Welcome back to another edition of the Blogorium's Retro Review. Today we're going to continue looking back at a series of reviews written for defunct online magazine You're All Doomed. Previously we took a look at reviews from 2005 and at the output of guest blogger Professor Murder. Turning the wayback machine a little further, let's take a look at a few movies from 2004.
Once again, a bit of a disclaimer: these reviews represent a proto-Cap'n Howdy and accordingly they don't look like what I write today. They're shorter, tend to make logical leaps and assume the audience will simply follow, and sometimes contain erroneous information because I was more interested in getting reactions out unspoiled rather than fact checking and researching before and during the writing process. I am, however, leaving them untouched in order to represent the original material.
no immediate star review.
I'm sort of torn about Joel and Ethan Coen's The Ladykillers. Part of me genuinely likes the movie; the twisted sense of humor, the (somewhat absurd) denouement, Tom Hanks. Another part of me recognizes that it's slight, virtually nonexistent plot is padded out with wild caricatures instead of characters, and that almost as much of the movie doesn't work as does. Let's take it bit by bit:
The Good -
Tom Hanks: Ever the curious exception to the rule, Hanks will do a run of family friendly pap, and with little provocation will jump into cahoots with strange little projects that are poorly received (The Burbs, Joe vs The Volcano) When I heard he was working with the Coens, there was little concern on my part. They are, after all, largely responsible (along with Steven Sodebergh and Robert Rodriguez) for bringing George Clooney back from the abyss of crap like The Peacemaker. Hanks invests every bizarre peccadillo into Professor G.H. Dorr, and watching him dig into this character is in itself a riot.
Cameo work by Bruce Campbell, Stephen Root, and George Wallace: Little things that make the Coen movies so fun. Sure, there's no Buscemi this time out, not even John Tuturro, but Coen-like flourishes are what make their movies almost a genre unto itself.
Irma P. Hall: WIthout Hall, Hanks would have nothing to work with. As the straight woman of the piece (who's anything but) she anchors the film and gives everyone something to react to. And the disdain for "hippity hop", or, more specifically, "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo" by a Tribe Called Quest.
The Bad -
The rest of the cast: Normally, I'm as big a J.K. Simmons fan as you'll find. He's a pitch perfect J. Jonah Jameson, and had a small but memorable role in O Brother. But here he's working with nothing better than fart jokes. And bad fart jokes at that. Marlon Wayans has a little more to do, and to be fair, he isn't as grating as usual, but being the character known for nonstop profanity is a little one note. Of course, the rest of the crooks (Ryan Hurst, Tzi Ma) have even less to do, and their moments to shine are accordingly lackluster.
The Pacing: This movie seems like it's over in no time, and while some might look at that as a good thing, I felt cheated. Yes, the plot is slight, the tension is basically nonexistent, but there was nothing to really lock on to while watching it. The Ladykillers is so schizophrenic that when it does end you wonder what the hell you just did.
The Fact that You Can Rent the REAL Ladykillers: In the scope of remakes, this isn't the worst, but it can't hold a candle to the original. Something about the british sensiblity is lost in americanizing it (i realize how obvious the previous statement is, but nevertheless) and while I loved Hanks in the movie, he's no Alec Guinness. Or even Peter Sellers, who was on screen for the first time in the original Ladykillers.
So, where are we? ratings, right. let's do this three ways.
As a Coen Brothers Movie: It ranks above Intolerable Cruelty, but just barely. This is lower end Coens. 2 stars
As a remake: It's better than Psycho or Shaft. Even better than The Planet of the Apes. But it's no Scarface, or even Willard. 2.5 stars
As a Hanks/Hall showcase: Here, as the only movie in its category, does it truly shine. 3.5 stars.
May isn't a horror movie. Well, it is, but it's just as much black comedy and character portrait as an edge of your seat kill fest. Gorehounds might be disappointed by the lack of truly violent moments, but even when things spiral in the third act, May is more about character than kill.
May Dove Canady, when we meet her, is being fitted with a patch for her lazy eye. As a little girl who doesn't relate well to others, she mistakenly scares off friends by telling them she is not, in fact, a pirate. Her mother, an odd bird herself, decides to remedy the situation by making a doll for May. But her owned skewed sense of reality prevents May from even enjoying this when the doll can't ever leave its glass case.
