In the Tall Grass


The tall grass can hide almost anything.

(2019) Horror (NetflixPatrick Wilson, Harrison Gilbertson, Will Buie, Jr., Laysla De Olveira, Avery Whitted, Rachel Wilson, Tiffany Helm. Directed by Vincenzo Natali

 

In the endless prairie, the grass can grow higher than, as the song goes, an elephant’s eye. There is something idyllic about tall waving grass on a sweet summer day. The tall grass can hide all manner of things, whether it be children playing hide and seek, couples coupling or something far more sinister.

From Stephen King and his chip-off-the-old-block-of-radioactive-meteorite-that-turns-people-into-killer-mutants son Joe Hill comes hits made-for-Netflix terror opus (which kicked off four straight weeks of original horror movies released each Friday in October). Siblings Cal (Whitted) and his very pregnant sister Becky (De Olveira) pull over to the side of a country road on the way to California (why don’t people ever stick to the interstate in horror movies?) so that she can wrestle with a bout of morning sickness. That’s when they hear a child’s voice calling for help. He can communicate with them, moaning that he’s been lost in the grass for days. Against their better judgment, the two siblings go in – and promptly get lost themselves.

While there they run into Tobin (Buie), the lost kid and eventually his parents the high-strung Ross (P. Wilson) and Natalie (R. Wilson). They also eventually run into Travis (Gilbertson), Becky’s baby daddy whom Cal absolutely loathes and who followed them when they missed a meeting with the prospective adoptive parents of her unborn child. As it turns out, time doesn’t work the same way in the tall grass. And it shifts in physical space as well. Except, as Tobin notes, “it doesn’t move dead things” and soon enough, there are plenty of those about as well.

From simple concepts comes better horror; King has understood this throughout his amazing career and the concept here is fairly simple, although the “rules” of the tall grass tend to get a bit obfuscated the longer the film goes. The first third of the movie however is deliciously creepy and veteran horror director Natali (Cube, Splice) keeps the suspense taut until near the end where things fall apart a bit.

There is some nifty CGI grass effects and less-nifty CGI blood effects and at the center of it all is a stone monolith – isn’t that always the case – that is a MacGuffin that never gets fully explained but then again doesn’t really need it. The film might have benefitted by less connection to the main characters – a sense that this thing has been there a really long time doesn’t really exist, and maybe evidence of pioneers and Native Americans who also found themselves wandering endlessly in the tall grass might have given the film a bit more grounding. However, this is a solid if unspectacular adaptation of the Master’s material and certainly a worthy addition to anyone’s spooky playlist whether at Halloween or just in the mood for a little fear fare.

REASONS TO SEE: Reasonably suspenseful throughout. Some pretty cool CGI grass effects.
REASONS TO AVOID: Loses steam about half way through the movie.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity, disturbing images, situations of terror and some brief sexual violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While Patrick and Rachel Wilson, who play husband and wife in the film, have the same last name although they are not related.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/18/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 38% positive reviews: Metacritic: 46/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Children of the Corn
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Rabid (2019)

The Dark Tower (2017)


Good vs evil goes nose to nose.

(2017) Fantasy (Columbia) Matthew McConaughey, Idris Elba, Tom Taylor, Dennis Haysbert, Ben Gavin, Claudia Kim, Jackie Earle Haley, Fran Kranz, Abbey Lee, Katheryn Winnick, Nicholas Pauling, Michael Barbieri, José Zuñiga, Nicholas Hamilton, Inge Beckmann, Alfredo Narciso, Eva Kaminsky, Robbie McLean, Mark Elderkin, Matthew Thomson, Karl Thaning, Charlize Churcher. Directed by Nicolaj Arcel

 

There are few who will accuse Stephen King of being a brilliant writer but it is true that when it comes to telling a story he is without peer. His most ambitious story is the eight-book Dark Tower saga featuring Roland Deschain (Elba) as the last of an honorable caste of warriors known as the Gunslingers. He is tasked to protect The Dark Tower, a structure at the intersection of all reality that keeps chaos at bay. It is in the process of failing thanks to an evil wizard named Walter O’Dim (McConaughey) a.k.a. The Man in Black and we’re not talking Johnny Cash. Walter wants the tower to fall and all worlds to fall apart in the process.

