Category Archives: 3.5

Carrie (1976)

carrie1976

As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, I’ve only kindled a love for “scary movies” in the last three or four years, so I don’t feel too guilty in admitting that I had never heard of Carrie until earlier this year when I learned of the upcoming re-adaptation of the original Stephen King novel, which I’m actually pretty excited for. To prepare myself, I read King’s book and decided that I needed to watch the “classic” Brian de Palma film before seeing the new film. Thankfully, I was pretty pleased.

Carrie follows the eponymous Carrie White (Sissy Spacek), an outcast who lives with her questionably-sane Christian fundamentalist mother Margaret (Piper Laurie). Her school life isn’t any better, with her classmates teasing and bullying her on a daily basis. She soon discovers that she has telekinetic powers that grow stronger in times of extreme anger or stress. When Sue Snell (Amy Irving), a popular girl who feels guilty for how she treated Carrie, convinces her boyfriend Tommy Ross (William Katt) to ask Carrie to the prom, things seem to be getting better, but when she becomes the victim of a cruel prank pulled by Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen) and Billy Nolan (John Travolta), she unleashes her powers in a huge display of revenge.

I’m surprised by how faithful of an adaptation of the book this film is, at least up until the end. Sissy Spacek plays both sides of her character incredibly well – poor, sweet, innocent Carrie vs. Carrie the exactor of revenge. Her rise and fall during the climactic prom scene is equally satisfying and tragic – to have a happy ending within her reach only to have it snatched away from her so cruelly. The lead-up to and subsequent dump of the bucket of blood is by far the best part of the film; it is so perfectly done, with the emotional stakes so incredibly high. William Katt as her date to the prom, Tommy, is wonderfully quirky and endearing. His initial (understandable) reluctance to ask Carrie to prom and his growth into a young man who treats Carrie so well actually made me feel proud of him. His brief time spent in her company is enjoyable for everyone; with apparent ease he alleviates all of her anxiety and makes us come to love both him and to see Carrie for who she is – a girl who wants nothing more than to fit in. Another great performance comes from Piper Laurie as Carries mother. Her eccentricity is palpable as we watch her force Carrie into a closet to pray for forgiveness or as she tells her daughter how she was conceived in sin. Her first appearance in the film, visiting the parent of one of Carrie’s schoolmates to talk about God, seems innocent enough until she reveals how insane her beliefs are, which is what makes the character interesting here.

The actors who play Sue, Chris, and Billy all do a decent job, but one casualty of the film’s only 98-minute run time is that much of the focus placed on these three characters in the book is lost. In fact, the story in the book alternates telling the story from the perspectives of not only Carrie, but Sue, Chris, and Billy as well. These three actors, including a not-yet-famous John Travolta, could have had much larger roles in the film and really had a chance to show their talents had the film had a longer run time. An advantage that the book has over the film is the ability to treat the reader to the characters’ inner monologues so that we can understand their intentions and feel their emotions as they do. I wish that the ending of the film had been more accurate to the book because it is the climax of the story: Carrie’s revenge. In the book, she goes on an all-out rampage, starting with the students at the school and expanding into the town itself, leaving a death toll of over 400 people in her wake. The destruction she causes is substantially reduced in the film, likely due to budgetary concern.

One storytelling technique that the book uses is inserting clippings from books written by scientists studying “the Carrie White affair” or even from a memoir by Sue Snell. These inserts forecast the events that are to come and hint at who lives, who dies, and explore the implications of someone developing telekinetic powers. In one sense, I’m glad that the filmmakers took this out because 1) it would be difficult to fit into a film and 2) it left the events in the film to be a mystery, but I have to admit that I missed this aspect of the book a bit. The music in the film is pretty good; I don’t own the score or remember anything in particular standing out to me, but it certainly wasn’t bad. The only thing I have to say about the music is that the composer, Pino Donaggio, was definitely channeling his inner Bernard Hermann – his musical motif for Carrie’s telekinetic powers evokes memories of the screeching violins from the shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho…this was probably intentional, of course.

Overall, though I seem to have torn this apart for its inaccuracies from the book, I have understood for a long time that books and their film adaptations have to be accepted as entirely different entities, so I really enjoyed the movie and can understand why it’s a classic. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to wipe the image of Carrie’s demented, blood-covered face from my mind. Sissy Spacek nails the role here, and the rest of the cast pull together an admirable adaptation of a great Stephen King book…though I’m certainly hoping that the re-adaptation is better. We’ll see!