When we catch up with May later on in life (played by Angela Bettis), she's a painfully lonely and withdrawn young woman with a crush on Adam (Jeremy Sisto), and a job working at the local vet. When a chance encounter brings the possiblity of something more, then things get complicated.
Now it sounds like I've told you a lot, but that's the first fifteen minutes of the movie. Along the way we meet the coworker hot for May (Anna Faris of Scary Movie and Lost in Translation), a punk with a tattoo she admires (James Duvall of Donnie Darko) and a class full of blind children. If I'm being vague, well I sort of need to be. Telling you too much, or even just regurgitating the back of the DVD would give away where the movie goes (although an astute viewer can pick it up pretty early on). What works in May is Angela Bettis. At no point during her character arc does a decision seem out of place or unbelievable, and she's a magnetic lead. Sisto doesn't fare as well; he's sort of a bore and doesn't have much to do in the movie except react. Faris is in the same boat. She spends most of the movie acting "come hither" to May, and by the end we're a little surprised she's so relaxed by what's going on. Duvall doesn't actually have anything to do, but it was nice to see Frank the Bunny in another movie.
Lucky McKee uses a lot of first time director tricks to keep the story going: jump cuts, music montages, but in the context of playing things out through May's point of view, it works. While it doesn't succeed on all fronts (for one, the film takes itself far too seriously), he's managed to craft a fine little fable and shows a lot of promise down the line.
That he's managed to wrangle horror icon Bruce Campbell into his second movie, The Woods, is a pretty good indication that Lucky McKee has a solid future in the world of low budget fright flicks. Don't get me wrong, this isn't an indictment of an indication of his skills. Rather, I'm glad to see the new crop of horror directors slowly build their reputations. While May, like Cabin Fever, isn't a home run on the first try, it's better than a lot of the remakes and sequels that pass for horror these days.
Let's face it, folks. There are no more Hellraiser movies. They stopped making 'em after 3, and the sooner you get used to it, the better off all of us are. Bondage freaks and Pinheadites may scream "But NO! NO! You just haven't seen the original cut of BLOODLINE! Heathen scum!" Bollocks to that. Just like Halloween, there's a cut off point and begging to include a crap sequel doesn't sit well with me. But since there's a suggestion I ought to finish this "review", let us discuss the relative merits (or lack thereof) of Hellseeker:
At first glance, this is THE Hellraiser sequel people have been looking for. Bringing Ashley Laurence back into the mix as Kirsty for the first time since "Hell on Earth" would in theory be the jolt this series needs to get back on track, but wait.... she's on screen about as much as Pinhead was in Hellraiser: Inferno (which is only barely a Hellraiser movie, but gory as hell). For the rest of Hellseeker, we follow the helplessly emotionless Dean Winters (of Oz fame) who seems incapable of playing his scenes any way other than snarky. And when you're the bereaved husband of the supposedly drowned Kirsty, snarky doesn't cut it. But wait, did she drown? Scenes bleed together from painfully unerotic encounters to baffling and pointless work and police interrogations (and that's no typo. every point he enters his cubicle, the obnoxious "co-worker" asks the same stupid questions the same stupid ways over and over) I suppose we're meant to question his reality, but this reviewer stopped caring about twenty minutes in. Vanilla Sky this isn't, although Vanilla Hell does aptly describe watching Hellseeker. To spare you the curiousity of what the "twist" is:
Idiot buys the Lament Configuration for Kirsty on their anniversary, she opens it and talks to Pinhead. They make a deal that she can deliver five souls more rotten than this movie, and his is the last. So, viola! The ENTIRE movie is Dean Winters coming to grips with being in hell. *Yawn*
Is it gory, you say? No. If you want gory Hellraiser movies, this isn't your flick. In fact, Hellseeker really has nothing going for it, and I'd be pleased as punch to report to you this DTV ditty was the last, but oh no, we have two more to look forward to: Hellraiser - Deader (I shit you not. Starring Kari Wuhrer), and Hellraiser - Hellworld (with Lance Henrikson). Actually, the premise of Hellworld is classic, so I'll close this review with the plot outline from IMDB.com:
Pinhead returns to terrorize computer hackers that have opened a virtual Lament Configuration on the website Hellworld.com.
