Thursday, October 26, 2017

Willow Creek (2013) [Unrated]

Director: Bobcat Goldthwait
Writer: Bobcat Goldthwait
Starring: 
Bryce Johnson as Jim
Alexie Gilmore as Kelly

Synopsis: A couple ventures out to the famous site from the 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film, to search for Bigfoot - despite warnings by the nearby townspeople of Willow Creek.


Acting: 18/20

Writing:  33/40
Directing/Editing/Production/Etc:  38/40

Overall:  89/100 B+

Review: This is a "found footage" film done right. The actors who play the couple in this film have a great chemistry together, the writing takes an interesting angle on the Bigfoot story and the overall execution finds a great balance between suspense, action and getting into the characters and story.

Being apprehensive about yet another Bigfoot story is understandable but this film does a great job at keeping the story interesting and it's more thought-provoking than it may seem on the surface. This movie was also surprisingly impressive when it came to adding a comedic element, which added to the story, as opposed to taking away from it.

*Spoiler Alert!*

The murals, town locations and most of the townspeople are real and seemingly inspired by these homemade Bigfoot/Willow Creek tour videos (especially 3:33 - 5:43) by the Bigfoot Books owner who made an appearance in this film:


 

The scene with the Bigfoot mural on the huge wall by the road is not only the funniest scene in this film but one of the funniest scenes in any film. ("They got [Bigfoot] as a day laborer or something... 'Bigfoot help you put up house, for berries'.") The actor playing Jim did a phenomenal voice improving the Bigfoot accent and expressing the Bigfoot mindset. This scene alone makes the film worth watching. ("Maybe he just doesn't want to work, that's why they can't find him. 'Bigfoot tired of working'.")

Since the Big Foot Books owner genuinely cares about all of the Bigfoot stuff, his part in the film was very interesting and gave us some real background information about the original Patterson-Gimlin film, which was a really nice touch to the documentary-feel of the film.

The origin story of Bigfoot being exposed by the cutting of 'virgin timber' in that area, was very cool because it gave a potential explanation for how Bigfoot was eluding society for so long in the untouched forest and the story about Bigfoot vandalizing the camps of the loggers, was nice foreshadowing for when Jim and Kelly's camp is vandalized later.

There are quite a few scenes peppered throughout the film that add a good sense of mystery to the film: should they be more worried about Bigfoot, nature in general or the locals?

Neither of the two are very familiar with the woods/nature/uncivilized territory. There are many clues given throughout the film that they are not prepared for the dangers ahead of them whether they encounter a Bigfoot or not. They don't even have a weapon despite the potential danger of bears and mountain lions. Furthermore, there was plenty of foreshadowing of danger when they got to the campsite.

Later, when the couple does start to encounter potential danger, they lean on their video recorder (technology - a societal luxury) for comfort, even though it was superficial as it didn't actually do anything to protect them - showing how much they had become out of tune with nature.

The tent-scenes were perfectly suspenseful as they really put you in the moment and what it would feel like to be there; Very organic. (Especially the footsteps - so creepy!) 

That being said, there was another story going on here, which was brilliantly executed (as many horror films tend to do): Now that we are 50+ years after Feminism started it's plan to make women more "the same" as men and vice-versa, modern women are more vulgar and less nurturing than their recent ancestors and modern men are more acquiescent and less supportive than their recent ancestors. This film does a great job showing why those roles might work fine in cities etc. but not so much out in nature. Problems that are 'manageable' in the context of society become great endeavors in the context of nature.

The comments by the visitor center lady were a great example of how out of touch with reality women can be. She said she doesn't believe in Bigfoot at all yet she 'wouldn't be surprised at all' if she saw one 'because [she] doesn't believe' - which makes no sense. Realistically, she'd be incredibly surprised to see Bigfoot because she doesn't believe in it, which is the opposite of what she said.

There is a very interesting contrast that takes place involving the way people will act one way off-camera and another way on-camera as well as speaking to how this tends to differ between the genders:

  • Shaun White Guy Sr. is a female resident of the Hopa reservation and was being very passive-aggressive in her immediate storytelling before abruptly calling for the camera to "cut", so she could correct Jim that it's pronounced "hoopa" not "hopa" in a cranky manner. On the second take, with that pronunciation corrected and her feelings satiated, she becomes a completely different person who is more soft-spoken and feminine as well as much less aggressive - clearly putting on for the camera.
  • Troy Andrews is a former male ranger who tells a story about hearing an encounter with his dog and it being dead (ripped in half) when he found it. Jim mentions that off-camera Troy had said he thought it could've been a Sasquatch but now, on camera, he is less open to that possibility - suspecting "pot farmers" and other locals instead.
This was interesting because the woman wanted to be "liked" while filmed on camera, whereas the man wanted to be "respected" while filmed on camera; showing natural gender differences.

The starring couple had communication problems foreshadowed from the get-go. Kelly is often demeaning and cold towards Jim ("my boyfriend is a big idiot" ; repeated leprechaun comments) while Jim has a hard time taking Kelly seriously - especially about her feelings and warnings (she says "I don't feel safe driving around this mountain like this." and he responds "No it's great, keep going.") . Kelly is also very vulgar sexually: she thinks of a douche commercial to fill the silence ; makes a foot vs. weenie "burger" comment ; claims to be getting 'horny' by a Bigfoot wood carving and makes sexual gestures with the carving in public even though Jim asks her to stop (foreshadowing her future).

When Jim mentions in his documentary that he is there with his girlfriend Kelly, she doesn't want to be mentioned, which totally deflates him. Yet later when Kelly narrates on video for the first time, she does the same thing when she says "This is Kelly driving with my boyfriend", yet she had criticized Jim for doing the same thing. This was very indicative of how western women will often hold men to standards that they don't equally hold themselves to.

She tells him to "be yourself" after getting done criticizing him for being himself, which of course then causes him to not be himself and he doesn't perform so well for the camera. This was very indicative of how modern women don't allow modern men to really be themselves, while at the same time, modern women are telling men who they "really are" inside, for them - which is just what the women want the men to be.

Kelly feels she's making some big sacrifice by going on the trip despite not caring or believing in Bigfoot even though it's important to Jim. Jim doesn't need full support but he would like some middle ground: not outright denial but at least some open mindedness from his girlfriend. ("You don't have to say you believe in Bigfoot. I'm just looking for 'I don't know, maybe there is one Jim. I'm not really sure but maybe you're right, maybe there is something out there'.") All Jim is asking for from Kelly, is what most women expect from most men, a little placating to their feelings. The difference is that most women want this most of the time, whereas most men only need this once in a while, when something is very personal and/or sensitive.

When Kelly falls in the woods and Jim doesn't help her up but instead warns her to be careful, this was a great reality of what total equality/lack of gender roles looks like (especially in place of chivalry). Since they're supposed to be 'complete equals/the same', he ignored some of her repeated assertions of fear and uncomfortability the way he would if she were a man; instead of trying to give her some more comfort and keep her from freaking out. Another sign of gender differences could be seen when she had a much harder time carrying the camera and going through the woods at the same time than he does. Furthermore, when Kelly says she wants to go home, Jim says not to worry about it as it's probably just a bear - which is a problem for any grown adult in the woods but especially for a woman over a man, as bears can smell your gender and see women as easier prey, therefore almost always attacking the woman (or child) first - which is often when a man steps in to save the woman if a man is around. These kinds of things are easy to forget in the comfort of technology and society but in the natural world, women aren't so fortunate.



When the couple hears what "sounds like someone's crying", and a woman, they do absolutely nothing to investigate the noise - virtually leaving the person to fend for themselves, even though it sounded like "someone's in pain". As the woman in the situation, Kelly wasn't any more willing to go help the other woman than Jim was.

As they are trying to make their way out of the woods, their relationship issues - communication, trust, etc. - are exacerbated, and their gender roles prevail in nature. Kelly starts to break down first, getting dizzy and incredibly anxious and frightened whereas again, Jim is able to keep his cool better. She doesn't take the lead even though she's the more aggressive character and he doesn't break down emotionally even though he's the more sensitive character. Even though their gender reversal works fine in artificial society, it doesn't transfer in nature; In nature, it hurts them.

As products of the modern world, the couple is defenseless against whatever nature has in store for them - whether it was a bear, mountain lion or Bigfoot. Kelly screams and eventually starts crying whenever the creature bangs or pushes on the tent whereas Jim does not - a sign of the remnants of gender roles. (She went from doing sexual gestures with the statute to being a scared little flower.) While Kelly is more than happy to "get out of dodge", Jim is clearly not happy that they discovered something yet aren't able to get definitive proof of what it was. She really doesn't care about finding any evidence of Bigfoot (which is supposed to be 1 of 2 main reasons they're out there).

While hearing the "vocalizations", Kelly wants to turn the light off so maybe "whatever it is will go away" yet Jim doesn't want it to [go away]. This is indicative of how Kelly never took Jim's Bigfoot endeavors seriously and made the decision to go scouting Bigfoot with him despite not really wanting to find Bigfoot; Just like she entered a relationship with Jim but doesn't really take him seriously as she doesn't really want to marry him.