Jake Chambers (Taylor) is a powerful psychic who has visions of Roland and the Man in Black, the latter of whom wants to harness Jake’s power in order to bring the Dark Tower down. Jake lives on our Earth, the so-called Keystone which is the last holdout, the last world that has yet to “move on,” as the Gunslinger terms it. Jake escapes the minions of Walter and finds a portal into Mid-World, the Earth of Roland. Although Roland is disinterested in saving the universe, he is very much interested in taking down Walter who has killed everything that Roland loves. There is going to be some gunslinging you can be sure.

Elba and McConaughey are both terrific performers. Elba in particular excels; he seems literally born to roles like this one. He gives the role gravitas and a certain stoic nobility that made the role so compelling in the books. It’s the kind of character that was much more prevalent in the past than it is now; these days we like our heroes to be pure but Roland is riddled with impurities.

Sadly, these two performances are all there really is to recommend the movie. Opinion on the books is sharply divided; some believe that they are a case of King’s reach exceeding his grasp while others consider it a terrific read. Count me among the latter believers. However, trying to boil down eight books into a 90 minute movie is like trying to figure out a way to condense the Manhattan phone book into two names. You might get the gist of the series but you won’t get the flavor. There are some dynamic creature effects but they are so dimly lit that you can’t really make out the details. The pacing is all over the map; sometimes it seems rushed; other times it’s painfully slow. This has all the earmarks of a studio putting its grubby hands all over a project.

So the consensus is that this is a mess and not even a hot one. The books deserve better attention than this gives it; a full series would have done it more justice. I can’t imagine King himself is satisfied with what was done to a work he put so much time and effort into. I know that I, as a fan of the books, certainly am not.

REASONS TO GO: Idris Elba is perfectly cast for this role.
REASONS TO STAY: This film is a disappointment on nearly every level.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence particularly using guns and some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The eight-book Dark Tower series by Stephen King was inspired at least in part by Robert Browning’s epic poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Fios, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Sony, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/26/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 16% positive reviews. Metacritic: 34/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Stand
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Sunset Park

It (2017)


A young boy is about to float forever.

(2017) Horror (New Line) Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgård, Nicholas Hamilton, Jake Sim, Logan Thompson, Owen Teague, Jackson Robert Scott, Stephen Bogaert, Stuart Hughes, Geoffrey Pounsett, Pip Dwyer, Mollie Jane Atkinson, Steven Williams, Elizabeth Saunders. Directed by Andy Muschietti

Childhood can be a rough time, particularly that transitional time moving from childhood into the teenage years. As we go through that transition there are no instruction manuals, no online courses; we simply have to feel our way through. Of course, this transition is made all the more difficult when you and your friends are being stalked by a malevolent clown.

One rainy afternoon Georgie Denbrough (Scott) is playing with a toy boat his big brother Bill (Lieberher) made for him in the rain gutters near his home in Derry, Maine. Georgie idolizes his big brother and Bill loves his kid brother fiercely; unfortunately, Bill has a bad cold and can’t watch over his kid brother who loses his boat in a fast current that takes it down a storm drain. There dwells Pennywise (Skarsgård) the clown and there Georgie will meet a grisly end – but his body will never be found..

It’s summer and things are the same and different around Derry. Kids, like Georgie, are disappearing and while it is noticed, it doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of urgency. That’s mainly because the adults in town are monsters just a shade below the level of Pennywise; Bill’s stutter has become even worse since Georgie disappeared and his father (Pounsett) Bill is pretty sure doesn’t think he can do anything right. Eddie Kaspbrak (Grazer) has become a hypochondriac thanks to his hand-wringing overprotective mom.

Mike Hanlon (Jacobs) is queasy at the thought of killing the lambs his father provides to local grocery stores and butchers and Richie Tozier (Wolfhard) is as annoying as they come and swears like a sailor. Stanley Uris (Oleff) is terrified he’ll mess up at his upcoming bar mitzvah under the stern gaze of his rabbi father but worst of all is Beverly Marsh (Lillis) whose dad (Bogaert) is sexually abusing her. It’s really tough to be a kid in Derry.

But Bill has figured out that Pennywise, with his signature red balloons, is the culprit behind the disappearances, especially after new kid Ben Hanscom (Taylor) looks into the history of Derry and discovers that every 27 years there is a rash of kid disappearances – and it happens to be 27 years since the last group. And clearly visible in some antique photos of Derry – Pennywise the Clown.

They’ve tracked the clown to an abandoned house on the site of an old well which leads into the tunnels and sewers of Derry which is the domain of Pennywise now. There they will find out the fate of the missing children – and confront the demonic clown on his own tuff.

