Friday, April 30, 2010

Glove Actually: “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is the Horror Remake Dreams Are Made Of

I’ve never been shy about my love for horror films. I’ve never been shy about the idea that it’s actually sometimes OK to remake movies. Heck it’s OK to remake movies I love. Unless it’s “Adventures in Babysitting” cause that would just be crossing the line. So in all honesty I was very much looking forward to the remake of “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” The original 1984 film is one of my favorites and as a whole, the Nightmare series is probably my favorite horror movie series of all time. Having said that and being a true Freddy Krueger fan, I really dug the new flick mostly because it actually improves upon the original film and does something different enough where I actually had little objection. There is a lot to love in this new take on Freddy and his knife glove. But oh where to be begin?

How about with the brilliant casting of Oscar-nominee Jackie Earle Haley as Fred Krueger? Sure to all fans, including me, Freddy will always be known as the role of a lifetime for Robert Englund and not to take anything away from him, but Haley had big shoes to fill and I think he succeeded. Even though the actor is kind of short, he was certainly menacing and the filmmakers did not make him at all sympathetic. That’s the main qualm I had with the other slasher updates including Friday the 13th, Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. They made the villain way too sympathetic. He’s a serial killer, not a war hero. In this new version Fred Krueger was a pre-school maintenance worker who got a little too friendly with the students at the school. After allegations that he sexually molested them, the kids’ parents chased him to rundown factory and torched him to death. Now Freddy haunts the dreams of the kids who he used to go after. Now they’re teenagers and they have suppressed these uncomfortable memories.

I’m sure there will be fans who will poo-poo this story element simply because it’s implied that Fred Krueger, when he was human, didn’t actually kill any kids. It can be inferred that he might of killed in the past or that he would have killed the kids, but in this version he’s a creeper version of the character he played so well in “Little Children.” Hopefully he’s not typecast now! It also helps that his make-up job is more “realistic” and reflects what it might look like if a person was actually burned. Those looking for pizza-face Freddy will have to look elsewhere.

We learn that Nancy (Rooney Mara) is having nightmares about a scary, burned man. And so are her friends including her good friend Kris (Katie Cassidy), who we can imply is the equivalent to the Tina character from the original film. I knew that if Kris didn’t get dragged up onto the ceiling, I’d have bad words to say. Luckily the filmmakers, while at times making huge departures, continued to work in versions of the first film’s iconic moments. That includes Freddy coming through the bedroom wall behind Nancy, of course no Spandex was use this time, but rather some corny computer effects. Ehh, I’ll take what I can get.

I actually enjoyed how not being able to sleep was affecting Nancy and her friends. Kyle Gallner, playing Nancy’s potential love-interest Quentin, who you could say would be like the Johnny Depp role, does a good job of making you see what it would be like to be an insomniac. Thank god for Red Bull because he chugs it and he even steals adrenaline when he can from the hospital. These teens are literally scared to death to fall asleep and you can really sense that in their performances. This is something I feel is sort of glazed over in the original film. In that version Nancy is really the only one to lives long enough for the sleeplessness to get to her. She gets bags under her eyes and all, but she never quite emotes what it’s like to be awake for days on end.

The film has a great look and is super stylish thanks to music video director Samuel Bayer who makes his feature film debut. He does a great job of going back and forth between reality and the dream world, and he likes to trick you a lot. He has Freddy jump out a lot, which is standard practice in horror films these days. I jumped a few times. Sue me.

It was nice to finally see a Nightmare film in the theater that didn’t also have Jason Voorhees in it (I’m talking about the poor excuse for a movie Freddy vs. Jason). Everyone involved has done a great job at updating this story for a new generation and Freddy’s knife glove is as creepy as ever. As far as horror remakes goes, this one is definitely superior that most of the other movies that have come out recently. I’m not sure it’ll have the success and power of the original in any way and there really is a feeling of “what’ the point of this” throughout, but if you’re gonna remake a classic at least make it good. Heck, at least it’s better than “Nightmare 6.” GRADE: B

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Good Grief: “Death at a Funeral” Puts the Fun in Funeral

“Death at a Funeral” is the strangest of remakes. It’s a remake of a foreign film that was already in English and, from what I understand, virtually scene for scene the same. Like the “Psycho” remake they’ve added a new cast and color. This time “Death at a Funeral” doesn’t involve a stuffy British family but rather a Black family from Los Angeles. Usually not being a fan of Brit humor I gladly gave “Death at a Funeral” a chance because I actually thought it looked funny. The fact that the script is the same, except for some new references to Twitter and Facebook, doesn’t really bother me. I’m not against the Hollywood “remake.” I think every movie should be judged alone. In fact, I simply can’t wait to see the new “Nightmare on Elm Street.” And I’m one of Freddy’s biggest fans.

But Freddy is for later, what is it about Death at a Funeral that makes it a pretty decent movie? First of all, it’s a farce so it’s going to be pretty unbelievable. We know this because nearly 20 minutes into the film a corpse is knocked out of his coffin and onto the floor. Is it unbelievable? Yes. But that doesn’t make it any less funny. We’re introduced to Chris Rock’s character Aaron. Aaron’s father has just passed away and he’s preparing his eulogy. Of course his younger brother Ryan (Martin Lawrence) is a published author and everyone seems shocked that he’s not giving the eulogy. Aaron’s mother Cynthia (Loretta Divine) takes time from grieving her husband’s passing to point out that she’s still not a grandmother. There are other sorted character’s we’re introduced including Aaron’s cousin Elaine (Zoë Saldana) and her white and very nervous finance Oscar (a hilarious James Marsden) who is mistakenly given acid. It said Valium on the bottle. That bottle belongs to Elaine’s brother Jeff (Columbus Short) a pharmacology student who just so happens to know how to made acid. And there’s cranky Uncle Russell (Danny Glover) and best buds Norman (Tracy Morgan) and Derek (Luke Wilson) who just so happens to be Elaine’s ex-boyfriend.

Wow, so many characters, so little time. And that’s why Death at a Funeral works. There are a lot of characters that we get to see as the afternoon progresses and everyone works well together. Of course a movie like this needs conflict, and conflict takes the form of a little person. That would be Peter Dinklage, the sole surviving actor from the original film (who plays the same role) as a mysterious man who was part of Aaron’s father’s life. I won’t really say much more but remember the name of the movie is Death at a Funeral.

A movie like Death at a Funeral works, despite it’s unoriginal origins, because director Neil LaBute (Lakeview Terrace, nice; The Wicker Man, yikes!) actually directs comedy well. He gives the film a bright look which contrasts with the film’s dark humor. He’s able to cut from one character to another before we have the slightest chance to be bored. While Oscar is busy acting silly and stripping his clothes off and climbing onto the roof, something else crazy is going on, including Norman helping Uncle Russell to the toilet for some trademarked gross out humor. The silliness escalates, and while this stuff is always extremely unlikely to ever occur in real life it’s funny because of its setting (how many funerals have you been to like this?). And the simple set, short run time, and the fact that the film takes place over the course of one afternoon makes it feel very much like a play. It reminded me a lot of “Noises Off!” where a normal situation, a funeral, becomes a crazy situation which includes the bumping off of midgets and people tripping on acid. But if you saw the original you already know this stuff.

Sure “Death at a Funeral” isn’t going to win any awards, but it has some funny lines, inspired performances by actors who fit together well. Even though the trailers make it seem like some Tyler Perry rehash I think it would have an appeal to anyone who likes black comedies and Black comedies. It’s funny, silly stuff. Hey, I might even give that British version a try. GRADE: B

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Waterworld: “Oceans” Shows a Beautiful World Just Beyond the Sea

“Oceans” takes us deep into the Earth’s watery depths and shows us beautiful and strange creatures. Some are familiar and some are not. It features beautiful cinematography and some pretty jaw-dropping shots. Unfortunately, if you’ve seen the miniseries Planet Earth or Life on Discovery Channel you probably wont find “Oceans” to be all that informative. Pierce Brosnan, who most people know from “Mrs. Doubtfire,” does a good job narrating, but he doesn’t give us too much interesting information to work with. Of course it’s not his fault, he’s just an actor.

French filmmaker Jacques Perrin directed “Oceans” and also co-wrote the narration. He actually narrated the film’s original French language version and perhaps that narration isn’t as dumbed down as the English dub is. Ok, so it’s not “dumb” it just isn’t very fascinating. But most people, like myself, don’t go see a nature documentary called Oceans for the narration. We go to see it for the visuals. And they are certainly great. I don’t expect anything less than incredible when it comes from the man who was responsible for the stunning images captured in the outstanding Oscar-nominated documentary “Winged Migration.” How he ever was able to capture all those birds’ migrations is truly a wonder to behold. I’m not really sure how he captured some of the images in “Oceans” either.

