Episode #162: Mulaney (1x3): ‘Halloween’
Original Airdate: October 19, 2014
Summary: The gang thinks their dead neighbor’s ghost is haunting them after John steals his jokes for the show.
Year 2, Day 293
Movie #334~1,050: The Tortured (2010)
Killing him isn’t punishment enough.
Plot: An upper-middle-class couple’s life is destroyed when their only child is kidnapped and killed. Obsessed with revenge, the couple seizes an opportunity to kidnap the killer.
Review: I think this movie had the intentions of being one of those ‘thinking’ movies that makes the audience ponder what they would do if they were in a situation like Elise and Craig. What would you do? What could you do? And while it’s not going to be shown in any ethics class anytime soon, I think The Tortured is a decent revenge thriller.
It is not entirely plausible (and the twist ending literally made me groan out loud) and some of the more gory scenes are gratuitous but it is watchable. This is thanks in large part to the performances from the leads. Erika Christensen and Jesse Metcalfe were truly convincing as grieving parents struggling to come to terms with the violent loss of their young son. The script itself was pretty cliche but they managed to rise above it and I could see how this film could have crashed and burned if the casting had gone a different way.
The story itself is not original and some of the flashbacks (alright, all of the flashbacks) come off as trite but I would still rate this one (slightly) above average. It’s not as cerebral as the writers tried to make it and it’s really not bringing anything new to the ‘horror’ table but it is decent enough for at least a one time watch.
Episode #161: Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2x4): ‘Halloween II’
Original Airdate: October 19, 2014
Summary: As part of an annual Halloween bet, Jake plans to steal Capt. Holt’s watch before midnight. Elsewhere, Gina gets kicked off her dance team.
Year 2, Day 292
Movie #333~1,049: The Stuff (1985)
Are you eating it or is it eating you?
Plot: A delicious mysterious goo that oozes from the Earth is marketed as the newest dessert sensation. But the tasty treat rots more than teeth when zombie-like snackers who only want to consume more of the strange substance at any cost begin infesting the world.
Review: So, this is clearly a corny, ridiculous 80’s horror movie that is more hilariously awkward than genuinely scary. But after the serious, dark films I have seen over the past few days, this light hearted, silly movie was a nice little break.
This movie starts off with one of the most ridiculous opening scenes I have ever experienced. A group of miners discover this mysterious white substance oozing from the Earth. Alright, believable enough for a sci-fi horror premise. But then one of the guys just casually starts eating this mysterious substance! Because why not? Wouldn’t you eat something that you can’t identify that’s just oozing out of the ground?
Apparently, this ooze tastes delicious and, because we live in a world of commercialism, ‘The Stuff’ is marketed and sold as a law-calorie dessert. But because of its addictive nature, a large group of people become obsessed with the treat. Calling them ‘zombies’ is a bit of an exaggeration but their desire for ‘The Stuff’ certainly takes over their lives and they single out anyone who refuses to eat it or questions why it seems to move on its own. (Seriously, it moves on its own and people still eat it like its ice cream.)
My favorite parts of the film were the cheese-tastic 80’s commercials selling ‘The Stuff’. We have models in fur coats, dancers in leggings, and the best synthesized slogan 1985 had to offer. I can’t even put into words how fabulously cheesy this whole thing is. It falls right into the ‘so bad, it’s good’ category because you could literally spend the entire 90 minute runtime making fun of everything that is happening on the screen. Literally everything.
Year 2, Day 291
Movie #332~1,048: Big Driver (2014)
Never tell a writer their work is crap. It brings out the worst in us.
Plot: A famous mystery writer sets out for revenge after a brutal attack.
Review: I really took a chance with this one. Book adaptations are really hit or miss, let alone made-for-TV films, let alone made-for-Lifetime films. But Big Driver was surprisingly effective. This isn’t your mother’s Lifetime, where the typical film consists of a C list actress trying to escape her abusive husband/boyfriend. This is a well produced, well acted, well written movie that went above and beyond my expectations.
