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>> Tuesday, August 23, 2011

At the beginning of this year I found out that 2011 would break the record for most remakes and sequels in one year. I was aware of most of the sequels, but it's the remakes that have been taking me by surprise - both in quality and the fact that I didn't even know they were remakes. It was only slightly before watching Fright Night that I found out it had been done once before. In 1985 William Ragsdale teamed up with Roddy McDowall (known most for his Planet of the Apes roles) to conquer Jerry - a vampire. Once I knew about it, in preparation for this review, I found the original on Netflix and watched away. I wasn't disappointed by the film, nor was I profoundly entertained. I got a kick out of seeing McDowell perform sans ape and liked the storyline enough, but I felt it dragged and I was left underwhelmed.

Remakes as they go, always go in one of two directions. The first is that you end up with a shot-for-shot modernization of the classic that shouldn't have been touched in the first place. Horror films always seem to get revamped (small pun intended) and more often than not, in this style. I cite 1998's Pyshco remake and 2006's The Omen as prime examples. The other option is a reimagining, where you have a similar beginning and end but a different middle. Obviously there's variations and blends of this rule, but it's more or less the same. A reimagining though, isn't always good either (ie: Rob Zombie's Halloween). Fright Night, for the record, is a prime example of a reimagining.

Colin Farrell plays Jerry the vampire, a stranger who's just moved in next door to Charley (played well by Star Trek's Anton Yelcin). In the original, Charley is a sci-fi/horror geek who stalks Jerry until he finds out the truth. In this version, Charley is working very hard at being more socially acceptable in school and is later warned of Jerry's antics by his friend, Ed (played by McLovin himself, Christoper Mintz-Plasse). It seems a mutual friend has gone missing and Ed begs Charley to help him find their vanished comrade. After some investigation, more truths about Jerry come to surface and soon Charley finds himself in a head to head battle with Jerry to save his mom (Toni Collette) and his girlfriend (Imogen Poots).

I remember a time when I used to really hate Colin Farrell. I don't really remember why, or where I saw something to make me feel this way. I know I've seen him be an Irish prick on some talk show, where his real self shone through and I instantly put him in a class with Russell Crowe -douchebags who roam Hollywood thinking they're all that. Oddly enough, that changed for me after seeing Farrell in Horrible Bosses - when he was at his douchebagiest. But it showed a lighter side of Farrell to me and allowed me to experience just how good he could be. Fright Night is no exception. While some will argue this film belongs to Yelchin, there's a subtly in Farrell's performance that seals the deal for me. There's no ego attached to the fact that Jerry's a super cool vampire who knows he's probably going to bone your girlfriend. He just simply knows he's been around 375 years longer than you and has the experience to prove it. Nothing like respecting your elders, right? Or you know, wanting to plunge a stake into their heart.

Fright Night gets an open door. Despite some parts that seemed to move too fast (in definite contrast to the original), Marti Noxon (known for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series) delivers a solid script and some really witty moments (I couldn't place some of the dialogue patterns until after when I found out who wrote this adaptation). Even though it shares the same title as the original, this take on Fright Night feels like a different movie completely. It's fun and scary enough that if it's still kickin' around come Halloween, I recommend checking it out to get into the mood of things. Even before then, it's still worth your time.

*Stills courtesy of Dreamworks SKG



>> Monday, August 15, 2011

I will say despite the Final Destination series' many faults - one thing it never fails at is it's countless ways to build up suspense and make you cringe. Even when it comes down to something as simple as the potential to step on a screw - you may find yourself on the edge of your seat. That is, until you witness the most ridiculous death you've ever seen. Then you find yourself asking 'Really?!' - that and 'Why did I come to Final Destination 5?'.

The biggest error in the Final Desination films is unfortunately also it's biggest gimmick and plot point. The fact that right before this big event happens the main character gets a disturbing vision of the future. Be it a plane crash, a highway pile-up or a bridge collapsing, for some reason a vision always precedes the actual events. By the time I found myself watching the fifth one I began to wonder less about who was going to die and more about where the hell these visions were coming from. This idea has increasingly become more of plot hole that just doesn't make any sense. This is forgivable enough if you have characters and story you care about - but when the film even lacks that, all bets are off when death comes knocking at the door.

