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Frankenweenie (2012)

Frankenweenie
“Young Victor conducts a science experiment to bring his beloved dog Sparky back to life, only to face unintended, sometimes monstrous, consequences.” -IMDB

Cast

Winona Ryder Elsa Van Helsing (voice)
Catherine O’Hara Mrs. Frankenstein/Weird Girl/Gym Teacher (voice)
Martin Short Mr. Frankenstein/Mr. Burgemeister/Nassor (voice)
Martin Landau Mr. Rzykruski (voice)

Directed by

Tim Burton

Written by

Leonard Ripps, Tim Burton

Other Info

Animation, Comedy, Family, Horror, Sci-Fi
PG
Fri 05 Oct 2012 UTC
87min
IMDB Rating: 7.0

You’d think death and grieving were topics best left for grown up movies like Ordinary People et. al., but these topics work surprisingly well in Tim Burton’s animated movie Frankenweenie. It is a highly enjoyable ride for families to the “other side” and back again. As Victor’s science teacher tells him, science experiments must have “heart” as well and brain. A boy’s love for his dog becomes a circular journey of learning to let go. Where does the merry-go-round end? I wont tell you that here but know it is a wildly fun, inspiring ride for viewers of all ages.

As one would expect in a Disney/Burton film, there is an all star cast of voices. Catherine O’Hara, known for her role as the mom in Home Alone plays three characters: Mrs. Frankenstien, Weird Girl, and Gym Teacher. Her voice was the most striking at first for me. When I first heard her doing a character I thought, “Wait a minute I KNOW that voice!” Then you start thinking about where it’s from. Martin Short also does a noteworthy job at the voices of Mr. Frankenstein, Mr. Burgemeister, and Nassor. Incidentally, Mr. Burgemeister is an homage to the Rankin Bass character from Santa Claus in Comin’ to Town and is a delight to watch. He is included likely because this movie was made in “stop action” format with “puppets” as they are called in the credits the same way Santa Claus is Coming to Town was. It is also the same format Burton utilized for The Nightmare Before Christmas. In a time when digital computers seem to be the format for all animation, it is exciting to see this style used to tell a story effectively on screen. There are many other household names in the movie playing a lot of entertaining characters.

Victor is a grade school boy who has a great dog named Sparky. We see them at play and get to know Sparky’s extra-large personality and warmth as a dog in the early part of the movie. This is shown well through his relationship with Victor but also through his relationship “through the fence” with a poodle and other kids. Sparky is clearly an exceptional and loving dog. I wanted to take him home myself.

As you probably have already gleaned from the trailers, Sparky dies and Victor just won’t “let him go” so-to-speak. This is where Victor tries bringing Sparky back to life in his attic just like the Frankenstein movies. By the way, Victor’s last name is also Frankenstein in Frankenweenie. The nods are not subtle in this movie but that’s ok because everything works to make a wonderful and fun family film about death and loss. It also becomes a wild ride reminiscent of Godzilla and Gremlins. Without spoiling all the fun in between, we learn that bringing things back from the dead can have monstrous consequences. There is a somewhat puzzling (for me) ending but ultimately it all works out to be one of the best family films (for all ages) I have seen an a long time. I think I can safely call it an instant classic.

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‘Chariots of Fire’

*This review contains spoilers.

The story of Eric Liddell is an inspirational one. The music by Vangelis in this film works to elevate the audience to a higher place than most of us usually experience. After all, not all of us will run in the Olympics. The evocative message in Chariots of Fire is strong and timeless.

chariotsoffire-poster

Chariots of Fire (1981)
Cast

Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, Nicholas Farrell

Directed by

Hugh Hudson

Written by

Colin Welland

Other Info

Biography, Drama, Sport
PG

There was a poster in my running coach’s office when I was in High School that read: “The agony for the ecstasy.” That is why serious runners do it. I didn’t run anymore but in my twenties I knew the ecstasy of it. Chariots of Fire displays it masterfully. The film’s true story and anthemic music touched a generation beginning at its 1981 release.

Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) is the protagonist and he wants to win the olympic medal at any cost. He’s also a student at Harvard who is obsessed with running to run, second place is not good enough. As the Olympics near, he hears of another runner, Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) vying to run in the Olympics. The difference with Eric is that he has a natural ability to run. Abrahams needs a coach and all manner of training to have a chance at winning. Liddell is also a Christian with high ideals. When he finds out the qualifying races are on a Sunday, he tells the committee he cannot run due to his Sabbath. This is the first time something like this ever happened to the committee so they hardly know what to do. Ultimately, they put Liddell in a different race category so he doesn’t have to run on Sunday. At the same time, Abrahams becomes tortured because he will never be able to prove himself against Liddell. This eats him up inside. 

The film is a psychological study of Abrahams. He is a “win at all costs” scrupulous fellow. Conversely, Liddell is a contented missionary in China doing the “work of the Lord” with his sister Jennie (Cheryl Campbell).

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There are two speeches by Liddell: one sounds like a sermon and another like a funeral. In fact, the final speech is drawn from actual lines Eric spoke at Abrahams funeral in real life. While they were adversaries on the track, they did become friends. What’s the one thing you won’t do? If you can’t think of anything, you probably need to work on your integrity. Liddell’s live mat seem like a stoic life of service. Abrahams life may look more indulgence with a girlfriend, wine, and the finest of food while studying at the finest of universities. The irony is that Abrahams is always unsatisfied. He becomes jealous of Liddlell, not because he is a better runner which he is but rather because he is content and joyful. It tears Abrahams up that he himself lacks that calmness and self-acceptance.

The music by Vangelis is some of the most evocative and beautiful pop piano ever recorded. It has a synth drum sound which was only just beginning to be used in music. A combination of some ethereal sounds, the synth drum, and the analog piano made this music infectious. It showed up on the pop charts. As a personal anecdote, I was 11 years old when I saw this in the theater. My parents remained through the credits, an action they had never done up to that point and still haven’t since, just to soak in the incredible song.

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This is a British film for sure. Settings include London, Harvard, and a Scottish beach where the British Track Team runs. The beach run is one of the most iconic scenes in movie history. Whether a person runs or not, this film applies to all of us. We see Liddell’s idealism contrasted against Abraham’s determination and grit. There is some of both in all of us. The question to talk about over coffee at the end is: “What would I stand up for?” The second question: “Who am I more like: Abrahams or Liddell?” They are the two poles on the spectrum. It’s a very tough question to answer. I think it’s clear Liddell is happier but I’ll leave that up to the viewer.

There is a scene at the beginning that has all the members of the British Olympic Track Team playing a game of cricket. Everyone fits except Liddell. He is off to the side and he seems out-of-place. As a missionary, I imagine he felt out of place with those guys. He says “When I run, I feel [God’s] pleasure. His character makes it a very spiritual film. Sadly, Ian Charleson died of Aids in 1990. He is also known for his roles in Ghandi and Tarzan, the Legend of Greystoke. His role as Eric Liddell remains his most popular role. The fact that he was probably not a Christian, though I don’t know if he was or not, goes to show what a great job of acting he did in Chariots of Fire. In a world where ideals seem less and less important, Eric Liddell’s life stands as a beacon of what integrity and sacrifice means. I’ve seen this film 50 times or more. I watched it again today to write this review. It’s one of the best movies ever made in my opinion. I recommend it to you.

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‘Demolition’

*This review contains spoilers.

Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, and Chris Cooper star in this film that may be better watched in a therapist’s office than in your DVD home theater.

demolition_poster

Demolition (2015)
Cast

Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper

Directed by

Jean-Marc Vallée

Written by

Bryan Sipe

Other Info

Drama
Rated R
1h 41min

I like most of Jake Gyllenhaal’s movies. They are usually a bit left of centre. Enemy was one of the strangest endings I’ve seen in a long time. I also adore Naomi Watts in just about anything she has starred in. The Impossible is one of my favorites. Chris Cooper is also a legend and a treat to watch. With all three of these in this film, you’d think it was an amazing piece of work, you’d think. There is a lot of fun going on here but, as is customary for Gyllenhaal, it’s odd fun indeed.

The story summary is as follows: Jake Gyllenhaal’s character is stricken with grief and apparently in denial after the death of his wife in a horrible car accident they were both in. Instead of grieving by taking off work and showing sadness, he decides to return immediately to work much to the dismay of his late wife’s father, played by Chris Cooper. It’s odd how he is so okay after the accident. What’s more, he seems preoccupied with the way things are put together. He is obsessed with taking household items like appliances apart and assembling them. I told you about the odd part. He meets Naomi Watt’s character and they start a sort of relationship. This doesn’t get much tread because he is usually rebuilding things or breaking things with a sledge-hammer. There is an interplay between Gyllenhaal’s character and his newfound girlfriend’s son. This oddly takes the film in a different direction. The boy suspects me might be gay and seems to draw strength from breaking things apart too. One thing I should note about Gyllenhaal’s character is that he really seems askew, almost “touched.” It’s endearing to watch him go through healing stages if you assume that is what is happening but his character’s outlandish actions of grandiosity discount his realism. He needed to be more human more of the time.

jomovie13 - Stills from the movie Demolition starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Judah Lewis##########jomovie13##########CATHEY-KERIS FILMS

I take this movie as an abstract map for grief. When you go through such a terrible loss, it breaks you apart. It leaves you to pick up the pieces and put yourself back together. I think someone going through grief could find some solace in this film. Sometimes you have to break down to build yourself strong again. This is an interesting and possibly therapeutic film but as a typical box office movie, I felt it was just short of the mark. It didn’t feel like a movie. Instead, it felt like a gesture from someone like a director seeking to help those going through grief. That isn’t a bad thing it’s just not a movie thing for me, too simplistic and not interesting enough subject matter. And again, Gyllenhaal’s character was not real and not believable enough for me to care about him.

You could start a cult with this film. It teaches self-actualization through destruction. There is a lot you can do with destruction, we all want to know what’s inside things. Sometimes it’s tempting to break them open and see it immediately. I think if one looks at the movie as a therapy session, it will make sense and one can have a good experience watching it. If one can’t buy my reading and doesn’t have a framed purpose for this plot, it will get extraordinarily boring very quickly. To close, I’d say it works on one level but not another. People who have been through grief are more likely to enjoy it. For those not interested in grief or the psychological study of it, I wouldn’t recommend this one.

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Holidays (2016)

This post is part of a series I am experimenting with where I review the films now streaming on Netflix. I’m attempting to make them non-spoiler previews.

Holidays is an anthology of horror stories that share the theme of holidays including Easter and St. Patrick’s Day. They range from creepy and unsettling to gory and outright macabre. Anthologies can be great because they get to the conflict and solution much faster than other genre films. There are some truly scary anthology horror films out there, but can this one compete? Let me tell you what I think.

Among the directors is Kevin Smith of Tusk fame. Since that is one of my favorite horror films from 2014, I had high hopes for what he did her. I’ll go ahead and say there isn’t anything as horror-comical as Tusk but there is some stuff just about as twisted. In one, religious folk may be offended. If you decide to give it a go, keep your mind open with the jaws of life. I think I’ll be a recovering religious person my whole life and I loved it. Traditionalists should steer clear. The first three are generally vanilla.

The 5th, Halloween, stars Kevin Smith’s daughter Harley Quinn Smith and gets into sex webcams. The girls say fuck quite a bit, which is not necessarily bad depending on how much you enjoy hearing that from cute girls. Basically the 5th takes you into the twisted, vengeful mind of Kevin Smith. I’ll hold back on details but I can safely tell you we see an asshole get his without spoiling anything.

I’m a big horror fan. I love watching what can be done in this genre. Kevin Smith pushes the limits and gets great results in my opinion. Smith’s contribution may be seen by some as unimaginable but when you’re dealing in vengeance art, you never know what will appeal to people. I’m reminded of the rape scene in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

FINAL THOUGHTS
The 6th, Christmas, stars Seth Green. It’s fun to watch but not unique to me. See Brainstorm 1983 for more info on that (what’s a little remake posing as plagiarism between friends?). Oh, there’s a little sleight of hand from Dexter playing in there as well. For the genre of anthology horror, I’d say this one is worth my time. How open minded do you have to be? Well, enough see a climax per sequence which, if you think about it, better than the single big one we’re usually limited to. The final sequence takes place on New Year’s Eve and I will call it the most predictable. The anthology could be better in places but it also could be a lot worse overall. My verdict: Worth watching.

Wondering what you’ll see? Let me know in the comments. Then, get on Netflix where it’s currently streaming and see for yourself.

8/10

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‘Good Kill’

*This review contains spoilers.

This thriller moves a bit slow but builds the suspense until you get the point like a tidal wave: War is hell whether “in theater” or via joystick.

Good_Kill_poster

Good Kill (2014)
Cast

Ethan Hawke, January Jones, Zoë Kravitz

Directed by

Andrew Niccol

Written by

Andrew Niccol

Other Info

R
1h 42min
Drama, Thriller

Writer/Director Andrew Niccol has an impressive resume: 2014 Good Kill, 1998 The Truman Show, 1997 Gattaca, and more. Good Kill is just the latest impressive project he’s done. It deals with the individual conscience amidst a system that goes against it.

Major Thomas Egan, Ethan Hawke, is a grounded pilot. He has become part of a secretive force that controls drones in Afghanistan by controls resembling that of an XBox. He is stationed in Las Vegas and goes to kill every day in a portable room of sorts where the remote equipment is kept. There are many rooms like this. In fact, Egan is not alone in his daily kills. He has a team with him.

In charge of Egan’s team is Lt. Colonel Jack Johns (Bruce Greenwood). Being a huge fan of his, I was glad to see him in this role. I liked the character because he wore his heart on his sleeve. He shared his difficulties with the drone kills they were doing. Still, he never breached his orders and did what he was told from his commander.

Egan starts regretting what he has to do every day. He begs the Colonel to put him back in the plane but that seems like it will never happen. Egan starts seeing rape and murder happening and he is told to stick to the orders. He is told the rapist “is a bad man but not their bad man.” He is ordered to let him be.

Events like this and others like collateral damage he witnesses cause profound strain on Egan. He starts drinking and neglecting his wife and kids. From there we starts to see him crumble and we learn through his story what this sort of remote warfare can do to an individual.

This film is done very well. The obvious comparisons to XBox games like Call of Duty are there but it’s more about real war I think. How many of theirs do we have to kill until they stop killing us? Is this sort of warfare that is going on now in real life actually protecting us from terrorism? So many questions like these are raised in this film. I would have liked it if they gave more background on his type of warfare and showed the connection to video games. It was alluded to that there is a connection but seeing that as part of the story would have sent a stronger message to the young men and women out there who get vehemently into these games. Because that connection was not explored much, it lost a star for me. I still think this is one of the better films of 2014, I recommend it.

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‘The Planet of the Apes’ (1968)

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‘The Planet of the Apes’ (1968)
Cast

Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter

Directed by

Franklin J. Schaffner

Written by

Michael Wilson (screenplay), Rod Serling (screenplay)

Other Info

Adventure, Romance, Sci-Fi
Rated G
1h 52min

Writing this review now in 2016, I was shocked to find this film had a G rating. As a kid growing up 0-10 in the 70’s, I remember certain images from this film that used to creep me out. Plus, it’s so rare that you find a G rated sci fi nowadays. I didn’t understand it in those years but when I hit my twenties, this was one of those films my scooter buddies and I would rent along with other classics like The Godfather and Blade Runner to just trip out on and talk about. It’s of course a timeless classic now and there has been a resurgence of the franchise with a whole new set of CGI movies that are surprisingly good in a different way.

The concept of the franchise is pretty simple: Apes have evolved above man and use him as their slave. In the 60’s the evolution arguments were rampant of church and university grounds so this fit right in with that. Actually seeing these apes likely had a polarizing impact on the religious folk who saw man as greater tha ape. At the same time, I think it infused strength to the IMG_0626argument that man was just another animal and we shouldn’t rule over animals in the sometimes harmful ways that we do. BUt that is just the “ape level.” There is much here about science and faith. In the original film, there is talk of “scrolls” and “heresy” by the humans and apes who help them. f you know Christian subculture or have observed it, these references are accurate and quite funny.

I love the prosthetic masks in the movie. They look camp at first but you really get used to them after a while because the costumes and backgrounds are so masterfully crafted. It reminds me of a Twilight Zone episode for good reason: Rod Serling, creator of the Twilight Zone, co-wrote the screenplay. This movie is something to look at. Most the outdoor footage was filmed at Lake Powell. It resembles Mars or some other uninhabited planet. In this film, a crew was sent into the future but something went wrong. As a result, they have to try to survive and escape from a civilization of apes that speak and are much like intelligent humans.

While there among the apes, they see the effects of man’s greed and imperfections. The apes have an opportunity to see themselves as well but they are not as interested. There is a bit of a “not-friendly” history in the scrolls and therefore humans are not to be listened to.

Charlton Heston plays the lead human, George Taylor, and he is so much fun to watch. He has interaction with a slave who cannot speak and there is some chemistry there but hardly enough to call the story a romance, as IMDB does. Roddy McDowell plays Cornelius, the scientist ape that buys in to the intelligence of humans. His partner Zira, played by Kim Hunter, is devoted to humans as much as she can be in her society. It was sort of like a Jane Goodall and the chimps kind of thing. At the end Taylor asks her for a kiss and she says shyly, “But you’re so ugly.” That is a fun scene because it’s an opposite scene. If you recall the Twilight Zone episode when the woman is in face bandages the whole episode and at the end you find out they are trying to make her ugly, she is actually beautiful. It is in the eye of the beholder. Serling loves taking structures apart and letting the audience put them back together, or not. Planet of the apes is one of the most classic examples of his style in doing that. We may not question our own systems but if we see an ape and an actor talking, maybe we cab deconstruct theirs and return smarter, changed for the better. Most of all, this movie is for the open-minded or those who are open to becoming more open-minded. *raises hand*

Speaking of being open-minded, the stunts in this film are about as real as an outdoor rodeo during the clown show. When Taylor gets sprayed with a firehose, you see every sinew in his neck flexed. I love his over acting. The movie is meant to be serious sci-fi but watching some of these stunts makes you think of the comedy of later decades like Airplane or Scary Movie. Other props and effect in the film are almost comical in their representation of seriousness. There is a cadaver in the space pod that looks just like Norman Bates’ dear fake looking mummified mother in Psycho. My point is not to jeer or belittle these poor effects but rather to praise a film that evokes such a powerful response from so many people worldwide in spite of these simple stunts and props. Once again it is proof that directors don’t need a palette of CGI to make a film popular with audiences. This film evokes a response and takes itself seriously. If you have a good story, this film proves that is just about all you need to make a hit.

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In conclusion, I had a lot of fun going to see this film recently in the theaters through Fathom events’ TCM series. I was just as entertained as I have been with any recent films I really liked. I know almost every director out there has seen this film but I hope they can start to follow its movie making wisdom more closely. We need less CGI (done badly, I don’t mind it when it’s done well) and more good story surrounded by people with passion and the desire to evoke an audience response.

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Christine (2016)

I’ve known women who are batshit crazy and loved them anyway. I’ve known women that are outgoing and ambitious and play by the rules and seem normal despite their inner craziness and loved those too. There’s something lovely about most women in the world but when it comes to mental illness, most people lose the affection. This is true mostly because society as a whole doesn’t understand mental illness, we are an ignorant human race.

We understand drive and tenacity but not a twisted version that would take the life of its sufferer. Some people can never be helped to feel good, they are tortured souls plain and simple. Christine is one of those and she fit so well into the background of news reporting that no one ever noticed. Rebecca Hall does a great job portraying this tormented character.

The performances are ok, just enough to get through a very dull yet controversial story. What’s really controversial is the ending, not her life’s work as a reporter.

Christine is a movie based on true events. It’s about the 70’s tv reporter who shot herself in the head on television. There is some
character development to help the viewer me to a conclusion as to why she would do this. The most powerful in my opinion is the stuff about her depression and being hospitalized for it. She shares a couple times that she feels as though she is being baby-sat by her other while at the same time playing the grown-up role by paying the rent and all expenses. This did seem very unfortunate for her.

Meanwhile at work, her boss/tv producer is pushing everyone to get more shocking stories for the show. As she would call it: “blood and guts.” I’m not sure exactly why I wasn’t highly impressed by this film. I am very interested in films presenting mental illness.

Perhaps I don’t understand what would make a person do this. She did have a number of serious life challenges going. I also didn’t like the
side stories about her dating Michael C Hall’s character, which turns out to be a dupe. To me, the choices are thin storytelling. Then again, that’s the story of this depressed woman on a news team. Maybe we’re just meant to watch it and take it in without a thumb up or down, just acknowledge there are people like Christine walking among us,
silently.

Ultimately, what we have here is running time of a woman’s life and death. I think the director means to give us information so we can
assume why she did what she did. It’s not a boring film and it’s not terribly engaging. It is interesting to watch though and even when you
know the end is coming, it’s pieced together with fairly good performances. Again, however, I never really embraced Christine. She was depressed and unable to improve her condition. Perhaps the ending was more her fate than anything that could have been avoided. For
solid performances in this based on true story, I give it a

7/10