It's very rare that a woman ever thinks marriage is "too soon" and Jim was completely deflated when Kelly rejected his proposal. She then proposed for them to move in together, showing she most likely had plans to keep stringing him along until she found someone better. Not only does she not want to marry him, but she asks him to move in with her in LA - something he's actually willing to do just for her even though he clearly stated before that he'd never want to move to LA. This shows that despite their problems, he's still the one doing the majority of submitting to her and not the other way around. This is indicative of how men in general - in western society - do tend to acquiesce to women much more than women do to men, it is not 50/50.

The Bigfoot mural of female-Bigfoot toasting 'breakfast' and male-Bigfoot bringing female-Bigfoot some flowers was very interesting because of how much it reflects the transition from nature into society and how that allowed for the expression of gender roles. We had progressed enough as a civilization that instead of men and women being forced to be more androgynous due to the dangers of nature, men and women were free to be a little more diverse and unique. The mural highlights how objectively, this benefits women more than men, as men are still stuck with dealing with many dangers of nature (he has to go out there to get the flowers) while the women get to be in a safer location, tending to things that are less dangerous (making the 'breakfast'). This was also a foreshadowing to Kelly's future.

The last time the "whimpering/crying" is heard, we discover that it is the "Missing" woman from the poster, presumably kidnapped by Bigfoot and held as a sex slave since she is naked. Further proving this: when Jim is attacked and taken by Bigfoot, his clothes are immediately torn off and his throat seems to be attacked as he is choking so he cannot call for help. Then we hear Kelly screaming as she is presumably "attacked" and taken. However, we hear her scream "Help me! Help me!", showing her throat wasn't attacked, and then we hear multiple Bigfoot howling - presumably at the joy of their newest replacement for a sex slave. Instead of the falsely labeled "oppressive" gender roles in society, she is now 'sentenced' to a life of actual oppressive gender roles in nature.

Sex differences in personality traits are larger in prosperous, healthy, and egalitarian cultures in which women have more opportunities equal with those of men. Nature does not afford women equal opportunities with those of men. (Which is why women should be more grateful for men and the society they created.)

*End of Spoiler Alert!*

Overall this film was a suspenseful, clever and well-executed Bigfoot story, providing impressive social commentary on the freedom of gender roles in society, as opposed to in nature.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Passengers (2016) [PG-13]

Director: Morten Tyldum
Writer: Jon Spaihts
Starring:
Chris Pratt
as Jim Preston
Jennifer Lawrence as Aurora Lane
Michael Sheen as Arthur
Laurence Fishburne as Chief Gus Mancuso (Chief Deck Officer)

Synopsis:
Two citizen passengers on a spaceship to a new planet, struggle with the fact that they have woken up 90 years before everyone else.


Acting: 20/20
Writing: 36/40
Directing/Editing/Production/Etc: 37/40

Overall: 93/100 A


Review: As with many space movies, there are quite a few unrealistic plot holes in the script but aside from those few, the movie is pretty accurate.

All of the cast in this film delivered compelling performances, playing their roles perfectly.

This film is not your typical pop film (nor a typical sci-fi film as it's more of a romantic-drama-sci-fi), every little nuance shows a deeper meaning and weaves together a great analogy of our roles in nature.

*Spoiler Alert! *

Michael Sheen does an exceptional job as the bartender, especially the part where he "spazzes out" when presented with contradictory "facts" as he knows them to be. The writing and concept behind this character, as an android bartender, is very well done. ("Jim, these are not robot questions.")

There are a couple of cool allusions in this film, such as:

  • The Time Machine when Jim is trying to figure out what's going on once he realizes he's the only one awake. 
  • The Shining with the bartender and that entire room. 
  • Passenger "profiles" in the ship are somewhat similar to online dating profiles or audition videos. 
  • Sleeping Beauty when the bartender refers to "Aurora" as "the sleeping girl".


This movie shows the value of human companionship as well as romance - even for a man. Not only is Jim suffering from loneliness, presumably for the rest of his life aside from the inorganic android, but he believes he has found the perfect woman/mate. It's not just a "love at first sight" whim, he takes the time to get to know her from her profile and even reads her work (making a note that she is "funny") - since she's an author. He is awake for over an entire year by himself before he finally wakes her up and this is not a decision he takes lightly - at all. He doesn't wake her up expecting to fall for him as quickly as he fell for her, but he does try to make himself presentable. As the two passengers are hanging out on the ship, Jim is essentially trying to court her and treats her like a classic gentleman would treat a lady. He is basically taking her out on friendship-dates, makes her a personalized gift and tries to impress her enough to win a "real" romantic date and tries to learn more about her.


This movie had a lot of interesting choices and points regarding gender:
  • When Aurora first gets a meal and sees what Jim has been stuck eating this whole time, this is an allusion to the way a bachelor eats before a woman comes into his life and starts to cook for him (traditionally), leading to better and healthier meals for him.
  • Jim as a mechanic, represents men and the old world, and the desire to feel "necessary". With technology replacing workers and pushes for women replacing men in the workplace (to fulfill 50/50 gender quotas) - as well as the fact that men can't give birth - men in Western society are struggling to find their value/role in the world. Our modern Western society is very sexist against men and constantly putting them down as "old-timey", unnecessary and overall "not good enough". Our society treats men very unjustly, constantly putting women's feelings and preferences first, while condemning men simply for being men (aka toxic masculinity). Men are people too and just like women, they like to feel valued in society.
  • When the two characters play the guessing game about the other passengers, they encounter a mid-wife whom Aurora says "I like her. We'd be friends." to which Jim asks "You think you could see that?" and Aurora responds "Don't you?". (a) This is alluding to the fact that if they had children and needed help delivering the baby, they could always wake up this woman. (b) What Aurora saw in the mid-wife is almost exactly what Jim saw in Aurora, unbeknownst to her at this time. (She won't think of this moment when she finds out he woke her though.)
  • Love was enough for Jim to be content but not for Aurora, as she was still having a lot of anxiety about their situation after they became romantically involved. This was very symbolic of how being lucky enough to find a "soulmate" used to be enough for women, but now women want to "have it all" - which often leads to their own anxiety and depression from not feeling "fulfilled" enough (thanks to unrealistic Feminist expectations).
  • Just like humanity works best when men and women are cooperating instead of competing, the two passengers were able to save the ship and everyone on it (aside from the already deceased Chief) when they were cooperating and working together as a team.
  • Just like we see time and time again when disasters occur, it is the men who more often give their lives to save the people around them, not the women; The same occurs on the ship, with Jim being the one to go outside to clear the jam in the door, while Aurora pushes the lever from "safe" (relatively) inside the ship.

Aurora had everything she could've asked for, yet it wasn't good enough just because Jim woke her up instead of her accidentally waking up. She had romance and a reliable, loving, trustworthy mate and she still had her career as a writer for audiences of the future to read her once-in-a-lifetime story, even though it wasn't the exact one that she had originally planned for. She took what she had for granted, more focused on what could/should be, rather than what was. She couldn't see the forest for the trees. In her own words she had said, "We weren't supposed to find each other but we did... We're lucky." yet since he facilitated that luck, as opposed to it being pure chance, she wouldn't forgive him.

