Horror Film Review: The Sentinel (dir by Michael Winner)


Here’s the main lesson that I’ve learned from watching the 1977 horror film, The Sentinel:

Even in the 1970s, the life of a model was not an easy one.

Take Alison Parker (Cristina Raines) for instance.  She should have everything but instead, she’s a neurotic mess.  Haunted by a traumatic childhood, she has attempted to commit suicide twice and everyone is always worried that she’s on the verge of having a breakdown.  As a model, she’s forced to deal with a bunch of phonies.  One of the phonies is played by Jeff Goldblum.  Because he’s Goldblum, you suspect that he has to have something up his sleeve but then it turns out that he doesn’t.  I get that Jeff Goldblum probably wasn’t a well-known actor when he appeared in The Sentinel but still, it’s incredibly distracting when he suddenly shows up and then doesn’t really do anything.

Alison has a fiancée.  His name is Michael Lerman (Chris Sarandon) and I figured out that he had to be up to no good as soon as he appeared.  For one thing, he has a pornstache.  For another thing, he’s played by Chris Sarandon, an actor who is best known for playing the vampire in the original Fright Night and Prince Humperdink in The Princess Bride.  Not surprisingly, it turns out that Michael’s previous wife died under mysterious circumstances.  NYPD Detective Rizzo (Christopher Walken) suspects that Michael may have killed her.

(That’s right.  Christopher Walken is in this movie but, much like Jeff Goldblum, he doesn’t get to do anything interesting.  How can a movie feature two of the quirkiest actors ever and then refuse to give them a chance to act quirky?)

Maybe Alison’s life will improve now that she has a new apartment.  It’s a really nice place and her real estate agent is played by Ava Gardner.  Alison wants to live on her own for a while.  She loves Michael but she needs to find herself.  Plus, it doesn’t help that Michael has a pornstache and may have killed his wife…

Unfortunately, as soon as Alison moves in, she starts having weird dreams and visions and all the usual stuff that always happens in movies like this.  She also discovers that she has a lot of eccentric neighbors, all of whom are played by semi-familiar character actors.  For instance, eccentric old Charles (Burgess Meredith) is always inviting her to wild parties.  Her other two neighbors (played by Sylvia Miles and Beverly D’Angelo) are lesbians, which the film presents as being the height of shocking decadence.  At first, Alison likes her neighbors but they make so much noise!  Eventually, she complains to Ava Gardner.  Ava replies that Alison only has one neighbor and that neighbor is neither Burgess Meredith nor a lesbian.

Instead, he’s a blind priest who spends all day sitting at a window.  He’s played by John Carradine, who apparently had a few hours to kill in 1977.

But it doesn’t stop there!  This movie is full of actors who will be familiar to anyone who enjoys watching TCM.  Along with those already mentioned, we also get cameos from Martin Balsam, Jose Ferrer, Arthur Kennedy, Eli Wallach, Richard Dreyfuss, and Tom Berenger.  There are 11 Oscar nominees wasted in this stupid film.  (Though, in all fairness, Christopher Walken’s nomination came after The Sentinel.)

Personally, The Sentinel bugged me because it’s yet another horror movie that exploits Catholic iconography while totally misstating church dogma.  However, the main problem with The Sentinel is that it’s just so incredibly boring.  I own it on DVD because I went through a period where I basically bought every horror film that could I find.  I’ve watched The Sentinel a handful of times and somehow, I always manage to forget just how mind-numbingly dull this movie really is.  There’s a few scary images but mostly, it’s just Burgess Meredith acting eccentric and Chris Sarandon looking mildly annoyed.  If you’ve ever seen Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, or The Omen, you’ll figure out immediately what’s going on but The Sentinel still insists on dragging it all out.  Watching this movie is about as exciting as watching an Amish blacksmith shoe a horse.

There’s a lot of good actors in the film but it’s obvious that most of them just needed to pick up a paycheck.  I’ve read a lot of criticism of Cristina Raines’s lead performance but I actually think she does a pretty good job.  It’s not her acting that’s at fault.  It’s the film’s stupid script and lackluster direction.

Ted 2 Sucks!


Ted_2_posterWell, I think the title of this review pretty succinctly sums up my reaction to Seth McFarlane’s latest film, Ted 2.  Thanks for reading and have a good…

Oh, really?

Okay, I’ve been told that I have to try to think up at least 300 words to say about Ted 2.  Otherwise, in the eyes of Rotten Tomatoes, we’re not a legitimate film blog.

*sigh*

Okay.

Anyway, Ted 2 is the story of a talking teddy bear (voice by Seth McFarlane) who likes to smoke weed and … well, that’s about it.  He’s just gotten married to Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) and they’re having trouble because Tami-Lynn wants a baby but Ted, being a teddy bear, doesn’t have any reproductive organs.  So, he and his friend John (Mark Wahlberg) decide to give Tom Brady a handjob so they can still his sperm.  But, it turns out, none of that was important because the state of Massachusetts claims that Ted is not even a person.  Instead, he’s just “property.”  So, now, John and Ted and their lawyer, Sam (Amanda Seyfried), are fighting the courts to win Ted his civil rights.  And then Giovanni Ribisi wants to kidnap Ted and Morgan Freeman shows up and says a few words.  And the film is narrated by Patrick Stewart because it’s funny to hear Patrick Stewart curse and…

Oh!  And Liam Neeson shows up.  He’s a customer at the store where Ted works as a cashier.  Liam wants to know if Trix are only for kids.  The joke here is that it’s Liam Neeson and he’s asking about cereal.  Ha ha.

Oh!  And there’s two guys who shows up at New York Comic Con so that they can beat up “nerds.”  During every scene set at Comic Con, they’re in the background beating people up and insulting them.  And the two guys are gay!  See, they’re bullies and they’re gay!  And they’re beating up random people at Comic Con, just because they can!  Hilarious, right?

Ted 2 spends a lot of time trying to convince us that Ted’s struggle to be recognized as a person is actually meant to be a metaphor for the American civil rights movement.  But, honestly, I get the feeling that McFarlane relates more to the bullies than he does to any oppressed minority.  As he previously proved with his TV shows and A Million Ways To Die In The West, McFarlane is only interested in going after easy targets.  He’s your typical white male hipster who thinks that, because he voted for Obama, he can get away with telling racist jokes.

And, before anyone misunderstands, I wouldn’t mind McFarlane’s humor if it was at least funny or original.  But instead, it’s the same stupid jokes that he always tells.  Seth McFarlane’s comedic technique is to basically drag things out until viewers laugh from pure exhaustion.  Is it effective?  Well, there are people who continue to praise and defend him and Seth certainly has made a lot of money off of his act.  So, obviously, there are people who respond to this.  But to me, Seth McFarlane’s humor just feels lazy.

Ted 2 lasts 128 minutes.  That’s over two hours devoted to a concept that feels more appropriate for a five-minute skit.  Interesting enough, the first Ted was tolerable because it focused on Mark Wahlberg’s Johnny.  Ted was just a supporting character and he worked as a metaphor for Johnny’s struggle to choose between growing up or being a happy slacker.  (The first Ted was all about Johnny falling in love with Mila Kunis, whose character is rather cruelly dismissed at the start of Ted 2.)  In Ted 2, Ted is the central character and once you get over the fact that he’s a teddy bear who drops multiple F bombs, there’s really not much to the character.  It helps, of course, that we only have to listen to McFarlane.  We don’t have to look at his imminently punchable, oddly lineless face.  But, to be honest, even McFarlane’s voice has become grating.  It’s just so self-satisfied and smug.

I saw Ted 2 with the blogger also known as Jedadiah Leland.  Over the course of 128 hours minutes (it just felt like hours), we each laughed once.  Not surprisingly, both laughs were inspired by Wahlberg’s dumb-but-sweet performance.  Now, I will admit that the rest of the audience laughed a bit more than we did.  But still, there was a definite atmosphere of resignation in the theater.  You could literally hear the people thinking, “Oh, Ted just made a joke about black people.  Better laugh now so everyone knows that I get whatever the Hell this is supposed to be.  After all, those tickets weren’t free…”

What’s the word count now?

758?

Cool.

That’s enough words for me to say, “Ted 2 sucks!”

 

What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night: Friday the 13th (dir. by Marcus Nispel)


Last night, Jeff and I watched the 2009 reboot of Friday the 13th.

Why Was I Watching It?

For the past two weeks, I’ve been reviewing the 12 films that make up the Friday the 13th franchise.  This is the last installment so far and, appropriately enough, I’m reviewing it on Friday the 13th.  (No, that’s not just a coincidence.)

What’s It About?

It’s a reboot!  That’s right — forget about every other Friday the 13th film because, apparently, they never happened.  Instead of trying to figure out some new gimmick to try to get audiences to watch Jason Voorhees kill yet more teenagers, producer Michael Bay and director Marcus Nisepl have simply gone back to the beginning and started all over again.  (I think I saw something similar in an episode of Futurama once.)

Basically, this is the first four films all rolled into one.  The film starts with a young Jason Voorhees watching as his murderous mother (Nana Visitor) gets beheaded by a camp counselor.  30 years later, Jason (now played by Derek Mears) is living in the woods around Camp Crystal Lake.  A bunch of obnoxious campers come up to the Lake because they’re looking for a marijuana crop and Jason, being the culture warrior that he is, responds by killing all of them except for Whitney (played by Amanda Righetti), who he just kidnaps.

A month later, Whitney’s brother Clay (Jared Padalecki) arrives at Crystal Lake to search for his sister.  Upon arriving, he runs into yet another group of obnoxious campers who have decided to take a vacation up at Crystal Lake.   Jenna (Danielle Panabaker) agrees to help Clay look for Whitney and while the two of them are off searching, Jason shows up and starts killing everyone else. 

What Worked?

One reason that I’m using the What Lisa Watched Last Night format to review this film is because, to a large extent, it’s pointless to get all nitpicky while reviewing a film like the reboot of Friday the 13th.  This is not a film you watch because you’re looking to see something that’s going to redefine cinema.  This is a film you watch so that you can scream, laugh, and grab your boyfriend.  And, on all those fronts, Friday the 13th succeeds well enough.  Director Marcus Nispel obviously understands the slasher genre and he provides everything that we’ve come to expect from a film like this.

Also, I have to admit, I always scream at the end of the film even though I know what’s going to happen.

The victims are all very disposable and forgettable but Aaron Yoo is funny as the token stoner.

What Did Not Work?

With this film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Conan The Barbarian, Nispel shows that while he may understand how to make a genre film, he also doesn’t seem to be capable of adding anything new to them.  This isn’t a problem if you’re just looking to be entertained but, for true fans of the original films that have been rebooted by Nispel and producer Michael Bay, it’s hard not to wonder just why exactly these franchises needed a reboot as opposed to a sequel.  Watching a film like Friday the 13th reboot, it’s hard not to feel as if the filmmakers simply gave up trying to bring anything new to the equation and instead rather cynically decided to just capitalize on the earlier work of filmmakers who, as opposed to Nispel and Bay, aren’t in the current mainstream of the Hollywood establishment.

The main difference between a reboot like Friday the 13th and the original films in the franchise is that the reboot cost a lot more to make.  It’s a lot slicker (and therefore, you never really buy into the reality of the horror) and, with a few exceptions like Aaron Yoo, it’s full of bland actors who are recognizable from TV and who seem to be going out of their way to “act like characters in a slasher film” as opposed to at least trying to give actual performances.  It almost feels as if Nispel, Bay, and the cast are specifically going out of their way to wink at us and tell us, “We’re so much better than the movie that you just paid money to see.”  It feels incredibly condescending.

The film’s attempt to shoehorn the original first four films of the franchise into one 97 minute movie results in a film that often feels rather rushed.

“OMG!  Just Like Me!” Moments

Oh, a lot.  I would be so dead if I ever wandered into a slasher film.

Lessons Learned

From rewatching the entire Friday the 13th franchise, I learned several lessons: Don’t have premarital sex (or probably not even marital sex for that matter, Jason has got some issues), don’t drink beer, don’t smoke weed, don’t snort cocaine, don’t skinny dip, don’t go commando, don’t go in the wood, don’t go camping, don’t walking into a dark room, don’t say, “Is there anyone here?,” don’t shower, don’t sleep in abandoned cabins, don’t help out strangers, don’t hitchhike, don’t flirt, and … well, don’t do anything and you should be just fine. 

However, what fun would that be?

Well, this concludes my series on the Friday the 13th franchise.  I’ll be posting a few final thoughts on the franchise as a whole later tonight or on Sunday but for now, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these reviews as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.  Stay supple and don’t go wandering around in the dark.  Happy Friday the 13th!

Review: Torchwood: Miracle Day Ep. 08 “End of the Road”


“End of the Road” is quite an apt title for the eight episode in the fourth season of Torchwood. We see the end of a couple characters during the episode and at the same time we finally get the final pieces to the question of who or what caused “Miracle Day”.

The episode begins with the Torchwood team arriving at the Colasanto estate and led by Olivia Colasanto to her grandfather and Jack’s former companion and lover from the late 1920’s. We find out that Angelo Colasanto has kept himself alive through natural means, but is now in a coma as Jack looks on. Angelo’s condition when revealed almost felt like a cop out, but in a major exposition info dump done by his granddaughter we find out who is behind Miracle Day”. They’re called The Families and are made up of the descendants of the three men last seen in the previous episode forming an alliance to study Jack’s seeming immortality.

