Tag: 3.5 stars

Movie Review: The Fog (1980)

the fog
Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up, rented from the Tisch Library at Tufts.

Once in a while I’ll remember that there are several John Carpenter films I haven’t seen, and after seeing a trailer for The Fog at the Terrorthon I was like daaaamn I ain’t seen The Fog yet! So here we are. Carpenter’s fourth feature imagines a great evil hidden inside a thick fog that attacks a small harbor town on the anniversary of a horrific shipwreck. The experiences of various townspeople during the fog’s midnight arrival are documented, from a harried government official (Janet Leigh) to a guilt-stricken priest (Hal Holbrook). The news is spread through the local radio station, as station owner Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) gradually pieces together the supernatural weirdness assaulting them. BUT HOW CAN ANYONE ESCAPE THE FOOOOOOG?

It’s kind of silly in its premise but mostly this is a straight horror movie, working in elements of mystery and suspense. Unfortunately its narrative is stretched thin even in its fairly trim 89 minutes, and the climax is ultimately underwhelming. The first half of the film is paced slowly and deliberately, building up certain characters and revealing stranger and stranger occurrences in this isolated community. I loved the subdued but uncanny mood of the earlier scenes, which built up a tension that was clumsily dispersed by the final scenes. It’s not that the ending is bad, necessarily, it just felt like the build up didn’t really lead to a satisfying conclusion. It all happened too quickly. Plus most of the characters were underused, flailing about until Hal Holbrook’s Father Malone drunkenly accepts his fate after solving the fog’s mystery. Maybe my expectations were too high, because I thought The Fog would be more thrilling.

But of course there are plenty of things to like here! It’s a John Carpenter movie! Jamie Lee Curtis is there as an adorable hitchhiker, plus Jamie Lee Curtis’s mom is there! Janet Leigh, maybe you’ve heard of her? They don’t have much screentime together but it’s still cool. Adrienne Barbeau is easily the standout, rockin’ a smooth dj voice in the studio while being a cool mom and a resourceful person in a crisis. I really liked the scenes at the radio station and the idea of this woman desperately broadcasting to a possibly unreachable audience as she watches this eerie, homicidal fog move in across the water. I wanted more of that, actually, but maybe it’s just the Pontypool lover in me. Anyway, I don’t actually have much to say about this movie I guess. It’s got some great creepy moments, creative visual effects, and a good cast, but it loses its momentum by the final act and doesn’t make the best use of its characters after introducing them. Oh well. At least there are plenty of zombie seamen! And Carpenter does that cute thing of naming characters after his friends, like the weather man is “Dan O’Bannon.” Aww.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Ah, I don’t know. The aforementioned Pontypool? Sure.

PS I forgot to mention that I have a new twitter account where I just post movie taglines (with accompanying posters) and that’s it. For October I’ve been doing most horror movies but I’ll mix it up next month! You should followwwwww meeeeee.

Somerville Theatre Terrorthon, Part II

Tremors-2
Seen: At the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square. But first! Read Part I!

After a very satisfying dinner and some much-needed caffeine, we were ready to sit through the next 4 Terrorthon films, continuing our cinematic odyssey into the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. Again, not much “terror” to be had here, but a really solid offering of sci-fi adventures with mild horror elements. The only one from this grouping I hadn’t seen was Tremors, but I’d tried watching it just a few weeks ago and my internet was being fussy so it didn’t work. I was really excited that I could actually see it, and on a big screen no less! And since this Thon went from 12pm-12am, I wasn’t even that sleepy (as opposed to the all-night escapades of the other marathons I go to). Anyway, read on for some sci-fi goodness!

5 Planet of the Apes (1968)
It’d been a while since I’d seen watched this one straight through, and it was both better than I remembered and just as silly. I mean, it’s tough, because conceptually there are some pretty serious ideas in this movie, and of course it can all be read as a parable relating to our own culture, but between Charlton Heston’s toothy, yelly performance and the privileging of spectacle over substance, it’s hard to really get into its more dramatic implications. Also obviously certain scenes have been parodied to the extent that the film feels like a parody of itself. It’s still a pretty good movie, though, with a fascinating ape society that I wish was elaborated on more, and great turns from Kim Hunter and a super evil Maurice Evans. Fantastic make-up as well, and I love the varied landscapes and weird biomorphic architecture. I just get bored with Heston’s exaggerated macho act pretty quickly, as with many of his performances.
3.5/5

6 Westworld (1973)
Westworld has such a good premise (super fancy vacation spot where guests can act out fantasies with robots in Western, Roman, or Medieval settings but then the robots go CRAZY) that I’m always kind of bummed that I don’t love it. Revisiting it now I feel much the same as I did the first time I watched it: It has some great ideas and a good cast, but the slow pacing and flat characterization is frustrating. I love love love Yul Brynner as the creepy, homicidal robot cowboy and how the whole movie basically turns into The Terminator in the third act, but the first two thirds are kind of boring. I didn’t mind the glimpses into this strange amusement park and its inner workings, but the protagonists are all kind of boring (yes, even James Brolin, though he’s looking good). Also: where are all the women? There are like zero ladies in this movie except for some sexbots and a few female tourists who are barely referenced. I mean I know all 70s movies are just about dudes but come on, can’t that NOT be a thing, somehow, retroactively? Oh well, the title links to my original review.
4/5

7 The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai (1984)
My love for this movie is no secret, and surely it’s painfully obvious how much a film like this suits my sensibilities- it’s wacky, it’s funny, it’s from the 80s, it’s got a lot of attractive, bespectacled nerds, and it doesn’t make ANY GODDAMN SENSE. Which I love. The titular hero is a rock star, comic book hero, heart surgeon, and physicist who saves the planet from asshole aliens with the help of his snappily-dressed crew. I’ve always wanted to see this film in a theater, so I was so psyched it was part of the line-up. It’s a fun film to watch with a crowd because it’s so weird and silly, that the audience reactions add to the fun. I’ve gotta say though that after watching this movie who knows how many times over the years, I only registered that Buckaroo is supposed to be half-Japanese a few months ago, and now I’m bummed by the whitewashing. I love Peter Weller and I think he’s great in the role, but it’s always frustrating when a white person is playing a character of color. I always thought he was just a white dude who was into Japanese culture because he’d been raised around Japanese scientists or whatever. This is revealing a not-very-well-kept secret of mine: I am terrible at paying attention to exposition. Like in every movie, I will constantly forget where the story is set, what year it is, how people are related to each other, what the overall goal of the protagonist is. It’s embarrassing. ANYWAY the title links to my original review.
4.5/5

8 Tremors (1990)
Ok! New movie time! This is the cautionary tale of two best friends (possibly/probably boyfriends?) who work as handymen in a small, isolated desert town. The day they finally decide to leave to seek a better life, they are suddenly surrounded by vicious, man-eating monster worms who move about underground. The few people remaining in town all band together to try and blow these fuckers up but it’s pretty hard when they keep eating everyone. It’s funny, it’s gross, it’s action-packed, and it somehow makes Kevin Bacon into a kinda charming goofball. Also it has an adorably frumpy lady scientist! AND Reba McEntire and Michael Gross as a trigger-happy couple! There are lots of reasons to watch Tremors, clearly. It’s also the only movie in the whole pack that actually scared me once or twice, with these unexpected jump-scares of huge worms bursting out of the ground, it’s kind of freaky stuff. Though it’s primarily an action-comedy, the premise is actually pretty terrifying because honestly how would we handle a monster that sensed our movement and attacked from below-ground? Like, where can we hide? They’ll just level all the buildings until they get to us, oh my gosh. The world is ending.
4/5

Well there you have it! Over 12 hours of movies, cartoons, and trailers and we came out mostly feeling like we had to brush our teeth. Which we did.

Anti-Gravity Double Feature: Jason X (2001) and The Pacifier (2005)

Seen: Both on our projector set-up, streamed from Miles’ harddrive.

Last Saturday my companions and I incorrectly assumed we could catch a 7:30 screening of Gravity at the Somerville Theatre. SILLY US. It was sold out at least a half hour in advance and so we walked back to our apartment. We decided to watch another space movie that Miles had recently acquired, a little something called Jason X. I haven’t actually seen any of the other Friday the 13th movies so this was an interesting experience. After that we wanted something more and after making a Jason xXx joke we realized that this could be the night we finally watch The Pacifier, a family comedy starring Vin Diesel that most people probably try to forget existed but had been on my to-watch list for a while. I must tell you though that after spotting the German dvd in a video store in Stuttgart, I can only think of it as Der Babynator. Maybe my favorite film title ever, to be honest.

Jason+X+14

So Jason was this guy who killed hundreds of people over the course of several movies, and when they finally caught him they found he himself couldn’t be killed (IRONY), so he was locked up for a while and eventually cryogenically frozen. Hundreds of years later he wakes up on a spaceship full of trigger-happy soldiers and hormonal college students, so, you know, one thing leads to another. I don’t think there’s much more exposition than that, really. I mean he kills a lot of people, and he’s in space, and eventually he gets super-powered because of technology. There’s a perky android in the mix, too.

Ok, I mean, OBVIOUSLY this movie is ridiculous, and like, what is even happening here. I don’t know, but it is pretty gosh darn entertaining. I mean, you’ve got goofy “futuristic” costumes (which basically means a lot of netting and bellyshirts), sexy times at inappropriate moments, gruesome senseless violence, horrific dialogue, and SPACE. There’s a surprisingly badass lady-action moment when Lisa Ryder’s “Kay-Em 14” is weaponized and just unleashes hell on Jason 1.0, so that was cool. And Jason X himself is kind of weird and awesome, all glowing metal and gross veins and shit, but he’s only there for the last 15 minutes or so, which felt like a cop-out. Overall it is not a very good movie, like at all, but I can’t say I wasn’t taken in by the grisly murders and hokey outer-space antics- it’s just dumb fun. Also: David Cronenberg is in this movie, presumably because he’s like best friends with director James Isaac.

As a movie: 2/5
As entertainment: 3/5

pacifier

Hopefully you all know how I feel about Vin Diesel. I feel pretty strongly. Because he’s so great, you guys! I knew The Pacifier would probably be dumb, family-friendly comedy and might feature a lot of Diesel embarrassing himself for the sake of the children, but I couldn’t stay away. The story revolves around Shane Wolfe (Diesel), a Navy SEAL who is forced to guard (and essentially babysit) a family after he loses their scientist father on a mission. Through discipline and a little bit of love he helps these kids get through a few weeks of school while also looking for some secret technology their dad presumably hid in their house. Also I guess they’re in mourning? I don’t know, they never talk about their dad dying but also maybe I wasn’t paying attention to most of the narrative exposition. I had a few drinks, ok?

Directed by Adam Shankman and written by The State members Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, this movie is a lot better than you’d think it is. It’s extremely silly, of course, and generally nonsensical, but whatever- that’s basically the point! And it made me laugh! It helps that the cast is pretty strong, including Brittany Snow, Lauren Graham, Brad Garrett, and Carol! Kane! (!), but naturally this is all Diesel’s show. He’s doofy and over the top as this military dude out of his element, and it works. The script is decent, filled with unexpected situational humor and a few good one-liners, and there’s even some good action thrown in. Also: a Sound of Music musical number! Eep! It’s stupid, yes, and it has too many children, YES, but The Pacifier is basically a funny movie. THERE I SAID IT.

3.5/5

Movie Review: L.A. Confidential (1997)

la-confidentual
Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from Miles’ harddrive.

We’ve had this on our to-watch list for a while but every time it came up we either weren’t in the mood or didn’t have the time for it. But now the time has come, and I’ve seen L.A. Confidential. Yep. Based on James Ellroy’s novel, the film follows three very different police officers hanging around 1950’s Los Angeles. The murder of a corrupt detective and a sex worker during a diner robbery launches a multifaceted investigation that eventually uncovers a number of seedy underbellies- drugs, homicide, prostitution, blackmail, etc. Three officers- the naive but opportunistic Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), the brutish but sentimental Bud White (Russell Crowe), and the smarmy but mildly ethical Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey)- open their own separate cases that unexpectedly come together in violent, tragic ways.

Sooooo. This movie is kind of a big deal, I was aware of that, and while I didn’t know many details about it I guess I had high expectations just because it’s so famous and respected and awarded. I did like it, but I didn’t love it, and I guess I’ll have to explain myself here. The thing about L.A. Confidential, for me, is that it feels too familiar, too derivative. It’s pulling from these film noir classics and positioning itself as a stylish period piece updating the genre for a 90’s audience, and there’s value in that, but the path is well-trod and the movie didn’t bring anything especially novel to the proceedings. I thought the cast was great, the costumes were gorgeous, the script was good, and the setting was compelling, but the story itself is jumbled and the mystery isn’t very compelling. Certain aspects of the film were fascinating to me- the ultra-secret sex club with women made to look like famous stars, the Latina woman who lies to the cops so that her rapists will be punished, the obsession with image and celebrity prevalent in the police department- but as a whole it didn’t quite do it for me.

It’s still a pretty cool movie, mostly for the great cast. Kevin Spacey is the easy standout, all greasy self-obsession and twisted moral compass and pal’ing around with an even slimier Danny DeVito, but he’s also the one with the least amount of screen time. Guy Pearce is looking SHARP in his spectacles even if everyone keeps making him take them off (which is SO dumb, how the hell is he supposed to do detective work and, like, SHOOT?) and I liked how his character starts off all high-and-mighty but finds himself betraying his own conscience to uncover some darkness within himself. Of the three leads, Russell Crowe is the weakest, but that’s partially because his character is so boring and cookie-cutter. Like a dumb guy with a savior complex because his mom was abused, and that’s his entire personality. Ok. We spent the whole movie imagining he was a literal bear and it made him much more interesting. And funny. James Cromwell is good but he could not keep his accent down, like it oscillated between super-Irish to nonspecific American in different scenes and it was way distracting. Kim Basinger, so dominant on almost all the poster art, is a secondary character, but since she’s basically the only woman with more than one line of dialogue I guess they wanted to promote that anyone in the movie was female. She’s good though, shifting between hard-edged sex worker and kind-hearted romantic, and really pulling off the Veronica Lake look.

Anyway, this movie is ok but I’m not going to pretend like I found it special or even particularly memorable. It’s very well-made and oozes confidence, but it’s too reminiscent of other films for me to be wowed by it.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Obviously Chinatown. I mean, this movie definitely wanted to be the next Chinatown, right?

Movie Review: Rebecca (1940)

rebecca-2
Seen: At the Harvard Film Archive on 35mm, part of their Complete Alfred Hitchcock retrospective.

The HFA has devoted a series to Alfred Hitchcock from July through September, showing almost everything in his rather large ouevre, and I finally got myself down there to catch some screenings. So expect a few more Hitchcocks in the future. Rebecca was a priority, mainly because I knew it was the only one of his films to win best picture, and I’d heard it was really good. I kind of hated the book, but whatever, I read it in high school so I was willing to assume my teenaged reading of it was misjudged. The story follows a young woman (Joan Fontaine) who meets and quickly marries a wealthy, middle-aged aristocrat (Laurence Olivier) while on holiday in the south of France. When the couple returns to his British estate, the shy and nervous new bride finds herself constantly met with derision from the head housekeeper Mrs Danvers (Judith Anderson), as well as unwanted reminders of her husband’s elegant first wife, Rebecca, who drowned a year prior.

Moody and slow-paced, Hitchcock’s Rebecca is Daphne Du Maurier’s gothic novel fully realized through majestic visuals, melodramatic interactions, and sweeping musical cues. I loved the optical tricks that create a ghostly atmosphere, including Mrs Danvers’ seemingly floating figure and the foggy landscape. A few details are changed- notably the age and background of Mrs Danvers, which allows for a definite homoerotic undertone that read as more motherly in the book. Joan Fontaine is solid casting in the lead (unnamed) role, aptly playing meek and unassuming and slowly morphing into someone more self-assured. Olivier is cold and intimidating, playing well off Fontaine’s naivete and uncertainty. George Sanders is the stand-out performance, in a small but extremely memorable role as Rebecca’s rakish cousin. He is forthright and charismatic, with a subtle hint of malice that underscores his every word. I kind of wish the movie was just about him, to be honest.

So here’s the thing: This is an impeccably crafted, thoughtfully scripted, very well-acted film, and generally very true to the source material. HOWEVER. I never actually liked this story. I don’t know, it’s been several years since I’ve read it, but Rebecca has always stuck with me. I remember predicting the big reveal pretty early on, so the mystery was boring to me. I remember disliking the lead character, who never gets a name (and thus is only identified by her marriage to Mr De Winter), who starts off as a child but in very little time is married and mistress of a major estate, and who is generally timid, useless, and whiny. I remember her relationship with Mr De Winter made me uncomfortable, since I could never get a handle on her age and was led to believe he was much older than her, and he treats her like a child most of the time. All of these things remain in the film, rightly so from an adaptational point of view, so I couldn’t really love it. Olivier being pervy around his young wife would have been enough to turn me off, honestly, I mean he literally calls her “child” and bemoans her loss of innocence when she finds out the truth about Rebecca’s death, since he loved her for her childlike wonder or something. It’s creepy.

There are so many good things about Rebecca that I must recognize Hitchcock’s mastery and the exquisite detail put into every frame. I loved the gliding camerawork and dramatic score, and the cast is superb. Seeing the unforgettable Mrs Danvers fleshed out onscreen by the eerie and intense Judith Anderson was wonderful, and her scenes with Fontaine lent the greatest tension to the whole film. But I find the protagonist and core story a bit bland, and there’s not much to be done about that.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: The moody atmosphere, pseudo-haunted British mansion, marriage mysteries, and tragic romance all put me in mind of Jane Eyre when I first read the book, and the film version retains those comparable elements. I loved the 2011 adaptation of the Brontë classic, and would pair that with Rebecca.