Thursday, December 06, 2012

What I Watched In November

I got out to the theater four times in the Merry Month of turkey death! They were clumped at the very beginning and the very end but an average of once a week is fantastic any way it flows across the calendar, as far as I’m concerned.

First up was the horror film SINISTER which was far better than I thought it would be. Starring the underrated and underused Ethan Hawke as a former journalist turned crime book writer looking to craft a new bestseller out of an unsolved murder case. To further this goal he has moved his family to the town in which the crime took place without telling his wife that they are actually living in the home where most of the previous residents were killed. These deaths and the disappearance of the youngest of the family’s children are the mystery at the center of this story and when a strange box of old 16mm film cans show up in the house’s attic things get stranger and darker. Each film canister seems to show the murder of a family but each time the method of their demise is different. Hawke’s becomes convinced he’s on to something big when he realizes that these murders have to be done by the same person and take place all over the country and across decades.

SINISTER is a very capable chiller that had me creeped out for a good portion of the running time and scared out of my seat more than once. I found the entire film quite successful at what it sets out to do and its ending is both effective and rough. This isn’t PG-13 horror and for that I am truly grateful.

FRANKENWEENIE is Tim Burton’s big screen expansion of his 1984 Disney short film and, although I didn’t get to see PARANORMAN, strikes me as the perfect funny monster film for big and little kids alike. Done in wonderful 3D stop-motion and shot in black & white it clearly wants to evoke an older sensibility about its characters and story. This is a film made to appeal to lovers of old monster movies with a sense of humor about the creaky tales they watch over and over. The sweet tale of a brainy, geeky science nerd school boy broken hearted over the accidental death of his dog hits every little boy’s (and I’m sure more than a few little girl’s) great fear of losing their loved ones. The feeling of depressive loss when he has to bury his best friend drives home any kid’s essential powerlessness in the world. But little Victor Frankenstein is a very smart, resourceful lad! He’s not going to let a simple thing like death take his dog away. Its time to pull together a lab straight out of the 1931 FRANKENSTEIN and fix this little problem- and that is what he does. Of course, as with all tales of good old Frankenstein, the experiment goes a little out of control with other kid’s wishes to have their lost pets returned as well quickly escalating to a town endangering level of trouble.

This is a truly wonderful love letter to Monster Kids of every generation. I really wish I had a very young boy to share this movie with. The pure joy of its story, the sly humor, the fantastic creatures and its great characters make this a treasure that will be loved for decades to come. I highly recommend this one to any and all monster fans.

A lot has been written about the newest Bond film SKYFALL and I agree with the generally positive reviews. Daniel Craig is easily one of the best Bond’s the 50 year old series has ever had and, luckily, after the mess of the last film he again has a solid movie under his belt. Almost everything in the story works with a fantastic cast getting at least one (and often more than one) scene to shine. The action is very well realized with the series’ usual excellent stuntwork back to being visible and exciting instead of confusing and irritating. Javier Bardem is an inspired villain bringing a dangerous persona to bear as his character manipulates his old organization to engage in a perverse plot for revenge. Like Bond bad guys of old he is entertaining and theatrical without ever sacrificing the very real menace he radiates. This is one of the five best films of the series joining FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, GOLDFINGER and ON HER MAGESTY’S SECRET SERVICE at the top of the list. Let’s hope the next two that Craig has signed to do will be this good.

What to say about RED DAWN (2012 or 2009 or whenever it was actually made)? I will admit to a certain amount of curiosity about this long delayed remake. The original is a guilty pleasure from my teenage years that I haven’t revisited in decades. It was always a little silly even back then with it’s over the top jingoistic message of how awesome America is, but its well staged action scenes and personable young cast struck me at just the right time to slide behind my BS censors and wedge itself into my brain. I plan to watch the 1985 film again soon to see if it has aged well but I bet I will wince more than smile.

The new version is a mess. The cast is a combination of really good actors (Chris Hemsworth, Jeffery Dean Morgan) and younger TV actors that have a very limited ability to effectively emote. Josh Peck as the young, brash freedom fighter blind to his own faults is a real plank who tries to use his two separate facial expressions to convey things I’m not sure he even understands. Most of the time he just looks confused and the moments when he attempts to show anger were just embarrassing.

The story is pretty much the same as the original film with the villains switched to North Korea or more accurately China. Seriously- the lame attempt to retro-fit the Korea thing onto this story is dumb beyond compare and adding some ‘advisors’ from Russia doesn’t bring reality any closer to this silliness. I could buy Red China on the march as illogical as an invasion would be but North Korea can’t even feed its citizens. Give me a break!

Where the film breaks down as an entertainment is in some sloppy storytelling, dumb characters and several action scenes that are poorly shot and/or edited. I hate not being able to tell who is firing at what or why and this sucker makes that mistake a few times. I can forgive some things in an action film if you can keep me from wondering about the pot and I can tell why things are happening as they happen, but the second I can’t follow a basic firefight I start looking around and noticing things a filmmaker doesn’t want a viewer to notice. There are some good things in RED DAWN but not nearly enough to recommend it to any but the terminally curious.

SINISTER (2012)- 7 (good, creepy film)
STAGEFRIGHT (1987)- 7 (rewatch)

FRANKENWEENIE (2012)- 8 (a love letter to Monster Kids)
THE BRIDE (1985)- 7 (rewatch)
THE SLAVE (1962)- 8 (excellent peplum)
HALLOWEEN 2 (1981)- 7 (rewatch)
THE TALL MAN (2012)- 7 (flawed but exciting thriller)
BRAVE (2012)- 6 (pretty good but far from great Pixar film)
NIGHTMARES (1980)- 5 (rewatch)
ARSENE LUPIN RETURNS (1937)- 6 (solid but nothing outstanding)
SKYFALL (2012)- 9
RED DAWN (2012)- 4 (a mess in more ways than one)
DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS (2000)- 1 (rewatch)
INVASION USA (1985)- 2 (rewatch)
ATROCIOUS (2010)- 7 (Spanish found footage horror film)
FRIDAY THE 13TH 5: A NEW BEGINNING (1985) - 6 (rewatch) 

1 comment:

Mr Black said...

Good stuff! I wondered about Red Dawn. I am glad you went to see it. You suffer so we don't have to. Thank you for your sacrifice Rod!