The Church (2018)


Not every church is a sanctuary.

(2018) Horror (Hard Floor) Bill Moseley, Matthew Nadu, Daniel Wyland, Ashley C Williams, Clint Howard, Kenneth McGregor, Keith Stallworth, Lisa Wilcox, Deltra Leak, Holly Zuelle, Meghan Strange, Shaun Paul Costello, Michelle Romano, Vito LoGrasso, Victoria Gates, Scott Lehman, Jack Hoffman, Michael Connolly, Marcia C. Myers, Marie A. Garton, Belinda M. Wlson. Directed by Dom Frank

 

We tend to have a bit of a fixation on religion and the paranormal. From The Exorcist on down, we stand in awe of cathedrals and the rites of the church. Some churches though are less holy places than others.

The First Corinthians Baptist Church in downtown Philadelphia was once a magnificent edifice, a tribute to the glory of God. Of late it has fallen on hard times however. The membership has dwindled as the neighborhood has become less affluent and nearby mega-churches has enticed others away. Pastor James (Moseley) whose family has been at the church for generations is at a crossroads; gentrification is beginning to creep into the neighborhood and developers want the valuable property to tear down the aging and decrepit church and put in a new multi-use facility; they’re even willing to build a brand spanking new mega-church for the pastor to preach in, much to the delight of his ambitious wife Loretta (Romano).

The pastor is reluctant to give up on the building that is in many ways his family’s legacy but the developer in the person of Ronald Lawson (Nadu) is persuasive and at last the pastor gives in. However the subject has to be approved by the church’s various boards and with Loretta working diligently behind the scenes, the measure squeaks by.

When Lawson comes to the church several nights later for the signing of the papers that will mean the end of the grand old lady, he brings with him the secretary he’s having an affair with (Williams), the Romanian financier that is his partner (Wyland), a local community leader who has also partnered with him (Stallworth) and his bodyguard (LoGrasso). Pastor James has with him his wife, the head of the board of Deacons (McGregor), the church secretary (Wilcox) and a board member (Zuelle). It’s literally a dark and stormy night but all who are in the church don’t realize that the building is not at all happy at the prospect of being torn down and isn’t going to let them go to carry out the deed.

First of all, the First Corinthians Baptist Church is a real one and it is absolutely a beautiful building. It is the perfect location for this kind of a movie; nearly 200 years old and full of the kind of architectural detail that modern churches last. It feels like a place of worship which makes the haunted goings-on therein all the more shocking. Kudos to Frank for taking full advantage of his location filming.

There aren’t a lot of digital effects here and the production could have sorely used them but one can’t get picky when you’re on a budget. The big problem is the script is a bit inconsistent; various characters are “taken” by the church to be pulled into a purgatory-like dimension in a puff of black smoke. Some of them seem to burn (at least there are flames superimposed on the actors) while others don’t. We don’t get enough backstory to the various characters to understand why some get the flames and others don’t. As to why this is happening, there really isn’t much of an explanation; the Romanian mutters about old Romanian myths about holy places that sit in judgment of those who are evil but again, everybody seems to be victimized without a lot of rhyme or reason other than maybe being part of the plan to knock down the building.

The acting is a bit on the wooden side for the most part and the presence of horror cult favorite Moseley excepted, the biggest name actor (Howard) is essentially unrecognizable as a bearded monk who appears as an apparition in a couple of scenes and has no lines. That seems a bit of a waste to me.

This has been described as a faith-based horror film and in my notes I wrote down that it gets a little preachy at times but for the life of me I can’t remember any such occasions. I do remember the ending which is abrupt, unsatisfying and seems to exist to set up a sequel which the filmmaker has already stated is going to happen. All in all, Frank got the atmosphere right but needed to flesh out his script with a bit more information about the various characters and the history of the church – we see a brief headline from an old newspaper about a wicked family being punished by the church but it’s so quick we never get any details.

With so many new movies to choose from for your Halloween horror movie fix this year it’s hard to recommend this one but there are definitely some plusses to consider. The scares are a bit weak but given that Frank didn’t have a whole lot of cash to work with I think he did the best he could. Hopefully for the sequel he’ll give us a more fleshed out story and maybe a bit more of a budget to work with.

REASONS TO GO: The filming location is awesome.
REASONS TO STAY: The ending is a bit abrupt and disappointing.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence, profanity, spooky images and light sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was filmed in downtown Philadelphia’s First Corinthian Baptist Church which Frank’s family has been attending for decades.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/13/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: 85/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Borderlands
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
The Samuel Project

Devil’s Gate (2017)


Bridget Regan is having a bad hair day.

(2017) Horror (IFC) Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Schull, Shawn Ashmore, Bridget Regan, Jonathan Frakes, Javier Botet, Spencer Drever, Adam Hurtig, Will Woytowich, Scott Johnson, Sarah Constible, Beverly Ndukwu, Jean-François Ferland, Jan Skene. Directed by Clay Staub

 

There’s something about creepy old farms that just seem to lend themselves to horror movies Old time farm implements like pitchforks, scythes and rakes become all the more sinister hanging in a barn when someone is being stalked by a creature or a serial killer. American Gothic has more than one subtext, after all.

A local farmer’s wife, Maria Pritchard (Regan) and her son Jonah (Drever) have disappeared and suspect number one is the husband, abusive but devout Jackson Pritchard (Ventimiglia). They’ve owned their piece of land in Devil’s Gate, North Dakota for generations and while Jackson awaits the arrival of angels to make his barren soil fertile the FBI in the person of Special Agent Daria Francis (Schull) to investigate the disappearance.

One wonders who called her in; it certainly wasn’t good ol’ boy Sheriff Gruenwell (Frakes) who not-so-subtly warns her to stay away from Pritchard; reluctantly, he allows Deputy Colt Salter (Ashmore) to accompany her. The Deputy warns the Special Agent that Jackson, whom he went to high school with, is a little bit twitchy and is known for his explosive temper. Still, nobody is prepared for the police cruiser they arrive on the farm in to be struck by numerous bolts of lightning. I mean, lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice, right?

Well, it does in Devil’s Lake and more to the point on the Pritchard place. Soon it becomes apparent that Jackson may not be as crazy as everyone thinks he is; there are most definitely some things lurking in his basement. There are also beings coming from the sky but they might not be the angels Jackson thinks they are.

The cast is pretty strong with some TV veterans as well as Ashmore who cut his teeth on the X-Men movies. Surprisingly, Ventimiglia chews the scenery more than I’ve ever seen him do before. He was such a compelling figure in Heroes but here he truly embraces the crazy. A fairly high percentage of his dialogue is shrieked rather than stated and when he’s quiet, it’s because he’s giving a menacing mumble. Beyond that, it’s great to see Frakes in a role that isn’t named Will Riker although it is a bit disturbing to realize that 31 years has passed since he originated that role in Star Trek: The Next Generation and the years are definitely taking their toll.

The actors for the most part do their jobs well but they aren’t given a whole lot to work with; the characters really aren’t developed much as writer-director Staub and his co-writer Peter Aperlo don’t give them much in the way of character development to hang their hats on. There are other compensations however; the creature effects are pretty damn good and reminiscent of the work of Guillermo del Toro. There’s also some nifty storm effects although they don’t really break any new ground there.

It’s not an entirely well-filmed movie though. The cinematography ranges from outdoor shots that are so overlit that they look like the sun’s exploding, or indoor shots that look like they were lit by candlelight. Less extremes on both ends would have been sincerely appreciated.

For the most part this is a fairly entertaining sci-fi/horror creature feature, set on a desolate farm in the middle of nowhere a la Texas Chainsaw Massacre loaded with traps a la Saw and some slimy monsters a la Pan’s Labyrinth. This isn’t a rocket science kind of movie but it is a decent enough thrill ride nonetheless.

REASONS TO GO: Some of the special effects are pretty impressive. It is good to see Jonathan Frakes in a non-Star Trek role.
REASONS TO STAY: Ventimiglia is more than a little bit over-the-top. The cinematography is either virtually washed out or just  about too dark to see.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a lot of violence and gore.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The town itself is fictional but there is a town in North Dakota called Devil’s Lake.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/13/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 36% positive reviews. Metacritic: 37/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Last Exorcism
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
For the Love of George

I Sell the Dead


I Sell the Dead

There are many things out there much worse than grave robbers.

(2008) Horror Comedy (IFC) Dominic Monaghan, Larry Fessenden, Ron Perlman, Angus Scrimm, Eileen Colgan, John Speredakos, Brenda Cooney, Heather Bullock. Directed by Glenn McQuaid

Perhaps one of the worst professions ever conceived by the ever-fevered mind of man is that of grave robber, those who steal human corpses for use by anatomists, doctors and whoever is willing to pay for them to dig one up. However, as bad as they are, there are worse things out there.

Arthur Blake (Monaghan) is a grave robber and he and his partner Willie Grimes (Fessenden, who also wrote and produced the film) are about to be executed for their crimes. While Arthur awaits his turn at the guillotine, he confesses his sins to Father Duffy (Perlman) who comes in to give the boy absolution.

Instead, Arthur tells the tale of his apprenticeship with Grimes and their slow make-over from run-of-the-mill body snatchers to those specializing in, well, special cases. Their penchant for turning up vampires, aliens and zombies runs them afoul of Cornelius Murphy (Speredakos), head of a rival gang.

Burke and Hare…I mean, Blake and Grimes are used to running afoul of people. They have a business relationship with Dr. Quint (Scrimm) to provide corpses for dissection but that doesn’t do the good doctor any good if the damn things won’t stay dead.

The movie has an off-the-scale silliness factor which actually adds to the charm. I honestly didn’t expect much from this one, which got such a limited release that most of its cast never knew it actually got one.

McQuaid, a fine cinematographer in his own right, shot this on a micro-budget mostly in the United States (substituting for Ireland, which its often mistaken for) and has a nice sense of flair for the homage. He seems to have been greatly influenced by the Hammer horror films of the 70s which is what this movie most resembles.

There are also some nice little touches, such as Scrimm, who played the Tall Man (a mortuary worker) in Phantasm, here as (wait for it) a mortuary worker. (TA-DAAAAAAAA!) It shows a deft touch not often found in horror directors these days who prefer to bludgeon the viewer with gore and effects make-up to the point where old fashioned horror movies with great premises are an endangered species.

Not if McQuaid and Fessenden have anything to do with it. Fessenden, although ostensibly a supporting player, actually steals the show in many ways. He appears to be having the best time of any in the cast, and plays his character with an air of jaded disbelief that helps move the comic timing of the movie quite nicely.

Monaghan, a genre favorite for his work in The Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as the cult classic television show “Lost,” makes do with a part that probably could have used Ricky Gervais instead. Still, he’s got a beguiling charisma that audiences just naturally gravitate towards; he’s got a great shot at a political career if he ever decides to go that route.

Quite frankly, this is low budget and it shows in the sets as well as in the set pieces. To be fair, McQuaid wasn’t looking to reinvent the wheel here and he uses a lot of conventional genre tricks in getting his point across, relying more on practical effects than in digital ones. He also has a good script, a solid cast and a fair amount of talent of his own; there is an economy of energy here that allows the actors to underplay things a bit so it doesn’t descend into parody (a la the Scary Movie franchise) or cheesiness (the Abbott and Costello classics). From that standpoint, you have to be impressed with the talent behind the camera as it’s pretty difficult to pull off that kind of feat. Certainly I’ll be looking forward with anticipation for further projects from McQuaid.

Horror fans are going to get a kick out of this one, which shows off impressive genre chops that give props to everything from the Universal monster pictures to soft-core porn. Doesn’t sound compatible, I grant you but then that kind of imaginative genre-bending is part of why this charming and witty film works.

WHY RENT THIS: It has a certain off-beat charm that’s infectious. Monaghan is extremely likable and Fessenden is having a jolly good time with this.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Definitely suffers from a Grade Z budget with A-list aspirations. Film is disjointed and drags early on.

FAMILY VALUES: Some fairly ghoulish themes and images, as well as a smattering of foul language and a bit of horror violence make this suitable only for those of legal drinking age or greater.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A huge hit on the festival circuit (particularly at Slamdance where it was nominated for a cinematography award), IFC picked up the movie for a (very) brief U.S. run before sending it off for home video, on demand and eventually, cable release.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The DVD comes with a comic book version of the movie done in the style of the animations that appear periodically in the film.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $8,050 on an unreported production budget; the movie certainly lost money here, but overseas may have made enough to at least break even, or maybe not.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day

Top 5 “I Can See Dead People” Movies


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

HONORABLE MENTION

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

5. GHOSTBUSTERS (1984)

 

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

4. TOPPER (1937)

 

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

3. FIELD OF DREAMS (1989)

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

2. THE FRIGHTENERS (1996)

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

1. THE SIXTH SENSE (1999)

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

Charlie St. Cloud


Charlie St. Cloud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Pride and Glory

Jonah Hex


Jonah Hex

You have to wonder if Josh Brolin didn't just take a blowtorch to his career.

(Warner Brothers) Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Megan Fox, Michael Fassbender, Will Arnett, Michael Shannon, Tom Wopat, Aidan Quinn, Wes Bentley, John Gallagher Jr., Julia Jones, Luke James Fleischmann, Rio Hackford, Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Directed by Jimmy Hayward

We all have a reason to get up out of bed every morning. Be it love, career or cause, there is something that motivates us to keep going even when the going gets rough. For some that cause is vengeance.

Jonah Hex (Brolin) was an officer in the Confederate Army under the command of General Quentin Turnbull (Malkovich) but when the General ordered the burning of a hospital with innocent women and children inside it. Jonah balks at this and betrays Turnbull to the Union Army. As a result of this, Hex is forced to kill Jeb Turnbull (Morgan), the son of the General.