Angelo himself has been kept out of the alliance due to the three men’s discomfort over his homosexuality. Angelo has been observing not just the three families through the years, but Jack as well in an attempt to either stave off whatever plans The Families have in regards to the “Miracle” or, at the very least, give Jack the clues needed to fix the problem. But before Jack, Gwen, Esther and Rex can do their thing to save the day there’s the little obstacle of Rex’s old boss in the form of Wayne Knight interrupting the Jack/Colasanto reunion. The rest of the episode never lets go of the throttle once John De Lancie’s CIA head honcho Shapiro show’s up and we get closer to this season’s endgame.

The episode was well-written even with the major expositional scene involving Nana Visitor’s character. Each character in the Torchwood team got a chance to shine in their roles with Barrowman making Jack’s bittersweet reunion with Angelo a mixture of happiness and regret. If there was a weak point in the cast’s performance it would continue to be some of the side characters like Wayne Knight’s deputy director Friedkin and Bill Pullman’s Oswald Danes. While I can understand the role of Knight’s character in the overall scheme of things this season I still can’t quite grasp just exactly what Pullman’s Danes character is suppose to do other than be over-the-top creepy. Even Ambrose’s Kitzinger got a chance to own her scene as she finally unleashes what she truly feels about Oswald Danes despite having to be his publicist.

“End of the Road” ends on a major cliffhanger with one of the Torchwood team members shot and the team split apart as the CIA, The Families and everyone else seem to be pulling at them from all directions making their task about solving “Miracle Day” that much more difficult. With only two more episodes remaining this season what looked to be a show that seemed stuck on idle for most of the middle episodes has suddenly begun to speed ahead towards what could be an epic conclusion.

Review: Torchwood: Miracle Day Ep. 07 “Immortal Sins”


I didn’t think Russell T. Davies and his writers could pull off moving the story of Torchwood: Miracle Day towards a resolution that would be interesting, but it looks like they might just do it. The series is now on it’s final stretch run and fears that the show was spinning its wheels about not having any idea what the cause of “Miracle Day” was and what was the endgame looks to be easing somewhat with this 7th episode titled “Immortal Sins”.

The episode was mainly told through a flashback to the early 1920’s where we see Jack entering the U.S. through Ellis Island and befriending an Italian immigrant who also happened to have tried to steal his visa papers. We learn that this man is one Angelo Colasanto and his bright-eyed outlook on being in a new land has made quite an impact on the well-traveled Captain. Soon enough Jack and Angelo become companions and romantically involved, but as with everything involving Jack such happiness never last for long as we find out why Jack was entering the U.S. in the first place. It’s a consequence of Jack and Angelo’s attempted escape following Jack’s mission that his companion  later learns of his inability to die.

In one of the more disturbing sequences throughout this series, so far, Jack’s immortality was tested time and time again. Angelo’s misguided betrayal of his lover leads to Jack being killed over and over only for him to return. It’s from this sequence we see what could be the birth of the shadowbrokers pulling the strings behind PhiCorp and the many others complicit in moving “Miracle Day” along.

While the bulk of the episode was taken up mostly by Jack’s flashback to his meeting with Angelo we still got enough time given over to Gwen as she attempted to save her family from the very people who also want Jack. Even with her loyalty to Jack we see that Gwen will be willing to turn him over to the very people holding her family hostage if it meant saving them. It’s only through a timely intervention by Esther and Rex that Gwen and Jack get out of another crisis. It’s the final moments of this sequence that we finally learn the name of the person who has the key to learning the true nature of “Miracle Day”. Sins of the past looks to have caught up to Jack this time around and it’ll be interesting to see if “Miracle Day” becomes the elaborate plan of a spurned lover and companion and whether Jack will be the key to unraveling the effect of the world’s current bout of “immortality”.

Overall, “Immortal Sins” was a good episode that gave us a nice look into a part of Jack’s past that has only been shown briefly in the past. The episode was actually stronger when it focused on Jack’s past with Angelo and the discoveries made by both men about each other that looks to color the current situation occurring on the planet right now. While the other half with Gwen had it’s exciting moments (mainly once Esther and Rex get involved) this section of the episode looked to be more of an expositional trigger to get Jack to recount his past. I did like how Jack and Gwen seemed to make-up and get back on track as partners once again when the danger had passed. The chest bump between the two was quite amusing. Only time will tell if Gwen’s attempt to save her family’s life by trying to turn Jack over to the very people opposing them would have any lingering effects as the season comes to a close and towards any potential future seasons.

The final three episodes of this season should make for some interesting tv watching.