As everyone knows, this is one of Stephen King’s iconic novels. It was made into a miniseries back in 1990 with Tim Curry famously in the role of Pennywise. That’s about when the current It is set – an update of about 20 years. Appropriately enough, it has been 27 years since the miniseries – the exact number of years between kid killings in the book and in the miniseries and now in the movie. Make of that what you will (I make of it coincidence but a terrific marketing opportunity).

There is a bit of a Stranger Things vibe here and it’s not just because Wolfhard, an integral part of the acclaimed Netflix series cast, is also in this one. The camaraderie between the kids is genuine and unforced and while it is set basically in the same era as Stranger Things there are some critical differences – It isn’t as wedded to its time frame as the TV show is and in some ways that’s a very good thing.

In fact, the ensemble cast does a bang-up job and in particular Lieberher and Lillis show the most promise and give the most satisfying performances while Wolfhard is a natural as the wise guy Richie Tozier – a part not unlike the one he plays in Stranger Things but enough of the comparisons. These are definitely two very different animals.

Pennywise is something of an iconic villain, the killer clown to end all killer clowns. Curry made the part his own back in 1990 and his performance is still one of the great monster portrayals in the history of the genre. Skarsgård is inevitably going to be compared to that performance and quite frankly, while he’s a very good actor in is own right he just doesn’t have a chance between the passage of time that makes memory fonder and the fact that Curry is so universally adored. That’s not that Skarsgård doesn’t do a great job – he does – but he simply can’t compete and he is kind of forced to by circumstance.

The special effects are for the most part special indeed and while the scares aren’t many they are entirely effective when they do come. There is a reason why this movie has been so successful at the box office and one viewing of it will tell you what that is. It isn’t the best horror movie of the year – it isn’t even the best Stephen King adaptation of the year – but it’s a very good movie that should get your Halloween scare needs easily met.

REASONS TO GO: The young cast does an exceptional job as an ensemble. The special effects are quite impressive.
REASONS TO STAY: Although Skarsgård does a pretty decent job, he’s still no Tim Curry.
FAMILY VALUES: As you would expect there is a good deal of violence and horrific images, gore and some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Had the biggest opening weekend gross of any horror film ever; went on to become the all-time highest-grossing horror film ever.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/31/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews. Metacritic: 70/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Clowntown
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Six Days of Darkness concludes!

Gerald’s Game


Carla Gugino is literally a captive audience.

(2017) Thriller (Netflix) Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Carel Struycken, Henry Thomas, Chiara Aurelia, Kate Siegel, Natalie Roers, Tom Glynn, Stu Cookson, Gwendolyn Mutamba, Ben Pronsky, Jon Arthur, Nikia Reynolds, Kimberly Battista, Michael Amstutz, Chuck Borden, Dori Lumpkin, Chad Kinney, Bill Riales, John Ceallach, Tony Beard, Victoria Hardway, Adalyn Jones. Directed by Mike Flanagan

It has been the year of Stephen King adaptations, with Dark Tower and It having already made their theatrical runs and 1922 recently released on Netflix. This adaptation is of particular interest because 1) Mike Flanagan, who has been impressive with Oculus and Hush, is in the director’s chair here and 2), this is one of King’s lesser works that was thought to be virtually unfilmable. How wrong they were.

One can see why that thought occurred however. The movie is mostly set in a single bedroom with the protagonist alone and immobile for the bulk of the story. There is also a kinky sexuality to it that in the current atmosphere is both timely and perhaps may incite a certain segment of the population to point their fingers and cry shrilly “Objectification! Objectification! Objectification!” We are, these days, gunshy about sex (particularly of the kinkier variety) on both sides of the political aisle.

The marriage between successful attorney Gerald (Greenwood) and his trophy wife Jessie (Gugino) has been troubled for some time now and the two decide to take a romantic trip to a beautiful but remote vacation cabin to try and heat things up. Gerald’s idea of romance is a lot different than Jessie’s however; he wants to handcuff her to the bed and enact a rape fantasy on his wife. At first she goes along with it, but as Gerald gets deeper into the game she freaks out and demands that he stop and free her. At first he is petulant, like a little boy who’s been told he can’t have a cookie. Then he does what most little boys don’t do – he has a heart attack and dies.

Slowly the realization comes to Jessie that she is in an absolutely terrifying predicament; she has no way to free herself from the stainless steel cuffs, no way to get food or water and she is sharing the bedroom with her husband’s corpse and a hungry dog who is desperate enough to enjoy some Gerald tartare. As panic begins to set in and she realizes that nobody can hear her screams, she begins to speak with the angels and devils of her better nature – her angels represented by a strong, self-possessed version of herself and her devils by Gerald himself. While Gerald mostly relates the scenarios in which she dies a horrible death, the alter-Jessie figures out ingenious ways to get water and eventually to concoct a desperate plan to escape – one that will take all of the actual Jessie’s willpower and courage.