-Chad

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: R


RED 2 (2013)

NOTE: Review originally written for and posted at MovieByte.com. To see this post and check out the guys over at MovieByte, click here!
RED 2

RED, a 2010 film starring Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, and Helen Mirren, was great because it brought something new to the table: older actors, most not known for starring in action films, coming together to create an action film that works as both a good action film and as a good comedy too. However, I was slightly concerned for the sequel; could the filmmakers capture what was special about the first film without rehashing it in the second? Luckily, I think that they (mostly) pulled it off.

RED 2 picks up where the first film left off, with Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and now-girlfriend Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) trying to live a normal life together. However, Frank’s efforts to keep Sarah safe and out of harm’s way fail when the pair are sucked into a plot to find a nuclear device that was lost in Russia several years ago. Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) and Victoria Winslow (Helen Mirren) are back to help, with a blast from Frank’s past returning as well – Katya, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, who is described as “Frank Moses’ kryptonite.” It’s a race against the clock as the team tries to find the weapon while trying to avoid assassination attempts by “the world’s number one contract killer,” Han J0-Bae (Lee Byung-Hun).

It’s nice to see the original cast return, although I must admit that Morgan Freeman’s character is a missed presence. Bruce Willis as Frank brings back a lot of the interesting back and forth of being a stone-cold killer and someone in love, which brings some more humor to the table. Mary-Louise Parker as Sarah is mostly great, but I did think that the character was a bit too over-the-top eccentric at times. Most of that, however, can be blamed on the presence of Catherine Zeta-Jones character, Katya, who I didn’t like at all. I didn’t like the rivalry between her and Sarah, which felt forced at times, such as in the car chase scene. I understand that there needed to be a reason to create tension between Sarah and Frank, but I thought that it had already been established pretty well by showing Frank’s worry at Sarah’s involvement and apprehension at her carrying a gun, something that resolved appropriately later in the film. Oh well. Anyway, John Malkovich as Marvin and Helen Mirren as Victoria are probably my favorite two characters of the film; Marvin is kooky in all the right ways, and seeing Helen Mirren firing guns out both windows of a car (see image above) is worth ticket price. Anthony Hopkins makes an appearance as well as Dr. Edward Bailey, a wonderfully quirky character who has a surprise or two up his sleeves. I was a little iffy on my opinion of him at first, but he certainly grew on me and became one of my favorite parts of the film.

Very little of the humor in the film feels forced, making the conversations and interactions between characters feel natural. Many of the jokes are brought about by the different worldview that these characters have compared to normal people; for example, Marvin’s negative observation at the start of the film about how Frank “[hasn’t] killed anyone in months” or Frank’s gift of a personalized handgun to Sarah being seen as a romantic gesture. Some of the humor is even pretty tongue-in-cheek, such as when Victoria infiltrates an insane asylum by eccentrically declaring herself “the Queen of England,” a reference to Helen Mirren’s arguably most famous role as Queen Elizabeth II in the 2006 film The Queen. Composer Alan Silvestri’s score is entertaining as well, despite it being completely different than anything I’ve heard from him before. He does a great job with creating music that drives the film forward without intruding on what’s happening on-screen.

I have a couple of spoiler-y dislikes that I won’t discuss here, but, in the grand scheme of things, they aren’t all that important. What IS important, though, is that, despite not being as good overall as the first film, it is still just as fun, bringing lots of laughs along the way. There is a nice twist at the end of the film that I honestly didn’t see coming, which is always nice, the stylized scene changes are well-done and appropriately comic book-esque, and it takes what was fun about the first film and does something new with it. It all boils down to this: if you liked the first film, then RED 2 is definitely worth checking out.

-Chad

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for pervasive action and violence including frenetic gunplay, and for some language and drug material


Despicable Me 2 (2013)

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With the surprising heart and incredibly potent humor found in the first film (my review), Despicable Me 2 was one of my most anticipated animated films of the year. Thankfully, it largely entertains and rises up to the bar set by its predecessor.