The expert in this film (every horror movie usually has one) states in inexplicable detail how to beat death. Previous ways include using new life to rewrite your 'contact' and beating your near-death experience to earn a place amongst the living. In Final 5, the coroner explains you have to kill somebody else to take their life force. Once again - really?! Not only that, but he says it in passing and the kids eat it up like crack. At no point do they question it - they simply go along with it.

But these are all things consistent throughout the entire series. Something that's not is the one piece of originality Final 5 had going for it - it's a surprise prequel. Now, knowing this information won't ruin the film for you, I promise. However, that's the biggest problem in this film. If you didn't like the last three films, you'll generally still admit the first one was original in it's attitude and execution. So, the idea that this film could potentially bring back the original feel was an intriguing idea when I thought back upon it. As a prequel there's potential to answer a lot of questions and introduce a new way of thinking about this whole 'death as an antagonist' thing. However, in Final 5 it seemed more like an afterthought for the filmmakers rather than a springboard for a reason this film needed to exist. Also, the fact this film is called Final Destination 5 and not The Final Destination like it's predecessor speaks volumes about the lack of thought and foreplanning that went into this series.

Final Destination 5 gets a big ol' closed door. As I said with the last one, I truly hope this is the final destination. Unlike a horror franchise like Saw, Final Destination is sloppy gore that doesn't connect well. It's unimaginative and predictable at this point and it might be time to put this series to rest - especially with it coming full circle as it now has. Besides, when it comes to using common deaths such as falling as a 'freak' accident - you're clearly running out of ideas.

*Stills courtesy of Newline Cinema


THE HELP (2011)

>> Friday, August 12, 2011

Every movie-goer likes an underdog, because every movie-goer likes to be inspired. Without a doubt, The Help accomplishes all this and more while continuing a theme from The Rise of the Planet of the Apes - one focused on civil rights. In this case though, it's one based on a true story. It's not a story that hasn't been told before, but it still amazes me when I watch a movie like this (that takes place only fifty years ago) and see just how far we've come in progressing racial equality. Unfortunately, fifty years has only made racism more taboo as opposed to obliterating it all together. Even then, it feels more like some people have just shifted their hatred to other races around the world.

The Help is based on the novel by Kathrym Stockett, with the screen adaptation by Tate Taylor - who also directs. It centers around Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone), an aspiring journalist who finds herself doing a housekeeping column in a Jackson, Mississippi newspaper. Upon asking a friend's maid for cleaning tips, she finds out a lot more about what's going on between black maids and the white families they serve. The main maid in question is named Aibileen Clark, who is played by the wonderful Viola Davis.

Hesitant at first, Aibileen eventually gives in and begins to tell Skeeter her story. It only takes one call to the publisher of her dreams for Skeeter's idea to be tentatively picked up. There's a problem however, very few maids want to tell their story - even if Skeeter's attempt to share their inequality with the world is righteous. Especially when it comes to the ability for a maid to use a white family's toilet. As Skeeter states, the maids are allowed into these homes and are instructed to watch out for the children and essentially hold the ideal American suburban dream together. Yet, they have fewer human rights.

Along with the 'goodwill towards all mankind' message, a strong feature of The Help is the outstanding performances. Both Stone and Davis are pitch perfect and have a good chance at Oscar nominations, as does Allison Janney (who plays Skeeter's mother). The biggest surprise performance for belonged to Jessica Chastain, who plays a white woman who finds herself similarly outcast by the rest of the debutants.

The Help gets an open door. It's inspiring, touching and funny. Stone is at her best in this film and shows us what the cutie from Superbad can really accomplish. It makes me all the more hopeful for The Amazing Spider-Man next year (in which she coincidentally takes over Bryce Dallas Howard's role as Gwen Stacy). While at times The Help verges on something we've seen before, it never loses it's heart. It's that heart that keeps the film together, and keeps you caring.

*Stills courtesy of Dreamworks SKG



>> Sunday, August 7, 2011

There are far too few movies I go to, where in the end I actually walk out with a feeling that I'm better off for seeing it. Movies that come to mind more recently are Source Code, Limitless and The Adjustment Bureau. With the exception of Source Code, however, none has moved me quite like Rise of the Planet of the Apes just has. This is partially because I love movies - pure and simple. But any fan of any type of art will tell you that while you can love paintings, or music, or literature - that doesn't mean everything is spot on. The biggest reason though, comes from the fact that Rise is just really well done.

