New Releases for the Week of June 21, 2019


TOY STORY 4

(Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Joan Cusack, Keanu Reeves, Timothy Dalton, Christina Hendricks. Directed by Josh Cooley

With the gang now firmly in the care of Bonnie, Woody takes on a craft project-turned-toy named Forky, who thinks of himself as trash and not a toy, as his new project. He tries to show Forky the joys of toy-ness. However, when Bonnie takes them all on a road trip and Woody meets up with an old friend, he discovers there are many viewpoints on what it is to be a toy.

See the trailer, clips, video featurettes and an interview here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: G

Anna

(Summit) Sasha Luss, Luke Evans, Cillian Murphy, Helen Mirren. Anna is without doubt a beauty but she’s also a beast; beneath the exterior of the woman lies a cold, ruthless assassin.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for strong violence, language, and some sexual content)

Burn Your Maps

(Vertical) Vera Farmiga, Jacob Tremblay, Virginia Madsen, Marton Csokas. A young American boy believes himself to be a Mongolian goat herder – so much so that he crowdfunds a trip to Mongolia, throwing his fractured family into further disarray. His mother makes a desperate trip across the globe for one last shot at making her family whole again.

See the trailer and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Touchstar Southchase
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements including some mature sexual material, and brief strong language) 

Child’s Play

(Orion) Aubrey Plaza, Mark Hamill, Tim Matheson, Gabriel Bateman. A young mother buys her son a special doll, unaware of the sinister nature of the toy in this reboot of the iconic horror franchise.

See the trailer, interviews, video featurettes and clips here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for bloody horror violence. and for language throughout)

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir

(Cradle Walk) Dhanush, Erin Moriarty, Bėrėnice Bejo, Barkhad Abdi. Upon his mother’s death, a young fakir from Mumbai decides to visit Paris to find the father he never knew. Things don’t go quite as planned and what was supposed to be a simple trip turns into a frenetic odyssey.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Regal Oviedo Marketplace
Rating: PG-13 (for some suggestive content and brief strong language)

Pavarotti

(CBS) Luciano Pavarotti, Stevie Wonder, Bono, Nelson Mandela. The story of one of the greatest tenors of the 20th century featuring cutting edge sound and never-before-seen footage. This doc was directed by Oscar winner Ron Howard.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a video featurette and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Music Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square
Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language and a war-related image)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Agent Sai Srinvas Athreya
Holy Lands
Kabir Singh
The Spy Behind Home Plate
Unda
Vault

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Agent Sai Srinvas Athreya
Echo in the Canyon
Game Over
In the Aisles
Kabir Singh
Ladies in Black
Mallesham
The Spy Behind Home Plate
This One’s for the Ladies
Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation
Yomeddine

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Agent Sai Srinvas Athreya
Holy Lands
Kabir Singh
Ladies in Black
Mallesham
Sindhubaadh
Swinging Safari

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Kabir Singh

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Anna
Child’s Play
Echo in the Canyon
Toy Story 4

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

The Dog Film Festival, St. Augustine, FL

Joy


Jennifer Lawrence anticipates another Oscar nomination.

Jennifer Lawrence anticipates another Oscar nomination.

(2015) Dramedy (20th Century Fox) Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Edgar Ramirez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Dascha Polanco, Elisabeth Röhm, Susan Lucci, Laura Wright, Maurice Benard, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Ken Howard, Donna Mills, Melissa Rivers, Ray De La Paz, John Enos III, Marianne Leone, Drena De Niro. Directed by David O. Russell

The world isn’t designed so that the little guy achieves success. It is even less designed so that the little gal achieves it.

Joy (Lawrence) is not your ordinary housewife. For one, she is surrounded by a family that seems tailor-made to bring her down. Her father Rudy (De Niro) owns a body shop and after being tossed out on his ass by his girlfriend, moves into the basement of Joy’s house where Joy’s ex-husband Tony (Ramirez), a budding Latin singer, is living. Also in the house is Joy’s mother Terry (Madsen) who has withdrawn from everything, staying in her bedroom and watching her soap operas. Only Joy’s grandmother Mimi (Ladd) – who is narrating – believes in Joy other than maybe her daughter and her son. Also in the mix is Joy’s super-critical and bitter half-sister Peggy (Röhm).

Joy has always had an imagination and a willingness to make things but has been held back by circumstances; she is basically the one who cooks and cleans in her household; she also is the breadwinner, although her Dad helps with the mortgage. Then, after an outing in which she is required to mop a mess of broken glass and ends up cutting her hands when she wrings the mop – regularly – she comes up with an idea for a mop that not only is more absorbent and requires less wringing, but also wrings itself. She calls it the Miracle Mop.

But a good idea requires money to become reality and she is forced to convince her Dad’s new girlfriend Trudy (Rossellini) to invest. Attempting to market and sell the mop on her own turns into dismal failure but it’s okay because that’s what everyone expects out of Joy. Heck, that’s what she expects of herself. But with the unflagging support of her best friend Jackie (Polanco), she takes her product to something new – a home shopping network on cable called QVC and an executive there named Neil Walker (Cooper) and a legend is born, not to mention a whole new way to market and sell new products.

Loosely (make it very loosely) based on the life of the real Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano, the movie has a lot of David O. Russell trademarks; a dysfunctional family that seems hell-bent on destroying the dreams of the lead character, resolve in the face of insurmountable odds and an extraordinary performance by Jennifer Lawrence.

Say what you want about Russell (and there are critics who make no secret of the fact that they think him overrated) but he seems to be a muse for Lawrence. Perhaps the most gifted actress of her generation, Lawrence has received most of her Oscar attention (and she’s pretty much a lock for a nomination here after winning the Golden Globe last weekend) in films she has been directed in by Russell, including her win. Some have criticized the film for a variety of reasons, but you can’t fault Lawrence. She has given yet another outstanding performance as Joy, going from a nearly abusive lifestyle that seems bound to keep her down to becoming a wealthy, self-confident self-made entrepreneur whose success is like a protective shield. In the latter part of the movie, there is an almost emotionless feel to Joy who has erected barriers even when expressing warmth to women who were in similar circumstances to herself. I found Lawrence’s range inspiring, and even though her character keeps a lot in, it’s there if you know where to look for it.

In fact, most of the cast does a terrific job here, with De Niro once again showing he can do comedy just as well as anybody, and the trio of Rossellini, Ladd and Madsen all wonderful as older women with at least some sort of quirky characteristics to them although Ladd is more of a traditional grandmother as Hollywood tends to imagine them. Madsen in particular impressed me; she has been to my mind underutilized throughout her career which is a shame; she has given some terrific performances in films like Creator.

Where the movie goes wrong is in a couple of places. For one, the middle third is tough sledding for the viewer as the pace slows to a crawl. The ending is a little bit off-kilter and I left the screening curiously unsatisfied, sort of like craving good Chinese food and eating at Panda Express. One of the complaints I’ve noticed about the film is that most of the characters in the film are really not characters as much as caricatures. I understand the beef; there are actions taken by some of them that for sure don’t feel like things real people would do. However, I think this was a conscious decision by Russell and although at the end of the day I don’t think it worked as well as he envisioned, I understood that this was part of the comic element of the film in which Joy’s family was somewhat ogre-ish, particularly towards her dreams.

I blow hot and cold when it comes to Russell; I think he has an excellent eye for good cinematic material but other than The Fighter there really hasn’t been a film of his that has blown me out of the water. Joy is in many ways the most meh of his movies, neither hot nor cold, good nor bad. It hasn’t lit the box office on fire and quite frankly I’m siding with the moviegoers on this one; it’s certainly one worth seeing on home video but there are plenty of other movies out there in the theaters that I would recommend you see before this one.

REASONS TO GO: Another fine performance by Lawrence. She gets plenty of support from the rest of the cast.
REASONS TO STAY: Lags in the middle. The ending is ludicrous.
FAMILY VALUES: Some rough language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Joy Mangano, one of the main sources for the Joy character, developed the Miracle Mop (as seen on TV) in 1990 – the same year Jennifer Lawrence was born.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/12/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 60% positive reviews. Metacritic: 56/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Jobs
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Carol

Father of Invention


 

Father of Invention

Kevin Spacey, a victim of the economic downturn.

(2010) Comedy (Anchor Bay) Kevin Spacey, Heather Graham, Camilla Belle, Virginia Madsen, Craig Robinson, Johnny Knoxville, John Stamos, Anna Anissimova, Red West, Michael Rosenbaum, Danny Comden, Jack McGee, Karen Livers. Directed by Trent Cooper

We all make mistakes in life, some more serious than others. When we foul up, it is on us to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and make life work again. In order to do that, sometimes we must re-invent ourselves. That’s an opportunity to rectify past mistakes but only if we learned from them.