Maria Bello is Tess, a mystery writer who finds herself stranded after getting a flat tire on the way home from a speaking engagement. After flagging down someone to help her, she is attacked, sexually assaulted and left for dead. This was the first surprise of the film for me. I was really taken aback by how graphic the rape scene was, especially for cable TV. I understand that it was necessary for that scene in particular to be uncomfortable (and I think by definition all rape/sexual assault scenes are hard to watch) for the audience to understand and empathize with Tess but I couldn’t help but think of how many consensual sex scenes in film or on TV cause the rating to skyrocket (usually ones in which the female is getting most of the pleasure) while scenes like this are permissible. Again, I’m not criticizing the writer/director/movie in general. I just think it’s a sad state of our society what is considered appropriate and acceptable to show in terms of women’s sexuality in film.
This film is an adaptation of Stephen King’s novella of the same name and I can see how it would work well as a book only because of all the inner dialogue Tess utilizes. She spends quite a lot of time alone, thinking out loud, processing what happened to her and what she will do next and the film uses a few techniques to make this a little less awkward. We have Tess conversing with both her GPS (affectionately named Tom) and one of the main characters of her successful book series (played by the ever grand Olympia Dukakis). It took some time for me to take these conversations seriously but it ended up working very well. We were able to get inside Tess’s head and understand her thought process in a way that would come naturally if we were reading a book.
Some people may be turned off from this film simply because it is a Lifetime original but I would definitely recommend it. The more violent scenes may be hard to watch and the resolution may not be entirely plausible but Big Driver offers audience a new perspective on the rape revenge genre. It is not without its issues but this is definitely a movie that will hold your attention and leave you feeling uneasy.
Year 2, Day 291
Movie #331~1,047: Rosemary’s Baby (2014)
I can’t be his mother. I can’t love him.
Plot: Modern 4 hour mini-series adaptation of the classic novel by Ira Levin focusing on young Rosemary Woodhouse’s suspicions that her neighbors may belong to a Satanic cult who are hell bent on getting one thing: the baby she is carrying.
Review: I re-watched the original Rosemary’s Baby in part to freshen my mind before watching this remake. And that was probably a mistake only because I kept comparing the two films and there was no way that the modern version could hold up to the 1968 movie. I could see this mini-series being better received by people who never saw the original or haven’t seen the original recently because otherwise, more time will be spent comparing the two films instead of enjoying the modern retelling.
This is a well done mini-series; it looks sharp, is well acted, and has enough differences from the original story to keep it from being a sad copy. But because it is so much longer (around 3 hours minus all the commercials), there is more time to fill and the feeling of tension and unease that was so prevalent in the 1968 film is really lacking. The first 85 minute episode ends before Rosemary even gets pregnant and I felt like it was too drawn out. On the other hand, the second episode had too much of a load to carry and I thought it was too rushed. I think there could have been a better balance between the two parts to make the story flow better.
Another complaint I have is that the focus isn’t solely on Rosemary. Mia Farrow was in every scene of the original and as a result, the audience was able to connect with her and see things from her perspective. Zoe Saldana did an admirable job but I just didn’t have that same connection with her. There were backstories of other characters and there were several scenes without Rosemary, giving the audience more insight than she had, which took away a lot of the mystery.
On the positive side, I enjoyed the setting change from New York to Paris and for the most part, the story was able to be updated in tact. Of course whenever there are comparisons to a classic movie, the modern retelling will usually end up on the losing end so this mini-series really started off with two strikes against it. But I’m confident that I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I watched it a couple of days ago without the shadow of the 1968 film looming over it.
Year 2, Day 290
Movie #330~1,046: Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
He has his father’s eyes.
Plot: A young couple move into a new apartment, only to be surrounded by peculiar neighbors and occurrences. When the wife becomes mysteriously pregnant, paranoia over the safety of her unborn child begins controlling her life.
Review: I love the tone of this movie. It is dark and macabre and creepy and for a good portion of the time, the audience is not quite sure why. Director Roman Polanski does a fantastic job at building up the suspense in a way that makes the viewers eager to find out what happens next. And even if you’re watching this film for the second or third time (as I did), the tension is still effective and I was just as engrossed watching the story unfold this time around as I was during my first watch a few years ago.
Something else I love about this movie is that the ending (as shocking as it is) isn’t completely out of the blue. Hints are dropped (and flat out explained) throughout the film so the audience is up to speed as to what will befall Rosemary and her baby. The story itself is rather simple but it is the audience’s connection to Rosemary that really brings the film to the next level. It even comes off as rather believable, which makes it even that much more creepy and eerie.