But there is soon another player in the play; a deathly, spectral figure with a bag of bones who is stalking her after dark. She realizes that as the last evening falls that he will come for her in the night…and she will join her husband as potential puppy chow if she doesn’t escape before then.

The script follows King’s book pretty faithfully but it lacks the sense of dread and terror that King was able to weave in the book – but to be fair, not every writer is as talented at that particular skill as King is. In fact, very few writers are. Flanagan and his co-writer Jeff Howard turn this more into a suspense film than a supernatural thriller which is what King produced – but the Moonlight Man is excellently rendered, I’ll give them that.

I’ll also give you that this is the performance that I’ve been waiting for Gugino to deliver. It’s masterful as she captures both the strong, self-assured side of Jessie and the frightened, wounded and disregarded part of her. She spends nearly the entire movie in a negligee (and looks mighty fine doing it) but you never get a sense of her being exploited (although some may disagree); she’s a woman who is comfortable with her sexuality and one senses that if Gerald had actually had a romantic weekend getaway planned instead of a kinkfest, he’d have gotten plenty of action.

She and Greenwood actually work very well together. Greenwood is sixty-plus at this point but he looks a lot more buff than the overweight Gerald of the book; it’s possible that Gerald’s use of that Little Blue Pill may have been what done him in. The relationship between Jessie and Gerald is believable; these are people who feel like they’ve been together for awhile but have begun to diverge away from one another and neither one knows really how to get back on the same page – or if it’s even possible. They remain civil to one another but there is that undercurrent of tension between them that tells a story of frustrations not voiced and petty arguments that are.

There is a subplot about Jessie’s past about a terrible incident that takes place during a rare total eclipse that does a lot to explain her backstory. It’s sensitively handled and again is pretty timely considering the events of recent months but it might be a little disturbing for people who have a history of childhood sexual abuse.

All in all this turned out much better than I think most of us had a right to expect. It re-emphasizes that Flanagan is the genuine article, a master of horror films who tends to elevate every project he works on and this one is no exception. Not only is it maybe the best adaptation of King you’ll see this year, it is one of the better original films you’ll see on Netflix this year as well.

REASONS TO GO: Gugino gives a career-defining performance and she works very well with Greenwood. The plot is fiendishly clever.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie is not nearly as creepy as the book.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, a good deal of sexuality and some disturbing images and gore.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dialogue and plot devices from the film reference such Stephen King books as Dolores Claiborne, Cujo and The Dark Tower.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/30/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Girlfriend Experience
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
More of Six Days of Darkness

New Releases for the Week of September 8, 2017


IT

(New Line) Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Nicholas Hamilton. Directed by Andy Muschietti

Beneath the streets of Derry, Maine, lives an evil that periodically rises to take the town’s children. Four particularly brave and prescient kids are aware of what’s going on and they are ready to fight but they are up against a monster without pity or seemingly without limits. Pennywise the Clown will haunt your dreams, courtesy of the mind of Stephen King and this movie.

See the trailer and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, IMAX
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for violence/horror, bloody images, and for language)

9/11

(Atlas) Charlie Sheen, Whoopi Goldberg, Gina Gershon, Luis Guzman. On one of the grimmest days in the history of our country, five total strangers are in an elevator in the World Trade Center when an airplane crashes into their building. Trapped and without a hope of rescue, they must work together and find a way out, not realizing that the clock is ticking and time is running out.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Historical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, AMC Universal Cineplex, AMC West Oaks, Cobb Plaza, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: R (for language)

Crown Heights

(Amazon/IFC) Lakeith Stanfield, Nnamdi Asomugha, Natalie Paul, Adriane Lenox. Colin Warner, an immigrant from the Caribbean living in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, was accused of a murder he didn’t commit. Despite only the testimony of unreliable eyewitnesses, he was convicted and sent to prison. His best friend, Carl “KC” King and his childhood sweetheart Antoinette stood by Colin despite a system that had taken everything from him, believing that one day they would set him free and justice would prevail. This is their incredible true story.