  • This was symbolic of how women take what they have for granted and often focus on superficial and/or petty things rather than the more substantial things in life.
  • Even though Jim woke up Aurora without her consent, her circumstance was still more fortunate than Jim, since she wasn't completely alone and isolated when she woke up (like he was). So he was still in the worse boat than she was. Had she woken up first, she likely would've woken someone else up as well at some point (if not Jim).
  • When Aurora woke up, she was of a higher social class than Jim, so she immediately had access to better supplies than Jim did when he woke up.
  • This was also symbolic of how women often overreact to things and get over-emotional, as she moved out of the bedroom and refused to even speak to him at all.
  • When Aurora showed up in the middle of the night in Jim's room and started to physically beat and assault him, almost killing him, this was also symbolic of how violent and abusive women are and can be to men - something our pro-female society rarely talks about, if ever. It was also symbolic of how women often take things out on men, whether deserving or not, and how men often just take it for the women's sake. At any point Jim could've physically overwhelmed and stopped Aurora but he chose not to.
  • When Jim forced Aurora to listen to him, apologizing and explaining himself on the loudspeaker - and in a very romantic way, "You saved my life and I know that's no excuse for what I did. I read everything you wrote and I fell in love with your voice and the way your mind works. I fell in love with you.... My pointless life suddenly had meaning. And I wish I could take it back but I can't. Aurora, I don't want to lose you." She immediately responded with "I don't care! I don't care what you want! I don't care why you woke me up! You took my life!" She was - just like many Western women - completely self-centered and inconsiderate. She was in love with this guy yet it wasn't enough for her. She completely exaggerated the situation, claiming he took her life even though she was clearly alive, still had her career and now had a love that she hadn't had before. She was being a control freak and very short-sighted. She kept choosing to put her feelings before facts and choosing to look at the negatives of her situation rather than the abundance of positives.
  • Even Aurora's best friend said "nothing was ever enough for you", showing her rejection of contentment. Her best friend wanted her to find someone and that she would "let him in" and have love in her life, which is something that she did find but again, she chose to let it not be good enough for her. It was very symbolic of how Western women are never happy, always wanting to eat their cake and have it too.
  • Aurora was so adamant about not speaking to Jim at all, she even spent 2 days stuck in her cabin. This was representative of how often women (and especially Feminists) hurt themselves just to spite men.
  • The Chief thought it was kind of harsh that Jim woke Aurora up not to be alone, but it was nice that he was somewhat understanding when he realized Jim had been awake for an entire year with no human company. It showed that the Chief had more sympathy for Jim's situation than Aurora did - yet he was never in love with Jim while Aurora supposedly was.
  • When Aurora confronted the Chief on what Jim did and asked his opinion, the Chief tried to stay out of it but Aurora wouldn't let him. This was representative of how women often bring other people into their problems and especially how Western women think they are entitled to never be wronged. Aurora accused Jim of "murder" yet she was clearly alive; At best it may have been "kidnapping" but certainly not "murder". The Chief tried to get her to understand Jim's decision by giving an analogy about a drowning man, yet she refused to really listen. All that mattered to Aurora, was her feelings; not Jim's feelings at all. She was completely self-centered; very indicative of many modern Western women.
  • While Aurora had been hyperbolizing her situation to the Chief and claiming she had been murdered, the Chief was actually dying - having been really "murdered" by the failures in the technological system on board. This was very symbolic of how often women do this in society, especially Feminists (for example: claiming regret sex is "rape" and trying to allocate resources away from real rape victims to bad decision-makers).
  • After all of the incredibly harsh treatment that Aurora gave to Jim for waking her up and in her words, "murdering her", it turned out that when faced with the same loneliness, Aurora admitted to feeling the same as Jim dead. This was made clear when she said to Jim, "I can't live on this ship without you." Unlike Jim however, she didn't have someone to constantly beat her up for feeling that way. This was very representative of how women (and especially Feminists) are often very hypocritical, holding others to standards that they don't hold themselves to.
  • When Aurora put on her suit and took a chance to save Jim, this was very symbolic of her finally meeting him halfway.
  • When Jim realized that with the Chief's ID, there was a way that Aurora could go back to sleep and get her dream; he chose to put her before himself. He was willing to spend the rest of his life alone and give Aurora the chance to go back to the life she had planned for herself. After all of the crap that Aurora gave Jim for waking her up early, she had the chance to "erase this mistake" yet she chose not to. In the end, she chose the life that Jim had chosen for her as well. So she gave him hell for nothing. It was only when she was potentially put in his shoes, that she finally forgave him and resumed what was almost a perfect life. Her love, her career and resources abundant on a luxury spaceship - free of cost. This is very representative of how if many modern women today would focus on everything they do have instead of what they don't have, they would realize that they have a lot to be grateful and happy for. Western women are the most spoiled women on Earth yet they often fail to see that.
And one of the most important overall metaphors from this film revolved around nature:

Nature will not be controlled forever.

There was a point made several times in this film about the "fact that the pods can't possibly defect", yet we know that's not a fact as somehow, someway, Jim's pod did defect - even though it was the 1st time "ever". This was very important because it was very symbolic of our modern society and the everyday things we take for granted - especially modern women who would choose "modern society" over "nature's society" almost every single time (since they benefit from this modern society even more than men do).

To this point as well, nature always finds a way to create life; It's why human beings are here. No matter how many extinction periods have occurred here on Earth and wiped out entire species at a time, nature always finds a way to give new life a chance. This was represented by the planting of nature that Jim did all around the information room (especially at the end) but also by both of Jim and Aurora's urge to not be alone, as many human beings feel this way - not in just a romantic sense but in an overall sense (which is why we, humans, often try to create some kind of society).

*End of Spoiler Alert!*

Overall this film was an exceptional commentary piece paired with compelling performances; Absolutely worth watching!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

It: Chapter One/The Losers Club (2017) [R]

Director: Andy Muschietti
Writer: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga & Gary Dauberman
Starring: 
Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise the Dancing Clown/IT
Jaeden Lieberher as (Young) Bill Denbrough
Jack Dylan Grazer as (Young) Eddie Kaspbrak
Sophia Lillis as (Young) Beverly Marsh
Jeremy Ray Taylor as (Young) Ben Hanscom
Wyatt Oleff as (Young) Stanley Uris
Chosen Jacobs as (Young) Mike Hanlon
Finn Wolfhard as (Young) Richie Tozier
Nicholas Hamilton as (Young) Henry Bowers
Owen Teague as Patrick Hockstetter
Logan Thompson as Victor Criss
Jake Sim as Belch Huggins

Synopsis: Something is terrorizing the children of Derry, Maine, and one group of kids set out to find out what IT is.

Review: If you have never read the book this film is based on, there may be some "missing pieces". You can read the synopsis on Wikipedia, as well as check out these YouTube videos that help give some background. This is also a remake of a TV mini-series.

That being said, for the sake of "fairness", this film will be reviewed both ways, as a remake and it's own film.

(1.) Independent (If you had never seen the original):
Acting: 15/20
Writing:  34/40
Directing/Editing/Production/Etc:  34/40

Overall:  83/100 B

Review: This movie is more of a period piece about what life was like for many kids in Generation X, rather than a "horror story". There is so much negativity and despair without the presence of IT, that IT really only serves as a cherry on top of an already deflated childhood experience. In some ways, IT is just a final manifestation of the horrors that these kids must overcome in their childhood as they are forced to grow up "before their time". IT is more symbolic of how Generation X were left as "latchkey children" while their Boomer parents were "finding themselves" and otherwise not taking full responsibility for themselves and especially not as parents.

As a result of this, there is not too much of a narrative behind the concept of IT. Instead, the story focuses more on the kids and what they're dealing with, rather than focusing as much on IT and the terror IT spreads.

Since the story is more focused on the kids, they are seen much more in this film than IT/Pennywise is. The kids do a decent acting job, they're not awful or "unbelievable" but they definitely weren't trying to win any acting awards in their performances either - except for the kid who plays Eddie Kaspbrak, who does an outstanding job that goes above and beyond all of his peers in this film. This kid definitely has a future in acting ahead of him, he's extremely talented and charismatic. Of all of the child actors, this kid was the most into his character, the most compelling and the most entertaining. While the other kids only did "B" or "C" grade level performances, this kid gave an "A" level performance and in a lot of ways, "stole the show".

From what was seen of IT/Pennywise, the performance was adequate - nothing particularly special in a positive nor negative way. Overall it was a decent performance that didn't really stand out.

*Spoiler Alert!*

Overall, the film serves as a great representation of Generation X's childhood, as well as representing Boomers and Silent Generationers during this time. The Boomer parents are mostly absent, abusive, overbearing and/or blame the Gen. X kids for perceived problems in their eyes. The Silent Generationers are tough, wise and politically incorrect, saying such things to the kids as "You're either in the sheep pen with the sheep, or you're out here like us." and "A young man should be outside playing with his friends, not cooped up inside all day."

The film has some comedic Gen. X references, such as the recurring theme of "New Kids On The Block", which may very well go over the head of many Millennials.

That being said, part of the trouble of this film was it's goal to serve 2 Gods: Telling a story about Generation X as well as telling the story of Stephen King's IT. The result was a good telling of Generation X and a decent telling of IT - neither stories were able to reach their full potential and the intertwining added a bit of confusion/inconsistency. One such example includes when the character Bill Denbrough gives a speech about how it's so much harder to walk through his own home door than the perceived home door of IT/Pennywise. While this was an accurate representation of the endeavors of Generation X, this was a bit tough to swallow for this story, considering the fact that Bill's home-life didn't seem like anything worse than IT/Pennywise. Sure, Bill had lost his younger brother and had a hard time accepting he was gone - and his father verbally scolded him for this - but that doesn't seem worse than the entity going after children.

There weren't too many inconsistencies but one that stood out the most, was why some kids were eaten/killed and why others were just kidnapped and sent to float for however long, for whatever reason - but perhaps these things will be explained in Part 2 (which was already filmed at the same time as Part 1).

It was also never really explained where IT/Pennywise came from and why he was there - though this may also come to be explained in Part 2.

The production value of this film was very consistent but there weren't many iconic or extraordinary moments, aside from 2: (1) When a 3-D version of IT/Pennywise comes out of a projector screen and (2) when IT/Pennywise unfolds himself out of a box - though this was a bit exaggerated to the point of not making sense as he "unfolded" too many times.

The performance of IT/Pennywise was also very mediocre. This clown looked like a rejected member of the band KISS - not appealing to children at all. In addition, the first time we encounter him with Georgie is completely underwhelming. Pennywise begins to talk in a child-like voice but then suddenly out of nowhere goes in and out of a demon-like voice. Why any kid would not run away at the immediate change of voice here, makes no sense whatsoever, especially while this clown seems stuck under the drain and the kid is above it. Any other time Pennywise is on screen, aside from the 2 iconic moments, he is usually underwhelming and not very frightening as this film leans more on cliche "jump scares" rather than building any kind of real suspense or dread about the character.

*End of Spoiler Alert!*

Overall, this was a good film with decent acting but mostly stands out for it's symbolism and representation of Generation X, above all else.


(2.) Compared To Original TV Mini-Series:
Acting: 12/20
Writing:  33/40
Directing/Editing/Production/Etc:  31/40

Overall:  76/100 C

Review: While it was very interesting to place this film in the 1980s and added something new and creative to the story, it also took quite a bit away from the original story and fear of IT, itself.

*Spoiler Alert!*

Part of the brilliance of the original IT, was the story about the "loss of innocence", and this was best portrayed in a 1950s setting - as in the 1980s, the children didn't start with much innocence to begin with. In addition, the concept of IT/Pennywise is much more frightening to a bunch of innocent kids who are just starting to tackle the bigger issues in life, as opposed to innocent kids who just get insult added to injury with the addition of IT/Pennywise added to their life. This greatly affected the suspense and scariness of Pennywise's character overall, as well as took away from this film being a "horror" film.

In addition, the original IT told a story of kids coming together and finding each other through this new hellish addition in their life. In this remake however, the kids are mostly already together, so we miss out on that experience. This took away from the logic of why it took them all so long to confide in each other about seeing IT/Pennywise.

As far as performances go, most of the kids in this film only did as good or lesser than their previous counterparts. This cast of kids didn't have the same chemistry in this film as those in the original and these kids were certainly less charismatic overall than their previous counterparts. The only kids that did better than their previous counterparts, were the kids who played Eddie Kaspbrak and Stanley Uris (though this is not saying much for the latter, as his previous counterpart was the weakest in the original).

The worst change when it came to the kids, was with the character of Richie Tozier, as he was not funny at all in this film, whereas his previous counterpart was actually witty enough to be believable as a future comedian.

Overall, some changes made were for the better, some for the worst, and some were neutralized by having both positives and negatives (for example, it was better that remake Ben was actually played by a kid who was obese rather than just stocky as in the original; but it was worse in the sense that remake Ben was far less charismatic and compelling than original Ben).

Unsurprisingly though, the change that hurt this film the absolute most, was the change of Pennywise as Tim Curry is so irreplaceable. The thing about Tim Curry, is that he was a Broadway actor and the talent he had with his voice and acting ability is part of what made the character of Pennywise so iconic and memorable. Curry had captured the perfect essence of Pennywise when it came to look, voice and demeanor. His look and voice were perfect and consistent in their imitation of a clown and his behavior was frightening in the most subtle and suspenseful of manners. He was scary much like a crazy person is, the kind of crazy person that you never know what to expect from. In this remake however, Pennywise looked like an obsessed fan of KISS that wasn't enticing to any children at all and looked more like a "loser" than a "monster" or even a "clown". His voice was terribly inconsistent and a dead giveaway that something was wrong with him, logically serving as a HUGE clue for any kid to run away. His behavior can best be described as something between "silly" and "lame" - either way it was not frightening, compelling or memorable. Overall, this Pennywise seemed like a side character whereas in the original, he came off more like the star. (And the kids in this remake didn't have enough "star power" to replace Pennywise in the spotlight.)

Since this movie is such a Hollywood movie and not limited to TV production as the original was, this remake had much more consistent production work when it came to the special effects. That being said though, this lacked a lot of the iconic and memorable scenes, shots and locations that the original had - including the "house" that linked Pennywise to the swamps, as the remake version was much more generic and nowhere near as inherently creepy as in the original. (Go figure.)

*End of Spoiler Alert!*

Overall, this was an interesting take on IT if it took place in the 1980s as opposed to the 1950s - and worth seeing for that reason, but it clearly didn't reach it's full potential and therefore was more underwhelming than it was impressive.

*Link to Original TV Film*

Independent & Remake Scores Combined:
Acting: 13.5/20
Writing:  33.5/40
Directing/Editing/Production/Etc:  32.5/40

Overall:  79.5/100 C+/B-

Overall this film was an interesting take on incorporating Stephen King's IT with a Generation X childhood period piece.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Stephen King's IT (1990) [PG-13]

Director: Tommy Lee Wallace
Writer: Lawrence D. Cohen & Tommy Lee Wallace
Starring: 
Tim Curry as Pennywise the Dancing Clown/IT
Richard Thomas as Bill Denbrough
Jonathan Brandis as Young Bill Denbrough
John Ritter as Ben Hanscom
Brandon Crane as Young Ben Hanscom
Annette O'Toole as Beverly Marsh
Emily Perkins as Young Beverly Marsh
Dennis Christopher as Eddie Kaspbrak
Adam Faraizl as Young Eddie Kaspbrak
Tim Reid as Mike Hanlon
Marlon Taylor as Young Mike Hanlon
Michael Cole as Henry Bowers
Jarred Blancard as Young Henry Bowers
Harry Anderson as Richie Tozier
Seth Green as Young Richie Tozier
Richard Masur as Stanley Uris
Ben Heller as Young Stanley Uris
Gabe Khouth as Victor Criss
Chris Eastman as Belch Huggins

Synopsis: IT terrorized them 30 years ago as kids and now these adults are called back to confront IT again - hopefully once and for all.

Review: If you have never read the book, the film can definitely seem to have a few "missing pieces". I personally have never read the book, but I have read the synopsis on Wikipedia, as well as seen a couple YouTube videos that help fill in some blanks. I don't think I have the stomach to read the novel, quite frankly, so this review is mostly just from the TV series and what I've gathered from reading and hearing about the novel.

If you've ever heard anything about this miniseries before, it's probably that Tim Curry was phenomenal. This cannot be stated enough. Tim Curry is an amazingly talented actor who is largely underrated. He is usually perfect in any role he plays but he's especially superb in this one. The fact that he started with plays, rather than films, really shows in his performance. He captures the look, the feel, the voice, - just every little nuance so perfectly in this character. Whether you are familiar with Curry or not, you probably wouldn't even recognize him as he completely becomes his role. Perfect performance from a phenomenal actor. The "series" also has the perfect amount of "scare" and "suspense", unfolding Pennywise's character in just the right amount of increments all along the way.

Although Tim Curry is far and away the standout performer in this "film", it's not to take away from the great jobs that everyone else does. The kids do a wonderful job and come off completely genuine and compelling. The adults do a wonderful job matching their child-counterparts and keeping the integrity of the characters they play. (Albeit not as inherently charming as the children - but how could they be?)

Part 1 tends to focus more on flashbacks from 30 years ago (featuring more of the kids) and Part 2 tends to focus more on the "present-day" story (30 years later, featuring more of the adults). As a result, many viewers will find part 1 to be a more compelling story than part 2, as the plot naturally lends itself to being more compelling since the cast are mostly kids in part 1. This adds so much more suspense and intrigue - though it should be said that part 2 executes it's adult story pretty well, even though it has a few more faults in the script than part 1 (mainly due to time restraints as the novel itself is over 1,000 pages and the series was originally going to be 8 hrs. instead of just 3 hrs.).

Part 1:
Acting: 20/20
Writing:  38/40
Directing/Editing/Production/Etc:  38/40

Overall:  96/100 A

Review: Watching an adult dressed like a clown going after children already comes with a certain amount of fright, and the "series" did a great job keeping intrigue and suspense - especially if you're a horror fan.

*Spoiler Alert! (Including the Novel)*

Some people might see Tim Curry's performance as being more "comical" but it was this manipulative attitude of Pennywise that made him so frightening. Just like when people really do go after children, they start off mostly coming off as friendly and inviting, turning ugly and nasty when the kid starts to reject them. This was accurate to the premise and character - especially considering the fact that he is "Pennywise the Dancing Clown". Key word being "clown". Everything was a joke to him - particularly your life and death. He was sadistic and entrancing, you could never look away when he's on screen. Furthermore, his makeup and very appearance is frightening enough, let alone the way he holds himself and speaks etc. The fact that he's often only scary in a subtle way - until showing his true "colors" - is part of the brilliance of his character. The way he lures in Georgie is the best example of this (another good one is the little girl in the very beginning).

This movie is a good psychological thriller as IT doesn't just kill but he psychologically tortures you first as he claims they "taste better when [they're] afraid". This is probably disturbingly true. After all, humans have been known to torture animals before killing them because they say it makes the "meat taste better".

This series has some very funny and witty lines ("Get some new material, champ.") and is not burdened by political correctness. Some lines are more fun ("I hate it when you stutter my name Bill, you sound like Elmer Fudd.") and some are more malicious, but many are lines that one wouldn't hear in films and miniseries made today. These lines are done in the proper context and are not done for shock value or the sake of vulgarity etc.

That being said, the way the abusive relationship is played out between adult Beverly and her boyfriend is very much in the style of unbelievable Lifetime movies - particularly the idea that he was beating her with a "belt" and left her alone just because she said she'd "kill him" - which should've infuriated him. Furthermore, the miniseries did not have the abusive character, Tom, follow Beverly out to Derry, Maine, which would've been more accurate to that extreme of a character. It was also a missed opportunity not to show him being killed by IT after following her, which is what did happen in the novel.

The miniseries did a good job with Eddie's character but there was a key chain-of-events that were missing from the novel that should've been included with the miniseries: Since they showed Eddie's mother forbidding Eddie from hanging out with his friends anymore - yet he clearly kept doing it anyways, they should have showed when he confronted his mother about lying to him about his asthma and making the deal to keep taking the "medicine" as long as he still got to see his friends - especially considering they did show the pharmacist telling Eddie about his mother's lies.

Since this novel/miniseries takes place in the late 1950s/early 1960s, it also gives the story more intrigue and symbolism, showing the end of a "golden era"/childhood and innocence. There are also a lot of interesting "sign of the times" scenes and lines. For example, even though the kids were building a dam that they were scorned by the police officer for, he only warned them to stick together if they were ever down there since other children had been killed or gone missing; whereas today the police officer would have told them not to go down there anymore, at all.

The way the "Losers club" comes together is a very entertaining and interesting story, as well as somewhat heartwarming. The way they find each other and help each other through all of the horrible things they are all going through was a touching part of the overall story, especially when they stand up together against the bullies (rock scene). Not only are these kids dealing with the threat of Pennywise, but they are also dealing with their childhoods and innocence coming to an end and dealing with a ton of problems, such as bullying, abusive parents, deceased parents/siblings, etc. When they take on Pennywise at the end, they serve as the "voice of reason" for each other when they are each visited with hallucinations from IT - another sign of the strength they give each other.

Since Part 1 ends with Stan's committing suicide, the miniseries would've been better served to have played up his "seeing the deadlights" or coming into contact with a "truer form of IT" more. Just adding a couple of lines from him, perhaps saying "I saw IT.. The REAL IT..." with a frightened face would've been a nice small addition to help build more credibility to his committing suicide. His childhood was one of the least harsh ones - by the miniseries or the novel - so the mere idea that he "couldn't face his past" was a little confusing. Even though he was the one who was grabbed out of the circle, that in itself didn't seem to be enough for him to commit suicide either, since he wasn't hurt in that scene by IT at all.

Whoever is to thank for not including the "loss of virginities to Beverly" scene, did us all a favor in the miniseries. There were plenty of allusions to the special bond that the group had without needing to go into such territory - such as Beverly joking about being on a "first date" with the guys and showing "equal" affection to them (aside from her moments with Bill, of course). I see this as an improvement from the novel to the miniseries.

There are so many iconic scenes from this miniseries, particularly including: the shots of Pennywise behind the laundry sheets (in the beginning), when Pennywise appears in the gutter to Georgie, when Pennywise appears in the shower to Eddie - forcing his way through the little hole, the creepy-looking mini-castle connected to the sewers that IT dwells in and probably the most iconic, is when Pennywise came to life in the picture, dancing around until making his way to the front and threatening to drive the Losers Club "crazy and then kill them all".

*End of Spoiler Alert!*


Part 2:
Acting: 20/20
Writing:  35/40
Directing/Editing/Production/Etc:  35/40

Overall:  90/100 A-

Review: Seeing the kids from Part 1 deal with Pennywise as an adult was an interesting premise. Not as interesting as part 1 but still worth the watch as it is done pretty well. Part 1 is definitely much better fleshed out than part 2. Part 2 follows part 1 nicely up until about the last 1/3rd of the "film" where there tends to be more "missing pieces" from the novel etc.

*Spoiler Alert! (Including the Novel)*

It was interesting when Ben went back as an adult to the Barrens and encountered both, how some things never change and how some things change entirely. Just as he had been the "fat boy" being chased by the bullies, he saw a new generation of bullies chasing the new "fat boy". On the other hand, Ben encountered a homeless person in the Barrens; a stark contrast to the "homeless" situation he was in, in the past (his childhood) where his aunt took he and his mother in.

While the vast majority of people are happy not to have seen the "child orgy" scene (myself included), there were some more allusions to this when adult Beverly kisses 3 of the different now-adult Losers club members in a romantic-like manner (Richie, Bill & Ben). Without the context from the book, this just comes off incredibly odd and nonsensical.

Showing Stan encountering the mummy in a house seemed like a last-minute addition to try and add a reason as to why he committed suicide, and it was very unclear when this was supposed to have taken place - presumably before beating IT but even that wasn't made clear.

Just like Part 1, Part 2 also has some funny, witty lines including those of the politically incorrect variety ("Speaking of dads, Bevvie, yours isn't worried about you anymore, he loves your choice in men... Wheezy, how's your sex life? What's your sex life?").

Since the miniseries showed Pennywise influencing Henry Bowler as an adult, it would've been convenient if they had showed Pennywise also influencing him as a child as it would've added more consistency and credibility to that subplot. Without it happening with child-Henry, it seemed to occur out of nowhere with adult-Henry - begging the question "why now?".

Even though they established the "Derry Disease" of the town residents ignoring events involving IT, it still didn't make much sense to just leave Henry's dead body in the hotel room with the police "not really caring". After all, he had just escaped from an asylum and nearly killed Mike.

Eddie's confession about being a "virgin" right before encountering IT's true form was a really weird way to foreshadow his dying and perhaps his homosexuality or something? This scene was a tad confusing and seemingly misplaced and/or unnecessary. Furthermore, the way that Eddie does die was also confusing as we are left to assume he died from the fall of the spider's grasps. The way Eddie died in the book could've been easily incorporated here and made much more sense - as well as been more noble.

Ending IT by showing his "true" form to be a spider was very anticlimactic as the end form needed to be more frightening than Pennywise, not less. This form also didn't match the weird looking hand that IT's hand became at the end of Part 1 when they tried to pull him out of the hole to stop him from escaping (which would've came off more consistent and maybe more creepy than the spider). It would have been better if a "darker" version of Pennywise was the true form (like what his face looked like after getting burned with "battery acid") underneath the "light facade". Either way, the spider was a let-down compared to Pennywise.

In addition, the idea of people in wrapped up in webs, descending after IT had been defeated seemed completely out of nowhere and nonsensical. Why is he keeping bodies wrapped up like that? And why do they mostly seem like adults rather than children, his established preference?

All of that being said, I do think it was the right call not to go into all of the "extraterrestrial" part of IT - including the Turtle and Macroverse etc. - as all of that gets really confusing and in my opinion, takes away from the overall story. I think the miniseries did a great job showing that sometimes, less is more.

Part 2 does have it's own iconic scenes and shots, such as the opening with Pennywise and the 7 graves with 1 of them being "taken", the library scene with Richie and all of the balloons - with those iconic bad jokes since Richie was a comedian and Pennywise is a clown, Ben seeing Pennywise on the side of the road holding balloons as well as the balloon that appears inside of the taxi with him, the old woman who turns into her dead father that Beverly encounters, the fortune cookie scene, Stan's severed head making jokes and threats in the library refrigerator and Pennywise's face appearing in the moon.

The "happy endings" for the characters in the aftermath of finally defeating IT was a nice touch after such a dark thriller. It was done well without being too "over the top" and too Hollywood-ized.

*End of Spoiler Alert!*

Part 1 & 2 Combined:
Acting: 20/20
Writing:  36.5/40
Directing/Editing/Production/Etc:  36.5/40

Overall:  93/100 A

The music overall is done very well, whether being purely suspenseful or adding the corny carnival music into the mix - it never takes away from the scenes, adding to them instead.

Overall this film was very suspenseful with outstanding performances. Above and beyond what would be expected of a "TV mini-series" and a timeless classic.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Dave (1993) [PG-13]

Director: Ivan Reitman
Writer: Gary Ross
Starring: 
Kevin Kline as Dave Kovic/President William (Bill) Harrison Mitchell
Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Mitchell
Frank Langella as Bob Alexander
Kevin Dunn as Alan Reed
Ving Rhames as Duane Stevensen
Charles Grodin as Murray Blum
Ben Kingsley as Vice President Gary Nance

Synopsis: While an ordinary man thinks he's doing a one-time, temporary job filling in as a "double/impersonator" for the President, the real President suffers a stroke. As a result, his "filling in" takes on a whole new role.


Acting: 20/20

Writing:  31/40
Directing/Editing/Production/Etc:  38/40

Overall:  89/100 B+

Review: When it comes to pure talent in acting, this film has a great cast. All of the actors in this film are great character actors and they all give the professional performances you would expect.

Kevin Kline is so good with nuance in all of his films and this one is no different. I don't mean it as any insult when I say that, I think he's an underrated actor who always delivers perfect performances. Sigourney Weaver delivers a solid performance as usual, as do Kevin Dunn and Ben Kingsley. Frank Langella does an upstanding job, as does Charles Grodin - both of them shining despite not being the main stars of the film. Ving Rhames also shines in his roll, as well as exhibiting his natural charisma.

The script is a very endearing one, with a message reminding us that the government is really supposed to be "we the people", and how it's our job to stop corruption from occurring in Washington DC.

Spoiler Alert! 

Even though the film is endearing with a happy ending, the ending is not believable. The idea that Dave could ever run for office and date Ellen at the same time was illogical as it would clearly freak people out to see the ex-First Lady with a man who looks just like her deceased husband.

The Presidential couple in this film greatly resemble the Presidential couple at the time, Bill and Hillary Clinton. Except Sigourney Weaver's character is more of what people thought Hillary Clinton was like, rather than what we now know her to actually be like - thereby making Sigourney Weaver's character far more sympathetic than the woman her character is loosely based on.

End of Spoiler Alert!

As endearing as this film is, it's also very entertaining and exciting, keeping you wondering how things are going to end up playing out. The way things do play out are pretty clever and worth the "suspense". It seems to be a little more "drama" than "comedy", though it definitely has it's funny moments and the overall script is somewhat of a "dark comedy" (considering the plot with the stroke).

Overall this film was intriguing and clever, with outstanding and compelling performances. An optimistic perspective on fixing modern politics.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Idiocracy (2006) [R]

Director: Mike Judge
Writer: Etan Cohen & Mike Judge
Starring: 
Luke Wilson as Cpl. "Average Joe" Bauers/"Not Sure"
Maya Rudolph as Rita
Dax Shepard as Frito Pendejo
Terry Crews as President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho
Justin Long as Dr. Lexus

Synopsis: When a top-secret military human hibernation experiment goes wrong, an "average" man and woman in the year 2005 awake 500 years later, and find themselves in the opposite of the "Jetsonian"-like future that most of us envision.


Acting:  15/20
Writing:  30/40
Directing/Editing/Production/Etc:  28/40

Overall:  73/100 C

Review: In a way, this film is like 2 stories going on at once: the basic plot of the script that anyone can follow and a social commentary meant to make us reflect on whether or not we are making the right choices as a society.

The acting is done pretty well - though it's not that hard to play people with low IQs. That being said, Justin Long as the doctor and first real introduction to just how dumb this future population really is, does a pretty great job capturing the subtle nuances that can be found in such dumb people. For example he says, "Why come you don't...." instead of "How come you don't..." or just "Why don't..."

The real high-points of this film come from the witty jokes and remarks made in the film, especially in context to the overall plot of the film ("Oh, yeah, baby. I can wait so good.... Baby I can wait two days."). The film has about as much intellectual humor as it does juvenile, basic humor. This both adds and takes away from the film at the same time. If you're really not into that kind of juvenile humor, it can start to become redundant and off-putting.

Spoiler Alert! 

The way this film explains how "idiocracy" takes place, with dumb people having too many kids and smarter people not having enough or any kids was very logical. Unfortunately, too many people have kids - and often too many - that really shouldn't. While this hasn't really turned our society into an anti-intellectual dystopia, it certainly has made it's mark as shown in the modern film, Nerve, which is also a social commentary piece.


Basically, this film shows a lot of problems that we already see today, taken to an extreme.

  • People eating and drinking like crap. (Fast-food restaurants being the main culprit.)
  • People being very technology-dependent and lazy. (Particularly with the TV.)
  • People destroying the English language. (Lots of acronyms, lack of nuance and variety, etc.)
  • People being more angry, vulgar, violent, impulsive, sensitive and emotional. (Easily offended and quicker to punish than question or try to understand.)
  • People wearing clothes that are walking advertisements. ("Brand"-obsessed; materialistic.)
  • People not thinking for themselves and believing what they're told, primarily by corporations etc. (Taking advertisements at their word rather than doing any research whatsoever themselves.)
  • Over-sexualized nature of everything/"Sex Sells" environment. (Women in the media dressing more provocative and depending more on their sex appeal than other traits.)

All of that being said, even though the film does make some great points, the plot is pretty inconsistent. As degenerated as it showed the population to be, it was truly a wonder they could keep any kind of power or plumbing going - especially considering "average Joe"/"Not Sure" was the smartest person "in the World".

End of Spoiler Alert!

Since the movie is trying to make a point by showing just how anti-intellectual society could get and how incredibly off-putting it would be, the film can be a little too successful in being off-putting. The overall message of the film makes it worth watching but it definitely could've been made in a much "smoother" manner. The way the film is edited and put together, you almost feel like you lost a couple IQ points just watching this film. It certainly makes it point about why people today should make an effort to read a little more and watch less TV etc.

Overall this film was a good social commentary that had some worthy highs as well as some off-putting lows in sending it's message.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

When A Stranger Calls (2006) [PG-13]

Director: Simon West
Writer: Jake Wade Wall
Starring: 
Camilla Belle as Jill Johnson
Tommy Flanagan as The Stranger

Synopsis: The legendary scary story about the babysitter who gets a call to "check on the children", comes to the screen yet again in this remake of the original film.

There are two ways this film can be rated: on it's own or compared to the original. Whether you have seen the original version of this film (1979) or not, makes a big difference on the way you see this version of the film. For that reason, I will rank the film in both ways:

(1.) On It's Own (If you had never seen the original):

Acting:  16/20
Writing:  30/40
Directing/Editing/Production/Etc:  34/40

Overall:  80/100 B-

Review: Almost the entire film revolves around the babysitter, which means Camilla Belle takes the brunt of the acting in this movie. She's not a bad actress nor an outstanding one and did a pretty solid job. She was pretty believable in her role but she didn't do anything special with it. The most important thing I can say about her performance is that while it didn't add anything special to the film, it also didn't take any value or integrity away from it.

She did have a supporting cast but I doubt that any other character (aside from the Stranger/Caller) was in the film for more than 5 minutes total. All of the supporting cast had similar performances, credible and loyal to their roles.

The plot of the script is very accurate to the most common versions of the legend and does a great job turning that "short story" into a full-length movie, without losing any of the suspense. That being said, there wasn't too much creativity in the script, as most of it does come straight from the legend.

The flow and pacing of the film go well with the overall suspense in the movie. The soundtrack was like the acting - appropriate but not outstanding.

Spoiler Alert! 

The beginning is pretty forgettable, as it's only loosely connected to the overall plot and somewhat confusing. This "creative writing" didn't really pay off. By contrast, the ending is very unforgettable however, and leaves the right impression at the end of a horror film.

This film did have an interesting under-current of "female competitiveness", which was pretty interesting and entertaining, such as the babysitter dealing with her "party-girl" friend trying to steal her boyfriend and Mrs. Mandrakis making a comment about her kids compared to the kids that Jill usually babysits for.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall this film was a good Hollywood-stylized take on the now-famous "babysitter" urban legend.

(2.) Compared To Original:

Acting:  14/20
Writing:  13/40
Directing/Editing/Production/Etc:  37/40

Overall:  64/100 D

Review: This version makes A LOT of references to the original - from keeping the same character names for the babysitter and parents of the children being babysat, to the babysitter taking ice cream out of the fridge when checking and "securing" the house.

In addition, the woman who plays Mrs. Mandrakis physically resembles Carol Kane, the main detective in this film physically resembles the detective in the original and even the Stranger in this film physically resembles Curt Duncan from the original.

Camilla Belle does a much better acting job than Carol Kane, undoubtedly.

Spoiler Alert! 

Even though Belle does a better job - and has a bigger role - than Kane, she only gives a consistently decent performance. The Stranger is hardly shown in this film and doesn't have much of a performance to give - unlike in the original version.

This version of the film focuses solely on the legend itself, whereas the legend was only the first 20 minutes of the original film. As a result, this version is not nearly as creative and entertaining as the original. There is really something to be said about the originality in the script and the performance of Tony Beckley as Curt Duncan in the original film; These factors make the original a much more timeless-classic than this newer version, especially by comparison.

The writing in this version took no risks, and the result was a more consistent script than the original but less of a long-lasting impression. By comparison to the first 20 minutes of the original film, this version only really improved in the acting department - otherwise it was just a longer version of the same thing with less impact.

Speaking of no risks, this newer version was also a sign of the times. Most sane and decent people do not like to see kids dying but that's exactly what makes this folk legend such a scary and timeless one. Part of the impact of the original film was the fact that the kids were killed by The Stranger. It made his character that much more frightening. In this newer version, they do show a sped-up version of this in the beginning, but it goes by so quickly and with such little background that you almost miss it. It's a quick prelude that didn't build up enough suspense transitioning into the storyline with Camilla Belle. It would've been better to play out the calls with the "first" babysitter, rather than for her to not be able to find them - yet the officers found some kind of mess in the kids' bedroom. So this entire beginning was kind of confusing and not as consistent with the rest of the script.

The Stranger in this version is also a let-down in comparison to the Curt Duncan character in the original. It's understandable that the newer version had a phenomenal performance to contend with, that would likely not be upstaged, but the decision to replace it with a Michael Myers type version instead was a real bummer.

After seeing the original, you even miss the detective's performance as it was such a compelling character.

End of Spoiler Alert!

All of that being said, the newer version is definitely an improvement where you'd expect it to be the most, in the directing/editing/producing departments. This newer film is visually done in a much more stylized, Hollywood manner that has a lot of entertainment value. That being said, it loses some of the "authentic" look that the older version has, which is a shame as the "authentic" look worked better for this kind of scary story and added more of a timeless feel/quality to it.

Overall this newer version really lacks in originality of script, characters and performance compared to the original - yet is still watchable as a tribute to the original legend and film. However, if possible, I'd recommend watching the newer version before watching the original version, so as to enjoy both more. (Otherwise watching the original will very likely ruin the newer one for you by comparison.)

*Link to Original 1979 Version*

Overall Score As Original + Remake Together:
Acting:  15/20
Writing:  21/40
Directing/Editing/Production/Etc:  36/40

Overall:  72/100 C-

Monday, July 24, 2017

When A Stranger Calls (1979) [R]

Director: Fred Walton
Writer: Steve Feke & Fred Walton
Starring: 
Tony Beckley as Curt Duncan
Charles Durning as John Clifford
Carol Kane as Jill Johnson
Colleen Dewhurst as Tracy Fuller

Synopsis: The legendary scary story about the babysitter who gets a call to "check on the children", comes to the screen in this creative adaptation.

Acting:  17/20

Writing:  31/40
Directing/Editing/Production/Etc:  27/40

Overall:  75/100 C

Review: Carol Kane did not really prove why she deserved to be in Hollywood with this performance. There were a couple scenes where she really hit her mark and did a good job, but all of her other scenes were the opposite: very mediocre and unconvincing.  The rest of the cast did a great job though.

Spoiler Alert! 

I'm not quite sure why Carol Kane is billed as the star of the film as she's hardly in it and isn't very good in it. I suppose at the time this film came out, it was a twist that the film would follow the "private detective" and the murderer more than the babysitter and the murderer etc. That being said, she did do a better job playing the mother at the end than she did the babysitter in the beginning - particularly the scene in the restaurant on the phone.

The real star of this film, was Tony Beckley as the psychotic murderer. He genuinely captured an insane man and portrayed him in a way that was much more realistic than the more common Hollywood route of showing people who are insane. The way they showed his descent back into madness after experience "shock-therapy" a total of 38x over 6 years was actually very realistic and compelling. From the writing to the acting to the way it was shot, all of the scenes involving this character were very well-done, particularly where he was being reborn into the "monster" that he had been.

Charles Durning as the officer-turned-private detective/hit-man, also did a great job playing his character. It wasn't outstanding but it was very convincing, the second-best performance in the line-up.

Colleen Dewhurst as the potential victim and/or romantic-interest of Curt Duncan did a decent job as well. Nothing great but still better than Carol Kane's performance in some scenes.

Sort of like the acting, the writing had some extreme highs and extreme lows. The originality and creativity if the writing of this film needs to be commended. I went into this film expecting the entire thing to be about the original Babysitter-Caller legend yet it was only about the first 20 minutes of the film. Taking this route actually made the film even more exciting, as well as bringing it back full-circle to Carol Kane's character as the mother out for a date instead of being the babysitter.

The fact that the film went so much into the character of the psychotic killer and followed his descent into madness - along with the ex-cop trying to hunt him along the way - was very riveting.

Unfortunately, there were a few plot holes that really took away from the quality and consistency of this film. The idea that Curt Duncan was able to find the babysitter at the end of the film - as well as wanting to, almost out of nowhere instead of having that desire the entire time - was not very credible. Jill Johnson was supposed to be married with kids now, so she presumably changed her name so how could Duncan have known what that name would be to be able to find her? The edit to this didn't explain anything about how he found her which is a shame because it could've easily been done. For example: Durning was already going after Duncan and knew he was loose. It would be reasonable for Duncan to start stalking Durning, since he knows he is trying to kill him and Duncan's already a stalker. If Durning got into contact with Jill Johnson to see if she had been contacted at all by Duncan, it could've been the perfect way for Duncan to have found Jill, through following Durning.

Furthermore, the fact that Duncan didn't try to stalk and kill Durning after he knew that Durning was after him, was illogical as well. It's odd that he just ran away from Durning and randomly decided to go back after Jill Johnson. In addition, the fact that Duncan went after Jill and her husband before her kids was also inconsistent with his character. I think a more accurate and even more frightening ending would've been if Jill Johnson had come back completely full-circle to find her kids slaughtered by Duncan with the babysitter running out - just as she had before.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The film did a great job of keeping the suspense building and creating a very suspenseful atmosphere with the right pace, etc. However, there were some scenes that were very characteristic of B-movies. A fight scene where fists obviously weren't making contact and blood randomly appears out of nowhere with inconsistent injuries, along with a shooting scene that doesn't match up when taking in the angles and positions into account, were some classic production mistakes. The music had some great moments of adding to the film but there were also some moments that it wasn't so great and took away from the scenes just a bit. 

Overall this film was very suspenseful and original - despite being based on a common urban legend. It's not one of the best films ever done but it's definitely still worth a watch, especially if you're a horror or movie fan in general.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Nerve (2016) [PG-13]

Director: Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman
Writer: Jessica Sharzer
Starring: 
Emma Roberts as Venus "Vee" Delmonico
Dave Franco as Ian/Sam
Miles Heizer as Tommy
Emily Meade as Sydney
Machine Gun Kelly/Colson Baker as Ty
Brian Marc as J.P.
Juliette Lewis as Nancy

Synopsis: When a high school girl starts to feel like her future is crumbling, she turns to the newest social media trend: An online dare-game called "Nerve". Will it give her what's been missing in her life or will it take away what little she has left?

Acting:  18/20

Writing:  38/40
Directing/Editing/Production/Etc:  36/40

Overall:  92/100 A-

Although this film is very much done in a high school-style, the cast does a better job than your average high school play actors. Every single cast member delivers a solid performance in this film and does justice to their characters - which were consistent and believable.

Though his role is more of a side character than leading character, Miles Heizer does an outstanding job with his performance. Talented actors will shine whether they are in the spotlight or not and Heizer definitely shines in this film. He really gives himself over to the character and captures a lot of nuance for an unknown actor.

This film delivers an excellent social commentary about social media and the youth today. Not only does this show in the overall plot, but the film is also rich with symbolism and subtle references.

Review: Spoiler Alert! 

The symbolism and negative foreshadowing in regards to the Nerve game was executed brilliantly:

  • First introduction to the game is a video that is very reminiscent of "brain-washing" videos. This symbolizes the inherent malicious nature of the game.
  • After the introductory video for the game plays, it ends by repeating "Watcher or Player? Watcher or Player?" in an assertive manner, showing the inherent peer-pressure nature of social media.
  • A recurring theme we see in the game, primarily for the first dare, is the willingness to embarrass and/or debase oneself. (Sydney = Mooning the Audience; Venus = Kissing a Stranger; etc.) This was very symbolic of how people have become so obsessed with wealth and fame today, that they will do anything to get it - including losing their dignity (the first thing to go when one becomes greedy and superficial).
  • Just like any other social media app out there right now, the game is able to download your personal information - which the game then uses to customize your dares, just like Pandora uses your picks to customize your music "stations".
  • The constant watching and commentary from watchers was a great allusion to the fact that too many young people today care too much about what other people think. They are living more for other people and what other people want, rather than being unique and more independent.
  • The game seems to be an emotional outlet for people; Just like social media itself.
  • Venus' decision to play the game "because it's not like her" is very symbolic of all of the people who go online because they don't really like themselves and/or their own lives - hence they often use social media to escape and sometimes, pretend to be someone else.
  • The way Tommy responded to recording Venus's first dare, saying "Jeez. Why do I feel embarrassed?" was a remarkable way of showing how both "viewers" and "players" are negatively affected by the game - as both are still participating in it. This is symbolic of how people can be negatively effected by social media even if they are just looking at other people's pages etc. and not as proactively posting things themselves.
  • The game led people into the city where there are more users, people, action, possibilities and trouble for the "players" as well as more "watchers". This was very symbolic of how people naturally coalesce and how this can sometimes be used against them. This was also symbolic of nothing drawing the crowd more, than the crowd itself. (Bandwagon Effect.)
  • Even though Venus and Ian had instant, natural chemistry between them; The game came first and dictated their choices more than themselves. This was symbolic of how young people today focus more on the "status" of their relationships, rather than the more genuine and substantial elements to it.
  • The game choosing a tattoo as one of the dares, was very symbolic of how some choices you make involving social media can have long-term impacting consequences; As well as how whenever you post something online, it stays there (in the internet) forever.
  • As players, Venus and Ian didn't realize that their phones were automatically recording and streaming them live; Just as most people are not aware that their modernized phones and laptops etc. can do the exact same thing. (See Snowden film.)
  • As Sydney was doing the "ladder-height" dare, the opinions being shouted around her varied all along the spectrum; Just as social media gives a voice to opinions from all along the spectrum. (Her real friends all wanted her not to go through with the dare, because they actually cared more about her life than the game and her "status".) 
  • When Sydney was on the ladder, she kept being told she has to "walk" across the ladder, which was awful advice as that makes it more dangerous not less, just as strangers online can give you similar awful advice (especially when they don't personally know you or are just saying what you want to hear).
  • The fact that Venus had ignored her mom throughout the film until "it was too late" and she had already broken the rules of the game, was very symbolic of all of the kids online who venture into trouble and never say anything about it to their parents until "it's too late" and the damage has already been done. (Also a great argument for why parents should regulate their children's social media "lives" more.)
  • In order for anyone to win "1st place" they had to be willing to give their lives (ladder dare, laying on the train tracks dare, hanging from the construction crane dare, etc.) - this was foreshadowing to the "final round".
  • The "prisoner" concept was very clever because it had the proper information for blackmail (believable) and it made sense that the game would want to use a "default player" to get things started and "lead the way for others to follow" to ensure the game continues after each "round" is over (logical).
  • The message on the Ferry Terminal, as well as other aspects of the film, were very reminiscent of the movie The Game. In fact, this film seemed to be a modern take on that film in some ways.
  • The final round was very symbolic of the Roman Colosseum - a structured, group-oriented setting to hurt others for sport and entertainment; Just like the online world offers a structured, group-oriented setting to hurt others for sport and entertainment.
  • The speech that Venus gave in the final round had a lot of allusions to the great film, Network, especially the way she exposed the reality of the situation.
  • When the crowd rejected Venus' speech and chose anarchy instead, this was a great allusion to the book and film, Lord of the Flies.
  • In order for the scheme in the finale to actually work, it was imperative that Ian's character not know the truth - because they needed to sell this performance as authentically as possible. Some directors use this tactic in their films and they withhold information about the script from their actors because they believe this will result in a more genuine delivery.
  • The scheme that Venus and Ty were able to pull off was brilliant because it forced the watchers to learn "perception vs. reality". They all said they wanted to see her get shot and killed. Yet when it happened and the veil was lifted, and the time came for them to stand by their actions, they all scurried away and withdrew from the game. They didn't want to continue once they could see the potential consequences for their actions; they didn't want to continue once the facade was down.
  • Just like many of the things on social media, the little act that Venus and Ty put on, along with the bullet and blood, were all "fake" - just an act. 

The symbolism wasn't reserved to the game though. Sydney, the adrenaline-junkie and first Nerve "player" we see in the film, had the words "Teenage Dirtbag" on her phone. She is the one who peer-pressures Venus into playing the game and doesn't ever take accountability for her own actions. When she approached JP "for" Venus, it may have been coming from a good place but it completely blew up in her face when JP was more interested in her than Venus. Instead of acknowledging that she made a big mistake, she tried to blame JP and call him the jerk, even though he was not rude and actually pretty polite about the situation. It wasn't his fault that he wasn't interested in Venus nor that Sydney put him "on the spot" in front of everyone. Also, just like the game, Sydney had no boundaries and cared more about what she wanted than her friends (or in terms of the game, the players). She also had no qualms about whatever the game was asking her to do, as she embraced the game (i.e. farting challenge, obsession with viewers, etc.). She embodied the worst of the modern, social media-obsessed teenagers. After being embarrassed by Venus' "confession", it was typical "teenage dirtbag" and self-destructive behavior for her to hook up with J.P. and purposefully try to hurt Venus - who hadn't known she was being recorded and wasn't trying to hurt Sydney. In fact, Sydney actually did the very kind of things that Venus had just been complaining about - reinforcing herself as a "bad" girl rather than choosing to accept responsibility and make better choices. Even by the end of the film, Sydney was blaming Ian for getting Venus "into this mess in the first place," even though she was far more at fault for Venus getting involved than Ian was. By contrast, Venus accepted responsibility for her own actions and said "I got me into this mess"- which is why she's the one who defeated the game and got her happy ending.

The "cat fight" scene between Venus and Sydney being purely verbal and not physical was very sensational and compelling. It really showed how much power words of truth can have over violence, especially between females. This was a fantastic modernized version of the cliche cat fight - especially with the line, "You're one of those girls that peaks in high school"! (In my opinion, this was far more entertaining than the cliche physical cat fight.)

The fact that Venus' name was "Venus" was a great allusion to the modern self-esteem model going on with young people nowadays. We keep telling young people that they're all going to be "the best". Naming your kid after a Roman God is definitely putting a lot of pressure/expectation of your child to be "greater than average".

The film also does a good job setting up Venus' situation in the beginning and how easily children can become victims of single mothers. While her mother has no malicious intent, Venus still has the burden that most children of single mothers have when they reach adulthood: when the single mom wants the child-now-adult to make sacrifices for the "family", rather than the other way around. As expected, Juliette Lewis does her usually excellent job at playing the bad mom (see Hysterical Blindness film) - trying to force her fantasy about the situation on her daughter, by saying she'll be her "college roommate". (Yikes!)

When Venus meets "Ian" and he is holding her favorite book, it was brilliant the way she immediately apologized after offering such an intellectual discussion about it. This was very symbolic of how many in the social media generation prefer superficiality to substance and how she felt the need to apologize for saying something smart and stimulating - something previous generations didn't experience as they weren't so anti-intellectual.

The character of Tommy as the best friend - with a crush on the lead - was great symbolism of what has happened to a lot of young men today. He was dressed in traditional clothes from a previous era and represented the traditional "voice of reason". He was also the first to be suspicious of the game's intentions, manipulations and capabilities. However, as with many males in the Millennial and younger generations, he had lost a lot of his masculinity. He had traded a lot of masculinity for a more sensitive/passiveness, and unfortunately, it didn't get him the girl - though he did "save the day" and put an end to the game (and he seemed to have a shot with Sydney at the end). Even when he did try to be more assertive and stand up for Venus by speaking for her, it wasn't done right and came off more offensive and "crossing-the-line". He hadn't honed the skills of when to put his foot down and how etc.

Tommy's character was also an interesting contrast to Ian/Sam's. Ian was clearly not as smart as Tommy but he was much more suave and masculine overall. The chemistry between the two - primarily the reactions in Tommy's character to Ian's character - was exceptional. Heizer did such a good job playing the jealous role and delivered his lines with brilliant nuance ("I'm sorry I'm sitting here.") The entire diner scene between these two from beginning to end was hilarious. From the "It's a dare" response to "He thought those were our fries", Heizer really delivered in his performance, primarily when it came to subtlety. This also showed how most women still choose masculinity (Ian) over other qualities in men (Tommy), instinctually (her previous crush JP, was an athlete).

Even though Venus was very interested in Ian, it was ironic that she tried to push her friend Sydney in her place - which probably had something to do with the fact that she just saw that JP would have rather chosen Sydney over herself. This was very symbolic of how many "good" girls today feel inferior to the "bad" girls that are more sexually proactive and confident. It also shows how young girls today know too little about the difference between when a guy is looking for "party girls" and when a guy is looking for a "steady girl".

I also liked how the film showed that Venus and Ian were abundantly awkward at first whenever they were in person, showing why a lot of young people today just choose social media instead of more personal forms of communication (since they have the option).

"White people problems" was a great little nuanced commentary of how sometimes racism comes from non-White people to White people. When the black man heard Lewis saying "someone's sending me money?" and responded with "white people problems" without any context to the situation, it showed how he immediately assumed that it must have been a racial thing and that there could be no negatives associated with it. In reality, just minutes later the film was showing how Venus, a white girl, experienced prejudice from both a white man and woman about not being able to afford the expensive clothing in the store when she was asking for the dress - and she really couldn't afford it! (Not to mention that the money was tied to this sinister game that could cost you your life.)

There was also some allusions to the "power of anonymity", which were also executed brilliantly:
  • Since Venus and Ian didn't know their phones were recording their conversation, it allowed the unfiltered truth to come out (about Sydney having a "revolving door of guys" and how Venus thought "it's sad, really" because she's the one who's really "insecure".
  • By the finals round, the "Watchers" were wearing masks and bandanas to cover their identity - very similar to the modern emotional fascists aka ANTIFA.
  • Venus' speech exposed the "watchers" as being responsible in their own ways for participating, despite the fact that they wore these masks to make them brave and feel like they weren't responsible.

This movie did indulge in some classic Hollywood liberties (though it did provide some balance when showing all of the "fails" which outnumbered these following successes):

  • The entire bike scene where the couple did not get hurt or crash, even with Ian being blindfolded and getting up to 60mph was completely unbelievable - including the ending of that scene.
  • The entire ladder-height scene (with both girls) was very unbelievable, primarily when Venus was able to walk across - even if she is petite size.
  • Ty living through the train scene was very unbelievable.

Juliette Lewis' quote near the end, "you guys are the dumbest, smartest kids I ever met" was a great statement about the youth today. In some ways, they are very smart and have a ton of knowledge and education at the tip of their fingertips, which gives them a lot of potential; On the other hand, they make a lot of bad decisions and too often act impulsively, self-centeredly and carelessly (not thinking of potential long-term outcomes).

Ending the film by having Venus texting/emailing Sam "No more phones... I'd rather just see you" and getting confirmation to meet up before signing offline, was probably the best possible way to end the film.

End of Spoiler Alert!

This film had a surprising amount of witty quips that were very funny and always delivered perfectly.

The movie's lowest point is honestly it's soundtrack. Yikes! Most of the music was pretty awful and corny in the worst way. That being said, I do think there was a point to it, as the music was obviously lacking in artistic feel and talent; just like Millennials and younger so far have been lacking in artistic feel and talent (as a Generation compared to previous ones). With all of the other symbolism and allusions going on in this film, I don't think it's far-fetched to think the music was decided on, along the same lines.

Overall this film was a phenomenal social commentary on the social media generation. A surprisingly thought-provoking teen film with compelling performances.