Horror Film Review: Thirteen Ghosts (dir by Steve Beck)


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Thirteen Ghosts!  

Oh my God, this 2001 haunted house movie scared the Hell out of my when I was way too young to know any better.  Seriously, it would come on HBO late at night and I would secretly watch it with the sound turned down and just the visuals would freak me out.

That lawyer getting chopped in half by the glass doors?  AGCK!

That ghost staring at Shannon Elizabeth?  AGCK!

That other ghost attacking Shannon Elizabeth?  AGCK!

All of the ghosts suddenly appearing and then just as quickly disappearing?  AGCK!

MATTHEW LILLARD!?  DOUBLE AGCK!

Seriously, I had nightmares about those ghosts!

For this month’s horrorthon, I decided to rewatch Thirteen Ghosts and … well, first of all, I was reminded by the DVD that apparently, the name of the film is not Thirteen Ghosts.  Instead, the proper name is Thir13een Ghosts, which is really kind of annoying because it’s not like that “13” even vaguely resembles a “T”.  I’m not even sure how exactly you would pronounce Thir13een.  Wasn’t one of the robots in the last Star Wars film named Thir13een?  Just looking at the title makes me think about that episode of South Park where Cartman went into the future and had a robot dog named K-10 (and a cat named Kit-9 and a bird named Kok-A-3!)

So, no offense meant to anyone who was involved in the naming of the film, but I’m going to keep calling it Thirteen Ghosts!

Anyway, I decided to rewatch Thirteen Ghosts because I remembered it as being the scariest film ever made and … wow, it really did not stand up to the test of time.  I mean, don’t get me wrong.  The ghosts were still kind of scary and I guess that Tony Shalhoub did the best that he could do with the material.  But the movie itself…oh my God.

Seeing as how I’m contractually obligated to come up with at least 500 words about Thirteen Ghosts, let’s talk about the plot, shall we?  Tony Shalhoub is Arthur.  Arthur’s a widower who has two children, Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth) and Bobby (Alec Roberts).  For some reason, Kathy is obsessed with sink fixtures.  Bobby, meanwhile, is your typical bratty kid.  Arthur is like way poor and about to lose his house.  Despite this, he continues to employ a housekeeper named Maggie (Rah Digga).  HEY, ARTHUR, THERE’S NO POINT IN HAVING A HOUSEKEEPER IF YOU CAN’T AFFORD YOUR FREAKING HOUSE!

Anyway…

Fortunately, Arthur is informed that his uncle, a legendary ghost hunter named Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham) has died and, as a result, Arthur has inherited his mansion!  YAY!  PROBLEM SOLVED!  Of course, the mansion is kind of weird.  The walls are covered with Latin phrases and it’s all glass.  “I do not do windows,” Maggie says.  Ha ha ha.

Well, it turns out that the entire house is full of murderous ghosts.  (Of course, you can’t see them unless you put on special glasses.)  We occasionally get glimpses of the ghosts and this is where Thirteen Ghosts actually triumphs.  The ghosts actually are really freaky looking and they’ve all got enjoyably weird backstories.  That’s a good thing.

What isn’t a good thing is that, in order for the ghosts to get free and wreck some havoc, everyone in the house is required to act like a total idiot.  Hence, we get Shannon Elizabeth staring at herself in a mirror for literally four minutes, just so one ghost can sneak up behind her.  We get Bobby and Maggie constantly running off.  We also get Embeth Davidtz as a “spirit liberator” and Matthew Lillard as a psychic.

Does Matthew Lillard give a good performance in Thirteen Ghosts?  It’s hard to say.  He definitely gives a performance that could only be given by Matthew Lillard.  There’s a few scenes where you do wish someone on set had told him to calm down but, on the whole, you can count me in the pro-Lillard camp.  It’s a silly film and it needs someone willing to give a silly performance.