See the trailer and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs

Rating: R (for language throughout, some sexuality/nudity and violence)

Fallen

(Vertical/Destination) Addison Timlin, Jeremy Irvine, Lola Kirke, Joely Richardson. A 17-year-old girl with an attitude is sent off to a reformatory after being unjustly blamed for the death of another student. Once there, she is drawn to two different boys, each of whom has an incredible secret. In the meantime, she is experiencing inexplicable events and strange visions, leading her to the conclusion that she must figure out the secrets of her own past in order to navigate a very rocky road that could lead to a cataclysmic destination. This is based on a series of young adult fantasy novels.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material, violent images, some sensuality, language and teen partying)

Home Again

(Open Road) Reese Witherspoon, Nat Wolff, Lake Bell, Michael Sheen. A woman newly separated from her husband and raising their kids on her own agrees to allow three young men to live in her home and share expenses. However, things get super complicated when her ex-husband decides to try and win her back especially since she’s developed feelings for one of the guys.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic and sexual material)

I Do…Until I Don’t

(Film Arcade) Lake Bell, Ed Helms, Paul Reiser, Mary Steenburgen. Three couples, all in different places in their marriage, are the focus of this ensemble comedy from writer/director/actress Bell who has made some compelling films recently both in front of and behind the camera.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for sexual material and language)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Daddy
Gunshy
The Midwife
True to the Game
Yuddham Sharanam

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

Calle 54
The Good Catholic
The Last Mentsch
The Limehouse Golem
Man in Red Bandana
True to the Game
Yuddham Sharanam

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary
Gunshy
The Limehouse Golem
Rememory
True to the Game
Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk
Yuddham Sharanam

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

England is Mine
Love You to the Stars and Back
True to the Game
Yuddham Sharanam

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary
Crown Heights
Home Again
It
Man in Red Bandana
Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House


Ruth Wilson looks for clues.

Ruth Wilson looks for clues.

(2016) Gothic Horror (Netflix) Ruth Wilson, Paula Prentiss, Lucy Boynton, Bob Balaban, Brad Milne, Erin Boyes. Directed by Oz Perkins

 

Haunted houses are a part of our culture, both in the West and in the East. Spirits of the departed that remain behind, sad and sometimes angry, have a delicious fascination for us. Perhaps it is a part of our morbid nature, our obsession with death – after all, we’re all going to die eventually and we are fearful of that unknown. Sometimes that fear becomes something more.

Lily Saylor (Wilson) is a hospice nurse come to a clapboard home at the end of Teacup Lane in Braintree, Massachusetts (home to founding fathers John Adams and John Hancock) to care for Iris Blum (Prentiss), an infirm woman who was once a famous writer of horror stories, a sort of distaff Stephen King (or a latter day Shirley Jackson to be more accurate). Lily takes over the care and feeding of Ms. Blum at the behest of Mr. Waxcap (Balaban), the estate executor.

Almost as soon as she settles in she gets a sense that things are a bit off in the house. Although the house looks spic and span (and she takes great pains to make sure it remains that way), there is evidence that the house is beginning to show it’s age (it was built in the 19th century if not earlier) with walls warping somewhat and soon, a bloom of black mold appears on one of the walls. Then there is the tapping sound that manifests in the night and sound like they’re coming from inside the walls. And Lily is annoyed that Ms. Blum habitually calls her Polly. Who is this Polly that her charge has confused Lily with?

Lily investigates and discovers that a brutal murder took place in the house many years before; a young bride (Boynton) was killed by her groom (Milne) on her wedding day. The bride’s name was Polly. Furthermore, Iris wrote a book about it, The Lady in the Walls. The book’s conceit was that a writer was communicating with the murdered bride but the communications mysteriously stopped. Lily attempts to read the book but is soon unable to continue; a sensitive soul, she is easily frightened. That’s not such a good thing in a house like this.

One of the most difficult subgenres of horror to do is the Gothic horror. Gothic depends heavily on atmosphere and creating that atmosphere of foreboding requires a great deal of patience. You have to have the right cinematographer and Perkins chose a doozy in Julie Kirkwood. She not only has a terrific eye but she also understands the mechanics of what makes a great atmosphere; slow camera movements that never jerk the audience around when the camera moves at all, angles that are unsettling without being overt, and a palate of white and goldenrod, making the film look not so much washed out but like an antique photograph. The result is that the movie looks like you’re looking back in time (in fact the scenes are set in what appears to be somewhere in the late 1970s or early 1980s) at tragic events unfolding.

That sense of foreboding is set right off the bat with Lily’s narration. “The pretty thing you’re looking at is me. Of this I am sure. My name is Lily Saylor. I am a hospice nurse. Three days ago I turned 28 years old. I will never be 29 years old.” The narration is for the most part pretty flowery which at times can be eye-rolling. It is also delivered in a flat monotone, as if Wilson is reading a book aloud which adds to the creepiness.

Wilson has shown some pretty sizable acting chops, particularly in the BBC series Luther but here she’s oddly lifeless, as if she’s already become a ghost and is simply awaiting the formalities. I would have also liked to get a bit more backstory from her – we are led to understand that she’d been involved in a romantic relationship but it ended badly – and a little more emotion from Wilson. Then again, it might have been a conscious choice to play Lily as someone extremely repressed emotionally speaking.

Prentiss doesn’t have a lot to do but the former comedienne is certainly a welcome sight. She hasn’t appeared onscreen in nine years and it’s good to know that even though her part is small (but important), she is still out there working.

There are not many haunted house movie clichés here but enough to be unwelcome. Still, overall this is an extremely strong and welcome entry into a genre that is largely ignored these days. Fans seems to like their horror more visceral than subtle these days. Perkins has an impeccable pedigree and even though this is just his second feature film in the director’s chair, he’s served notice that he is a talent to keep an eye out for.

REASONS TO GO: There are some exquisite images here. It’s always nice to see an actress the caliber of Paula Prentiss working. The atmosphere is truly haunting.
REASONS TO STAY: A few too many haunted house tropes are present here. The dialogue is pretentious in places. Wilson comes off a bit flat tonally.
FAMILY VALUES: Some unsettling images and an overall atmosphere of terror.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Perkins is the son of the late Anthony Perkins; the song “You Keep Coming Back Like a Song” which is played several times on the soundtrack is sung by his father; the movie clip that Lily is watching on TV is from Friendly Persuasion in which Anthony Perkins starred.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/28/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 60% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Haunting of Hill House
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Why Him?

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

Our Film Library 2015


Our Film Library 2015For the second year, Cinema365 is presenting a mini-series of four reviews based on films with a literary background. Movies based on books have been a Hollywood staple since back in the silent era and while the types of movies that come from books can be as varied as literature itself, so too can the quality. Here, we have a classic mystery, a horror story from a master of terror, an adventure novel with an oceanic bent and the conclusion to one of the most popular book series’ of all time.

It’s a varied bunch and like most books, they may connect with you or not but all of them may well take you to places you’ve never been and in the process may teach you something about life, or about yourself. A book can do that; so can a good movie.

So as you pull our first editions off the library shelf, do indulge in a quick read of my words describing the movies based on their words. Hopefully you’ll be moved to see the movie or even read the book. Reading is essential in firing up our imagination and rounding us out as people. I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the words of William Shakespeare, Stephen King, Robert A. Heinlein, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Agatha Christie, J.R.R. Tolkein, James Michener and an endless list of others who have transported me to strange worlds, shown me my own world in a different light, stirred my heart, tickled my funny bone and given me insight into the human condition.

We all need a break from life once in awhile and a book can provide that for you. So whether you read on a Kindle or a dog-eared used paperback scrounged from a used bookstore, take a few moments out of your day to exercise your brain and imagination with a book. It’s good for the soul.

New Releases for the Week of October 18, 2013


Carrie

CARRIE

(Screen Gems) Chloe Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer, Portia Doubleday, Alex Russell, Gabriella Wilde, Ansel Elgort, Barry Shabaka Henley. Directed by Kimberly Pierce

A young picked-upon girl, the daughter of an obsessively devout mother, develops telekinetic powers among other things. Some bitchy cheerleader sorts decide to play a prank on her at the prom – not a very good idea. A remake of the classic 1976 film with Sissy Spacek and itself based on one of Stephen King’s earliest novels.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday night)

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for bloody violence, disturbing images, language and some sexual content)

A.C.O.D.

(The Film Arcade) Adam Scott, Richard Jenkins, Catherine O’Hara, Jane Lynch. The adult son of a divorced couple whose acrimonious divorce scarred him to the point of needing therapy needs to get his bickering parents to make peace so that they can attend his brother’s wedding. He also discovers the therapy he underwent to get through the pain of the divorce was actually a project by a writer to chronicle the effects of divorce on children which led to a bestseller on her part but exposing all of
his most painful secrets. When he finally gets his parents together, his life goes spinning off into directions he couldn’t have imagined. This played the Sundance Across America series at the Enzian earlier this year and my review can be found here.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for language and brief sexual content)

Boss

(Viacom 18) Akshay Kumar, Shiv Pandit, Mithun Chakraborty, Ronit Roy. A petty criminal takes the fall for his father when he accidentally and unknowingly kills a teenager. After serving his time, he relocates to another city, only to discover that his younger brother has gotten into a conflict with the bullying son of a home minister. He will have to return home to defend his family – a home that doesn’t want him back.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Escape Plan

(Summit) Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Vincent D’Onofrio. An expert on structural security who makes a lucrative living exposing the defects in prisons and other correctional institutions takes on a brand new high-tech state-of-the-art Supermax prison. Unbeknownst to him, someone wants him to disappear from the grid – permanently. To survive he is going to have to make an alliance with a brutal inmate and assuming he survives long enough to put his plan into action, find out who put him there…and make whoever it is pay!

