Horror Review: Rings (dir by F. Javier Gutierrez)


As our longtime readers know, I’ve seen my share of stupid movies but it’s hard for me to think of any recent film that’s quite as dumb as Rings.

It’s a shame, really.  Rings, which came out in February of this year, is the second sequel to The Ring.  Despite the fact that it’s been imitated by a countless number of inferior rip-offs and the film’s central premise of evil traveling through a VHS tape has become dated, The Ring actually holds up pretty well.  But, Rings just does not work.

It should be said that Rings gets off to a good and chilling start, with passengers on an airplane asking if they’ve heard about “the tape that can kill you” and then Samara Morgan (Bonnie Morgan) suddenly appearing on every screen in the plane.  It’s the film’s way of declaring, “Just because VHS tapes are a thing of the past, that’s not going to stop our Samara!”  It’s a good opening but it’s also only five minutes and it’s followed by a “two years later…” title card.

Spoiler alert: two years later, everything goes down hill and the movie gets stupid.

The main plot of Rings deals with Holt (Alex Roe) and Julia (Matilda Lutz, who looks and sounds like Ellen Page but isn’t Ellen Page).  They’re teenagers in love and when Holt leaves for college, they promise to skype each other every night.  However, one night, Julia sits down in front of her laptop and discovers that Holt is not in his dorm room.  Instead, there’s a woman demanding to know where Holt is.

HOLT HAS DISAPPEARED!

Julia goes to the college to find her boyfriend.  She discovers that Holt has fallen in with a professor (Johnny Galecki) who apparently watched the infamous video tape.  In order to avoid dying, the professor showed the tape to one of his students.  And then he had that student find someone else to watch the tape and so on and so forth.  I kept waiting for someone to ask the professor why he was ripping off It Follows but, apparently, no one at the college has ever seen a horror film.

Anyway, Holt has yet to force anyone to watch the video tape and he’s running out of time.  In order to save her boyfriend’s life, Julia watched the video.  Oddly, we don’t really get to see much of the video in Rings.  I’m going to assume that the filmmakers felt that it would be pointless to show the whole video again since, presumably, the everyone in the audience has seen either The Ring or The Ring 2 or maybe even Ringu.  But seriously, this is a Ring movie.  Not showing the entire video without interruption feels almost disrespectful to the audience.  It’s kind of like making a Friday the 13th movie and then refusing to actually show us Jason killing any of the counselors.

Anyway, after she watches the video, a weird symbol appears on Julia’s hand and somehow, all of this leads to Holt and Julia going to the town of Sacrament Valley, which is where Samara was buried after she was retrieved from that well at the end of the first Ring.  Julia and Holt do some investigating, which basically means talking to a bunch of overacting character actors with inconsistent Southern accents.  The film spends the majority of its time filling in Samara’s backstory, which is kind of pointless since we learned everything that we needed to know about Samara during the first two films.  It’s enough to know that she’s a little girl who can pop out of your TV and kill you.  She doesn’t really need the Ancestry DNA treatment that she gets from Rings.

Vincent D’Onofrio appears as a reclusive blind man, who might be the key to figuring out whatever’s supposed to be going on.  D’Onofrio gives a performance that makes his work on Law and Order: Criminal Intent look subtle and nuanced.  Normally, I wouldn’t mind an actor going over the top in a film like this but there’s nothing surprising about D’Onofrio’s character.  Even when his big secret was revealed, I shrugged.

Rings is one of those worst movies of 2017, featuring bad acting, bad direction, and totally wasting whatever potential the franchise had left.  The dialogue was so bad and the characters were so inconsistent that the movie actually made me angry.  It doesn’t even work as a self-reflective parody.

For the sins of Rings, we all deserve to watch this:

 

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An October Film Review: Ed Wood (dir by Tim Burton)


From start to end, the 1994 film Ed Wood is a nearly perfect film.

Consider the opening sequence.  In glorious black-and-white, we are presented with a house sitting in the middle of a storm.  As Howard Shore’s melodramatic and spooky score plays in the background, the camera zooms towards the house.  A window flies open to reveal a coffin sitting in the middle of a dark room.  A man dressed in a tuxedo (played to snarky and eccentric perfection by Jeffrey Jones) sits up in the coffin.  Later, we learn that the man is an infamously inaccurate psychic named Criswell.  Criswell greets us and says that we are interested in the unknown.  “Can your heart handle the shocking facts of the true story of Edward D. Wood, Jr!?”

As streaks of lightning flash across the sky, the opening credits appear and disappear on the screen.  The camera zooms by tombstones featuring the names of the cast.  Cheap-looking flying saucers, dangling on string, fly through the night sky.  The camera even goes underwater, revealing a giant octopus…

It’s a brilliant opening, especially if you’re already a fan of Ed Wood’s.  If you’re familiar with Wood’sfilms, you know that Criswell’s appearance in the coffin is a reference to Orgy of the Dead and that his opening monologue was a tribute to his opening lines from Plan 9 From Outer Space.  If you’re already a fan of Ed Wood then you’ll immediately recognize the flying saucers.  You’ll look at that octopus and you’ll say, “Bride of the Monster!”

And if you’re not an Ed Wood fan, fear not.  The opening credits will pull you in, even if you don’t know the difference between Plan 9 and Plan 10.  Between the music and the gorgeous black-and-white, Ed Wood is irresistible from the start.

Those opening credits also announce that we’re about to see an extremely stylized biopic.  In the real world, Ed Wood was a screenwriter and director who spent most of his life on the fringes of Hollywood, occasionally working with reputable or, at the very least, well-known actors like Lyle Talbot and Bela Lugosi.  He directed a few TV shows.  He wrote several scripts and directed a handful of low-budget exploitation films.  He also wrote a lot of paperbacks, some of which were semi-pornographic.  Most famously, he was a cross-dresser, who served in the army in World War II and was wearing a bra under his uniform when he charged the beaches of Normandy.  Apparently, the stories of his love for angora were not exaggerated.  Sadly, Wood was also an alcoholic who drank himself to death at the age of 54.

Every fan of Ed Wood has seen this picture of him, taken when he first arrived in Hollywood and looked like he had the potential to be a dashing leading man:

What people are less familiar with is how Ed looked after spending two decades on the fringes of the film business:

My point is that the true story of Ed Wood was not necessarily a happy one.  However, one wouldn’t know that from watching the film based on his life.  As directed by Tim Burton, Johnny Depp plays Ed Wood as being endlessly positive and enthusiastic.  When it comes to determination, nothing can stop the film’s Ed Wood.  It doesn’t matter what problems may arise during the shooting of any of his films, Wood finds a way to make it work.

A major star dies and leaves behind only a few minutes of usable footage?  Just bring in a stand-in.  The stand-in looks nothing like the star?  Just hide the guy’s face.

Wrestler Tor Johnson (played by wrestler George “The Animal” Steele), accidentally walks into a wall while trying to squeeze through a door?  Shrug it off by saying that it adds to the scene.  Point out that the character that Tor is playing would probably run into that wall on a regular basis.

Your fake octopus doesn’t work?  Just have the actors roll around in the water.

The establishment won’t take you seriously?  Then work outside the establishment, with a cast and crew of fellow outcasts.

You’re struggling to raise money for your film?  Ask the local Baptist church.  Ask a rich poultry rancher.  Promise a big star.  Promise to include a nuclear explosion.  Promise anything just to get the film made.

You’re struggling to maintain your artistic vision?  Just go down to a nearby bar and wait for Orson Welles (Vincent D’Onofrio) to show up.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that Ed Wood is Tim Burton’s best film.  It’s certainly one of the few Burton films that actually holds up after repeat viewings.  Watching the film, it’s obvious that Wood and Burton shared a passionate love for the movies and that Burton related to Wood and his crew of misfits.  It’s an unabashedly affectionate film, with none of the condescension that can sometimes be found in Burton’s other film.  Burton celebrates not just the hopes and dreams of Ed Wood, Bela Lugosi, Tor Johnson and Criswell but also of all the other members of the Wood stock company, from Vampira (Lisa Marie) to Bunny Breckenridge (Bill Murray), all the way down to Paul Marco (Max Casella) and Loretta King (Juliet Landau).  Though Ed Wood may center around the character of Wood and the actor who plays him, it’s a true ensemble piece.  Landau won the Oscar but really, the entire cast is brilliant.  Along with those already mentioned, Ed Wood features memorable performances from Sarah Jessica Parker and Patricia Arquette (one playing Wood’s girlfriend and the other playing his future wife), G. D. Spradlin (as a minister who ends up producing one of Wood’s films), and Mike Starr (playing a producer who is definitely not a minister).

For me, Ed Wood is defined by a moment very early on in the film.  Wood watches some stock footage and talks about how he could make an entire movie out of it.  It would start with aliens arriving and “upsetting the buffaloes.”  The army is called in.  Deep delivers the line with such enthusiasm and with so much positive energy that it’s impossible not get caught up in Wood’s vision.  For a few seconds, you think to yourself, “Maybe that could be a good movie…”  Of course, you know it wouldn’t be.  But you want it to be because Ed wants it to be and Ed is just do damn likable.

As I said before, Ed Wood is a highly stylized film.  It focuses on the good parts of the Ed Wood story, like his friendship with Bela Lugosi and his refusal to hide the fact that he’s a cross-dresser who loves angora.  The bad parts of his story are left out and I’m glad that they were.  Ed Wood is a film that celebrates dreamers and it gives Wood the happy ending that he deserved.   The scenes of Plan 9 From Outer Space getting a raptorous reception may not have happened but can you prove that they didn’t?

I suppose now would be the time that most reviewers would reflect on the irony of one of the worst directors of all time being the subject of one of the best films ever made about the movies.  However, I’ll save that angle for whenever I get a chance to review The Disaster Artist.  Of course, I personally don’t think that Ed Wood was the worst director of all time.  He made low-budget movies but he did what he could with what he had available.  If anything, Ed Wood the film is quite correct to celebrate Ed Wood the director’s determination.  Glen or Glenda has moments of audacious surrealism.  Lugosi is surprisingly good in Bride of the Monster.  As for Plan 9 From Outer Space, what other film has a plot as unapologetically bizarre as the plot of Plan 9?  For a few thousand dollars, Wood made a sci-fi epic that it still watched today.  Does that sound like something the worst director of all time could do?

Needless to say, Ed Wood is not a horror film but it’s definitely an October film.  Much as how Christmas is the perfect time for It’s A Wonderful Life, Halloween is the perfect time for Ed Wood.

Back to School Part II #23: Adventures in Babysitting (dir by Chris Columbus)


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One unfortunate thing about both being the youngest of four and having a teenage reputation for being a little out of control is that I never got a chance to be a babysitter.  Whenever my mom wasn’t around, my older sisters were in charge.  When I was technically old enough to look after other children, nobody was willing to trust me with them.  So, I missed out on babysitting and…

Well, to be honest, that never really bothered me.  I was too busy either having too much fun or no fun at all to worry about any of that.  But maybe I should have because, whenever I watch the 1987 film Adventures in Babysitting, I’m always left convinced that I could have been a kickass babysitter.  Seriously, if Elisabeth Shue could still get babysitting jobs even after taking the kids into downtown Chicago and nearly getting them killed, then anyone could do it!

In Adventures in Babysitting, Chris Parker (Elisabeth Shue) is a responsible 17 year-old who lives in the suburbs of Chicago.  (As anyone who seen The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off can tell you, being a teenager in 1980s meant living in Illinois.)  When we first meet Chris, she’s getting ready for her anniversary date with her boyfriend, Mike Todwell (Bradley Whitford, years before achieving fame by playing assorted pompous jerks in assorted Aaron Sorkin productions) and she’s dancing around her bedroom.  There’s an important lesson to be learned from the opening of Adventures in Babysitting: if you want me to relate to a character, introduce her while she’s dancing in her bedroom.  Seriously, though, the whole film succeeds because of that opening bedroom dance.  Chris is instantly likable and relatable.  You want to see her succeed and achieve what she wants.

So, of course, we’re all disappointed when Mike shows up and breaks his date with Chris.  That said, as upset as Chris may be, she’s still willing to take the time to try to talk her friend Brenda (Penelope Ann Miller) out of trying to poison her stepmother with Drano.  That’s a true friend.

With nothing else to do, Chris ends up taking a babysitting job.  She has been tasked to look after 8 year-old Sara Anderson (Maia Brewton) and Sara’s brother, 15 year-old Brad (Keith Coogan).  Sara is a bit of a brat, though she’s also generally well-meaning and is obsessed with comic books (Thor, in particular).  Brad is likable but dorky.  He has a huge crush on Chris and even turns down a chance to spend the night at a friend’s, just so he can be around her.

Brad’s friend, incidentally, is Daryl (Anthony Rapp, who would later play Tony in Dazed and Confused and who starred in the original Broadway production of Rent).  Daryl is a hyperactive perv who is obsessed with Chris because she resembles the centerfold in one of his dad’s Playboys.  Daryl decides that, if his friend Brad can’t visit him, then maybe he should visit Brad!

However, Chris has more to worry about than just looking after Sara, Brad, and Daryl.  Brenda has attempted to run away from home and now she’s stuck in a downtown bus station!  Her glasses have been stolen and, as a result, Brenda is doing things like picking up a giant rat and calling it a kitten.  Brenda uses her last bit of money to call Chris and beg her to come pick her up.

(Of course, none of this would happen today.  Brenda wouldn’t have to use a pay phone to call Chris and she could just call Uber to get a ride home.)

So, Chris and the kids drive into Chicago and, needless to say, things quickly fall apart.  They get a flat tire on the expressway.  Chris panics when she discovers that not only does she not have a spare tire but she also left her purse back at the house.  They are briefly helped by a one-handed truck driver named Handsome John Pruitt (John Ford Noonan) but then Pruitt discovers that his wife is cheating on him and takes a detour so he can catch her in the act and, of course, this leads to Chris and the kids being kidnapped by a helpful car thief.  Soon, they’re being chased through Chicago by the Mafia and…

Well, it gets rather complicated but that’s kind of the appeal of the film.  The film starts out as a fairly realistic, John Hughes-style teen comedy and then it gets progressively crazier and crazier.  Downtown Chicago turns out to be a rather cartoonish place, one where one disaster follows after another.  (To be honest, if Adventures in Babysitting was released today, it would probably inspire a hundred increasingly tedious Salon think pieces on white privilege.  Bleh!)  But, regardless of how silly some of the adventures may get, Adventures in Babysitting remains grounded because of the good and likable performances and a script that is full of witty and quotable dialogue.

It’s an entertaining movie and it’s one of those films that always seems to be either on Showtime or Encore.  If you’re sad, watch it and be prepared to be massively cheered up!

(Avoid the Disney Channel remake.)

 

Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “Jurassic World”


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“Everything old is new again.”

How many times have you heard that one? Well, in the case of the just-released (and record-setting in terms of its worldwide box office take) Jurassic World, it turns out that tired old adage is actually quite true, since director Colin Trevorrow has chosen to hew pretty closely to Steven Spielberg’s original model for this fourth installment in the previously-presumed- moribund franchise extrapolated from the works of Michael Crichton. There’s certainly nothing happening here that one could call overtly “new,” per se, but gosh — it’s been so long since Jurassic Park III  that it all just sorta feels new, ya know?

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CGI technology has come a long way since the original Jurassic Park  made its debut in 1993, as well, and that’s a big factor — maybe even the biggest factor — in this new flick’s by-popcorn-movie-standards “success,” but don’t think that means I’m damning Jurassic World with faint praise. Truth be told, we just got back from seeing it in Imax 3-D and it’s got pretty much everything you’d ever want in a brainless summer thrill ride : superb effects, likable leads, drama, suspense, tension-cutting humor, nicely despicable (sorry, does that even make sense?) villains, and mile-a-minute thrills. My wife and I both left the theater smiling and I ain’t ashamed to admit it.

My only real gripe is one that I knew I’d have going in — Jurassic World continues the morally-questionable trend established at the series’ outset of using kids placed in danger (in this case brothers Zach and Gray, played by Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins, respectively) as its primary focus/narrative crutch, with benevolent adults coming in to save the day (here represented by Chris Pratt’s  “dinosaur wrangler” character Owen, and Bryce Dallas Howard — who, goddamit, Hollywood is bound and determined to make a star out of yet! — as their hitherto- inattentive aunt Claire, who’s one of the park’s big-wigs), and I’m sorry, but if you don’t know why that scenario is inherently creepy to some of us, then you haven’t been paying much attention to the some of the uglier and more salacious rumors about Spielberg’s personal life that have been swirling around for decades now. And that I won’t repeat here. So let’s just move on, shall we?

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In any case, that solitary-but-predictable qualm aside, the fact of the matter is that Jurassic World is expertly-crafted throwaway fun. Not every movie needs to re-invent the wheel to stand out, and Trevorrow wisely has that figured from the outset here. All we want from his big-budget extravaganza is pretty much the same sort of story that had us jumping in our seats all those years ago, and to feel the same sort of “rush of excitement” that we did back then and which the two previous installments in the series just weren’t able to capture. It’s a dinosaur movie, for Christ’s sake, so just give us a shit-load of dinos on the loose and we’re gonna be happy! How hard is that to figure out?

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About the only  wrinkles to the formula here are the introduction of the new genetically-engineered “super-dinosaur” Indominus Rex, and the hare-brained scheme laid out by the villainous Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) to train Velociraptors to be — uhhmmm — super-soldiers for the US army. But rich people with more money than sense employing unscrupulous lackeys and amoral scientists have been a Jurassic staple, in one form or another, from jump, and one might even argue that really smart people doing really dumb things has always been at the heart of these flicks. That’s okay with me if the end result is admittedly disposable fare done with this much gusto, flair, and panache. There are a million and one reasons to write off Jurassic World as derivative, senseless garbage,  sure — but when you’ve got five or six bloodthirsty dinosaurs battling it out for supremacy at the end, I don’t care about any of those intellectual (or, as is more often the case, pseudo-intellectual) arguments. I’m just having a damn good time.

Jurassic World Adds To The Summer Action


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Was there ever a need for a fourth film in the Jurassic Park franchise? For years many have tried to answer that and projects to get it up and running stalled for need of a director willing to sign on to a franchise that has been passed up by the superhero action tsunami that has hit pop culture.

It is now 2015 and we’re just months away from finally seeing the fruits of over a decade’s worth of labor to bring a fourth Jurassic Park film to the big screen. While it may still have Steven Spielberg attached as executive producer there’s no Joe Johnston anywhere near this fourth film. We have Carl Trevorrow taking the director’s chair with Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard taking on the lead roles.

Jurassic World is set to open it’s doors to the world on June 12, 2015 (took them long enough).

Daredevil Has No Need For Iron Suits or Magic Hammers


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“I accept your conviction. The lone man who thinks he can make a difference.” — Wilson Fisk

Today we saw the release of the official trailer for Netflix and Marvel Television’s first of five series based on characters from the Marvel Universe. Daredevil will be the first out of the gate and it looks to darken things a bit in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by bringing to the small screen one of it’s street-level heroes.

Daredevil (aka Matt Murdock) will soon be joined by Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist in their own web series on Netflix before teaming up for the Defenders series.

Under the guiding hands of showrunner (and Whedon alum) Stephen S. DeKnight, Daredevil will soon be available for bingewatchers everywhere on April 10, 2015.

Trailer: Daredevil


daredevil“Bless me father for I have sinned.” — Matt Murdock

Marvel has pretty much been dominating the big-screen with it’s yearly event offerings. 2015 will not be an exception with Avengers: Age of Ultron set for a summer release expected to rake in the box-office by the money bins. Now, Marvel has set it’s site on the small-screen with it’s first Netflix Original Series that will be the first link in a five series set that will culminate in a team-up series called the Defenders.

This first link will be a new, and hopefully better take, on the street-level superhero Daredevil aka the Man With No Fear. The blind lawyer by day and vigilante by night whose blindness since childhood has helped him developed the rest of his senses beyond human levels. We shall not speak of the film adaptation starring Ben Affleck over ten years ago.

Marvel’s Daredevil will release all 10-episodes on Netflix this April 10, 2015.