Despicable Me 2 picks up after the events of the first film with Gru (Steve Carell), having given up on his life of crime, now in full-time father mode to Agnes (Elsie Fisher), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Margo (Miranda Cosgrove). However, things might change when he is approached by Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) and Silas Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan) of the Anti-Villain League, who need Gru to help them stop another villain who has stolen an entire secret research facility with a giant flying magnet. Deciding to help, Gru must discover who this mysterious villain is while struggling with his new role as protective father to three girls, and he might even find love along the way!

This film leaves me with a few disappointments. I am a bit saddened by the diminished role of the three girls here, especially by the lack of lines from Edith. As the middle child, she’s not the focus of the three; Gru is wary of Margo growing older and becoming interested in boys, which plays a significant part in the film, and Agnes as the youngest wants to have a mother, leaving Edith to only occasionally comment. If that seems like a lot, throw the girls trying to get Gru in the dating game and a plot involving Gru attempting to catch a villain into the mix as well, making this a short film with three significant plot points. I think the movie could have stood to be longer in order to fit all of these in without it feeling rushed (as it sometimes did); all of these are important to Gru’s character growth in the film, but it was sometimes too much. The final confrontation with the villain felt a little rushed as well, with the conflict resolving just a bit too quickly (and easily) for my liking.

All of these issues are forgiven, though, because, in spite of all of that, I had quite a bit of fun while watching. The humor present in the first film is back with a vengeance this time around, with the antics of the Minions being even funnier without it being too much of a good thing like Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow has been in the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Kristen Wiig is a welcome new presence as Lucy, with her slightly off-kilter character bringing a lot of fun to the screen and allowing Carell as Gru the opportunity to have a new character to play jokes off of. The relationship between these two characters builds well, with the chemistry working out quite nicely. Elsie Fisher is back as Agnes, and, though you can hear in her slightly older voice that it has been a few years since the first film, she’s as adorable as always.

Despite my disappointments and thoughts on the film being a bit cramped, this film is just too much fun to hold its problems against it too harshly. My screening of the movie was packed with children, and, although I was a bit wary at first, it made my watching experience even better…there are few things better than hearing lots of kids having so much (appropriate) fun at the movies. The jokes are still hilarious, the characters are still lovable, the heart is still present, and the music by Pharrell Williams and Heitor Pereira is just as lively, making Despicable Me 2 a worthy sequel.

-Chad

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG – for rude humor and mild action


Iron Man 3 (2013)

Note: This will be as spoiler-free as I can possibly make it. If there’s something I just can’t avoid, I will warn you before you read on.

To say that Iron Man 3 was an anticipated film would be an incredible understatement. Marvel’s first follow-up to last year’s incredible The Avengers (my review), this film had quite the expectation to live up to. Did it? For the most part, I think so.

Iron Man 3 picks up presumably a few months after the events of The Avengers, with Tony and Pepper back home in Malibu, but something’s different…Tony can’t sleep. Haunted by the alien invasion in New York and determined to protect “the one thing [he] can’t live without,” Pepper, Tony spends all of his time designing and building new Iron Man suits and fighting off panic attacks. To put things in perspective, the suit in The Avengers was Mark VII, while his newest suit in this film is the Mark XLII (that’s 42, for those not versed in Roman numerals). When a terrorist calling himself The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) hits Tony close to home, he must overcome his personal struggles in order to protect the woman he loves and to stop the imminent threat of The Mandarin. Along the way, we are introduced to blasts from Tony’s past, including Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen and Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian.

Much like Christopher Nolan’s final film in his Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises (my review), this is an Iron Man film with more Tony Stark than Iron Man (in fact, there are quite a few comparisons that could be made to The Dark Knight Rises, but I’ll save those for another time) – but don’t worry, there are still plenty of great moments with the suit. I personally really enjoyed seeing more of Tony Stark as Robert Downey, Jr. Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark, as we see a more humanized version of the character. He is a real person who struggles with real people problems just like you and me, bringing  an interesting contrast between Tony Stark as Tony Stark and Tony Stark as Iron Man and a lot more to the table than just RDJ flying around in a suit behind a mask. He has a scene or two with Don Cheadle as Col. Rhodes in which both men are without their suits and are forced to rely on their own abilities and instincts to solve their problems rather than rely on their armor. RDJ’s likability in the role shines brightly throughout the film, with another side of the character coming out with the introduction of a new character, a boy named Harley (Ty Simpkins). Harley’s father left him seven years previously, and his mother works at night, so he is often alone. When Tony Stark steps into his life, he’s dragged into Tony’s mission. Stark treats Harley like an adult, which, though it sometimes means he makes snarky or “rude” comments (including a quip about how leaving is what fathers do and that he should man up and suck it up), it shows that Stark respects Harley enough to speak with him honestly and as an equal. The banter between these two characters works incredibly well, with their time onscreen together being some of the best moments of the film. Guy Pearce does an admirable job in his role, though I don’t want to delve too much into his character…spoilers and all that.

