Saturday, October 31, 2009

Horror Fest '09: Fright Night

Picture this: a teenager begins to fear for his life when he suspects his new neighbor of being a vampire. Well, that’s exactly the situation Charley Brewster, the main character of Fright Night (1985), must face. While that scenario may seem standard, even cliché, the film handles it well, making the most out of common story elements. For this type of film the story becomes almost secondary to the tone, which was what ultimately won me over. There are certain sensibilities which run throughout; mostly a sense of fun and a sense of history, which hit the right chords for me.

The appreciation for film history starts right off the bat. The beginning of the film will bring Rear Window to mind for many fans of cinema, as Charley spies on his neighbor and struggles to convince others to believe his wild theory. Referencing Hitchcock’s work, whether intentional or not, sets a particular mood – one of intrigue and suspense that will carry the film. Since no one he knows believes him, Charlie sets out to find Peter Vincent, an aging horror film star who happens to be down on his luck. The Peter Vincent character brings up more references to films past as his name itself recalls horror icons Peter Cushing and Vincent Price. The filmmakers do well to pay tribute to the genre without letting their admiration interfere with telling their own story.

This film boasts some fine performances, especially from Chris Sarandon as the creepy new neighbor. He strikes both a sinister presence and a suave charisma as suspected vampire Jerry Dandrige; a tough line to walk. One minute he’s charming, the next he’s dangerous. Most of the film’s scares come courtesy of Sarandon, especially when Jerry confronts Charley alone at night for the first time. Another top performance comes from Roddy McDowall as Peter Vincent, helping represent the lighter side of the film. He seems to be having a fun time alternating between the horror host persona and true-life cowardly self of his character. William Ragsdale and Amanda Bearse function adequately in the lead roles, although nothing overly memorable comes from them.

I enjoy the relatively small scale of the story as it allows the film to focus on performing the few key aspects it needs to function effectively. As an example of the film’s small scale, essentially only six characters make up the bulk of the film. That aspect makes the film easily watchable, something to throw on when whenever you want. There’s something satisfying about watching a film use standard elements well. It’s like the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. Sure, it may not be the best thing for you, but it’s familiar and likable. Perhaps Roger Ebert put it best when he wrote, "Fright Night is not a distinguished movie, but it has a lot of fun being undistinguished.”

Sometimes the simple approach works best. That’s certainly the case when it comes to Fright Night, a film filled with well-executed conventions. While some may call it cliché-ridden, the film’s overall effectiveness and sense of fun pulls it from stale territory and into fresh.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Double Dose of Damon

Two new trailers premiered within 24 hours of each other, both of which star busy-man Matt Damon. The first trailer was for Green Zone, which essentially looks another Bourne film, only set in the Middle East (not that that's a bad thing). That comparison, aside from the Damon connection, is mostly due to director Paul Greengrass's presence as he brings his signature hand-held, kinetic style that he supplied in the Bourne sequels. The film's story, based on the book Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone, involves a search for weapons of mass destruction. Other than that, I don't know that much about the plot, but that matters very little at this point. With Damon and Greengrass, as well as co-stars Greg Kinnear, Amy Ryan, Brendan Gleeson, I'm already sold based on the talent involved. Green Zone premiers on March 12, 2010.

The second trailer was for the latest Clint Eastwood film, Invictus. Based on actual events, the story follows Nelson Mandela’s first term as president of South Africa, and how he held hopes for uniting the country on the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Morgan Freeman plays Mandela, which is no big surprise. Not only does he seem like a natural for the part, he's worked with Eastwood in the past. Matt Damon plays South African team captain Francois Pienaar.
The trailer certainly looks like the Oscar-bait material that people have come to expect from Eastwood, especially of late. I'll definately see it, but the potential level of sentimentality has me slightly skeptical. Invictus will premier on December 11, 2009.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Criterion, You've Done It Again

For some time now, it's been known that the Criterion Company would be releasing Steven Soderbergh's epic bio-pic Che, but details on the release had not been made until now. The film will arrive on Blu-ray and DVD in January with all of the great extra features that collectors have come to expect from the company. Interestingly enough, the film was originally intended as a December release, but was delayed when Soderbergh needed additional time to prepare some of the additional content for the discs. Of the delay, a spokesperson from Criterion stated that, "[it's] a trade we will always make, even if it means we don’t get the benefit of sales in the holiday season, and we think that’s the kind of decision our collectors would want us to make”. This attitude from Criterion deserves some praise. How many companies would choose to wait out a heavy buying season in order to ensure a quality product gets produced? I'm personally looking forward to Che as I'm a fan of Soderbergh's work. He's taken quite a few chances with his films and this one represents one of his biggest. The two-part film will hit stores on January 19, 2010.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Horror Fest '09: The Howling

Some people simply don’t get the credit they deserve. Case in point: director Joe Dante has spent his career crafting some solidly entertaining films, and yet he isn’t anywhere near a household name. Sure, he achieved prominent success with Gremlins (1984), but most people paid attention to executive producer Steven Spielberg’s name above the title. Mainstream success aside, Dante has continually generated films with his own personal sensibilities, paying homage to the history of the silver screen and winking at the audience members in on the nods. The film which gained him the attention of Spielberg, eventually earning him the Gremlins gig, was The Howling (1981), a low-budget horror flick with a bit more on its mind than most. It represents one of those under-seen films, the kind that you feel pleasantly surprised to discover. Released the same year as An American Werewolf in London, The Howling swiftly fell off audience’s radars in favor of the similarly themed film. Fortunately, hindsight allows us a chance to consider this film and its place within that most hallowed of genres: the werewolf movie.

The film commences with a somewhat odd set-up, playing out more like a police procedural than a horror film. News anchor Karen White assists the police in capturing a serial killer who had been preying on the homeless. Her role in apprehending the killer proves quite traumatic, leading Karen to experience intense nightmares. Needing a rest, her psychiatrist suggests she head to The Colony, his own clinic away from the trappings of civilization. Once at the clinic, however, strange events lead her to believe that her life may be in danger. From there the film paces itself fairly deliberately, slowly revealing the scares and setting up a sense of atmosphere.

The Howling may contain its share of scares, but a streak of black humor also carries on throughout the proceedings. Aiming for more sly moments of amusement than laugh-out-loud jokes, the film will play better for those who know the genre best. For instance, Dante and company decide to mess with the typical rules associated with werewolves, leading to a humorous scene with an occult book store owner as he discusses his theories on dealing with the creatures (“They’re worse than cock-a-roaches,” he says). Also undermined is the archetypal portrayal of the werewolves as sympathetic, instead depicting them mostly as bloodthirsty beasts who have few qualms with luring unsuspecting people as prey. This switch leads to some sinister moments of humor as the werewolves discuss hunting habits and encourage others to join them. And those especially in-the-know will notice some werewolf-related visual puns as well as small references to werewolf films past, such as the fact that many character’s names are those of old horror film directors.

To fill out the cast of characters, Dante called upon old character-actors like John Carradine, Slim Pickens, Kevin McCarthy, and Dick Miller, further illustrating an appreciation of film history by the filmmaker. It’s a real pleasure to watch these actors go to work. They’re experienced pros who know the exact tone the film calls for. As for the leads, each one performs adequately for what is required of them. Dee Wallace portrays Karen with an equal amount of sympathy and paranoia, making her a character that we care about following. A special mention should go to Robert Picardo who plays the mysterious Eddie, a patient at The Colony who provides the film with some of its creepiest moments. As with anything else, the actor’s performances work to enhance the other filmic elements at play to create just the right tone.

The level of craft behind the film has gone undervalued. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the scenes of transformation in this film nearly rival the innovative effects in An American Werewolf in London. As in London, practical effects were utilized to portray the change from human into beast, resulting in a more visceral feel than past films supplied. The transformations exhibit a great level of pain for the creatures as bones bend and curve to their wolf forms. And, once again, I think this film represents another case in which a low budget forced the crew into becoming more creative. For a majority of the film you only receive glimpses of the monsters, a tactic which assists in building up the tension. That way, when the creatures do appear in full view, all the built-up tension delivers as the audience has already developed a fear of them.

Thematically, the film plays out the usual dilemma of a werewolf story: the struggle between being civilized and letting animal impulses take over. The Howling manages to convey this standard idea interestingly, modernizing it to include aspects of media, self-help groups, and marital fidelity. The opening of the film frames the central conflict effectively by focusing on the words of a psychiatrist as he speaks about repression as “the father of neurosis, of self-hatred” and how people should return to more base instincts. Though not at the forefront of the film, these facets remain in the margin for those who wish to explore them. Not many horror films can be enjoyed on multiple levels like this one and for that I’ll give credit.

The Howling may not represent groundbreaking cinema, but it offers solid entertainment. Those with a taste for the genre shouldn’t be disappointed as there’s plenty to pick up on and enjoy. With this film Joe Dante may not have gained the attention of the masses at the time, but some people (like Spielberg) took notice. Now maybe a few more will give it a shot.

Friday, October 23, 2009

First Look At The A-Team

The first official photo from the production of the new A-Team movie has been released, giving us a glimpse of the four leads. I'm not exactly what tone the film will take on, but if this picture gives any hint, the filmmakers will hopfully stick to the spirit of the TV series. They certainly have the looks to the characters down, slightly modernized, of course. The film stars Liam Neeson as Col John ‘Hannibal’ Smith, Bradley Cooper as Lt. Templeton ‘Faceman’ Peck, Sharlto Copley as Capt. ‘Howling Mad’ Murdock, and Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson as Sgt Bosco ‘B.A.’ Baracus.

This film will depend heavily on the camaraderie between the leads. If they succeed in that department, then half the work is done. It's been awhile since we've seen a decent buddy-cop type of film and this could definately fit the bill. While The A-Team isn't among my favorite shows of all-time, I have fond memories watching reruns of it when I was a kid. It had a great mix of comedy and action, something you don't see as often today. I'll be looking forward to viewing a trailer to see how this project develops. Right now, a June 11, 2010 release date has been set, so stay tuned for more updates.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Trailer: The Wolfman

With Halloween almost upon us, what better way to get in the mood than watching the latest trailer for the remake/reboot of The Wolfman? Starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, and Hugo Weaving, the film tells the classic origin story of Lawrence Talbot, cursed to become the infamous werewolf. Directed by special effects guy Joe Johnston, the trailer certainly is a feast for the eyes, with plenty of transformation shots and glimpses of the wolf in action. And, I must confess, I have a hard time resisting a cast like this. Del Toro seems like a perfect choice for the lead. There's something primal about his look that lends itself well to the titular role. Although reshoots and delays on this project keep me skeptical, I'm still hoping that we get a decent, fun throwback to classic horror when The Wolfman is unleashed in theaters on Feb. 12, 2010.

Check out the trailer below:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mini-Review: Duplicity

Tony Gilroy, writer/director of Michael Clayton, constructs something unique with his latest film, Duplicity. Starring Clive Owen and Julia Roberts, Duplicity comprises itself of equal parts romantic comedy and espionage films. Gilroy’s screenplay, while intricately constructed, may become too labyrinthine in its twists and turns for some people to follow. Luckily the real joy of the film doesn’t depend on following every little detail thrown in front of you. Instead, the real pleasure comes from the relationship between the main characters, two spies who decide to team up for an ultimate score. All the while, they play cat-and-mouse games with each other as neither one completely trusts the other.

This film reminded me of something like Charade; the kind of film that doesn’t get made much nowadays. Some of the exchanges between Owen and Roberts recalled the quick-fire dialog found in an old screwball comedy. And although I bring up these older references, Duplicity is thoroughly modern in its subject matter. The film takes a satirical look at corporate greed, bringing things to the most extremely ludicrous level.

In short, it’s a smart film, made for adults.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Wild Weekend At The Box Office

While I typically won't talk box office numbers too often on here, I thought this weekend provided some interesting results. Spike Jonze's Where The Wild Things Are achieved the #1 spot as most people thought it would, earning an estimated $32.5 million. This represents a solid opening for the big-budget art film, which had been plagued by some very public post-production troubles. It's nice to see a major studio take a gamble on what ultimately is a very personal film and one that won't appeal to everyone. Any time a movie like this can succeed, it gives me hope that more projects along these lines can be made.
Meanwhile, the Gerard Butler starring Law Abiding Citizen came in at #2 with a solid $21.3 million, proving once again that Americans have a thing for blood-lust.
The real surprise of the weekend was the #3 spot which went to Paranormal Activity, the independently financed horror film. Expanding to only 760 theaters the film grossed an estimated $20.2 million, representing an incredible achievement for the $11,000 budgeted project.
Rounding out the top 5 were Couples Retreat at #4 and The Stepfather at #5.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ferrell To "Go" Dramedy

After his next collaboration with Adam McKay on The Other Guys, which is currently shooting, Will Ferrell has signed on for a low-budget indie comedy called Everything Must Go. Based on a short story by Raymond Carver, the project represents the directorial debut of commercial director Dan Rush. The script was recently featured on the Black List, a list of Hollywood's best unproduced screenplays. Variety gives a quick description of the film:

"Ferrell will play a guy who loses his job and gets locked out of the house by his wife. She deposits his belongings on the front lawn, and he spends the next four days trying to sell his possessions."

I'm glad to see Will Ferrell attempting to branch out, mixing his mainstream films with something like this. Audiences have seen him do the dramedy thing before with Stranger Than Fiction, and hopfully this film will push him even further down that road. Some people may laugh, but I think Ferrell has a great performance in him. Whether or not this film brings it out remains to be seen. Regardless, though, I'll be pulling for him.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Horror Fest '09: The Lost Boys

The Lost Boys combines the horrific and the comedic in a way that only the 1980’s could produce. Director Joel Schumacher effectively updates the style and demeanor of vampires to fit the era. In fact, the film instantly becomes defined by the time in which it was made – from the clothing and hairstyles to the punk-influenced attitude. Although perhaps the style inadvertently sticks out for today’s audiences, The Lost Boys fortunately has more going for it than a bunch of hair gel.

Our story begins as divorced mother Lucy and her two sons, Michael and Sam, move to the small town of Santa Carla to get a fresh start. Little do they know that strange disappearances and killings regularly occur in the city, prompting some to dub Santa Carla the “Murder Capital of the World.” Despite such a dubious label, Michael and Sam quickly familiarize themselves with the area, hanging out on the boardwalk where many young people gather. Unfortunately some shady characters also explore the area with great interest. When Michael, the oldest boy, locks eyes with a girl named Star, trouble soon follows. As it turns out, Star associates with the shady bunch who patrol the boardwalk, headed by David (Kiefer Sutherland). Soon enough, Michael unwisely attempts to fit in with these new acquaintances, leading to a truly bizarre night that he can’t quite remember. Sam soon begins noticing unnatural changes to his brother (sensitivity to light, floating in mid-air, a thirst for blood, etc.) and the remainder of the film essentially focuses on getting Michael back to normal. Along the way, the film throws in plenty of jokes to balance out the horror aspects, as well as a few twists and turns dealing with vampire mythology.

While the story contains some interesting ideas, some aspects come across as clunky. The romance between Michael and Star, for example, barely develops and yet it becomes the catalyst responsible for launching the story forward. With the main thrust of the story lacking an adequate amount of depth, the overall stakes of the film aren’t as high as they could have been. The villains aren’t especially well-developed either, coming across as interchangeable and underdeveloped (except for Sutherland). Often times in horror films, a lack of knowledge of the monsters will benefit the effectiveness of the story. But with vampires, one of the few monsters who spend a significant amount of time mingling and associating with the living, I think a tad more character development is in order. These flaws by no means derail the film, though. In fact, The Lost Boys succeeds on several levels.

The film works most effectively in its tone. From the opening shot we get a strong sense of foreboding as an image of a nighttime boardwalk accompanied by an eerie song fills us with unease. Joel Schumacher and crew create a real sense of place that adds to the creep-factor. From empty parking lots to abandoned caves, the set-ups for scares put you in the scene. But, at the same time, the film switches smoothly between its creepy set-ups to humorous one-liners. The fact that it maintains this shifting tone throughout becomes the most impressive feature of the film.

The cast proves serviceable given the material. Kiefer Sutherland gives an effectively creepy performance as David, the lead vampire. Between this film and his bit in Phonebooth, I’m convinced this guy should play more villains. Jason Patrick probably has the most challenging role, switching from typical teenager to a psychologically tortured half-vampire, a change that he captures with skill. Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander provide the film with a majority of its comedic relief as two comic book store employees who know a thing or two about dealing with vampires. It just goes to show that a vast knowledge of comics could potentially save your life; a comforting thought for all those collectors out there, I’m sure. Perhaps the unsung heroes of the cast would include performances by adult actors Dianne Wiest and Edward Herrmann as they provide a sense of balance against the adolescent performers.

All in all, I’d say The Lost Boys represents a solid entry in the sub-genre of vampire flicks. While the climax builds up to a pretty paint-by-numbers ending, there’s plenty of fun along the way. It’s already become one of those time-capsule films that couldn’t really be made anymore, at least not in the same spirit. For better or worse, they just don’t make them like this anymore.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Gary Ross at the Directing Helm

Writer/director Gary Ross, whose credits include Pleasantville and Seabiscuit, looks for his next project to be a reboot of the Matt Helm series. This series centered on a slick secret agent who foiled criminal mastermind's plans, as well as making time to woo plenty of ladies in the process. Back in the 60's Dean Martin played the super-spy in a series of films essentially spoofing James Bond. Originally, Steven Spielberg had shown interest in the film, but backed out to pursue other projects. Now Ross has his chance at it, with the suddenly-high-in-demand Bradley Cooper in negotiations to star.

This project sounds interesting to me. If they can spoof today's spy films the way the 60's films spoofed Bond, then I'll be happy. Gary Ross turns in solid work and so does the screenwriter Paul Attanasio. So here's hoping they can make this a success. Oh, and if you haven't seen any of the 60's Matt Helm movies, then you might give them a try sometime. They're goofy and stupid, but pretty harmless fun.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Toy Story 3 Trailer

Well, it's been a long time coming, but Pixar has moved forward with Toy Story 3 and now the first trailer is available online. The basic premise of the film features Andy leaving for college, leaving his old toys to be dumped at a local daycare center. After some abuse from the kiddos, Woody and the gang decide to form an escape plan.

This series holds a special place for me, so of course I'll be in line (like many others) to see this when it's released next year. I still remember going to see the first film when I was ten years old, which was probably the perfect age to see it. I was old enough to recognize the technological advances being made, but still enough of a kid to have the story completely take hold of me. Walking out of the theater, I knew that I had just witnessed something special. With this new film looking to expand on the themes explored in the previous installments, I'll be interested in what direction they decide to take it.

On a side note: So many sequels come off as cash-grabs, but with Pixar involved, I know this project isn't one of them. Their level of quality and consistency goes unmatched. I am a bit concerned, though, that they are starting to lean more towards sequels than original stories. While Toy Story 3 is fine, after that there are plans for a Cars sequel and I've even heard rumors of a Monsters Inc. sequel. In the past, members of Pixar have stated that they wouldn't focus heavily on sequels; doing them only if a film really warranted one. I'm not trying to say that Pixar is beginning to slum it, but do Cars and Monsters Inc. really need additional films? Just some food for thought.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mini-Review: The Deep

For some reason I’ve always had a vague curiosity to watch The Deep (1977), but never bothered to until recently. The film centers on a young couple on vacation in Bermuda who become wrapped up in the dangerous world of treasure hunters when they discover some valuable properties in a wrecked ship. The cast includes Nick Nolte (sporting a nice 70’s mustache), Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Shaw, Louis Gossett Jr., and Eli Wallach.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of The Deep was that the film was clearly an attempt to capitalize on the success of Jaws two years previous. The film contains several overlapping elements with the classic blockbuster, the main one being author Peter Benchley who wrote the novels and screenplays both films were based upon. In addition to Benchley, actor Robert Shaw appears in both films playing hardened professionals. And last, but not least, both stories take place on islands and involve plenty of time on (or in) the water.

The premise certainly contains enough potential for a fun time, but ultimately I left the film feeling that it was average. There’s nothing overtly terrible about the film; the story just doesn’t reach its full potential. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have some good points. The cast does an adequate job of selling us on their characters and situations. Shaw stands out the most, not that he’s doing anything that we haven’t seen him do before. And technically speaking, the film looks great. The extended underwater sequences illustrate both the beauty and danger of sea life.

Overall, the film was an alright way to spend a Saturday morning in bed. That counts for something, right?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Paranormal Activity Continues Expansion

The new independent film Paranormal Activity continues to build a following as it expands to more than 170 theaters this weekend. This is one case where internet buzz and viral marketing appear to be paying off in a big way. The film reportedly made an estimated 2.5 million on Friday - not bad for an $11,000 budget. With its building success, hopefully Paranormal Activity will arrive at a theater somewhere remotely close to me, although I won't hold my breath.
The movie functions as "found footage" in the vein of The Blair Witch Project, and centers on a couple who attempt to document the strange happenings that are occurring in their home. With all of the comparisons being made to The Blair Witch Project, this would be a great film to see with a midnight crowd close to Halloween. So here's hoping that this film finds its way into even more theaters. At least that way there's more options than another Saw film this month.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Horror Fest '09: Creepshow

Anthology films are tricky. In my experience, those that I’ve seen have typically been mixed-bags. The main problem arises when the quality begins to vary from story to story, which is usually unavoidable. It’s sort of an awkward situation for the filmmakers, really. On the one hand, audiences will likely find something to enjoy out of it, but on the other hand, they probably won’t enjoy everything; resulting in a consensus that the film was merely “alright.” So, anyone who accomplishes the consistency necessary for one of these films deserves some recognition. But for those who don’t quite pull it off, I can’t begrudge them too much.

This line of thought brings me to Creepshow (1982), a horror film anthology, and the one and only collaboration between George Romero and Stephen King (a pairing which must have had horror fans drooling when the film was originally released). The idea behind this project drew heavily from the E. C. comic books of the 50’s, of which both Romero and King were fans. With that in mind, this film plays as an homage to those pulpy, lurid stories that I’m sure fascinated and inspired both artists in their youths. The film divides itself into five separate stories, each with varying degrees of success.

Some quick thoughts on each segment:

Segment 1 – Father’s Day
This first tale centers on a spoiled, rich family who gather together to mark the 7th anniversary of their father’s death (he was murdered, and by one of the family members, no less). Things conclude poorly for the family, however, as Father decides to rise from the grave and wreck havoc.
Despite the inclusion of some dark humor, this story was one of the weaker efforts, I thought. Simply relying on jump-scares without anyone to care about just doesn’t quite measure up. There just wasn’t much behind it.

Segment 2 – The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill
Stephen King stars in this segment as a slack-jawed yokel who discovers a meteor that crashes down on his farm. He immediately dreams of selling the meteor for big bucks. But then something curious begins to happen…
This was the worst. King should definitely stick to writing and leave acting to the professionals. His country bumpkin act grated my nerves. I understand that it’s supposed to be funny, but the humor attempted in this segment fell flat for me due to his over-the-top performance. The story itself isn’t awful, just kind of pointless.

Segment 3 – Something to Tide You Over
Leslie Neilson and Ted Danson star in this segment about a jealous husband (Neilson) who has discovered his wife has cheated on him with another man (Danson). This story was probably the most fun for me. Neilson and Danson play well off each other as a game of cat-and-mouse between them progresses to a twisted end. The tone of dark humor that the film strives for probably works best in this segment.

Segment 4 – The Crate
The longest story of the film centers on a put-upon husband (Hal Holbrook) and his domineering wife (Adrienne Barbeau). After the discovery of an old crate at a college campus, people begin to leave behind big bloody messes due to its contents. Now one man (Holbrook) must decide how to deal with the contents inside.
While this segment is a solid one, it goes on a bit too long for what the story needs. Again, the humor involved maintains a pitch black tone that I enjoyed.

Segment 5 – They’re Creeping Up on You
E. G. Marshall stars in this segment as a cantankerous, rich, old man with an obsession for cleanliness. He lives in a germ-free apartment away from all the “riff-raff” of the world which he despises. As much as he attempts to keep himself cleansed of those “lower” than him, something begins creeping up on him, ready to give him his just deserts.
Definitely the squirmiest/grossest of the segments, this story really builds up the tension. And, unlike the other stories, I felt as if this one actually had something to say. Romero is no stranger to social commentary and this feels like material well-suited for him. It’s probably the most effective segment and a impressive note to end the film.

While I felt that Creepshow failed to escape the typical troubles of an anthology film, several aspects make it worth watching – foremost among those aspects being the style. Romero stays true to comic book origins of this film by seamlessly integrating brief snippets of animation throughout the segments. Each of the stories becomes formatted like comic book drawings, occasionally displaying images as if they were panels within a comic. In addition to the animation, Romero’s use of lighting and color also add to the stylized comic book motif. During some of the more shocking moments, the lighting switches to bright primary colors and the backgrounds become flat as characters shudder in horror. Creepshow may deserve some credit here as one of the first films to specifically go after a comic book design, predating today’s comic book-influenced films by a couple decades.

Perhaps equally as inspired as the visuals are the make-up effects by Tom Savini. While CGI dominates today’s films, I tend to prefer practical effects as there’s more creativity behind them; plus, seeing something tangible onscreen has a more direct effect on audiences (at least this audience member). With that said, Savini’s creations for this film are top-notch. All of the creatures, living or dead, strike the intended amount of creepiness and scares.

Going into this film, the fright factor was a given. However, the level of humor involved caught me by surprise. As mentioned in the above segment descriptions, the comedy involved is pitch black, but if you can get onboard with that, then this film should play just fine. The performances (mostly) add to the humor as everyone essentially inhabits caricatured parts, chewing the scenery as needed. Leslie Neilson especially stands out as the conniving cheated-on husband as he hits just the right balance of sincerity and camp. Although a tad too much on the mean-spirited side, I thoroughly enjoyed laughing my way through these stories.

While the experience of watching Creepshow may have ended with my assessment that it was just “alright,” I’d definitely recommend it to horror fans. The film fills itself with enough enjoyable elements to make it worth a watch. And to be fair, I believe Romero and King accomplished exactly what they set out to do: give people some entertaining laughs and scares. I can’t fault the film too much for achieving its goals, even though they might not be of the highest sort.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Adrien Brody and Topher Grace Hunt...Predators?

The new Predator reboot/sequel has rounding out its cast recently, and none other than Adrien Brody and Topher Grace have jumped onboard. Those are two names that I wouldn't have thought to be chosen for a project like this, much less lobby to be a part of. Although seemingly against type in terms of physicality, Brody and Grace's appearances play into their characters. Some short character descriptions reveal that "Brody is a man who ends up inheriting the mantle of leader and is known as a hunter of men. Grace would play an accountant-type whose unassuming facade masks a dangerous serial killer." While hard-core fans of the original films might be disappointed by this news, I'm actually excited for the possibilities. Both Brody and Grace bring loads of talent to the projects they choose and I'm intrigued as to how they'll function in this film. Besides, the typical muscle-bound heroes of the 1980's now seem slightly passe in our digital age.

So, whatever you feel about this casting news, I think we can all agree that it's one of the most interesting announcements to happen in awhile.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mini-Review: How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying

Musicals represent my least-watched genre. With that said, I’m not opposed to watching them at all. For some reason, I just don’t get around to viewing too many. That’s something that I’ve attempted to correct though, as I recently sat down with How to Succeed in Business without Even Trying (1967).

Adapted from the Broadway show, this film takes a look at the office politics/sexual politics of the time. It stars Robert Morse, who reprised his Broadway role, as an up-and-coming window washer with dreams of climbing the corporate ladder. Morse probably seems like an odd choice for today’s audiences. He has an atypical look for a leading man and his performance might be considered a little frenzied. Ultimately though, I think his oddities are what won me over to him. Along with Morse, Michele Lee also stars as a fellow office worker, who immediately falls for the lead. Both stars perform admirably, in singing and dancing numbers.

Overall, the film plays as a solid bit of entertainment, but nothing mind-blowing. Perhaps the reason this doesn’t stand out more is due to how the film is shot. It seems very straightforward in its style – in other words, not as cinematic as it could be. Aside from that, there are many aspects of the film that are commendable. The production design definitely sets the mood of the 60’s – it’s colorful and vibrant. Also, there are some memorable songs, including “Brotherhood of Man” as a particular highlight. As a nice, family-friendly film, I’d say give this one a chance.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Horror Fest '09: The Monster Squad

Fred Dekker’s The Monster Squad (1987) comes across as if a 10 year-old was asked to write down their idea of a perfect horror film. While that might sound like an insult, I really mean it in the best way possible. The film captures a spirit of adolescent adventure, the kind of fantastical story that reminds you of your own childhood imaginings. It’s like The Goonies (1985), only for the horror set.

Our story centers on a small group of kids who obsess over monsters, even forming their own club dedicated to discussing all things creepy. Meanwhile, strange occurrences begin taking place around their small town. As it turns out, Dracula, along with several other classic monsters, are plotting to take over the world. Since no adults believe that monsters are on the loose, the kids must put their knowledge of monsters to the test and stand up as a last line of defense to save the world.

If that plot synopsis seems overly simple and generic, it probably is. The biggest problems I found with this film mostly come from the running time. At 82 minutes, the story feels rushed, leaving many aspects of the film coming off as underdeveloped. We are introduced to these kids, but never really get to know them that well. And the evil plot of the monsters, involving the retrieval of an ancient amulet, is paper thin. At times, it feels as if scenes have been removed in order to pick up the pace (which could very well be the situation). Fortunately, details like these don’t completely derail the film as its charms outweigh these issues.

What The Monster Squad really has going for it is the filmmaker’s obvious love for the material. Fred Dekker clearly relished the opportunity to pay homage to old-school horror films, blending them with his own sense of humor. While this may appear to be a kids film, a noticeable adult sensibility permeates throughout the proceedings. For example, one of the kids who is new to the Monster Squad inexplicably dresses like a 1950’s greaser, clearly a reference to the B-movies of the 50’s for which this film owes a great debt. While adults may understand such a reference, it would go right over kid’s heads. Many other references are scattered all over the film, with a considerable amount of fun coming from each viewer’s knowledge of horror genre conventions and watching how they are handled.

While The Monster Squad may not attain the heights of the films it affectionately sends-up, it sure is a fun time. The movie is filled with the conversations and questions that many kids have regarding monsters – some of which are played out with hilarious results (Can you really only kill a werewolf with a silver bullet?). And with its sly nods to films past, both adults and children can find something to enjoy. The overriding spirit of the movie, along with its sense of humor, sets it apart from the average scare-fest, announcing its presence as a cult-favorite.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Tarantino Teases Kill Bill Vol. 3

In a recent interview Quentin Tarantino said that he would be interested in making another Kill Bill film in the future, sparking speculation from fans as to what the third installment might entail. I’ve heard these rumors before and, although Tarantino tends to talk up many projects that never come to pass (The Vega Bros. comes to mind), I tend to think he’s more serious about this one. The character of The Bride seems close to him, so it seems natural that he would continue to follow her further exploits. The most common possible storyline I’ve heard involves The Bride fighting the grown-up daughter of Vernita Green, (seeking revenge for her mother’s death). I, for one, would love to see a new installment in this series. The world that Tarantino has created makes for a great number of possibilities and, really, any project he becomes involved with will spark my interest. This may be a project many years away from happening, but I feel like it’s worth the wait.

What are your thoughts on a possible Kill Bill sequel?