Exorcist: The Beginning Review
2 Stars (out of Five)
I know everyone's expecting a straight pan of this movie; to be honest i went in expecting to hate it, and to be sure, i was mostly correct. Exorcist: The Beginning, is in some ways every bit as bad as Exorcist 2: Heretic, and just as dumb as any other big budget horror movie of its ilk (by that i'm referring to such ditties as Lost Souls, Bless the Child, The Order, or any Omen movie that isn't the first one) The problem is that E:B could have been something good indeed.
To be fair, Beginning has some good things going for it. Stellan Skarsgard is excellent playing a younger Father Merrin, and since much of the movie rests on his shoulders, it is a relief they didn't cast Ryan Phillipe or Kerr Smith, who are much to young, and would've likely fallen hard with the rest of the movie. The rest of the cast either struggle to maintain some credibility, or simply fall into the abyss of over acting.
But let's get into why this movie is so bad. As many of you may know, the Exorcist prequel floated around for a while from director to director (John Frankenheimer was originally slated to direct, but left the project a month before his passing) when Paul Schrader, who wrote Taxi Driver and directed Auto Focus, came on board, he set out with the intention of making a psychological thriller instead of a bloodbath that producers wanted. He made his movie, and was promptly fired. In order to guarantee they'd have the film they were paying for, producers turned to Renny Harlin. (now, before i get into Harlin bashing, let me go ahead and say that A Nightmare on Elm Street 4, Die Hard 2, and The Long Kiss Goodnight remain to this day on my list of guilty pleasures) Known for such gems as Deep Blue Sea, Cutthroat Island, and The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, naturally he was the obvious choice to continue the Exorcist series. Thusly, most of the film was reshot to include more graphic violence, include a love interest(?!) for Merrin, and the most ridiculous exorcism ever put on film. Rumour goes that about 20 minutes of the movie is still actually Schrader's, and to Harlin's credit, for the first hour and change I couldn't tell what belonged to who.
And therein lies the problem. The first three quarters of this movie is, with a few exceptions, pretty good. It is at least better than Heretic, and on par with The Exorcist 3 (and Legion isn't really that terrible as these types of movies go) There are a couple of suspensful moments, and while it is overly bloody, the mystery surrounding a church buried in East Africa is intriguing. However, things start to fall apart in the third act (specifically when the Sandstorm hits) and if you're not into spoilers, i'd go ahead and get out of here now, because we're veering that way. From this point out, this movie is a joke. Now, i need to take a moment out and discuss the truly horrendus CGI in this movie, because for the bulk of the film, you just try to tune it out (the Hyenas stand out in particular, because they ruin an otherwise well thought out sequence involving children in peril) but when the sandstorm rolls in, looking like b-roll footage from The Mummy Returns, you know things are in trouble. How bad does it get? Well, there's the British soldiers fighting with the Tribesmen in an unnecessarily brutal and pointless sequence, or perhaps the bait and switch bit on who is actually possessed, or perhaps the aforementioned exorcism, which takes place in the pagan temple beneath the church and culminates with the Captain Howdy (i won't spoil all of it for you) literally flying down a tunnel towards Merrin as he tries to cast out Satan. Seriously. Not only does it take all of the punch out of the actual exorcism in the first movie (were you to watch them chronologically) but it's laugh out loud stupid. But the coup de gras is actually the very ending, where they blow two key opportunities to make up for this slight. Merrin is back in Italy, renewed faith, etc, and the moment comes where he stands up from the table, puts on the hat everyone recognizes, and walks off towards the Vatica- oh wait! Remember those rotten effects i mentioned? Well, Father Merrin walks off into the Green Screen where a painfully fake looking picture of the Vatican is, and they don't even have the sense to play Tubular Bells. *sigh.
Perhaps Paul Schrader's cut (which is purported to be coming out on dvd) is the movie this franchise deserved, and we shall see. As it stands, Exorcist: Beginning is a painfully schizophrenic movie that isn't sure what it wants to be, and to me, it stinks.