See the trailer, promos and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday night)

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for violence and language throughout)

The Fifth Estate

(Touchstone/DreamWorks) Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Anthony Mackie, Laura Linney. Idealists Julian Assange and Daniel Domscheit-berg, disgusted and disillusioned by all the chicanery going on in secret, decide to found a website where whistle-blowers can expose the corruption and crime going on in the political and corporate worlds. However their idealism will be put to the test when a cache of top secret documents from the U.S. Military is leaked and leads to a fundamental dilemma – is the freedom of accessible information more important than the potential loss of human life?

See the trailer and featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: R (for language and some violence) 

The Hunt

(Magnolia) Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp, Lasse Fogelstrom. A substitute teacher in a small Danish town in the midst of a bitter divorce and custody battle is unexpectedly accused of molesting the daughter of his best friend. Despite his protestations of innocence and a lack of any evidence, nobody believes him and he is ostracized from nearly everyone in the town. As events escalate and grow uglier, he will have to find a way to convince the town – and his friend – that he is an innocent man. One of the best films to come out of this year’s Florida Film Festival, you can read my review here.

See the trailer, a clip and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for sexual content including a graphic image, violence and language)

I’m in Love with a Church Girl

(High Top) Ja Rule, Adrienne Bailon, Stephen Baldwin, Michael Madsen. A young man who has made his fortune as a drug trafficker attempts to get out of the business and go straight although the DEA is skeptical of his intentions. When he meets a beautiful but devout woman, he falls for her despite the difference in their lifestyles. Both of them will be sorely tested in their faith if their love is to overcome the long odds that it faces.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Faith Drama (opens Thursday)

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, a scene of violence, some suggestive content and brief language) 

Paradise

(Image/RLJ) Julianne Hough, Russell Brand, Octavia Spencer, Holly Hunter. A young woman who has led a sheltered life in a small Montana town is nearly killed in an accident, causing her to take stock of her situation and her mainly unlived life. Deciding to see for herself what the other side has to offer, she takes her insurance settlement to Las Vegas and falls in with some fellow wounded souls and finds something a little more lasting than sin.

See the trailer, clips and a link to stream the full move at Amazon here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual material, substance abuse, some language and thematic elements)

The Snitch Cartel

(BN) Manolo Cardona, Tom Sizemore, Juana Acosta, Kuno Becker. Based on the life of Andreas Lopez-Lopez, a young boy from a poor background tries to win the heart of the girl he’s had a crush on since he was very young but doesn’t have the money to catch her eye. He joins one of the more vicious drug cartels in Colombia and works his way up the ladder but in doing so catches the eye of the DEA as well.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Drama

Rating: R (for strong violence, language, drug content and sexuality/nudity)

The Green Mile


The Green Mile

Michael Clarke Duncan shows Tom Hanks which direction he'll have to grow in to be as tall as he.

(1999) Drama (Warner Brothers) Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Morse, Bonnie Hunt, James Cromwell, Michael Jeter, Graham Greene, Gary Sinese, Doug Hutchison, Sam Rockwell, Barry Pepper, Jeffrey DeMunn, Patricia Clarkson, Harry Dean Stanton, William Sadler. Directed by Frank Darabont

 

I know of at least three authentic American geniuses in the arts named Steve: Stephen Sondheim, who doesn’t figure into this; Steven Spielberg; and Stephen King.

Spielberg started out as a director of entertainments that while not always taken seriously by the critical cognoscenti nonetheless enjoyed extreme popularity. Later, he would direct projects that met with critical acclaim, Oscars and the respect of his peers. He is now rightly considered one of the greatest directors of all time.

Stephen King appears to be paralleling Spielberg’s course. At the start of his career, his work was dismissed as mere horror novels, but they sold in record numbers. Then starting in the late 1990s, he began to produce works of greater depth and heart. Witness The Green Mile, which has been brought to the screen by Frank Darabont, who also directed one of the best filmed adaptations of King’s work, The Shawshank Redemption.

Like Shawshank, The Green Mile is set in a prison in the ’30s at the start of the film. In this case, it’s in cellblock E of the Cold Mountain Penitentiary in Louisiana (moved from Mississippi in the book) circa 1935. Paul Edgecombe (Hanks) supervises the guards on the cellblock, which is better known as Death Row. He has a pretty good team of guards working for him, most notably Brutus “Brutal” Howell (Morse), a surprisingly gentle-natured bear of a man. Their job is to keep calm the men who are waiting to die because, as Edgecombe tells Percy Wetmore (Hutchison), a sadistic guard with connections to the governor, “they can snap at anytime and hurt themselves, or somebody else.”

Into this volatile mix comes John Coffey (Duncan), a huge, hulking, simple man who dwarfs even Brutal. He has been convicted of the rape and particularly brutal murder of two young girls. He seems gentle and frightened, but as his lawyer (an uncredited Gary Sinese) explains, a dog may seem gentle and loving and then unexpectedly turn on you.

Coffey joins a group of men waiting to be executed, including Eduart Delacroix (Jeter), a timid prisoner with a very precocious pet; Wild Bill Wharton (Rockwell), who is understatedly described by Warden Hal Moores (Cromwell) as “a problem child”; and Mr. Jingles, a mischievous mouse.

Coffey, you see, has a gift – a unique and miraculous gift. He shoulders the burden of this gift in a world of suspicion, prejudice and brutality. The Green Mile looks at that world without flinching or blinking, the kind of a world that produces a Wild Bill, a John Coffey and a Paul Edgecombe, who is a decent man doing a horrible job.

Parts of The Green Mile are hideous (a botched execution attempt) and sometimes beautiful (unexplainable cures, fireflies in the moonlight). It also has more urine than you’ll ever see in five movies (courtesy a urinary tract infection for Edgecombe), so those who are squeamish about bodily fluids be warned.

 The acting here is uniformly good, with Hanks at the top of his game and Morse, Jeter and Cromwell – some of the finest character actors in Hollywood then and now – all delivering fine performances. Duncan and Rockwell, both at the very beginnings of their careers, were both terrific, Duncan receiving an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his performance. That was one of four Oscar nominations the film received and while it didn’t win any of them, certainly it received plenty of love from the Academy who are not known for extending much of it to Stephen King and his movie adaptations.

Despite being three hours long, The Green Mile never drags for a moment. That’s because this really isn’t a film about prisons and crime; the human spirit is really the subject of the picture – the nature of good and evil, death and dignity. There are some emotionally gut-wrenching moments. Da Queen had tears streaming down her face for about the last half hour. She claims that The Green Mile is off the Hankie scale completely, and advises that you just have a whole box of tissues available when you sit down and watch the movie. Preferably one of those industrial strength Costco sizes. Trust me, you’re gonna need it.

Sometimes, a movie comes along that you know from the first few moments is going to be a great motion picture experience, one that touches you in deep places, perhaps even comforts you. The Green Mile is just such a movie. It was my pick for the best film of 1999 and remains to this day more than a decade later a modern classic, one which bears repeated viewings. It certainly is a staple in my family and I’m not alone in that assessment. If you haven’t seen it, you are truly missing out.

WHY RENT THIS: A modern classic. A touching treatise on the human spirit. Excellent performances from Hanks, Morse, Duncan, Rockwell, Cromwell and Jeter.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Maybe you hate Stephen King on general principles.

FAMILY MATTERS: The language can be pretty foul, there are some sexually oriented scenes as well as some fairly disturbing images of murder and execution. There are also lots of scenes involving urine, so be warned.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Stephen King visited the set during filming and asked to be strapped into the electric chair. He was somewhat unnerved by the experience and immediately asked to be released.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: While the original DVD release (2000) didn’t have much room for features, the 2-disc special edition (2006) did and included Duncan’s original screen test and a make-up test with Hanks (he was originally set to play Edgecomb as an old man but the make-up was unconvincing and so Dabbs Greer was cast in the role in his final screen appearance) as well as a new nearly two hour feature on the making of the film. The Blu-Ray (2009) has all of these as well as a 34-page Digibook with background on the film, actor bios and an essay on Darabont’s three King adaptations to date.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $286.8M on a $60M production budget; the movie was pretty much a Blockbuster (and is the highest-grossing Stephen King adaptation to date).

FINAL RATING: 10/10

TOMORROW: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance