Poltergeist

May 29, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jared Harris
Directed by: Gil Kenan (“Monster House”)
Written by:  David Lindsay-Abaire (“Oz the Great and Powerful”)

The original “Poltergeist” film from 1982 boasts none other than Steven Spielberg as its co-writer, and the king of 1980s suburbia on film has his fingerprints all over the classic horror movie.  Spielberg’s influence is so heavy that rumors persist that he was the real director of the film, taking charge when credited director Tobe Hooper was indecisive or slow to react. With height-of-his-powers Spielberg behind the camera, the influence of the film reverberated through the horror genre for years, so much so that the remake hitting theaters in 2015 feels less like a retread of the first “Poltergeist” and more like a cheap copy of the dozens of films that followed it, borrowing and re-arranging the formula along the way.

After financial hardships necessitate move to a smaller house, the Bowen family (led by Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie Dewitt) start to notice strange things happening in their new home. Strange noises come from the walls, comic books stack themselves in intricate house of cards formations, and a box of creepy clowns falls from the rafters. Soon, youngest daughter Maddy (Kenndi Clements) begins talking to some unseen voices in the TV, and is later sucked through a portal that appears in her closet. In an effort to get their daughter back, the Bowens enlist the help of a university paranormal research team and a TV ghost hunter (Jared Harris) to rid the house of the evil spirts.

Dull and uneventful, this remake seems to be going through the motions more than anything else. Plot details are changed from the original film for no reason other than to be different, and the setting is changed to the present day, a difference that renders the strange alien static of old analog TVs moot. Director Gil Kenan and producer Sam Raimi were chosen by the studio to create a “revisionist” take on the story, but all they’ve managed to do is further cement the original movie as a horror classic.

Oz the Great and Powerful

March 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams
Directed by: Sam Raimi (the “Spider-Man” trilogy)
Written by: Mitchell Kapner (“The Whole Nine Yards”) and David Lindsay-Abaire (“Rise of the Guardians”)

There aren’t many movies that your grandparents could have enjoyed as small children that are still capable of entertaining audiences today, but the 1939 MGM classic “The Wizard of Oz” defies convention and remains enjoyable 74 years later. Despite displaying very little of the grammar present in modern filmmaking (like cutaways and performances that aren’t constantly projected toward the back of the theater), “The Wizard of Oz” endures. It’s curious, to say the least, that the last three-quarters of a century has failed to deliver another universally-acclaimed film set in L. Frank Baum’s enchanted Land of Oz. Yeah, sure, there was “The Wiz” and “Return to Oz,” but those remain cult hits at best. Why hasn’t some studio stepped up, eager to craft a modern classic that would also earn them enough cash to build an actual Emerald City?

Twenty-eight years after their aforementioned “Return to Oz” flopped, Disney, um, returns to Oz with the prequel “Oz the Great and Powerful.” James Franco stars as carnival magician Oscar “Oz” Diggs, a low-rent huckster working a sideshow in the dusty Kansas countryside. With the help of his put-upon hype man (Zach Braff), Oz fools the yokels with his sleight of hand and charms the ladies with a never-ending supply of his grandmother’s one-of-a-kind antique jewelry boxes. When one of his romantic encounters comes back to bite him, Oz books it for a hot air balloon. One tornado later, however, and Oz finds himself in Oz. Stumbling out of his wrecked balloon, Oz meets the witch Theodora (Mila Kunis) who tells him of a prophecy wherein a wizard named Oz will defeat the Wicked Witch. Who is the Wicked Witch, you ask? Is it naive, love struck Theodora? Her conniving sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz)? Or their rival, glittery, good-hearted Glinda (Michelle Williams)?

Of course it’s not Glinda. I mean we’ve all seen “The Wizard of Oz,” right? Anyway.

Try as he might, director Sam Raimi can’t overcome two big problems that bog “Oz” down. First, the screenplay, credited to Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire, creaks and lumbers under the weight of too much exposition and almost-certain corporate interference. It too-often lazily mirrors the plot structure of the 1939 classic. Second, and most disappointing, is that Franco is completely wrong for the part. The movie needed a natural flim flam man – someone with smarmy charisma to spare; someone like Robert Downey Jr., who was originally cast and dropped out. Franco can be a great actor, but when he’s called upon to laugh heartily like a vaudevillian rascal and shout “prestidigitation!”  he sounds more like a high school drama student getting ready to tie a classmate to cardboard railroad tracks while he twirls his mustache. “Oz” is far from a total blunder, though, and a handful of bright spots stand out. Williams’ warm and radiant Glinda, the magnificent and fragile living doll China Girl (voiced by Joey King), and the whiz-bang climax all point toward the rousing adventure the bloated script and James Franco are keeping hidden behind the curtain.

Rabbit Hole

January 14, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest
Directed by: John Cameron Mitchell (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”)
Written by: David Lindsay-Abaire (“Inkheart”)

Delivering her best performance since her Oscar-winning role as renowned author Virginia Woolf in 2002’s “The Hours,” Nicole Kidman doesn’t take her part as a grieving mother and turn it into a typical heartrending exercise.

As Becca, Kidman captures a mother’s anguish after she loses her 4-year-old son in a car accident, but she also fleshes out sensitivity, bitterness and humor in a role that could have easily come off as tedious as the mourning parents Rachel Weisz and Mark Wahlberg play in “Lovely Bones.”

The difference here is that director John Cameron Mitchell (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) is working from a script written by David Lindsay-Abaire based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name. A “rabbit hole,” most notably from the story of “Alice in Wonderland,” is exactly where Becca and her husband Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are trying to crawl out from. After their son dies, nothing makes sense. It’s like they’re trapped in a world they no longer recognize.

Eight months after the tragic accident, Becca is ready to move on. She no longer wants to attend support group meetings and starts to get rid of anything in the house that may remind her of her son. Howie is more comfortable about expressing his feelings about his loss. He watches home movies and keeps pictures around. He also tries desperately to save his marriage from caving in. In one compelling scene, Howie attempts to seduce Becca into having sex with him. The innocent foreplay quickly turns into an argument as Becca makes it clear that life will never been the same again.

“Rabbit Hole” takes the more-is-less approach in storytelling, but unloads the emotional tension through well-written dialogue and some surprising twists in the narrative that keep it distressingly genuine. It’s impossible to even fathom what Becca and Howie are going through unless you have experienced the same pain, but “Rabbit Hole” will have you sympathize with this broken couple. You can feel them slipping away from each other with every straining moment.

Inkheart

January 9, 2009 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Brendan Fraser, Paul Bettany, Andy Serkis
Directed by: Iain Softley (“The Skeleton Key”)
Written by: David Lindsay-Abaire (“Robots”)

In terms of big-budget family adventures, “Inkheart,” based on the first part of a trilogy by German author Cornelia Funke, would be considered a footnote in the fantasy genre (Not to worry Harry Potter, you’re still more popular than ever). That, however, doesn’t mean all fantasy films that come in between the quests to Hogwarts have to be trivial and dull. In “Inkheart,” there are enough magical moments to warrant the attention of the entire family. Even someone who can’t identify all the storybook references will enjoy the fascinating characters. It’s this year’s answer to films like 2007’s “Stardust.”

In the film, Brendan Fraser (“Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D”) stars as Mortimer “Mo” Folchart, a “Silvertongue” who has the power to read a book and transport its characters into the real world. In doing so, however, each fictional character carried over from a piece of literature is replaced with someone near the reader.

Mo finds this out when he reads from a book called “Inkheart” and unknowingly sucks a diverse group of the novel’s characters from the book causing his wife to mysteriously disappear. The book’s characters who enter reality include a fire juggler named Dustfinger (Paul Bettany) and Capricorn (Andy Serkis), the antagonist of the story who loves Earth and refuses to return to his narrative.

Instead, Capricorn would rather stay and force Mo to read to him and deliver riches from stories like Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Capricorn’s current reader, who also possesses the same power as Mo, hasn’t quite perfected his craft. Since he has a stutter, the characters he brings from out of the books have defects. Most of them have text tattooed across their faces and bodies.

Although Mo refuses to read at first, Capricorn and his henchmen use his daughter Meggie (Eliza Bennett) as collateral until he delivers what they want. All Mo wants is to find a copy of “Inkheart” so he can figure a way to bring back his wife. But since the book has been out of print for years, he must search for its author Fenoglio (Jim Broadbent) and get another rare copy before Capricorn finds out how to release some of the book’s most evil characters.

Reminiscent of last year’s “Bedtime Stories” but with an actual script that has some imagination, some of your favorite fictional characters are brought to life by director Iain Softley (“The Skeleton Key”). From the flying monkeys of “The Wizard of Oz” to the ticking crocodile from “Peter Pan” to Rapunzel and her head of long golden hair, “Inkheart” has wonderful visuals and a convincing cast that includes Oscar winner Helen Mirren (“The Queen”) as Meggie’s frantic aunt. While the story won’t become a classic like “The Princess Bride,” studios could always do a lot worse (and consistently do) when creating something clever enough for adults and entertaining enough for children.