Probably one of my favorite sequences involved a feeding frenzy. Birds diving into the ocean head first to catch sardines. Meanwhile dolphins, whales and sharks are feeding all at the same time while schools of thousands, and perhaps millions, of sardines flow in beautiful schools that form intoxicating patterns for the eyes. It’s truly a remarkable thing to see and I can’t even imagine being there in real life. It was also interesting to see a man, wearing only SCUBA gear swim beside a Great White Shark. And Bruce didn’t even take a bite. Perhaps they aren’t the killing machines everyone things. In fact, I think I recall hearing a fact somewhere stating more people die from elephant attacks in a year than they do by sharks.

I loved seeing some sea creatures that I had never heard of before. This includes the red colored blanket octopus that looked like it had a superhero cape as it flowed through the water. And who knew that there are jellyfish that are literally bigger than a grown man? And a mantis shrimp is certainly a strange and beautiful creature. And even the familiar critters like sea lions and seals make cute appearance as well. I think I might even want a seal as a pet.

The film also at some points delves into the fact that human pollution is causing harm to the Earth’s oceans, which isn’t the biggest shock in the world, but I don’t feel like the film really explain how to help or how it affects the animals besides the obvious things such as polluting animals’ habitats. It’s not really anything I haven’t heard before. And the film almost treats it as an afterthought.

“Oceans” features some really striking photography and I’m excited to see how the film will look like in high definition on Blu-ray. My theater’s projection was slightly off and images that should have been crisp were almost blurry which affected the power of the images on screen. And of course the simple narration, which in most cases just stated what the animals were didn’t really delve very deeply into anything too informative about the creatures themselves. Overall, the film’s strong images, although I still think “Planet Earth” and “Life” might have done it better, make it worth seeing. The bigger the screen the better. GRADE: B

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Botchmen: “Kick-Ass” Doesn’t Quite Live Up to Its Title

Maybe I just prefer superhero movies less violent? I have nothing against violent movies, bring on Michael Myers, Freddy Kruger and Jason Voorhees. Bring on the buckets of blood and guts. But something about the extreme violence in the Tarantino-esque comic book adaptation “Kick-Ass” sort of rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it’s the fact that the film seems to be marketed towards kids as if it were a Spider-Man film. I imagine a lot of shocked parents when they realize they just took their young kids to see an eleven year-old girl sprout profanity and chop peoples’ limbs off in graphic fashion. Sure Kill Bill is more violent, but how many little kids wanted to even see it? I’m not necessarily agreeing with Roger Ebert about the film’s apparent “controversy” I’m more at odds about how I really feel about the film at all. Is it really supposed to be funny all the way through? And are we supposed to buy into this “realistic” world that the film sets up from the start? I’m not sure I’m buying it.

Some of the ridiculousness seems related to what I saw in the comic book adaptation “Wanted.” There was lots of violence, and unrealistic elements, and yet something about that film seemed fresh and just enjoyable. Maybe there have just been too many superhero movies as of late as “Kick-Ass” just feels like a funnier version of “Watchmen” which is the superior film in many ways. It sets its tone from the beginning and sticks with it. In “Kick-Ass” we’re introduced to goofy high school student Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) who is bored with his teen life. He wonders what it would be like to be superhero. He and his guy friends talk the way most characters talk today with plenty of pop culture references. It sort of feels as if we’re watching “Superbad.” There are some great jokes and some really funny moments and wry observations. But by the time the film ends, I felt as if I was watching “Reservoir Dogs.” What happened? Somewhere along the way the movie sort of dumped me in the middle of nowhere without a way to get back.

I’m not offended by the sight of Damon Macready (Nicholas Cage), who is also the masked vigilante Big Daddy, shooting his daughter Mindy, played by Chloë Grace Moretz, who we will see is also a masked vigilante dubbed Hit Girl. She’s probably more sadistic than her father. She could easily grow up to be on Bill’s Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. Or at least play young Beatrix Kiddo if they were to make a Kill Bill Prequel. Of course we learn she’s just learning to take a bullet while wearing a bullet proof fest. And her poof of feathers as Damon plans a bullet in the vest and knocks the girl off her feet is pretty priceless. Yes, we know we’re in for something bizarre with this movie. But somewhere along the way it completely derails.

Back to Dave, who orders a green wetsuit online and decides to become a superhero because he’s bored. He figures if Batman can do it, why can’t he. He doesn’t need special powers, he just needs a reason to. So he goes out and tries to stop some thugs from stealing a car and ends up getting brutally stabbed in the stomach and run over by a car. This I suppose is “funny” but as shot by director Matthew Vaughn it’s more shocking than funny and somehow I couldn’t find myself laughing at the situation. When Brad Pitt gets hit by a car in “Meet Joe Black” it’s unintentionally hilarious. You laugh. When Dave gets hit by a car it’s unintentionally serious. I didn’t laugh.

Although the Hit Girl character is so controversial, obviously little girls who see this movie are going to want to start chopping random dudes’ legs off, I found Chloe’s performance to be simply wonderful. This young actress has been in a string of hits recently which include 500 Days of Summer and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. She takes the role and just runs with it. Frankly, her character should have been called Kick-Ass.

Maybe that’s therein lies the film’s problem. I just didn’t care too much about Dave. He’s pathetic in a way that most of us are pathetic in high school. He pretends to be gay just to get close to his crush and yet if this was actually real life this girl would actually like him from the beginning, because Dave isn’t really a horrible looking guy. He’s got the male equivalent of “glasses and a ponytail.” And then of course is the film’s plot about an evil drug overload and his son played by McLovin from “Superbad.” Even he has to come up with a superhero alter-ego. To be honest, I think all these people need a psychologist who enjoys a challenge.

There will be plenty of film geeks who will find “Kick-Ass” to be “rad” and “awesomely sick.” I’m not quite one of them. Frankly, I’d rather just watch “Spider-Man” or “Superbad” or “Kill Bill.” Maybe the whole time watching the movie I wished I was watching “Death at a Funeral” instead, who knows? I never really thought the film looked good from the trailers anyways. But Hit Girl is still pretty badass. GRADE: C+

Friday, April 09, 2010

Fey Ride: Steve Carell and Tina Fey Together at Last in the Hilarious “Date Night”

How much someone likes the movie “Date Night” will depend on several factors. One is how much one loves the lead actors Steve Carell and Tina Fey and how much you can forget that “Date Night” isn’t the most original film ever made. You might recall Mr. Carell has a hit show on NBC called “The Office.” He’s also appeared in that Judd Apatow film about the guy who is a 40 year old virgin. Tina Fey, a former Saturday Night Live cast member and writer has her own TV show on NBC as well. It’s called “30 Rock” and although it has won the Emmy for Best Comedy Series three times in a row, it still manages to average about 17 viewers a week. These are talented people and they infuse their talent into their film “Date Night.” Even though both actors have written before they remain only on screen talent here. I can’t help but think if these two wrote this flick it would simply be one of the best comedies of the past five years. Alas it’s simply one of the best comedies of the past five years.

Steve Carell and Tina Fey are a middle-aged married couple. They are Phil and Claire Foster. They have a couple of kids and a regular teenage babysitter. They’re sort of in a rut, much like the couple from “The Out-of-Towners.” And much like the couple in “The Out-of-Towners” they are about to get into a lot of trouble. They decide to take a little risk and travel an hour into Manhattan for dinner at a new posh spot. Unfortunately the place is booked solid, yet a party known as “The Triplehorns” have not shown up for their reservation. Phil claims to be the Triplehorns, and before they know it, they’re being seated and taking pictures of Will.I.Am with their camera phones. Of course it turns out some thugs are after the Triplehorns and they think Phil and Claire have the MacGuffin (a computer flash drive). Soon there are shoot outs and car chases and hilarity ensues as that tends to do in movies like this about mistaken identity. It all sort of reminded me of “Adventures in Babysitting” if they parents had a crazy night instead of the kids. I mean come on; it’s about white suburbanites’ misadventures in the scary big city. Add a little “Cellular” in there and you can pretty much tell what you’re in for.

I can guarantee you’re in for lots of laughs. I’m still shocked that Fey and Carell have never worked together before but while watching Date Night you would assume it was their tenth movie together. They have real chemistry and their comic timing is off the charts. They make silly lines “This pay phone smells like urine” simply hysterical with their brilliant comedic chops. Even if Date Night feels like dozens of other movies it’s all ok, because these people bring a charm that has simply been missing from motion picture comedy since last summer’s surprise hit, “The Hangover.” And while it’s similar to “The Hangover” “Date Night” feels less raunchy, because it is, and more suited to sheer brilliant comedic acting that just trying to be dirty and over the top.

There are some great small performances from some talented folk. This includes the always reliable James Franco and the skuzzy real Mr. Triplehorn and Milas Kunis, who was great in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, shines as well as Mrs. Triplehorn. Mark Wahlberg plays homage to his Marky Mark days as a security man who may be Phil and Claire’s only hope. Ray Liotta makes fun of himself as a sleazy bad guy and he plays it perfectly. He’s had a lot of practice.

I have no idea who screenwriter Josh Klausner is (he’s contributed to Shrek 3 & 4) but he does write some funny lines. I sort of wish the script didn’t have so much of a “been there done that feel” but the actors simply make this movie worth your time. Even director Shawn Levy, who has made other silly comedies like Night at the Museum and Cheaper by the Dozen, while not the most visually exciting filmmaker, knows how to direct comedic actors and pushes them to their funniest. You will laugh a lot in “Date Night.” It’s a fun and brisk movie that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Make a date and see it. GRADE: B+

Friday, April 02, 2010

Remember the Titans: “Clash of the Titans” Remake is a Cheesy and Fun Action Spectacle

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I have not seen the 1981 fantasy film “Clash of the Titans.” If it’s theatrical trailer is any indication it is a solid cheese-fest complete with corny effects and even cornier hairdos. At the time it was a big hit and it’s no surprise to think that the new remake will be a solid success as well. If you like action and corny dialogue then “Clash of the Titans” will crave your hunger. I honestly didn’t have much expectations going in. I figured it would be entertaining but pretty stupid. Sure I wouldn’t necessarily call this film “smart” I mean it’s not like it’s going to win a writing award or anything, but “Clash of the Titans” is yet another fun example of why we go see movies in the theater in the first place. It’s all about an experience. And you can have fun and loud entertainment without feeling too guilty about it.

Greek mythology is pretty Greek to me if you catch my drift. Sure, like most people, I learned the basics in middle school, but I wouldn’t call myself an expert. And I think the only reason why I know Poseidon is the God the Sea is because I’ve seen “The Poseidon Adventure” way too many times. Surprisingly with all the weird names and some unknown actors and actresses (with some stars of course) “Clash of the Titans” wasn’t all that difficult to figure out. We learn that Perseus (Avatar’s star on the rise Sam Worthington) is part God. His father, the God Zeus (Liam Neesen), impregnated a mortal woman, but she was cast off and he was taken in by a human couple. Hades (Ralph Fiennes), Zeus’ brother, was cast to Hell to be God of the Underworld. Hades also just so happens to kill Perseus’ family so he’s not exactly thrilled with the Gods as this point. Then Zeus shows up to the humans who aren’t very God-happy and he gives them an ultimatum which may start an all-out war between Man and God. Yikes!

Perseus starts out on a mission to the underworld to defeat Hades and whatever evil creature gets in his way. This includes gigantic CGI scorpions which were a lot scarier than I thought they’d be. They also find some odd creatures who hold eyeballs in their hands and let’s not forget Medusa the scary snake-lady who turns men into stone. All of these battles and adventures sort of reminded me of the The Mummy redo from 1999 as it was a fun-filled CGI-laden journey with scary moments and perfectly timed moments of comic relief. It felt like the perfect summer fun even though its only the first weekend in April.

Since I haven’t seen the original film I can’t quite compare the two, but it seems like the remake follows the original story pretty well. The first film employed stop-motion animation for some of the film’s creature effects including the evil sea monster the Kraken. Here the Kraken is completely CGI, and while I sometime condone this I can’t really see how using stop-motion animation would have made any sense whatsoever. The creature was humungous and I’d be lying if I said the final battle wasn’t very thrilling. Because it was. The movie moves so swiftly that I hardly had much time to realize how completely ridiculous it all really was.

There are two types of mindless entertainment. One is something like last summer’s “Transformers 2” which isn’t fun even when your brain is off. It’s loud and obnoxious because it takes itself way too seriously. On the other hand we have “Clash of the Titans” which yes is loud and mindless but it has a fun enough way about it which doesn’t take itself too seriously. It knows it’s based on a cheesy movie and it embraces it. If anything the movie makes me wish I had paid better attention in middle school. GRADE: B+

Note: I viewed the 2D version and it was great. The film is showing in 3D theaters but be weary that the film was not originally shot with the intention of being shown in 3D and therefore if you choose to view the 3D version you'll pointlessly be paying extra money to the studio executive Gods.