Robert Axle (Spacey) is an infomercial billionaire. Or, rather, he was. One of his inventions had a design flaw, causing the user to be maimed. One prison center and several class action suits later, Axle is released from prison. His billions are gone; what was left after the settlement of the suits was spent by his now ex-wife Lorraine (Madsen) on philanthropy and a frivolous career move as a singer. Her new boyfriend Jerry King (Robinson) eagerly aided and abetted the dissolution of his nest egg.

Without any place to go, he is forced to move in with his estranged daughter Claire (Belle) and take a job at a Wal*Mart-like entity where his boss Troy Colangelo (Knoxville) offers endless platitudes which are ultimately meaningless. To make matters worse, Claire’s roommate Phoebe (Graham), a lesbian and a hater of men who initially thinks Robert  is the epitome of the male species – i.e. absolutely despicable – but falls for him anyway.

Robert knows just one good idea could conceivably take him back to the top and soon enough he has it. He takes it to his old company but they pooh-pooh it – and then steal it as their own. Robert has had his share of sins in his life, but the punishment seems to be well beyond what he deserves. Still, he plugs along, getting Troy to invest in his new product and enlisting the help of long time ally Sam Bergman (West) to help design and build the new product, it looks like his way to the top is assured. That’s generally when the floor drops out from under you.

This is one of those movies that shows up that gets a “cup of coffee” release on a few screens here and there (generally in New York and maybe Los Angeles) and then goes straight on to home video. With home video, streaming, and various other ways of watching movies than going to theaters or watching them on television networks, the demand for films has increased while the quality has remained flat.

That has led to a cornucopia of mediocre movies out there that you’ve never heard of but are easily available through Netflix, on cable or through YouTube in some cases. The issue with that is that some pretty decent movies wind up falling through the cracks and getting lumped with the chaff.

This is one of those movies. Spacey has been a performer who rarely disappoints over the past 20 years; even though not all of his movies have been financial or even critical successes, you can never accuse him of phoning one in and he doesn’t here. He takes Robert Axle from broken and defeated to arrogant and driven, ending up as humble and loving. In other words, he takes us on Robert’s journey and allows us to understand the road that got him there. And he makes it look effortless in doing so.

Graham is one of my favorite actresses. Not only is she shagadelically beautiful but she also has plenty of skill. Her angry lesbian is written kind of one-dimensionally but Graham gives her some depth, mostly from the way she interacts not only with Robert but with Claire as well. I truly wish she would get some better parts to work with.

The story is pretty predictable and it is mainly Spacey’s performance that gives it any particular nuance. You know pretty much how it’s going to end up and what steps are going to happen before it gets there. Normally that would be reason enough to not even bother writing a review – but Spacey gives this movie a reason to be seen.

WHY RENT THIS: Even in bad films Spacey is always entertaining.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The plot is kind of predictable and occasionally nonsensical. Characters are mostly clichés.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a fair amount of bad language as well as some sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Spacey shot this while concurrently working as artistic director of the Old Vic in London, one of the most prestigious positions in the legitimate theater.:

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Shrink

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Centurion

Red Riding Hood


Red Riding Hood

Gary Oldman reacts to charges that this is Twilight with werewolves.

(2011) Romantic Fantasy (Warner Brothers) Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Billy Burke, Shiloh Fernandez, Max Irons, Virginia Madsen, Julie Christie, Lukas Haas, Shauna Kane, Michael Hogan, Adrian Holmes, Cole Heppell, Michael Shanks. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke

The woods are deep and dark for a reason. There are things there that defy the world we know and keep to the shadows, leaping out only when some helpless unsuspecting maiden passes by.

Valerie (Seyfried) lives in a bucolic village in the woods surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It is winter and the woods have become dark and threatening. It is full moon night and a sacrifice is being left out for the wolf that has beset their village for generations.

She has been in love with Peter (Fernandez), a woodcutter who works with her father Cesaire (Burke) who mostly drinks. Her mother Suzette (Madsen) however has promised her to another – Henry (Irons), the blacksmith’s boy and considerably well-to-do in a village like this. It’s a great match – only Valerie loves Peter, not Henry.

Things start to go wrong when Valerie’s sister turns up dead at the hands of the wolf. The townspeople go out to hunt the beast dead. It turns out the hunters killed a beast but not the beast. They call in Father Solomon (Oldman), an expert hunter who asserts they have a werewolf at work – and the beast lives among them in their human form.

Suspicion turns on everyone, from Valerie’s quirky grandma (Christie) living out in the woods by herself to Valerie herself. At first the villagers pooh-pooh the good Father but when the werewolf crashes their celebration, there is no longer any doubt that they are dealing with a diabolical beast. But which one of them is it? And can they stop the beast in time?

Director Catherine Hardwicke last did Twilight and obviously this is the kind of thing that is in her comfort zone. It has all the elements that made that movie a hit; a virginal lead forced to choose between two hotties that have a secret that involves the supernatural. However, what this movie lacks is that sense of tragedy that makes the hearts of teen girls go pitter pat. Twilight works because there’s that knowledge that Bella and Edward can never be together and because if they do, they will both be changed forever.

That’s not here at all; there’s nothing epic about the romantic angle at all and say what you will about the Twilight series, that quality is there in spades. You have to care about the couple in a romantic fantasy or else it doesn’t work. Here, the sparks never really fly. Seyfried is a fine actress and Fernandez and Irons are both pretty good in their own rights, but the chemistry fails here.

The location is really beautiful which is inevitable because it’s mostly computer generated. Majestic snow-capped mountains, endless dark green swaths of forest and quaint vaguely-Germanic villages make it a fantasy setting right out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. In a sense, the location is too perfect, too bucolic – at times the sense of menace that should be palpable is overwhelmed by the charm of the setting.

The werewolf itself is also a bit of a letdown – it’s more of a big shaggy dog than anything else and the wolfish side which should be wild and untamed is suborned by a silly ability to communicate telepathically with Valerie. He comes off like a talking animal and less of a ferocious monster. So as a horror movie, this doesn’t really work either.

So it boils down to suspense, figuring out who the werewolf is. Quite frankly, it’s not that hard – Da Queen figured it out pretty damn quickly, even more so than her movie-loving husband. Still, it’s not difficult to spot the wolf, as it were – and that is also a problem.

It’s a movie that needed more guidance from the writer; it’s almost as if three different studio executives with three different ideas for the movie were telling the writer “More romance. No, more horror. No, it’s gotta have suspense.” In trying to be something for everybody it ends up being nothing to anybody.

REASONS TO GO: Some beautiful-looking sequences. Some of the music is impressive.

REASONS TO STAY: Isn’t terrifying enough to be horror; not sentimental enough to be romance; too mundane to be a suspense film.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s violence and sensuality, along with some creature feature-like thrills.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Actor Max Irons is the son of Jeremy Irons.

HOME OR THEATER: Some of the wide CGI vistas are best seen at the multiplex.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Inugami

New Releases for the Week of March 11, 2011


March 11, 2011

Even alien invaders love to blow a good smoke ring.

BATTLE: LOS ANGELES

(Columbia) Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan, Ne-Yo, Michael Pena, Ramon Rodriguez, Noel Fisher. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman

Those pesky aliens are back and they are after Los Angeles in a big way. Having taken over most of the rest of the world, they only have L.A. to take down and then Earth is theirs. Mankind will make its last stand in the City of Angels, which could be bad news for mankind;  saving the planet might have to wait if there’s really bad traffic.

See the trailer, promos, interviews, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction Action

Rating: PG-13 (for sustained and intense sequences of war violence and destruction and for language)

Even the Rain 

(Vitagraph) Gael Garcia Bernal, Luis Tosar, Karra Elejalde, Raul Arevalo. A film crew making a movie about the landing of Christopher Columbus in the Americas becomes involved with the fight of native aboriginals of Bolivia to secure water rights in the small village of Cochabamba. The concurrent story of Columbus’ affect on the natives as well as their fight for rights in the 21st century makes for a powerful juxtaposition.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: NR

Mars Needs Moms

(Disney) Starring the voices of Seth Green, Dan Fogler, Joan Cusack, Mindy Kaling. From the folks that brought you The Polar Express comes this new motion capture film about a young boy who, like most young boys, resents his mother because she demands soooo much from him. When she is kidnapped to provide some mothering to Martian children, however, he accidentally stows away and realizes he must find a way to bring her back home and along the way gets an interesting new perspective on what it means to be a parent.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Animated Science Fiction Feature

Rating: PG (for for sci-fi action and peril)

Red Riding Hood

(Warner Brothers) Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Billy Burke, Virginia Madsen. When a werewolf terrorizes a small village, a famed wolf hunter is called in to help hunt down the beast. When he declares that the beast is human by day, suspicion falls on a young girl and several who are close to her. When it appears she has a connection with the werewolf, she becomes prime suspect numero uno – or, failing that, bait for the beast.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for violence and creature terror, and some sensuality)

The Astronaut Farmer


The Astronaut Farmer

Billy Bob Thornton wants to be an astronaut when he grows up.

(Warner Brothers) Billy Bob Thornton, Virginia Madsen, Tim Blake Nelson, J.K. Simmons, Bruce Dern, Max Theriot, Mark Polish, Jon Gries, Bruce Willis. Directed by Michael Polish

For as long as he could remember, Charlie Farmer (Thornton) wanted to be an astronaut. The son of a Texas rancher, he joined the Air Force and became a test pilot, the better to join the space program, which he did. After his dad’s suicide, however, Charlie left the program to take care of his family, a decision he regretted the rest of his life.

Now, Charlie Farmer is building a rocket in his barn. His kids – including son Shepherd (Theriot) are behind him, his beautiful wife Audie (Madsen) supports him, even as she works as a waitress in a diner to help make ends meet. Even his father-in-law (Dern) respects him. Most of the rest of the people in town think he’s a whacko.

Unfortunately, the feds get wind of his scheme when he tries to buy 10,000 square pounds of rocket fuel and decide to shut down this amateur Buck Rogers. The bank, to whom Charlie has already fallen terribly behind in mortgage payments, has initiated foreclosure proceedings. Charlie is this close to losing everything. Still, he has his family dreaming together – and that in itself is a very powerful thing.

There can be some extreme corniness at times, with emphasis on family unity and pursuing dreams nearly at the expense of all else. You can see why it didn’t resonate with a younger audience, a virtual kiss of death at the box office today. That doesn’t mean this isn’t a good movie. It has all the elements of a family movie, but the character exposition might be a bit too much for younger audiences, who could conceivably be bored.

There are some moments that will wake you up, like most of the launch sequence scenes. Some nice visuals too, as early on Billy Bob in full spacesuit regalia chases a stray calf while riding a horse. Talk about cowboys and aliens.

Thornton excels at these kinds of roles, the low-key salt of the earth family man, and he doesn’t get to play them too often. He carries himself with great dignity, but loses his cool just often enough to put you a little bit on edge around him. Madsen as his long-suffering wife continues to be impressive with almost every role she plays. Willis, in an uncredited turn, plays an old friend of Charlie’s who made it on into “the program” after Charlie dropped out, and went on to fly the space shuttle.

I liked the underlying current of the role of civilians in space. I believe that you will start to see more civilians playing larger roles in future space missions especially as the commercial possibilities of space become more lucrative.

All that aside, I found this to be a charming movie that I became engrossed with. Occasionally, the writers strained credulity a bit – they painted themselves into a few corners and used some shall we say, novel approaches of getting out of them. However, those moments are few and far between. I was completely taken with Charlie Farmer’s story, and I think a lot more people will be too, once they give it a chance. For the record, the DVD is a little difficult to find in stores, but it is available generally on premium cable and video-on-demand services.

WHY RENT THIS: Unexpectedly charming. Low-key without being sleep-inducing. Message is one we rarely hear these days outside of the occasional Disney movie.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Paints itself into corners plot-wise and doesn’t resolve every challenge in a satisfying manner.

FAMILY MATTERS: A little salty language and some perilous situations but otherwise suitable for all audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Just as Farmer is about to launc h, Shepard says “Cleared for launch at zero hour, 9am” in an homage to Elton John’s “Rocket Man.”

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Australia

The Haunting in Connecticut


Even Virginia Madsen doesn't like spring cleaning.

Even Virginia Madsen doesn't like spring cleaning.

(Lionsgate) Virginia Madsen, Kyle Gallner, Elias Koteas, Martin Donovan, Amanda Crew, Sophi Knight, Ty Wood, Erik Berg, John Bluethner. Directed by Peter Cornwell

The line between our world and the next is said to be gossamer-thin. There are those who walk that line between our worlds – the sick, the dying, the sensitive. These people can be hyper-aware of things the rest of us cannot know.

The Campbells are a family in crisis. Teenaged Matt (Gallner) is battling a rare form of cancer and is losing that battle. His frequent treatments require long drives into Connecticut, a drive that is excruciating for Matt and his mother Sara (Madsen). The illness has drained the finances of the family considerably, but Sara’s husband Peter (Donovan) has worked hard to overcome his alcohol addiction and is bringing in substantial work as a contractor. Still, the family (including the younger children Mary (Knight) and Billy (Wood) as well as their cousin Wendy (Crew) who has been recruited to help watch the smaller kids) are completely focused on Matt and the decision is made to find a place to live closer to where Matt is receiving his treatments.

The problem is finding something affordable in a particularly affluent part of Connecticut and Sara despairs of ever doing so, until she finds a place that seems perfect at first blush. It’s large enough to accommodate them all, reasonably close to Matt’s doctors and best of all it’s in their price range. The house is older and in need of repairs in some places but otherwise it seems perfect.

The family moves in and Matt is drawn to the basement. It’s cooler down there and has its own bathroom (so that the other kids don’t have to hear Matt vomiting), and there’s a mysterious set of locked doors and frosted windows. Things settle in to a semblance of normalcy, or at least as normal as things can get for a family with a critically ill child.

Then Matt starts seeing things. People who aren’t there, horrible visions of corpses being desecrated, those kinds of things. He’s reluctant to tell his family about them; the radical treatment he’s on is known to cause serious hallucinations as a side-effect and could be the basis of him being denied this treatment.

Then others in the family begin experiencing bizarre things as well. It turns out that the house they moved into was once a funeral home, but not only a funeral home – one in which séances were performed by a gifted young medium named Jonah (Berg) at the direction of the funeral home’s undertaker Ramsey Aickman (Bluethner). It becomes clear that there is something very wrong going on in the house, something beyond our experience. Matt turns to Reverend Popescu (Koteas), who is also receiving the same treatment Matt is and is more sympathetic than Matt’s parents but what does the malevolent force that resides in his house want with Matt?

This is loosely based on an incident that allegedly took place in the late 1980s in Southington, Connecticut and was the subject of a Discovery Channel documentary which is what caught the filmmakers’ attention originally. There has been some controversy about the validity of the claims of the family that became the Campbells in this story, but that’s neither here nor there.

What we’re more interested in is whether this is a good movie or not and surprisingly, it is. The filmmakers use Matt’s illness as an underlying thread far more horrifying in many ways than the spectres and spookies that pop out throughout the movie. The main complain I’ve heard leveled at the film is that there are too many instances of startle scares, scenes where something leaps out at you suddenly with an orchestral screech designed to make you leap out of your seat. A little of that goes a long way, and there are things forever jumping out at the Campbells that by the end of the film it gets to be old hat.

The relationship between Matt and Sara is what works best. Madsen is a capable actress and turns in one of the finest performances of her career here as a mother fiercely determined to see her son better, terrified that he will never be and willing to do anything to ease his suffering. Once in awhile, you can see some of the stress peeking through, as you might in any mother trying her damndest to hold it together in front of the kids.

Gallner and Koteas also turn in fine performances making the suffering of their characters believable. Koteas is a bit grim and kooky but Gallner is a kid coping with something no kid should have to cope with, and he’s the centerpiece here, not a horror hero in the traditional sense but one nonetheless.

Horror fans will be pleased to know that there is plenty of gruesome spectacles as well as some pretty nicely orchestrated scares. The backstory is impeccably logical and consistent, a problem with some supernatural horror movies.

I expected a cheesy B-Movie and instead was rewarded with a surprisingly effective, pleasantly well-acted horror movie that while not a classic was certainly worth my time. I particularly liked the cancer background theme; that seemed very authentic and made the story much more compelling, particularly in the relationship between mother and son. Even the furies of Hell can’t match a pissed off mom protecting her sick kid.

WHY RENT THIS: The scares are very effective and the shocks very visceral. Horror fans will get their fill. The underlying story of Matt’s illness is genuinely affecting, and the effects of his condition on the family make for a compelling subplot.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the plot points are a bit cliché, particularly where they deviate from the original story. The father’s alcoholism was an unnecessary subplot that either should have been explored much further or ignored entirely.

FAMILY VALUES: Some scenes of mutilation and mayhem not for the squeamish. Some extremely nasty scares and nightmare-inducing visuals will make this strictly off-limits for the very young.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Contraversial paranormal investigators Ed and Leslie Warren, who also investigated the Amityville Horror, were the investigators on the case that this is based on.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: A feature on post-mortem photography, as well as a re-examination of the original haunting.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Day Three of the Six Days of Darkness