I would recommend Rosemary’s Baby to any movie buff. It is unique and unforgettable and one of the next examples of a tension focused psychological horror film I have seen. Some of the cinematography (and definitely most of the fashion and styling) is dated but the overall integrity of the movie is held in tact and is just as impressive today as it was 46 years ago.
Year 2, Day 289
Movie #329~1,045: Home Movie (2008)
There is no good child. There is no bad child. There is only diagnosis.
Plot: Home movies chronicle a year in the life of the Poe family, showing the dark descent of the two children, Jack and Emily.
Review: I am all for a good ‘creepy kids’ horror movie and the premise of this one was promising. But I really can’t deal with characters that are as mindbogglingly stupid as the parents in this movie. The way they dealt with their obviously disturbed children should be used as a guide as what not to do as a parent. As a result, I spent more time focusing on all the clueless decisions the parents made than the creepy behavior of the creepy kids.
Now, Home Movie is still a decent horror flick. There are some genuinely disturbing scenes and the ‘found footage’ element made it seem more realistic and personal. You could really pretend you were watching a real family’s screwed up home movies. The creepiness is subtle and built up slowly - the filmmakers don’t use Paranormal Activity type tricks to scare the audience, the focus is more on setting the right tone, setting the stage for the surprisingly satisfying final act.
Home Movie is nothing special and probably won’t stick with me long after I’ve watched it but it was entertaining enough for the brief run time. I would have enjoyed it more if the Poe parents weren’t as dense (the mother was a psychologist for crying out loud!) but I guess when it’s your own children, you don’t want to admit that killing small animals and not talking is something to be concerned about. (Spoiler alert: you should be concerned!)
Year 2, Day 286
Movie #328~1,044: Amusement (2008)
He said he just wanted to have some fun.
Plot: Three women are stalked by a killer with a grudge that extends back to the girls’ childhoods.
Review: Like Campfire Tales, I went into this one with pretty low expectations. And also like Campfire Tales, I was pleasantly surprised with the end result. We get four different horror stories for the price of one - the first three vignettes show each of the childhood friends and their experiences with some creepy guy and the fourth ties up the loose ends, bringing the girls together.
Amusement also hits the horror movie trifecta - familiar stories brought to life (although you don’t have to do much to make a man-sized clown in a rocking chair creepy), a fine balance between gross-out gore and genuine tension, and good looking protagonists who make questionable decisions when faced with certain death. It’s not the next big classic and it falls into the stereotypical horror trope traps more often than not but Amusement kept my attention and entertained me.
The biggest complaint I have about horror movies is that the filmmakers have to spread a simple story so thin. But the beauty of anthologies such as this, each plot is wrapped up in less than 30 minutes before things get (too) ridiculous and over the top. And while the stories don’t have much in common and the tie-in story at the end strains credulity, I would call Amusement a successful horror anthology.
Year 2, Day 285
Movie #327~1,043: Campfire Tales (1997)
Is everything okay? ~ I was fine until you scared the shit out of me!
Plot: Anthology of famous, scary urban legends done with a modern twist.
Review: I love me a good horror anthology and Campfire Tales has the added benefits of genuinely creepy stories, cheesy 90’s cinematography, and a handful of familiar faces bringing the horror to life. I was fully expecting to make fun of this movie but I ended up really enjoying it - even the twist ending pleasantly surprised me.
There are four separate stories (five if you include the wraparound plot of the four friends telling scary stories in the woods) and each are well-paced and satisfying on their own. The stories themselves aren’t unique - they are all pretty known urban legends - but they are updated for a modern audience. (At least it was modern in 1997.) My personal favorite was “People Can Lick Too”; a genuinely suspenseful story with one of the creepiest ending scenes ever.
Even if you’re not freaked out by the decades old urban legends in a near decade old movie, it will be fun to watch the young famous faces. We have James Marsden and Amy Smart leading things off with the classic “The Hook”, Christine Taylor and Chris Masterson as two of the kids hanging out around a campfire, and Glenn Quinn (Mark from Roseanne) rounding out the final segment. It’s the perfect movie to watch to play “hey, it’s that guy!” game.
Campfire Tales is pretty low budget and thanks to the computer messaging shown in the third story, it is certainly dated. But it is a fun, entertaining movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is campy and over the top and there are even some real scares thrown in to keep things interesting. This one was a surprise gem and I’m glad I didn’t let my pre-judgements stop me from checking this one out.