As you might guess, the General doesn’t cotton to this very well. He finds Jonah and ties him to a cross, then makes him watch as he burns Jonah’s wife and son to death. That General Turnbull, he sure has a thing for burning women and children alive. Just in case Jonah forgets who is responsible for the death of his family, General puts a branding iron on the side of Jonah’s face while the General’s Irish right hand man Burke (Fassbender) holds him down.

Jonah is left on the cross to die, but was rescued by members of the Crow nation whose medicine men were able to bring back Jonah to this side. Jonah came back hideously scarred but with the ability to converse with the dead. That comes in handy since the dead can see where those they trafficked with in life are.

Jonah becomes a bounty hunter but after killing a corrupt mayor and his sheriff in the lovely mining town (if you can really call it that) of Stunk Crick, he finds himself with a bounty on his own head. Naturally, he does what any self-respecting bounty hunter would do in a situation like that – go visit a prostitute with a heart of gold, namely the fetching Lilah (Fox) who carries a torch for Jonah. She also carries a derringer and a knife. She may have a heart of gold but she’s also practical.

Their rendezvous is interrupted by about a dozen Union soldiers (Jonah’s withering bon mot – “How many men are you seein’ today?”) who get Jonah’s co-operation by telling him three words; Quentin Turnbull’s alive.

You see, everybody had assumed that Turnbull had perished in a hotel fire but it turns out that he had faked his death. You’d think someone able to communicate with the dead would have better intel about who had passed on and who hadn’t. In any case, the U.S. Army had determined that Turnbull was assembling a superweapon designed by Eli Whitney, inventor of the Cotton Gin and was planning to use it against the United States on the occasion of its Centennial celebration. President Ulysses Grant (Quinn) thinks that Jonah Hex is the best bet at stopping that wacky General, who not only likes to burn women and children but sure can’t let go of a grudge. Can someone who has cheated death so often do so once again?

I really wanted to love this movie, and I had high hopes that I would. After all, Josh Brolin has been hot as of late, with terrific performances in No Country for Old Men, W. And Milk all increasing his bankability as an actor. This looked to create his genre profile and maybe put a franchise character under his belt.

Alas, it is not to be. While the script writers Neveldine and Taylor are some of the most innovative action film writers in the business (they wrote and directed both Crank films), they missed the mark here. Early on there’s a nifty animated sequence, and the dead guy interrogation sequences are pretty cool, but this feels slopped together. The heavy metal score gives it a kind of steampunk feel but the doomsday weapon, which features a kind of rotating cannon firing device that shoots big iron balls that are detonated by an orange glowing bocce ball, is nonsensical and not really impressive.

As kind of an aside, I think there’s a trend here that any movie that depicts Ulysses Grant as president turns into a major bomb – first there was The Legend of the Lone Ranger, then the misfire that was the remake of Wild, Wild West and now the box office receipts for this one were anemic. Screenwriters, take note.

Brolin does a credible enough job as Hex, mainly having to squint, snarl and drawl his lines in a Clint Eastwood-esque rasp. You get a sense of his pain and his violent nature, and while Neveldine and Taylor do try to give Hex a bit of backstory, Brolin’s narration gives us more insight into the character than we might have had otherwise.

Malkovich is a capable villain, although this is probably not his best bad guy role (that would be In the Line of Fire) and Fox is easy enough on the eyes in her Victorian boudoir fashions that she wears throughout.

There are lots of explosions – most of the budget seems to have gone to pyro. It’s a shame we didn’t see more story here. The movie clocks in at a mere 81 minutes, so there was room for more exposition but I get the impression that story was sacrificed for pacing here.

Jonah Hex comes from the realm of DC Comics and I find it somewhat surprising that the powers-that-be at DC have elected to greenlight a film about what has to be characterized as one of their minor characters over better-known characters such as Wonder Woman, the Flash and the Teen Titans, none of which have had a chance to shine on the big screen as of yet. Given the talent both in front of and behind the camera, I would have expected a better movie than the one we got here, which does little to establish DC Comics as a player in Hollywood the way Marvel Comics is. It’s too bad; the story of Jonah Hex is a compelling one and with a little more focus, this could have been a really good movie instead of a mediocre one.

REASONS TO GO: The movie isn’t as bad as you heard it is.

REASONS TO STAY: It’s still a mess. Story seems to have been sacrificed at the altar of pacing.

FAMILY VALUES: A good deal of violence, a little bit of bad language and a little bit of sexual innuendo. Okay for teens but probably not for much younger than that.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Along with veteran film composer Marco Beltrami, heavy metal band Mastodon composed the film’s score.

HOME OR THEATER: Chances are this will be gone from theaters by next weekend but quite frankly it’ll look a lot better on the big screen than the small.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Burma VJ