If you're familiar with the Planet of the Apes franchise, you know there's been six movies so far. The original Planet of the Apes was released in 1968 - an astonishing 43 years ago. After that came a weak sequel and then an intriguing transition film. The fourth film, titled Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, is the one this current film is a reboot of. While I liked Conquest, thankfully it can't hold a candle to the realism and power that lies within Rise. Don't get me wrong though, I know the influence the original series had and I respect that. For me, as a huge POTA fan nothing will ever beat the original and its comments on social acceptance and racism. It was a powerful film and will always be considered as such.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes takes all that was wrong with the old films and fixes it. What always bothered me about the originals was the lack of realism. This may be coming from the mind of someone who has come to both appreciate and hate CGI simultaneously, but Rise nails it. There wasn't one moment where I was worried the effects weren't carrying the story. The actors deliver the same. I felt James Franco and John Lithgow did brilliantly. Thought even they didn't bring their A-game nearly as much as Andy Serkis. Using the same technology they used in Avatar and King Kong, Serkis delivers a knockout performance as the lead revolutionary ape, Caesar. It's an odd thing to feel for a CG character as much as one does watching Rise. Rightfully deserved, though when your seeing such a powerfully emotional character arc unfold before your eyes.

To top it all off, you get a good few references to the old films as well as a few teasers for potential sequels (of which the second is already in talks). Some of the old references to watch for include seeing an old Charlton Heston movie on the TV in the background and the use of a few choice infamous phrases - more of a nod than a gimmick, thankfully. As for teasers, there's a scene in the midst of the credits not to miss as well as limited talk of a manned mission to Mars. The mission to Mars storyline seems insignificant at first, until a Newspaper article later on proclaims 'Lost in Space?'. It doesn't take too much to put together that those astronauts will likely face the same fate as Heston and his buddies did back in '68. Whether it's just a nod or not will be determined in years to come.

I've always felt that walking into a movie shouldn't require effort on the viewer's part. You shouldn't have to sit there and struggle to like a movie - the creative team behind a film is responsible for that. Few films are far from achieving this. They rely too heavily on special effects or action or big names to do the work (ie: The Smurfs). With Rise of the Planet of the Apes, they rely on the story. Shocking right? That a good story with heart can actually work every once in a while. Especially with this storyline as they could have easily resorted to a bad action movie. Not that it was awful, but Burton's remake ten years ago is an example of how this Rise could have gone from thoughtful to awful pretty damn quick.

I may be pleasantly optimistic at this point (coming off the high from Rise), but with talk of Andy Serkis getting an Oscar nod for his work in this Planet of the Apes adventure - perhaps we're not far off from a Best Picture nomination as well. There's still plenty of year left though, as we come into August with a bang, but this is one to definitely catch. Open door, all the way.

*Stills courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox



>> Monday, August 1, 2011


I never really thought too much about the original Spy Kids trilogy. I always thought they were so-so, even just as kids movies. After the last one came out I expected there wouldn't be anymore. Low and behold, it probably only took a one-word gimmick to get this film green-lit: Aroma-Scope. Yes, a basic scratch-n-sniff card to make the movie more interactive. Or, as they advertise it as - 4-D. Ironic, considering that time (the main plot device in the film) is considered the real fourth dimension.

The idea of 4-D brings to light just how unnecessary Spy Kids 4 really is. It also makes me question the casting abilities of somebody like Jessica Alba's agent - why she's in this and more recent films likes Little Fockers I'll never know. But really, I don't think this is a franchise that needed to be continued, or rebooted - or whatever. Even with me liking the idea of time manipulation (Clockstoppers almost did it justice), it's not enough to drag me to this most ridiculous of films this month.

If you're interested in shutting your kids up for part an afternoon, Spy Kids: All the Time in the World opens August 19th. Considering it's in 3-D though, you may want to save the $100 it'll cost you and just go get the little brats ice-cream or something and enjoy the rest of your summer.


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