Movie Review: The TURNING

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turning, the

Universal Pictures
2020
PG-13

“I know what you’re afraid of. Keeping the lights on won’t keep you safe.”

  • The Turning stars Finn Wolfhard (TV’s Stranger Things) and Mackenzie Davis (TV’s Black Mirror) in a thrilling adaptation of Henry James’ landmark novel. At a mysterious estate in the Maine countryside, a newly appointed nanny is charged with the care of two disturbed orphans. She quickly discovers that both the children and the house are harboring dark secrets and things may not e as they appear.

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. I mean, with everything that has been going on compounding in this year 2020–the Beer Virus, job woes, the foot still healing up from the major surgery last year, my father having a heart attack, among other things–I just stopped writing for the good part of the last handful of months. I didn’t know when I would get back to doing so, and frankly didn’t care much. It was a lethargy that I hadn’t experienced since the 90s. Sure, I was still doing the podcasts, but even that wasn’t keeping up with all the movies I was taking in during this period. There needed to be something that would figuratively kick me in the butt, an impetus that would rekindle my passion to write down my unbridled thoughts on a movie. As it turns out, 2020’s The Turning was just the movie to do so.

The pun was unintentional, but pretty apt, I’d say.

The Turning is yet another adaptation of the classic Gothic novel The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. There have been others, but The Turning is the shiny new one, and that’s why everyone should care about it. Wait, no, sorry. My sarcasm seems to be seeping into this review a bit earlier than expected. Let’s see if I can get a handle on that. Now then, as I just mentioned, this is something of a new adaptation of the novel, and if you passed up the DVD back cover blurb I included up there, the movie concerns a nanny named Kate (Mackenzie Davis, doing her best bewildered Zooey Deschanel impression), who is put in charge of a couple of orphaned rich brats: there’s Flora (played by Brooklynn Prince), a rather bright and imaginative little girl with that prerequisite creepiness; and the older sibling Miles (Finn Wolfhard!), the very definition of enfant terrible, with a serious sociopath streak that only the rich tend to develop in these kind of movies. They’re both the wards of their long-time governess Mrs. Grose (Barbara Marten), one of those ultra-strict, underwear a bit too starched Victorian types, and not the fun kind.

I should point out that, not only is The Turning an adaptation of The Turning of the Screw, but it’s also a period piece, as it’s established early on that the year is 1994, by way of a television showing the news broadcast of Kurt Cobain’s body found of an apparent suicide. They never actually use music from that time period, mind you; they utilize songs from modern indie bands that approximate the sound of alternative music from 1994 for the soundtrack. Which…is not a gripe. Really, the music used here does well to set the dark mood the movie is going for. And really, “Getting 1994 Right” is not the priority.

What the movie does right is setting a strong Gothic atmosphere, with the settings and especially the mansion interiors. For the first half hour or so, this is what hooked me in. The movie seemed to be doing a good job at building the tension, leading up to…something. It soon became apparent, though, that this was all the movie was going to be: All build-up, no payoff. It was like, instead of adapting the novel, the writers adapted the Wikipedia synopsis. What made The Turn of the Screw a classic that has endured for over a century was the way it was a ghost story that wasn’t a ghost story: it deftly made the reader question whether the haunting was real, or the result of the protagonist’s decent into madness due to mental illness. Here, while it’s established early on that Kate’s mum is institutionalized (all she wanted was a Pepsi), lending the seed that Kate may be not all there in the head, the movie plays it more as a straight haunted house flick…until about ten minutes to the end of the movie, when one of the biggest insults to our collective intelligence happens, causing me to shout, “WAS THAT IT?!?” at my television when the end credits started rolling. I get the feeling that a lot of the movie that may have helped round things out was left on the cutting room floor. And no, I’m not going to buy the DVD to see if there are deleted scenes that do that.

Overall: While I was stoked for a new adaptation of a classic 19th Century Gothic psychological ghost story, The Turning just turned out to be a bunch of nothing. It’s not even a bad movie, just…nothing. A true waste of ninety minutes, with the only emotional response being disgust, like discovering the creme filling in an Oreo cookie was replaced with Miracle Whip. Pass.

Movie Review: BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA

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1992 dracula
Columbia Pictures
1992
R

“I want you to bring me, before nightfall, a set of post mortem knives.”
“An autopsy? On Lucy?”
“No, no, no. Not exactly. I just want to cut off her head and take out her heart.”

  • From Academy Award-winning director Francis Ford Coppola comes the classic and chilling tale about the devastatingly seductive Transylvanian prince who travels from Eastern Europe to 19th-Century London in search of human love. When the charismatic Dracula meets Mira, a young woman who appears as the reincarnation of his lost love, the two embark on a journey of romantic passion and horror.

I wonder–is Bram Stoker’s iconic vampire novel Dracula the book that’s been adapted for the big screen the most? Seriously, that seems to have been given the celluloid treatment almost as soon as the book was originally published, and movie making was invented. It’s probably not, but I would say that maybe it would be in the Top 10, if not the Top 5. I’m sure there’s a list on some pop culture website out there.

Anyway, Dracula is one of the big Classic Movie Monsters that you don’t even have to have seen any of the movies to know about. Dracula is an icon. But, most only know about Bella Legosi’s iconic take on the vampire prince, with the cape and the tuxedo and the eyes you could get hypnotized with for days…

Um, what were we talking about, again? Oh, right.

When it comes to the movies, what every big screen adaptation of the novel have in common–besides a vampire named Dracula (unless it’s Nosferatu, which is a different kind of adaptation entirely)–is that they all veer away to something different from the source material, despite claims to be faithful to the novel. And in 1992, movie auteur Frances Ford Coppola made his attempt at a “faithful adaptation of the book” a shot.

For those of us familiar with the novel itself, Coppola’s adaptation opens with a scene that’s nowhere in the book: An explanation of the origin of the titular character by tying in lore of the historical inspiration, Vlad Dracula, back in the 1400s, to maybe make some sense as to why the guy lives so long and has a thirst for blood. Eh, it’s a valiant effort. Anyway, from there the movie takes most of its cues from the novel itself, with some liberal helpings of artistic license slathered on to keep things from getting too bogged down from the source material’s literary structure.

So, after Vlad renounces God and desecrates the chapel by drinking blood from an impaled cross because his wife committed suicide (as you do), we flash forward to 1897, where a young British go-getter solicitor Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania to meet with his new client, one Count Dracula, to discuss and arrange the Count’s new real estate acquisitions in London. The Count seems a trifle odd, but that may be chalked up to cultural differences and all that. However, after Dracula spots a picture of Jonathan’s betrothed–Mina–he believes her to be the reincarnation of his long-dead wife, and throws Jonny to his vamperic brides and sets off to England to find the woman of his dreams. Or something. Coincidentally, Mina’s BFF Lucy’s health starts deteriorating, which is determined to be the result of a vampire attack by the socially awkward Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, here looking nothing like Wolverine, and then Nina goes to Romania because she got word that Jonathan managed to escape Dracula’s castle, and the two get married there. Moving back to London, Dr. Van Helsing leads the charge to take down Dracula, but the Count totally evades them, killing off his former servant Renfield, then turning Mina into one of the undead, leading to a showdown between Dracula’s forces and Van Helsing’s Heroes on Dracula’s home turf. Wackiness and gloriously bad acting ensue.

The best thing going about this take on Dracula is the heavy Gothic atmosphere that oozes out of the film. Gary Oldman does an outstanding job as the titular antagonist of the movie, giving his Dracula a pathos and melancholy to the undead embodiment of evil, even when he’s wearing perhaps the goofiest looking hairpiece I’ve ever seen. Also, Coppola made this using old-school practical effects, essentially eschewing any CGI trickery to achieve that authentic old school feel of the movie. It looks great. And Sir Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing is probably the best character in this movie. That said, all the reports of the acting being incredibly wooden and off from the other actors? Yeah, I have to admit that is on display here. Especially with Keanu Reeves, affecting a rather…interesting British accent, let’s just say. The same with Winona Ryder, playing the Mina opposite Reeve’s Harker. But, really, it’s Billy Campbell as the over-the-top Texan Quincey Morris that gets me whenever I watch this. It’s just such a greatly cliche’d performance, it’s like the quintessential version of how British people view Americans, it seems like.

Overall: I absolutely adore this adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This isn’t the first time a Dracula movie was made that tied in the Vlad Tepes source for the fictional character–there was a 1973 television version that was done that did just that. I love the style, the Gothic atmosphere, the soundtrack used which goes great with a dark night and candles, there’s much here to like. If you haven’t seen this one yet, do yourself a favor and give it a watch. Even if you end up not liking it that much, there’s going to be something here you will like. Worth a rental some dark, moonless night in winter.

Movie Review: CHILD’S PLAY (2019)

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child's play 2019
United Artists Releasing
2019
R

“If they don’t let us play, they all go away.”

  • After moving to a new city, young Andy Barclay receives a special present from his mother–a seemingly innocent Buddi doll that becomes his best friend. When the doll suddenly takes on a life of its own, Andy unites with other neighborhood children to stop the sinister toy from wreaking bloody havoc.

I would guess it was inevitable that a movie like Child’s Play was going to get the remake treatment. I mean, everything is getting remade nowadays, amirite? Well, yeah…but the story behind how this movie ended up being remade while the original version of the Child’s Play franchise continues to put out sequels is rather interesting. You should look it up some time.

Anyway, when news of this remake/reboot/whatever of the 1988 supernatural doll slasher classic come about my usual horror nerd feeds, I vowed to never, ever watch it. Especially after I learned that this new version was going to dispense with the doll possessed by the soul of a serial killer angle, and going with a more “grounded” faulty AI programming angle. Yeah, I’ve seen that episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, thankyouverymuch. Another pointless remake to cash in on 80s nostalgia. Thanks, but no thanks.

But, obviously I ended up watching this movie. I don’t do a review of something I haven’t watched. *sigh* Yeah, I was bored one evening during the extended medical leave I was on, and so I figured, “How bad could it be?” Besides, it wouldn’t be the first terrible remake I watched, if it turned out to be as horrible as I feared. So, I talked myself out of my vow of never watching 2019’s Child’s Play, and gave it a watch.

I really, really hate to say this–and it shames me for having to do so–but Child’s Play 2019 is…deep breath…a good movie.

I am conflicted. I mean, I really wanted to at least not like this version. No voodoo black magic, no Brad Dourif, no potty-mouthed wise-cracking serial killer possessed doll. I already knew that going into this, mind you. But, after the first 20 minutes or so, so help me, but I found myself sucked into the story, and completely forgetting that this was a remake I was supposed to hate with every fiber of my gelatinous being.

So, here we essentially have a smartdoll whose AI chip had the safety protocols taken off by a disgruntled programmer, and the doll “learning” how to be a sociopath killer through pop culture and good old-fashioned social awkwardness. The story is nothing new or innovative–I’ve actually seen this premise as an episode of the 90s-era Outer Limits–but at least they tried something besides retreading the original movie. Sure, the doll has a modern tweak to its look, and it’s now spelled as Buddi and functions more as a glorified Alexa device, which is really more of the premise of an early 1990s syndicated sitcom. Somehow, this works as a horror movie.

While he’ll never replace Brad Dourif as the iconic voice of Chucky, Mark Hamill manages to make his take both playful and utterly creepy at the same time. Very effective, there–especially when you get to the full Buddi Song that plays over the end credits. All of the actors keep things interesting, as the actors doing really good jobs with the characters; I especially dug on seeing Aubrey Plaza here as the mother, as I was a fan of her work in the series Legion.

Overall, there was no reason for me to enjoy this new take on Child’s Play as much as I ended up doing. But, here we are, with me actually liking this movie, and recommending you to do so yourself.

Movie Review: CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010)

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clash of the titansWarner Bros.
2010
PG-13

“My father was killed by a god. My mother, sister, everyone I loved was killed by a god. I mend nets. Not wield a sword.”

The original Clash Of The Titans will always live in my memory as one of my favorite childhood movies. I remember watching it on HBO after its initial theatrical run in 1982, mesmerized by the stop-motion monsters that some guy with a manly perm fought, from giant scorpions to Medusa to the giant Kraken at the end. That movie was the reason why I so desperately wanted a mechanical owl for Christmas. Ah, memories. Sure, it hasn’t really aged well, but it’s a fun escape every time I come across it.

So, obviously, Clash Of The Titans became one of the classic movies to be remade. I wasn’t surprised. As a matter of fact, I was even all that perturbed about it. Let’s face it, Clash Of The Titans was due for a shiny upgrade. However, I held off for a number of years to actually watch this remake, more or less because of a combination of lack of funds, and quite frankly, disinterest at the time. And while I had friends and associates telling me that the 3D made this one of the bestest movies they’ve seen evah!, I still held off until about six years after its release to give it a watch.

Born of a god but raised as a man, Perseus is helpless to save his family from Hades, vengeful god of the underworld. With nothing to lose, Perseus volunteers to lead a dangerous mission to defeat Hades before he can seize power from Zeus and unleash hell on earth. Battling unholy demons and fearsome beasts, Perseus and his warriors will only survive if Perseus accepts his power as a god, defies fate and creates his own destiny.

When all is said and done, this shiny updated redux of Clash Of The Titans was…interesting. I’m not exactly up on my Greek mythology stories, but the action adventure story was rather compelling, I do admit. The story itself was fairly standard, and the CGI effects were decent enough. I watched this as a video in standard, not the 3D, mind you, but at no time did I think that there were problems between the rendering. There were some nods to the original movie (the mechanical owl has a cameo…kind of), and overall…yeah, I was entertained. Not blown away, mind you. Maybe if I had seen it in the theater in full 3D? I don’t know. I don’t really see myself watching this one again, so I would give it a Good For A Rental recommendation.

Movie Review: PLANET OF THE APES (2001)

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Planet Of The Apes ¥ Art Machine job#4112  POSTER C comp VVV.rev1 ¥ 05/30/0120th Century Fox
2001
PG-13

“Get your stinking hands off me, you damn dirty human!”

Having been a long-time fan of Tim Burton, there’s been some debate as to what point the quality of his movies began to dip in quality. Some say it began with Mars Attacks! Some say it was with Sleepy Hollow. I am of the opinion that it was his remake of the science fiction classic Planet Of The Apes when the prospect of a new Tim Burton movie began to lose its luster.

Released in the summer of 2001, this particular remake of the 1968 Charlton Heston classic actually started development back as far as 1988 and at one point had Arnold Schwarzenegger starring. Of course, it went through the usual development hell issues, being passed around various directors and producers, and several script rewrites, the movie was put into active production and Tim Burton was hired to direct. By the time it was finally released, hype for the movie was pretty high. I went to the movie the weekend it was released, along with my usual crew of Nex, Cass and Boz. I can’t really speak for anyone else, but as far as I’m concerned, 2001’s Planet Of The Apes was–and still is–a mixed bag.

In the year 2029, interstellar reconnaissance missions are relegated to chimpanzee pilots from the space station Oberon in deep space. On one such mission, a chimp loses communication and vanishes from the radar. Fearless astronaut Leo Davidson launches a rescue mission and, following a malfunction, lands on a jungle-like planet not unlike the earth. To Leo’s astonishment, English-speaking apes and primitive humans inhabit the planet. Following his capture by the apes and consequent escape, Leo assembles a small band of defiant humans and empathic apes in an attempt to re-establish contact with Oberon, but his focus changes following an unexpected discovery. Armed with this new information, Leo leads a rebellion against an overpowering ape force that will result in freedom or complete annihilation.

On the one hand, Burton’s Planet Of The Apes manages to build on the original by way of the set pieces and consumes and effects. The ape makeup was just outstanding, and the actors in the getups were very good at making you believe an ape can talk and reason and stuff. And you have to admit, the story and scope of this was pretty epic. However, concerning the story, it does get snagged up in a few places: Mainly, the whole social commentary wasn’t handled as deftly as it was in the original. Also, while I’m not a purist of the original, I still don’t like the decision to make the humans be able to talk. It seems…wrong, somehow. Some character motivations are a bit questionable and head-scratching, like the tender romance that pops up between Captain Leo and Ari. And don’t get me started with that twist ending, there.

Overall, 2001’s Planet Of The Apes isn’t that bad, really. It’s a movie that’s a bit long in the tooth, will dazel you and then frustrate you. It’s worth at least a rental, there.

HALLOWEEN’ING Day 30: Bram Stoker’s Dracula

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halloween'ing 2017bram stokers dracula

I realize that it seems odd that I’m recommending the Francis Ford Coppola-directed remake of the movie Dracula that came out in 1992 for a Halloween movie viewing, rather than the original Bela Lugosi classic from 1932. And believe me, it’s not because I think that Bram Stoker’s Dracula is superior to the first one. Far from it. It’s just that, this iteration of the big screen Dracula was the first movie I watched straight through, and ignited an interest in the character that has lasted for decades later.

Comparisons to the source material aside, as a movie itself, Bram Stoker’s Dracula still holds up as a Gothic romance movie, complete with great period visuals, breathtaking scenes, and some great performances…and also Keanue Reeves. Who, I think, can be forgiven his performance, as he was still trying to shake free of being pigeonholed as Ted “Theodore” Logan at this point in his career.

Greatly atmospheric, a nice slow and dark buildup, and a first part that actually references Vlad Tepes, aka the inspiration for the character of Dracula. And let’s face it, there are way worse Dracula movies out there.

Bram Stoker’s DRACULA

::END TRANSMISSION::

Movie Review: KONG: Skull Island

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kong skull islandWarner Bros.
2017
PG-13

“An uncharted island. Let me list all the ways you’re gonna die: rain, heat, disease carrying flies, and we haven’t started on the things that want to eat you alive.”

Scientists, soldiers and adventurers unite to explore a mythical, uncharted island in the Pacific Ocean. Cut off from everything they know, they venture into the domain of the mighty Kong, igniting the ultimate battle between man and nature. As their mission of discovery soon becomes one of survival, they must fight to escape from a primal world where humanity does not belong.

King Kong. What can I say that hasn’t already been said, really? He’s one of the, if not the original Giant Monster of cinema, with Hollywood trying again and again to capture that movie magic of the original…and the results being mixed at best. I mean, I did rather enjoy Peter Jackson’s King Kong movie from 2005, even though it did seem a bit too big for its own britches. And that’s a phrase I never though I’d be using ever.

Now, here we are in the Teens of the the 21st Century, and the big trend right now is making everything that can even remotely be shoehorned into a shared cinematic universe, no matter how ridiculous sounding, given a movie that does just that, their standalone movie being an introduction to that character. Yeah, we have the Marvel Cinematic Universe to thank for that. Anyway, it seems that there’s a push for a shared kaiju universe that may or may not have been planned out when the 2014 Godzilla movie came out, but here we have Kong: Skull Island, which does indicate that there’s gonna be a Giant Monster Universe of movies that are going to be popping up in the near future. And quite frankly, if they’re all going to be of the quality that Kong: Skull Island was, then I’m all in.

Before I proceed, full disclosure: I never got around to watching Kong: Skull Island when it was in the theaters. The plan was to watch it in the local Second Run theater, where the ambiance of the place lends to the atmosphere of watching a giant monster movie. It’s what I did with the 2014 Godzilla movie, and I just wanted to continue the trend. Alas, I was a bit too busy, and by the time I found time, it was already out of the Second Run and on DVD/streaming. Anyway, on to the movie itself…

After a flashback where we see a couple of World War II fighter pilots–an American and a Japanese–crash land on a South Pacific island and have their ideological differences smacked away soundly by a giant ape hand, we fast-forward to 1973 (good year, that) and the end of the Vietnam War. Here, a government agent decides to take advantage of the military’s sudden down time and hires them to help with an expedition out to that remote South Pacific island, known now as Skull Island. Because of course it would be named that. Bringing along some scientists, a photojournalist and the helicopter squadron the Sky Devils, they arrive at the island, and–with some choice Black Sabbath blaring along–suddenly find themselves dodging trees. Not because they were flying so low, but because the trees were being thrown at them. The source of this being King Kong, the giant ape, so everyone should be thankful that he was lobbing trees at them, and not something more…scatological. Anyway, they all crash at different points on the island, and everyone discovers the hard way why Skull Island is not in the running to be the next vacation destination. One group stumbles upon the surviving American WWII pilot, makes friends with the natives and learns more about Kong and what he does (hint: he’s actually rather fond of the humans), as well as the other nightmare fuel monsters that dwell there. They also found the way off the island. Meanwhile, group two, lead by Lieutenant Colonel Samuel L. “Insert One Of His Famous Catch-Phrases Here” Jackson, decide to deal out a bit of the ol’ eye-for-an-eye on Kong, due to so many dying by the initial tree attack. Of course, this just rouses out the island’s actual big-bad, which shows up to make everyone mess themselves while trying to get away. Too bad Kong is all crispy and dead and all. Just kidding, of course he’s all right. I mean, how else are they going to do the sequel, amiright?

Kong: Skull Island was…awesome. There, I said it. I didn’t think I would enjoy the movie as much as I did, but here we are. We have a nice, tightly made King Kong movie that comes in at a nice 90 minutes, doesn’t waste much time to getting to the Giant Monster action (and not making everyone wait over an hour to even get to the island, Mr. Jackson), and still manages to flesh out the characters and story enough to keep you engaged until the after credits scene that effectively previews all the movies they’re wanting to make in this universe. The scenery and effects were rather good, as was the nightmare fuel that were the indigenous creatures of the island. And yes, the action scenes were breathtaking. The actors were fantastic, giving credence to their motivations, especially Samuel L. Jackson’s Lieutenant Colonel, which has kind of an Ahab arc through this.

Overall, I have to say that Kong: Skull Island is a great giant monster movie. A really entertaining giant monster movie that doesn’t seem too long, and actually makes me kind of excited about this whole shared universe of movies they’re going for. Definitely check this one out some night, maybe as a double-header with the 2014 Godzilla. Recommended.

Movie Review: PETE’S DRAGON (2016)

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movie-review_-petes-dragon-2016Disney
2016
PG

“I know the forest like the back of my hand. I wouldn’t have missed a dragon.”
“You missed Pete.”

Mr. Meacham, a woodcarver, delights local children with stories of a mysterious dragon that lives deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. His daughter Grace believes these are just tall tales, until she meets Pete, a 10-year-old orphan who says he lives in the woods with a giant, friendly dragon. With help from a young girl named Natalie, Grace sets out to investigate if this fantastic claim can be true.

I’ll just get this out of the way right now: Yes, I was a fan of the original 1977 musical version of Pete’s Dragon that was a campy animation-meets-live action flop for Disney. I watched it every time it played on HBO back in the day. I was also 7 years old. Looking back, of course it didn’t age well, but I still find some kind of whimsical charm to the whole thing. I still break out in a rousing chorus of “Bill Of Sale” whenever I’m grocery shopping, for whatever reason my brain decides on.

It was around the time when I watched Tim Burton’s “remake” (really a sequel, but whatever) of Alice In Wonderland when I thought that, of all the Disney movies to remake, Pete’s Dragon could befit with the ol’ patented Burton dark whimsy. Well, part of my fanboy desire was realized, as Pete’s Dragon was remade as more of a straight family drama, only by some guy whose previous body of work I don’t recognize, and not by Tim Burton. Ah, well. At least this time around, they done good with Eliot and the gang.

And by that, I mean they went the wise route to keep the spirit of the original movie, but craft its own tale independent of the previous one. This is not a musical (I doubt there’s anyone who’s disappointed with that, really),
the story is set on the other side of the country, and the means in which Pete finds his giant green companion…well, I don’t want to give away too much. Let’s just say, the opening few minutes aren’t going to be very pleasant for the small kiddies.

The story was pretty good, if not a bit ham-fisted with the inevitable environmental message; the child actors were quite good, meaning I didn’t find their performances annoying. And, there were some moments that managed to tug on my blackened heartstrings a bit. Fortunately, the theater was dark, and I made up for that by blasting away a bunch of kill-bots with my youngest nephew afterwards. You read that right.

Of course, the main attraction of this redux is Elliot himself. Obviously not the Don Bluth animated cartoon, but also not your traditional dragon with the scales and the…well, scales. Elliot is more of a big, ginormous puppy with green fur and wings. And the ability to make himself invisible in a way that was rendered at least plausible.

Maybe the only disagreement I have with the movie is the placement of the two main guys: I would actually believe the creepy kid from American Beauty to be the man more concerned with hunting Elliot, than have New Bones from the rebooted Star Trek movies be the…well, not necessarily a bad guy per se, but at least the guy who is clearly the heel in the story. You cannot manipulate me into hating Karl Urban, movie. YOU CAN’T MAKE ME.

Anyway, the Pete’s Dragon redux is a surprisingly good movie. It had the spirit of the original, while crafting something much better, with some fantastic effects and a brisk adventurous story, in my estimation. Worth a look-see.

Movie Review: The MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016)

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magnificent-seven-2016MGM / Paramount
2016
PG-13

“That bear is wearing people’s clothes.”

Looking to mine for gold, greedy industrialist Bartholomew Bogue seizes control of the Old West town of Rose Creek. With their lives in jeopardy, Emma Cullen and other desperate residents turn to bounty hunter Sam Chisolm for help. Chisolm recruits an eclectic group of gunslingers to take on Bogue and his ruthless henchmen. With a deadly showdown on the horizon, the seven mercenaries soon find themselves fighting for more than just money once the bullets start to fly.

Here we are, with another remake of another movie that many consider to be a classic of the respective genre, that being the 1960 Western classic The Magnificent Seven. And I’m certain that, by now, due to the ability of many to at least do a Google search of the original Magnificent Seven, everyone reading this review of mine would already know that the first Magnificent Seven was actually in itself a remake of the Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai. Only, with cowboys. Making this here update technically a remake of a remake. Remake-ception. Do people still reference that meme? I really don’t pay attention to these things. Anyway…

Regarding my desire to see this update, I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit (see what I did there?) to head out and watch it when it was released back in September. It looked interesting, yes. Just like any other Western remade with a more diverse cast but with all the same tropes we know and love from the Western movie genre. I waited until the later part of October to watch it, and then on a Saturday morning showing at a certain theater I don’t go to very often, so that even if I didn’t find it too entertaining, at least I could pick up one of those fantastic taco salads the adjacent sports bar whips up for lunch. Well, I was going to do so even if I was entertained, but still. Great taco salads there.

And, really, I was entertained by this Magnificent Seven. I’ve never really seen the 1960 version, so I have no idea if it follows the story closely; though, it does seem to adhere to your standard Western design: Evil land Barron is trying to force a town off of prime real estate for mining purposes, town hires a roving Marshal to help eliminate the bully, roving Marshal gathers together a posse of misfits and outlaws and inspires the townfolk to fight back, and then a showdown blows up the third act of the movie, causing the town’s Undertaker’s business to take a sudden uptick.

Did I say I was entertained by this movie? Yes, yes I did. And I wasn’t lying about that. The characters were what you would call cliche’–Peter Sarsgaard’s robber Barron character is all but missing the mustache twirling, and while I loves me some Denzel Washington in whatever he does, his character does come off as a bit overly altruistic for his own good–that in no way distracts from the fun this movie is. It doesn’t pretend to be more than just a Western, and a remake of one at that. Everyone is does great with their respective characters, with Vincent D’Onofrio standing out as the extremely quirky tracker/hunter Jack Horne.

Overall, though, I wouldn’t really recommend paying full price to watch The Magnificent Seven. Maybe a nice early matinee like I did, or maybe wait for the DVD release to watch.

Movie Review: EVIL DEAD (2013)

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Evil-Dead-posterTriStar Pictures / Ghost House Pictures
2013
R

I just don’t wanna become the devil’s bitch.”

Five twenty-something friends become holed up in a remote cabin far away from civilization. When they discover a Book of the Dead, they unwittingly summon up dormant demons patiently waiting for the chance to manifest themselves in the mortal world. They were warned not to read from the book, but now it’s too late. Now they must fight like hell to survive the night or succumb to a fate far worse than death.

In 2011, the decision was made to remake one of my all-time favorite movies ever made: Evil Dead. This news was not received very well by yours truly. An Evil Dead movie without either Sam Raimi or the great Bruce Campbell involved? This was my response:

grumpy cat noI didn’t care if the makers were fans of the original or not. I didn’t care if they were going to go with all-practical effects instead of any kind of CGI. In my mind, there was no justifiable reason whatsoever to remake, reimagine, reboot–or whatever other buzz word they’re using nowadays–this classic in the horror genre. So, it was clear that I was not only going to be watching this whatever-it-is of Evil Dead, but I was going to take some perverse pleasure in watching the flaming reviews on this when it came out.

But then…then, I began reading the various reviews, stating that the Evil Dead remake (or whatever) was actually…not bad. Pretty good, in fact. From sources that I was expecting scathing venom from. So…maybe it was worth a watch. But, I still waited a while after it was released on DVD to give it a go. I had my principles, after all.

Anyway, what I was trying to say through all of this was, I was ready to check this out, to give it a chance to either impress me, or fill me with rancid bile. And so, I did. Trust me, I wanted to not like this Evil Dead with a passion. Like with the Night Of The Demons remake, I pressed play daring it to impress me.

Aaaaaand…*sigh* okay, I concede. This updated take on Evil Dead was actually pretty good.

The first thing I want to point out is, the story line is very much its own entity. It doesn’t just carbon copy the first one, substituting young, nubile actors who look like they were developed in a eugenics lab doing the usual shtick. Well, they are, but at least the story involves a bunch of kids gather together in the famed cabin to help one of them kick their heroin habit cold turkey*. While setting up for the stay, they of course stumble upon the Necronomicon in the basement, this time with a bit of a different look but still rather creepy cool and effective, there. It’s wrapped in what looks like black plastic and tied off with barbed wire, so obviously one of the group had to open the thing up take a gander. And all the first pages with the big, bold DO NOT OPEN THIS UP! AND IF YOU DO, DON’T READ IT OR SAY ANYTHING OUT LOUD! warnings are met with a chuckle and “pshaw” from the hipster, who proceeds to do just that, which leads to the junkie getting possessed by the Evil Dead. Junkie Girl starts exhibiting odd and erratic behavior…which everyone chalks up to the withdrawal process. Of course, things escalate when she proclaims that everyone is going to die that night, before going full-blown Regan-from-The-Exorcist on their collective butts. Next thing you know, each one of them is being mutilated and taken over by that evil force that book has conjured up, and it’s up to Junkie Girl’s brother to try and stop the thing from destroying everything. Wackiness—and an ending showdown which really dropped the ball by not including Slayer’s “Raining Blood” as the music—ensues.

All things said, I didn’t really get the feeling that this was a remake of Evil Dead; really, more of a supplemental continuation of the Evil Dead mythos, maybe? Like one of those Legends of the Evil Dead or something. Call it what you want, though, this Evil Dead was indeed a very well-made and well-executed horror flick that pulled no punches, and really went that extra mile where all other modern horror movies that make it to the cinemas nowadays would have petered out around the PG-13 mark. There were homages, yes, and you could tell that the makers of this were fans of the originals, but it remains that this Evil Dead is its own entity that surprised me pleasantly.

Mind you, the originals are the best. But with this Evil Dead, it’s worth checking out without feeling embarrassed about it.

[*= it occurs to me that, this is the second horror movie that I have watched in less than a week that involves bad things happening while trying to detox from heroin…what kind of message is that sending, I wonder?]

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