There are a few parts of Thirteen Ghosts that have stood up well.  The ghosts, the production design, the scene with the lawyer.  But ultimately, the movie fails because you really don’t care about Arthur or his family or his housekeeper.  In these type of films, the main characters either have to be likable or they have to be so unlikable that you don’t mind seeing them get terrorized.  But bland just will not get the job done!

Since I love lists, here’s my ranking of the ghosts, from least to most frightening:

  1. The Withered Lover — I can’t talk too much about her without it counting as a spoiler but she’s the only ghosts that isn’t malicious and therefore, she’s not frightening.
  2. The Bound Woman — A hanging woman wearing a prom dress.  Who cares?
  3. The Torso — The torso is a legless torso that has to drag itself around by its hands.  The torso is kinda freaky but it’s hard to be scared of something that doesn’t have legs.
  4. The Pilgrimess — The Pilgrimess was accused of witchcraft in the 17th Century.  She’s kind of scary but she’s also still in the stocks so she’s not quite as threatening as she could be.
  5. The Great Child and
  6. the Dire Mother — AGCK!  The Dire Mother is a tiny woman who is always feeding her giant son, the Great Child!  Creepy!
  7. The Torn Prince — The Torn Prince always freaks me out.  Not only is he massively disfigured as the result of a car crash but he also carries a baseball bat.  AGCK!
  8. The First Born Son — The first born son is a kid who has an arrow sticking out his head.  He whispers that he wants to play.  AGCK!  Children are creepy.
  9. The Angry Princess — The Angry Princess is a total rip-off of the bathtub ghost from The Shining but she still scares the Hell out of me.  AGCK!
  10. The Hammer — AGCK!  He’s a former blacksmith, covered in spikes and featuring a hammer in place of his left hand.
  11. The Juggernaut — Oh my God, this guys is scary and evil-looking!  We’re told that he killed 9 people when he was alive and 31 people as a ghost.  DOUBLE AGCK!
  12. The Jackal — OH MY GOD!  The Jackal gave me nightmares when I was younger and he’s still the scariest of the ghosts!  He’s the one who has a cage on his head.  The scene where he attacks Shannon Elizabeth is pure nightmare fuel!  TRIPLE AGCK!

Anyway, the movie’s not as scary as I remembered but those ghosts are still Agck-worthy.

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What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night #126: The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, Part 2 (dir by Laurie Collyer)


On Sunday night, I watched Part 2 of Lifetime’s The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe.

The Secret Life of Marilyn MonroeWhy Was I Watching It?

I was watching it because I watched Part One on Saturday and I absolutely loved it!  I wanted to see how Part Two would deal with the second half of Marilyn’s life.  Would it explore the mysteries that still surround her death?  Would the Kennedys make an appearance?  Who would come off worse — Joe DiMaggio or Arthur Miller?

What Was It About?

Part Two of The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe deals with her life after she became a star.  We watch as the increasingly fragile Marilyn marries the physically abusive Joe DiMaggio (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and the mentally abusive Arthur Miller (Stephen Bogaert).  (Seriously, neither Joe nor Arthur comes across positively in this film.)  Marilyn continues to deal with her own fears that she’ll go crazy like her mother (Susan Sarandon).  She has a brief moment of hope when she meets John F. Kennedy, though the film is deliberately vague about the details of their relationship.  Ultimately, she ends up having a breakdown and is hospitalized against her will.  By the end of the film, it seems like she’s found some hope for the future but then, we see her tossing and turning in bed and clumsily reaching for a bottle of pills…

What Worked?

Kelli Garner’s performance as Marilyn was just impressive here as it was during the first part of the film.

What Did Not Work?

Sadly, Part Two just wasn’t as good as Part One.  To a large extent, Part One worked because of the emphasis on Marilyn’s relationships with her mom (Susan Sarandon) and her adopted aunt Grace (Emily Watson).  In Part Two, those relationships were overshadowed by Marilyn’s unhappy marriages to DiMaggio and Miller.  As a result, the film lost some of its focus and it often seemed to be meandering from one unhappy scene to another until Marilyn’s final night.

Also, I was disappointed that the film was so vague in its approach to Marilyn’s relationship with the Kennedys.  Listen, everyone knows that Marilyn had an affair with both Jack and Bobby Kennedy.  The film tried to create some ambiguity about this point, never actually showing either Kennedy brother on screen and instead, just having Marilyn talk about them.  Rather unfairly, this created the impression that both affairs could have been another one of Marilyn’s delusions.  Quite frankly, Marilyn Monroe deserves better than that.

“Oh My God!  Just like me!” Moments

Just as with Part One, there were several.  Kelli Garner humanized her iconic role to such an extent that I think everyone watching could relate to her.  I’ll just say that I’ve known my DiMaggios and my Millers and leave it at that.

Lessons Learned

Fame does not equal happiness.

In the end, Part Two was not as good as Part One but, overall, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe was worth the 4 hours it took to watch it.  It did a great job of recreating the Hollywood of the past and Kelli Garner gave a great performance.  Since this is Lifetime that we’re talking about, I imagine both parts will be rerun frequently.  If you missed them the first time, don’t make the same mistake twice!

What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night #125: The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, Part I (dir by Laurie Collyer)


Earlier tonight, I watched Part One of the latest Lifetime original movie, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe.

The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe

Why Was I Watching It?

Lifetime has been advertising The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe for about two months now.  From the first commercial, I knew that this was something that I was going to have to watch.  After all, a movie about a famous and tragic actress on the always melodramatic Lifetime network?  How could I not watch?

What Was It About?

It’s right there in the title.  The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe tells the story of how poor country girl Norma Jean Baker became the iconic Marilyn Monroe.  The first part of this two-part film dealt with Marilyn’s early years.  We watched as Marilyn (played by Kelli Garner) made her way out to Hollywood and appeared in her first few films, all the while dealing with her mentally unstable mother, Grace (Susan Sarandon).  Part One ended with Marilyn on the verge of becoming the world’s biggest star.  It was a happy ending for Marilyn but not so much for the audience because we know what’s going to happen to her during Part II.

What Worked?

The first part of The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe was everything that you could possibly want from a Lifetime movie.  The costumes, the production design, the cinematography — it was all properly opulent and wonderful to look at.

Even more importantly, Part One was anchored by three wonderful performances from three great actresses.  Susan Sarandon was heartbreaking and poignant as Marilyn’s unstable mother.  Emily Watson brought a quiet strength to the role of Marilyn’s surrogate mother, Grace.  And finally, there’s Kelli Garner in the title role.  After years of doing good work in small roles (Bully, Lars and The Real Girl), The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe finally gives Kelli Garner a chance to show what she’s capable of doing as an actress.  In part one, Garner gave a performance that both humanized an icon while also suggesting the legend that she would eventually become.

What Did Not Work?

The film’s framing device, in which Marilyn told her story to a psychologist played by Jack Noseworthy, occasionally felt a bit awkward.  Otherwise, as far as the first half of The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe was concerned, it all worked.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

Obviously, I don’t want to sit here and compare myself to Marilyn Monroe.  I’ll leave that for others to do.  However, I do have to say that there were quite a few “Oh my God!  Just like me!” moments in the first part of The Secret Life Of Marilyn Monroe.  That was one reason why the film worked so well — it took an iconic figure and humanized her to the extent that anyone viewing could relate to her.

There were many moments that I related to during part one, particularly when it came to Marilyn’s emotional vulnerability and her desire to be seen as something more than just another pretty face.  In fact, there were more than a few times that I had to look away from the screen because, often, Marilyn’s pain was my pain.

Ultimately, though, the biggest “OMG!  Just like me!” moment came at the start of the film when Marilyn spent over an hour trying on different outfits before greeting the psychologist waiting in the next room.  I’m just as obsessive, especially when it comes to picking the right clothes for a doctor’s appointment.

(Seriously, I once spent an entire day putting together the perfect outfit for seeing the allergist.)

Lessons Learned

Fame can’t buy happiness but it can come awfully close.  (Of course, I have a feeling that lesson will be invalidated once I watch the second part of The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe.)

Super Bowl Trailer: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 “Enemies Unite”


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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 continues the reboot Sony began with the Spider-Man franchise minus Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire. While The Amazing Spider-Man did quite well in the box-office when it came out in 2012 the general consensus with fans and critics alike was that it was just another origins tale that rehashed events from the Peter Parker story that was already well-known to comic book and non-comic book fans alike.

This sequel will now bring in villains and some plot points that fans have been waiting for since the franchise first began in the early 2000’s. We have Jamie Foxx and Paul Giamatti as the villains Electro and Rhino finally appearing on film with hints that other iconic Spider-Man villains such as the Vulture and the Hobgoblin probably having a cameo. This sudden flood of villains looks to be Sony’s attempt to set-up a Sinister Six film that would be the studio’s way to counter the success of Marvel’s and Disney’s success with The Avengers.

Time will tell if this gamble will end up paying off for Sony and many comic books wish it won’t since there’s a chance it would return Spider-Man to Marvel Studios thus making him available to appear in future films as an Avenger.

Sony went to unprecedented lengths to make sure people knew about the new trailer arriving on Super Bowl Sunday. We had a teaser teasing the trailer for the Super Bowl. Then we had the brief teaser shown during the Super Bowl. Below is the full 3-minute plus trailer that was shown on-line soon after.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is set for a May 2, 2014 release date.

Review: The Amazing Spider-Man (dir. by Marc Webb)


It was in the summer of 2002 that the superhero film genre finally entered it’s Golden Age (or Silver Age for some). X-Men had come out two years before to positive acclaim and, most importantly, in the box-office. It wasn’t until Sam Raimi released the first in what would be his trilogy in the Spider-Man film franchise that superhero comic book films became the power in Hollywood it remains to this day. The first film from Raimi easily captured the pulp and campy sensibilities of the source material and for an origin story film it was done quite well in that it introduced the titular character and what made him tick. In 2004, Raimi and company released what many consider the best comic book film with Spider-Man 2. The film brought a level of Greek tragedy to the fun of the first film and it definitely brought one of the best realized comic book villains on film with Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus. Then the franchise hit a major bump in 2007 with Raimi third entry in the franchise with the bloated Spider-Man 3.

Sony Pictures, who owned the film rights to the Spider-Man franchise, were so quick to churn out a fourth film, but in doing so lost the filmmaker and cast that made the trilogy happen. In the studios’ thinking they needed to get a fourth film up and running in order to keep the rights to the film from reverting back to Marvel and Disney. So, out goes Sam Raimi, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst and in comes Marc Webb, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Instead of getting Spider-Man 4 we get The Amazing Spider-Man which doesn’t continue what Raimi had established with the first three films, but reboots the franchise all the way to the beginning.

Marc Webb takes the screenplay worked on by a trio of screenwriters (James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves) and reboots the origin story of Peter Parker’s transformation into Spider-Man. We find Peter Parker back in high school as a student and still getting bullied by Flash Thompson while remaining awkward around girls (especially one Gwen Stacy played by Emma Stone). yet, before we even get to this part of the film we get an introductory coda where we find a preadolescent Peter Parker playing hide and seek with his scientist father. These early scenes show hints that the enhanced spider thatwill bite and give eter his abilities may have had his father’s research and work written all over it.

This intro influences much of the storyline and leaves a huge impact on the character of Peter Parker which the previous three films never explored. The rest of the film has Peter investigating the circumstances of his parent’s disappearance and his adjustment to having been given the superhuman abilities by the spider that his father may or may not have been responsible in breeding.

First off, the film does a good job in re-establishing Peter Parker as a high school student. The original film spent some time in this part of Peter Parker’s life but never truly explored it. We see Peter not just the class genius, but also one who also shows an affinity for photography (something that the original trilogy never really explained other than he needed the job and money). There’s also some added layers to the character as this version of Peter Parker is more than willing to stand up to the bullies picking on the weaker students other than himself. It’s a huge departure from the meek and geeky Peter Parker of the past. We still get a geeky and smart Peter, but one who is also a sort of a well-intentioned slacker. We also get a proper introduction for Gwen Stacy (something the third film criminally mishandled)

The film introduces once again many of the characters the first film in the series had already done. From Uncle Ben (played by Martin Sheen this time around) and Aunt May (Sally Field) right up to the robber who runs into Uncle Ben and changes Peter Parker’s outlook on his role as a hero forever. Again these were character that had already been explored by the first three films and they’re scenes that had an air of familiarity to them though Sheen performance as Uncle Ben added more layers to the character who becomes Peter Parker’s moral center.

Another thing that the film did a good job with was the design of the film. It has been ten years since the first film and the technology in CGI-effects has leapfrogged exponentially since. The look of the OsCorp Tower was a beautiful piece of architectural design. The building loomed over New York City like something dark with a hint of malice. There were changes to the suit Peter wears that really harkens back to the McFarlane years of the Spider-Man comics. Even the return of the web-shooters was a nice surprise that I had some reservations when first hearing about it.

A third good thing about the film was the extended montage when Peter Parker realizes he has gained new abilities and begins to test them out. It’s familiar territory from the first film, but Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield adds a new level of youthful exuberance to the proceedings. Even the use of parkour by Peter Parker to show his growing abilities didn’t come off as silly. Garfield’s performance as Peter Parker in this montage was pretty great. One could believe at how much fun he was having at discovering each new level of abilities. Even some of the growing pains he goes through after getting bit were some of the more hilarious moments in the film that ultimately lacked much of it in the end.

Which brings us to what made this entertaining film end up becoming a failure in the end.

I admit that the film entertained me in the end, but there were things aboutThe Amazing Spider-Manwhich nagged at me throughout and afterwards. While the film was entertaining the story self and most of the characters were inconsistently written. Once one looked past the action and some of the witty dialogue in the beginning the film’s many plot-holes and head-scratching moments become too glaring to ignore.

The character of Peter Parker does get some new layers of characterization in the beginning, but as the film played out the more the Peter Parker of this film began to stray away from not just what Raimi had created and guided through the first three films but also most of the character’s decade’s long growth in the comics. Yes, we see Peter Parker as the science-genius and even moreso than the one portrayed by Tobey Maguire, but we also don’t get the awkward teen who grows into his abilities, but most importantly, one who learns through tragedy that he has a responsibility to the people around him to protect them even if it means sacrificing his wants and dreams to do so. We don’t just see Peter Parker saving people, but also one who seemed to relish beating up and abusing those who used to do the same to him and/or others. Spider-Man in this film acts more like a bully than a reluctant hero by film’s end. Even the events that should’ve taught him the lessons of self-sacrifice and heeding the needs of the many fail to make much of an impact on the teen superhero. All one has to look at as the perfect example of this darker and more selfish turn to the character was Peter’s whisper to Gwen about promises not being kept being the best ones.

Other characters get inconsistencies in how they’re written. The other big one being Dr. Curt Connors who begins the film as a scientist so intent of not just curing his disability but also helping the world. It’s a character similar in tone to Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus, yet where that villain remained a tragic one throughout the film and we could see the path which led him to become a villain with Dr. Connors in this fourth film there’s such a huge turnabout in the character’s motivations that whatever sympathy we may have had for Connors was squandered.

Not every character fails to impress. Martin Sheen and Denis Leary as Uncle Ben and Capt. Stacy respectively were fully realized characters who become Peter Parker’s moral centers and voice of reason. In fact, both Sheen and Leary helped anchor the scenes they appeared in and thus made their characters’ fate have the sort of emotional impact that a growing hero needs to move from being reluctant to accepting of his lot in life. It’s a shame that the writers failed to capitalize on the performances of these two character actors to help make Peter Parker more a hero and less a teenager more in love with what he can do instead of realizing that he has more to offer those who are weakest.

This is not to say that the performances by the cast was bad. From Garfield and Stone right up to Ifans, Sheen, Leary and Field, the cast did a great job with an uneven and inconsistent script that was too full of themes and ideas but no focus on any one of them. It’s a wasted opportunity to build on what the previous cast of the three films had created. Even the third film which many would agree as being a huge, bloated mess actually had a singular focus. It was a story that tried to explore Peter Parker’s darker side andhow his life as a superhero negatively impacts everyone around him he cares for. With this Marc Webb production we get a Peter Parker who at times was compassionate when it came to others being bullied and then we get one who relished on doing the same to those he now sees deserving of payback. Even Parker’s hunt for his uncle’s killer which the film spent a considerable time following just got dropped without any sort of resolution. One of the most significant events in Peter’s life gets dumped to the wayside to concentrate on finally pitting Spider-Man against the film’s Lizard.

Did The Amazing Spider-Man need to have gotten made? The answer to that would be a yes.

Did Marc Webb, the three writers in Vanderbilt, Sargent and Kloves and the new cast get the reboot correctly? I would say no.

This was a film that spent too much time reintroducing characters both comic book and film fans already knew intimately. The storyline itself shared many similarities to the second film in the series yet none of the cohesiveness which made that first sequel such an instant classic the moment it premiered in 2004. The Amazing Spider-Man spent so much time trying to come off as a grittier and edgier version of the character (I call this the Christopher Nolan-effect) that what should’ve been coming off as a fun-loving, albeit self-sacrificing hero, came off as a dick once he finally got the full costume on. The people in charge of this reboot sacrificed what was fun about the film franchise for realism that the character and his universe were never steeped in to begin with.

Gritty, edgy and realism may work for Nolan’s take on the Batman film franchise, but for Spidey it fails and just turns what could’ve been a fresh new take on the franchise into another entertaining, but ultimately forgettable entry in the series. Maybe it’s time Sony just realize that it’s just pushing this franchise downhill and let the rights revert back to Marvel who seem to have found a balance between pulpy camp and serious realism.

The Amazing Spider-Man 4-Minute Preview


Tonight saw the release throughout all NBC channels (both network and cable) of a 4-minute preview of Columbia Pictures’ entry in this summer’s blockbuster season: The Amazing Spider-Man.

The preview begins with new footage that shows Andrew Garfield saving a young boy from a dangling SUV held only by him as Spider-Man and his super-strong web. Once this sequence ends the rest of the preview is mostly a rehash of scenes from the last two trailers the studio has released.

With Marvel Studio and Walt Disney Pictures hitting the jackpot with the recently released superhero team film The Avengers the other big films this summer, especially the superhero ones, have their work cut out for them. It’s going to be a tough going for this web-slinging reboot to capture the magic the original Raimi film was able to bottle when in came out in 2002, but from the looks of this preview and the trailers before it there’s a chance it could do so again.

The Amazing Spider-Man is set for a July 3, 2012 release date.

Trailer: The Amazing Spider-Man (3rd Official)


I will say it now that when I first heard that Sony was going to reboot the Spider-Man film franchise I wasn’t enthused by their decision not to mention saying bye to Sam Raimi as the franchise director. I saw this decision as Sony’s attempt to hold onto the licensing rights to the character. Without a new film coming out soon the rights were going to revert back to it’s parent company in Marvel Comics (something comic book fans probably hope would’ve happened). So, a new film was rushed, with a new director in Marc Webb and a new Peter Parker in Andrew Garfield.

This reboot will retell Spider-Man’s origin story once again and much more grittier than the more fun, pulpy Raimi trilogy. I think the fact that it was going to be another origin story is what made me hesitant to embrace this reboot. I’m still not fully committed to this film, but with each new trailer released my interest continues to rise. With this latest trailer we can see that the effects look to be much improved from the first three films which is understandable with advancement in CGI. We can also see in this new trailer the “grittier” aspect Sony was promising. I will say that I’m still not sold on Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, but maybe seeing the finished product will prove me wrong.

The Amazing Spider-Man is set for a July 3, 2012 release date.