s trying to get you to notice. It kind of works at odds with Zombie’s vision.

 

I’m a big fan of Rob Zombie and the Halloween franchise both, so it is with a great deal of regret that I have to give this a poor review. I really, really wanted to like this movie and I just flat-out didn’t. While there is a third movie in the rebooted franchise slated for release next year, Zombie won’t be a part of it which may well turn out to be a good thing for both Zombie and the producers of Halloween – Zombie took an enormous amount of crap from the horror film fandom for this movie, much of it undeserved (for example, Michael is unmasked for much of the movie which many fanboys found to be sacrilegious) but some of it justified. I’m hoping his next project blows me away. This one didn’t do the job.

 

WHY RENT THIS: Some very effective scares, and a lot of insight into the background of Michael Myers. The violence is brutal and realistic.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The set design is a bit of a mess, often so busy that it distracts from what’s going on onscreen. The plot meanders and gets a little too murky with the symbology.

FAMILY VALUES: The violence here is particularly brutal which works for the movie but may be difficult viewing for sensitive souls. There is also a good deal of crude language, female nudity and much sex. For teens there are scenes of teen drinking and implied drug use. All in all this is not for kids or for most teens.  

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Tyler Mane becomes only the second actor to play Michael Myers in more than one film (George Wilbur is the other one). 

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are six music videos from the fictitious band Captain Clegg and the Night Creatures. There are also some standup comedy performances from Jeff Daniel Phillips, a blooper reel and audition tapes.

 BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $39.3M on a $15M production budget; the movie made money.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Day Four of the Six Days of Darkness