Almost every film comes with its disappointments, and Iron Man 3 is no exception. The funniest film of the three, I actually thought that the writers tried to bring too much humor to the table, with some of it feeling forced or unnecessary. I don’t want an Iron Man film that is taken 100% seriously, but I do think that the film as a whole could have survived with fewer attempts at getting a laugh. For reasons that I won’t list here, I was very disappointed with Ben Kingsley’s character, The Mandarin, and, while I thought that Guy Pearce did a decent job as a sort of supplemental villain, a better Mandarin would have been preferred. Lastly, Gwyneth Paltrow, though she does a fine job as a dramatic actress, is not an action star and should not have ever been given the opportunity. That being said, the chemistry between her and Downey, Jr. is palpable and never feels canned, instead flowing rather naturally between the two actors in a great way.

I didn’t fully flesh out my complaints due to spoilers, but, as I said, I enjoyed the film for the most part; in any case, it was a huge improvement over the awful Iron Man 2, so we should all rejoice for that. Six years after the release of the first Iron Man film, Robert Downey, Jr. continues to slip as effortlessly into the role now as he did then, and it manages to be a worthy followup to The Avengers. With decent performances all around and an enjoyable score from Brian Tyler, Iron Man 3 pleases for the most part and leaves me hoping that we see plenty more of Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark in the future.

-Chad

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content


Clue (1985)

I probably first became acquainted with Clue, the film adaptation of the Parker Brothers board game, due to my interest in Christopher Lloyd (Back to the FutureWho Framed Roger Rabbit), who plays Professor Plum. I’ve owned it on DVD for several years, introducing it to various friends who always seem to walk away having really enjoyed it, and for a good reason…it’s too much fun.

The movie opens with the arrival of the butler, Wadsworth, played by Tim Curry, to a giant mansion, followed shortly by all of the characters we’re familiar with from the board game: Colonel Mustard, Mrs. White, Mrs. Peacock, Mr. Green, Miss Scarlet, and Professor Plum. They each had received a letter asking them to attend this sort of dinner party, where a certain “financial liability” will be discussed. When their mysterious host, Mr. Boddy, finally shows up and is killed, the rest of the film becomes a farce in every sense of the word as we watch the guests search for the killer before one of them becomes the next victim.

Aside from an amusing start and an energetic, hilarious ending, this movie actually has a lot of trouble with keeping you interested. After Mr. Boddy dies, the film suddenly loses its jokes and begins to drag a bit as they all split up and search the house. This is a prime example of how films like this rely on the interactions between all of the characters to generate the humor needed to keep the story entertaining. Unfortunately, this was necessary to propel the story forward, and, thankfully, everybody eventually regroups, bringing back all of the fun banter and synergy that makes this film so engaging.

Tim Curry manages to bring most of the laughs to the table; his quirky mannerisms, devilish smile, and comedic timing are extremely funny, especially in the last part of the film when he explains who did it and how. This ending sequence, which involves Curry running back and forth throughout the mansion, spouting off a detailed list of events and observations from the evening’s activities, has always reminded me of a similar scene in comedic playwright Neil Simon’s play, Rumors, in which the main character makes up a story on the spot to a couple of suspicious cops. I can only imagine how many takes it took for Curry to get this scene down…he certainly had the advantage over the play by not having to perform the scene live.

I know that this movie is probably looked down upon by the more well-known critics out there, and that it’s probably not technically a “good” film, but Clue is certainly an exciting one. A brilliant performance by Tim Curry, aided by a supporting cast that plays well off of each other, boosts this film into the top tier of movies based on board games…that was a joke. But in all seriousness, this is a film that I have enjoyed since I was a child, and I hope that you can find something in it that makes you laugh as well.

-Chad

P.S. – This film is available for instant streaming on Netflix. If you have a Netflix account, click here to check it out!

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG


Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

While I would definitely consider myself a fan of musicals, Little Shop of Horrors was something completely different from the types of musicals that I am accustomed to. This, along with the fun, quirky Rick Moranis in the lead – as well as the several cameo appearances by other various comedians – provided me with a great new musical experience that I really enjoyed.

Rick Moranis as a man who buys and nurtures a killer plant seems natural after having seen him in other crazy roles such as Louis in Ghostbusters, as Wayne Szalinksi in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and as Barney Rubble in The Flintstones; his talent for appearing serious in a not-serious role is quite entertaining, as are the various kooky faces he makes in reaction to his surroundings. I was surprised at how well Moranis sung everything, but it certainly wasn’t “professional” quality. In fact, the lack of polish in the singing made the character even more enjoyable.

Steve Martin as the sadistic dentist character was actually pretty creepy – him singing “Dentist” was terrifying – but, like Moranis, Martin has a talent for playing insane characters without having the audience question it.

The most impressive part of the film, however, was the plant, Audrey II. I was amazed at how realistically the mouth moved along with the lyrics, all with puppetry. The voice of Audrey II, Levi Stubbs (the lead singer for The Four Tops), was also quite entertaining; his varying vocal range was hysterical, with him moving from speaking in a low octave to almost a screech in a higher octave. (I also think it would be appropriate to mention that the film was directed by Frank Oz, who is more famously known as the puppeteer who voiced both Yoda in the Star Wars films and Miss Piggy in The Muppets.)

I’ll admit that I didn’t care for the character of Audrey, played by Ellen Greene, mainly because of the way Greene played her, with that squeaky voice…though I’ll admit that it made me laugh a couple of times during “Suddenly, Seymour”.

Speaking of the music, it was fantastic, though I wouldn’t expect anything less from an Alan Menken/Howard Ashman collaboration. The style was fun and catchy, the lyrics were clever and often quite funny, and they were all performed very well by the cast. The use of the trio of women as a “gospel chorus” (as Wikipedia informs me it is called) is amusing as it seems to foreshadow Alan Menken’s future involvement with Disney’s Hercules, which features a similar trio of singing women.

Overall, Little Shop of Horrors is definitely something different than the typical musical production popular in America, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. With Moranis in the lead, Martin supporting, and several cameos by the likes of Bill Murray, John Candy, Christopher Guest, and James Belushi, there are plenty of laughs to go around, and the infectious music by Menken and Ashman provide a unique experience for the audience as they watch chaos unfold onscreen.

-Chad

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for mature thematic material including comic horror violence, substance abuse, language and sex references


Thor (2011)

I never saw Thor in theaters when it first came out because I wasn’t interested in it. In fact, I didn’t see it until the day before The Avengers was released, and I only watched it then so that I could fully understand the new movie. I ended up liking it a lot more than I thought I would.

I’ll start off with what I didn’t like. I didn’t like Darcy. Yes, she had some funny lines, but that seemed to be her only purpose. I think it would have worked perfectly fine if that character didn’t exist…Dr. Selvig and Jane Foster would have been a fine team on their own. I also didn’t care much for Jane Foster. I’ve always thought how weird a movie this was for Natalie Portman to appear in, and it’s that sensation of seeing the actress from Black Swan in a science-fiction film with gods that makes me just dislike the character a little bit. Aside from this being a weird movie for Portman, I felt like the relationship between her character and Thor was rushed and forced. Not enough time went by for them to fall in love with each other, so the emotional goodbye toward the end and Thor’s love for her just seemed irrational to me.

I did like Chris Hemsworth as Thor, though, despite the fact that I don’t like the character all that much. In the same way that Robert Downey, Jr., IS Tony Stark, Hemsworth seems to be Thor; it’s just an instance of perfect casting. I also really enjoyed Tom Hiddleston as Loki. This was the first film I had ever seen Hiddleston (I have since seen him in The Avengers and War Horse), and it was a great first impression. He portrayed a brilliantly conflicted character turned villain, and he improves the character even further in The Avengers. Yes, Hiddleston and Hemsworth are definitely the best parts of this film.

Overall, I enjoyed this film, but it just doesn’t match the quality shown by Iron Man before it or Captain America: The First Avenger after it. I would definitely place it ahead of The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2, though. It’s a fun film, and it’s different from any of the other Marvel films (the ones leading up to The Avengers, I mean) because it’s the first one to introduce sci-fi elements.

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence