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Friday, September 15, 2017

What Makes for a Successful Film Franchise? (Part 1: Keeping Cast and Crew Consistent)

Film franchises have been incredibly influential and great at making money for the big studios. But what makes for a good one, not only in terms of financial success but also critical acclaim?

This is far from an easy question to answer and there are many factors that can make a difference.

These are some of the factors that I'll analyze over the course of the series and see how they may or may not apply to various well-known film series.


  • Keeping the cast and crew consistent throughout
  • Planning the story out ahead of time, or making it up as you go along
  • Staying true to either the source material or the original film
  • Waiting a long time between sequels or rushing out the next film
  • How much continuity is kept between films and if each film works on its own
  • Keeping the series fresh and introducing new elements or characters

First, let's look at keeping the cast and crew the same throughout the series, and how much effect that may have on the quality of the films.



Often sequels are criticized as a cynical, unnecessary cash-in if they don't have the original creators and cast members involved. If the directors, writers and/or stars return it can lend it an air of legitimacy.

Bringing the creators back for sequels should theoretically make it easier for them not to stray too far from the tone and intent of the franchises' beginnings.

Obviously, losing cast members can alienate audiences who may be upset to see their favorite characters played by a new actor or absent entirely.

The Star Wars franchise is an interesting example. For the original trilogy, the cast was very consistent. Of course, the main three actors and even a lot of the supporting cast returned for all three. It might have been quite odd for audiences to see a new actor portraying Luke, Han, or Leia and I think the movies definitely would have suffered from a major recast or writing out a main character.




When it came time for the prequels, most of the main cast was new as it was set decades prior to the original films. This was definitely something fans complained about as the absence of Ford, Fisher, and Hamill was sorely felt, especially in comparison to the much-maligned performances of Jake Lloyd and Natalie Portman.

However, they did attempt to bring back cast members whenever possible, such as Anthony Daniels as C-3PO and Ian McDiarmid as Emperor Palpatine, with this undoubtedly being to the films' benefit as they provided a necessary link to the original trilogy. 

Obviously, Star Wars was, at least at one point synonymous with George Lucas, who wrote and directed the first film. This gets a bit complicated as he didn't direct the next two films. He got a story credit on The Empire Strikes Back and wrote the story and co-wrote the screenplay on Return of the Jedi. Lucas was a very influential producer on the sequels and the success of the original trilogy is often greatly attributed to him. However, it's worth noting that The Empires Strikes Back was actually directed by Irvin Kershner and that is considered to be as good, if not better than the original by many fans.

For the prequels, Lucas would write and direct all three. Usually having the original creator back in control is seen as a positive thing. If they had been made by some other director it may have been seen as an unnecessary addition solely made for money.

Unfortunately, the films ended up causing an extremely divisive reaction among the public and this shows that having the original creator back for the new installments is far from a guarantee of artistic success.

In fact, this may have actually been a negative since there are plenty of filmmakers who could have made better prequels given the chance.

Once Disney bought the IP, many new directors were brought in, while still keeping on some Star Wars veterans like Lawrence Kasdan. Many actors returned to reprise their roles, but the main characters were pretty much all new faces, especially in Rogue One, which brought back a few known characters in small parts, but with new actors, sometimes aided by CGI. This didn't seem to hurt as the new films were box office hits and generally well-regarded among fans and critics. This was one case where the fanbase was ready for new filmmakers due to the original creator having already made polarizing additions to the universe.

It's not surprising Star Wars could still be popular without the original cast, as it was never hyper-focused on a particular actor, especially compared to series like Indiana Jones, Die Hard, or Rocky. Sure, Luke was clearly the main character of the OT, but many lesser characters ended up being fan favorites as well, even ones that didn't say anything or have more than a minute of screentime.

A lot of people love the franchise for the overall world and not just any one actor or actress. Because it's a whole galaxy with thousands of years of history it's much easier to tell stories in that fictional world that don't even feature the same characters, much less the same cast. The animated shows are great examples of this, like Rebels that focuses on new characters and the voice actors who have been in Star Wars before are mainly relegated to supporting roles.


Saturday, September 9, 2017

It Review (2017, directed by Andy Muschietti)



The newest adaptation of the Stephen King novel It comes from director Andy Muschietti, whose only previous feature was the 2013 horror film Mama starring Jessica Chastain.


I had high hopes for this due to the good reviews, but I was mostly disappointed. My main issue was that I didn’t take Pennywise seriously as a villain, partly due to the overuse of noticeable CGI that looked like it might have needed some more work and unfortunately made those scenes feel silly. On top of that, while I do find clowns creepy in real life, they are too goofy to be effective horror antagonists for me. However, if you are scared of clowns, I wouldn’t be shocked if this movie terrifies you.






All this isn’t to say the costume design and makeup for Pennywise  was bad, those aspects of his character were about as scary as they could be. And actor Bill Skarsgard from Atomic Blonde and Hemlock Grove certainly does as well as he can portraying Pennywise and his acting is never what’s silly about the character. He avoids going over the top which would have been very easy to do with such a role.


The film also relies heavily on jump scares that you can almost always see coming and end up feeling rather rote.


It is much better when just showing the kids hanging out with each other, as they all give great performances and the characters are well-written, 3-dimensional, and varied. With kid characters, it’s easy to fall in the trap of just writing stereotypes, but they manage to avoid that here. These scenes are really fun and should be nostalgic for people that grew up in the 80s. They just aren’t good enough to outweigh the boring nature of the supposedly scary parts. I also felt like the score was a bit overwrought and tried too hard to make the audience feel scared.


I especially liked the performance of Finn Wolfhard, who showed how versatile of an actor he is with a brash, crude character that’s far from who he plays on Stranger Things.


This film is only part one of a planned two movie series, with the second half going to be about the sections in the novel when the Loser’s Club is all grown up. Despite this, it’s a complete story and doesn’t feel like it’s only the first half a larger plot. And the novel is over a thousand pages, so it’s probably for the best not to try to tell all of that in one movie.

My disappointment in the movie seems to put me in the minority. Right now, 88% of critics on Rotten Tomatoes have given it a positive review and it has an 8.4 out of 10 on IMDB. It’s also doing fantastic at the box office, making 13.5 million on its opening Thursday alone and then a massive $51 million on Friday. According to Variety, it’s on track to break multiple opening weekend records, such as for R-rated films, movies released in September, and the highest grossing opening for a horror film. It was tracking at an opening around $60 or $70 million but now looks like it will break $100 million.

This was a much-needed boost for the box office, which had a disappointing summer financially, with the last month or so being especially bad.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Ingrid Goes West Review (2017, directed by Matt Spicer)

Ingrid Goes West is the first feature from director Matt Spicer, who plays it relatively safe here in terms of directorial style and instead lets the film’s well-written script and actors do the heavy lifting.

The main one doing the lifting here is clearly star Aubrey Plaza, who plays a mentally ill woman named Ingrid that becomes obsessed with people she follows on Instagram and starts stalking them. She gives a great performance and presents a very 3-dimensional character. She doesn’t go over the top and manages to avoid becoming a caricature as many actors do when portraying someone with mental illness.




Plaza shows plenty of range and while her character does lots of awful things to people, she somehow manages to not lose the audience’s sympathy and still feel like a real human being. She’s amusing in her awkward moments and compelling in her dramatic ones.

Usually, movies like this don’t tell the story from the perspective of the crazed stalker, so it’s a nice change of pace. Most filmmakers would probably center the story on Elizabeth Olsen’s character, as she plays the target of Ingrid’s fascination. Olsen is good enough here, but her character doesn’t really give her that much of a chance to show her talents.

The plot manages to avoid being too formulaic and yet events still don’t ever feel contrived. Spicer also weaves in social commentary without being heavy-handed and effectively satirizes social media as well as Los Angeles culture.

In addition, Ingrid Goes West depicts cell phone use in a very realistic manner that eschews the visual gimmicks that movies so often use.


In conclusion, I give this movie an 8 out of 10. It’s worth a watch, but isn’t necessarily essential and probably won’t be one of the best of the year or anything like that.

Ingrid Goes West has an 87% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 7.2 out of 10. The low budget film has made around $2.5 million at the box office as of now.

I’d also like to mention that at my screening there was a short film attached at the beginning called Hi Stranger. It’s a bizarre, surreal animated work that achieves being cute and touching in very short runtime.

I really appreciate when they put shorts before a feature as it can expose these sometimes hard to discover works to a broader audience.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Good Time Review (2017, directed by the Safdie Brothers)



Good Time is the newest movie from the up and coming film production company A24 that has released an absurd amount of quality works since 2013, like Oscar best picture winner Moonlight, the understated, creepy horror flick The Witch, and imaginative science fiction like Ex Machina and Under the Skin.

Admittedly, what was making me excited the most about Good Time was the score, by an artist named Daniel Lopatin who makes experimental electronic music under the moniker Oneohtrix Point Never. I’ve been a big fan of his since the 2010 album Returnal, and I’ve had the good fortune of seeing him perform live twice.

So, of course, I was even more intrigued when I heard that Good Time had won the award for best score at the Cannes Film Festival. The score is certainly excellent and in my opinion, the best part of the film, although I’m admittedly biased as such a fan of the artist.

However, I was a bit disappointed as I felt the movie’s aesthetics didn’t really complement the music that well, and there were often long periods with no score. We were teased in the beginning with a retro looking title card perfectly fitting in with the music, but the rest of the movie didn’t live up to this potential.


Image result for good time 2017 movie poster



Good Time was directed by brothers Josh and Ben Safdie who had previously made indie films often starring unknowns like Heaven Knows What and Daddy Longlegs. Ben Safdie also appears in the movie and gives a subtle performance as the protagonist’s mentally challenged brother. The main character is played by Robert Pattinson of Twilight fame who does an excellent job here as his acting is quite realistic. We know very little about his backstory, but we still get a great feel for the character. The only thing is that Pattinson’s character is highly unlikable and often manipulates those around him in immoral ways. I don’t find this to be a problem, but for many, this is a dealbreaker.

Good Time is full of many varied, interesting supporting characters as well, and they all felt like real people to me.

The cinematography is not my usual kind of style, but it’s interesting. The film is shot largely in close-ups with handheld camera and we often don’t get a great sense of the space the characters are in, leading to an immersive, disorienting experience.

The story moves along a tense, brisk pace that never lets up, and there’s not much exposition in the 100-minute long feature. The plot is interesting enough, but Good Time is more about setting mood. However, the lack of a strongly compelling plot keeps this particular film from being a truly great work.

The Safdie Brothers have lots of potential and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for what they do in the future.

The reviews have been quite positive for Good Time and it has an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. I couldn’t find any details on the films budget, but it’s made 1.6 million so far at the box office.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Defenders Season 1 Review



Hello and welcome to my review of Season 1 of The Defenders, the newest Netflix show from Marvel. The first section will be spoiler free and then I’ll get into spoilers at the end.

Overall, the show is very good and I think anyone who liked the previous shows will like this, but if you didn’t, The Defenders won’t do much to convert you, as it is mainly intended for fans of the earlier Marvel shows on Netflix.

I’m not sure how many people this even applies to, but if you were wondering if The Defenders would still be enjoyable if you haven’t seen everything else, I’d say you can, but it’s much more rewarding the more you’ve seen. Having watched Daredevil is especially important as the plotlines and supporting characters from that show played a key part. I think as long as you’ve seen at least 2 or 3 of the shows you can figure out the rest.


Image result for the defender poster season 1

The Defenders generally assumes you’ve seen the other shows, and doesn’t stop to go into in-depth explanations of their powers and backstories. There are a few lines of dialogue that reference past events and they do a pretty decent job of not making them feel like obvious exposition.



To me, not trying to re-explain who all of the Defenders’ are is surely to the series’ benefit, as there really isn’t much time to get bogged down in recapping the other shows.

I really liked Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage, but I was a little nervous for The Defenders after the abysmal Iron Fist. However, The Defenders turned out very solid, and I’d give it an 8 out of 10. Despite some significant flaws, it succeeds at what it’s trying to be. At this point, Marvel Netflix fans pretty much know what they are getting and The Defenders doesn’t have any major surprises in store. It’s mostly what you would expect going in. But it’s still the culmination of some of the best comic book shows ever made and there are enough awesome moments to make the show worth watching.

My biggest concern was the Iron Fist character, and he is the weakest link of the main 4 and still comes off as cheesy at times, but he has clearly improved from his own show. Perhaps it’s partly that he works better in small doses, as opposed to being the main character.

The show starts out with a somewhat of a slow build, with not that much action in the first two episodes. I didn’t have a problem with it and there’s plenty of action later, but just keep that in mind going in.

The Defenders is only 8 episodes long, compared to the 13 episodes that Daredevil and the others got per season. This lets the plot along at a quick pace and there really isn’t any noticeable filler.

Everyone felt true to the way they had previously been portrayed and I didn’t notice any glaring out of character moments. It’s really fun seeing people from different shows interact with each other, which I’ll get more into in the spoiler section.

The cast is very good with the main exception being Finn Jones as Danny Rand as I alluded to earlier. Sigourney Weaver is great as always in her role as the villain Alexandra Reid, but the character itself didn’t really work for me that much, and we never get to see her do anything to establish herself as a great villain. It’s hard to explain fully without spoilers, so I’ll get into that later. From what I understand, Reid is not from the comics, which seems like an odd choice to do for the first season of the team up of all Marvel’s Netflix shows, given the ridiculous amount of villains Marvel has its disposal.

The fight choreography is basically on the same level as Daredevil and a huge step up from Iron Fist. A few moments are a bit awkward as Luke Cage and Jessica Jones have a much different fighting style compared the more martial arts focused characters, and they can be less visually interesting because of this.

The cinematography is fine with a few somewhat long takes here and there, but nothing mind-blowing. It doesn’t look too far off from Marvel’s other Netflix efforts.

The dialogue is okay, with some moments that were too on the nose, although nothing blatantly awful, but also good lines sprinkled in here and there.

The music is also about average, as it rarely stands out one way or another.

That’s the end of the spoiler free section so stop listening here if you want to avoid spoilers.

I really liked how there was a slow build to the Defenders actually teaming up. None of them meet up in the first episode and don’t really see them action much, but we still get fun interactions like Foggy talking to Luke Cage. Then in Episode 2, things slowly start to come together with Iron Fist and Luke Cage meeting for the first time and having a neat fight scene. Matt Murdock and Jessica Jones meet at the end of the episode, with Jones also having an interesting scene with Misty Knight. When they finally come together for a well-made action scene at the climax of Episode 3, it feels earned.

They did an excellent job of incorporating all the supporting cast from the various shows, with key characters from all of them showing up, like Elektra and Stick from Daredevil Madame Gao and  Colleen Wing from Iron Fist, Claire Temple, and even Carrie-Anne Moss as Jeri Hogarth.. The only big one I personally was missing was The Punisher. He would have probably felt out of place though, I just really liked him in Daredevil Season 2.

One substantial complaint I had was with the character of Alexandra Reid. They got a fantastic actress like Sigourney Weaver and build her up a lot, but she never really does much before getting unceremoniously stabbed by Elektra in Episode 6. Then Elektra and Madame Gao basically become the main villains. Elektra is great as always, but Gao just isn’t that compelling. I wasn’t too crazy about the reuse of The Hand in general and I think they need to move on to new storylines.

The finale was satisfying, but with few moments that stood out as exceptional. One thing I really liked was when Misty Knight gets her arm chopped off and then Colleen Wing decapitates the guy. I was aware that having only one real arm was part of her character in the comics, but I wasn’t thinking about it at that moment so I still found it surprising when it happened.

And then there’s a definite hint towards her getting her bionic arm, so that was cool to see as well.

They try to play it off as is Matt Murdock is dead for a little bit, but I just heard they will be filming season 3 of Daredevil this October, not that I really thought they were going to kill him off anyways.

That it’s for my review of The Defenders Season 1, thanks for reading,

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Batman and Harley Quinn Review (2017, directed by Sam Liu)

Welcome to my review of the newest animated movie from DC called Batman and Harley Quinn. It was directed by Sam Liu, who made previous DC animated films Justice League: Gods and Monsters and the controversial Killing Joke adaptation.



Right off the bat, I’m going to say that I wasn’t really a big fan of this one, with my main complaint being the tone. It’s very comedic and silly, which in of itself isn’t a problem, as I’ve enjoyed Batman being portrayed that way in stuff like the 1960s Adam West show and the animated series Batman The Brave and the Bold.

But those were more innocent, whereas this has much more ostensibly adult content like a bit of violence, but mostly just sexual humor and explicit language. So it’s not really a tone that I’ve personally seen in Batman media. It kind of goes overboard in the risque material and is far from subtle. They also oversexualize the female characters to a ridiculous and juvenile degree.

As you may expect given the title, Harley Quinn plays a huge role in this movie to the point of basically being the main character. She has never been one of my favorite Batman characters, but this actually wasn’t that bad of a portrayal of her as her personality isn’t quite as over the top as it sometimes is. Usually, Harley comes as a package with the Joker, but he’s only referenced and doesn’t appear.

I don’t claim to be a Batman expert, but I’ve read my fair share of comics, watched the shows, and seen all the movies, and not once have I encountered a fart joke. Not only does this movie have one, but it goes on for a long time and isn’t particularly funny or clever.

There’s also part of the plot that’s been very controversial and it happens near the beginning so I don’t consider it a spoiler. That’s the fact that Harley Quinn and Nightwing hook up, which is played for laughs and doesn’t really have an effect on the story.

Batman and Nightwing and made to look a little too incompetent for my tastes in order to make Harley Quinn look better. Having an odd tone is one thing, but going against the essence of the characters is much less forgivable to me.

The voice acting is one of the strengths of Batman and Harley Quinn and that starts with the legendary Kevin Conroy as Batman, who is great as always. Loren Lester also reprises his role as Nightwing, but I thought his performance was mediocre.

Instead of Arleen Sorkin, the most popular Harley Quinn voice actor, she was played by Melissa Rauch from the Big Bang Theory. Even though a lot of people have been complaining, I found her version less annoying and silly than how she often sounds.

The art style is highly reminiscent of Batman The Animated Series, which makes sense as Bruce Timm was an executive producer, one of the writers, and makes a quick cameo as Booster Gold. The animation may nostalgic for those who watched the cartoon, but this isn’t nearly enough to cancel out the negatives about this film.

The story is serviceable but generic and involves Poison Ivy trying to turn anyone into plants. She has help from a pretty obscure villain that I had never heard of called Floronic Man.

The plot ends in an incredibly abrupt and anticlimactic matter that borders on insulting the audience.

Some of the dialogue is pretty cringy with Nightwing actually using the term “BFF” and lines like “Human won’t give a crap unless we force them to.”

There’s even an extended musical number that goes on for two whole songs. It’s mildly amusing at times but doesn’t deserve this much time devoted to it. It’s sort of just filler to pad out the runtime.

In conclusion, I’ll give this movie a 4 out of 10. There were a few fun aspects but not nearly enough to outweigh the glaring flaws.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Science Fiction Films of 1971

Science fiction films finally made it big in the 1950s but weren't that popular in the 1960s. They started to creep back in the early 1970s with several successful dystopian movies and 1971 has multiple big examples.

The most significant sci-fi movie of the year was definitely dystopian but didn't feel much like other films in the genre, and that's Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange.

Kubrick is considered by many to be the best director of all-time, making classics such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Full Metal Jacket, and Dr. Strangelove.


This was an adaptation of a well-received novel by English author Anthony Burgess written in 1962. The book is excellent and Kubrick's movie is pretty faithful to it, especially compared to some of his other literary translations, such as The Shining, which Stephen King, the author of the source material, wasn't a fan of.

A Clockwork Orange has been discussed to death so I won't spend too much time gushing over it but suffice to say, it's an absolute masterclass in cinematography, editing, and acting.

It qualifies as science fiction in my mind as it's set in the future, but it forgoes most of the tropes most commonly associated with SF such as aliens or time travel.

It doesn't show or focus much on advanced technology and someone is even shown using a typewriter. There are some tiny futuristic cassette tapes, but they're not fundamentally different from what was available at the time.

However, society is definitely different from the 1970s, especially in terms of fashion, interior design and the slang argot called Nadsat created specifically for the book and utilized heavily in the film.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The History of Video Game Movies (Part 4: 2010-2014)

Part 1: (1990-1999)
Part 2: (2000-2004)
Part 3: (2005-2009)

There were a couple of big successful films based on video games in the early 2000s, but in the latter half of the decade, they were basically all failures critically and mostly bombs commercially as well.

Unfortunately, in the 2010s this trend continued as the big-budget video game movies all got poor reviews.

The first one of the decade was Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, released in the United States on May 28, 2010.




The Prince of Persia games were platformers that started coming out in 1989 and they've appeared on dozens of consoles and handhelds since.

Disney produced and distributed the movie version, along with Jerry Bruckheimer, who has produced countless huge hits, like Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Armageddon.

They chose Mike Newell as director, who had a pretty varied resume with films including Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Donnie Brasco, and Four Weddings and a Funeral.

The music was composed by Harry Gregson-Williams, who wrote the scores for Gone Baby Gone, Kingdom of Heaven and Shrek. However, I know him more for his amazing work composing the music for the Metal Gear games, doing every main entry from Sons of Liberty to The Phantom Pain.

The production budget was around $200 million and it grossed over $336 million worldwide. This isn't a terrible figure, but definitely underwhelming. Disney was hoping to make this a franchise, but it didn't make nearly enough money to justify sequels.

Prince of Persia was mediocre at best. It's not appalling, just bland and boring. The time travel scenes are kind of cool visually, but those are the only memorable parts of the movie.

The critics seem to agree with me as the film's Rotten Tomatoes rating is only 36%, which is sadly relatively high for a video game movie.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Black Christmas (1974): Mini-Review

Black Christmas definitely deserves its reputation as one of the best horror of films of the 1970s, as well as being an early and very influential example of a slasher movie. It's more subtle and understated than a lot of its followers, though.

The plot involves a bunch of sorority girls getting threatening and sexual phone calls, which are effectively weird and disturbing.



It's hard to explain without spoilers but eventually there's a reveal that serves as an example of an extremely famous and common horror film trope/cliche. This is surely one of, if not the earliest, uses of this now incredibly cliche plot point, and I always find it interesting to see one the first uses of any well-known film trope. I'm sure anyone who has seen the film would know what I'm referring to.


This is also one of the first big examples of a horror film titled and based around a specific holiday or day, like Halloween, Friday the 13th, Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine, and countless others.


The villain in Black Christmas is great and one of the creepiest slasher bad guys in film history. There's even an abortion subplot, which is pretty daring for it' time.

The ending is fantastic too and features a very eerie final shot. Overall, the cast is pretty good, and there are a few familiar faces you might recognize, like Margot Kidder, who played Lois Lane in the Superman series. There's also Keir Dullea, who was the main character in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and John Saxon from Enter the Dragon, Dario Argento's Tenebrae, and A Nightmare on Elm Street.


I highly recommend watching this to anyone who has even a passing interest horror, and it's a must watch as soon as possible if you're a slasher or 70s horror fan.

Black Christmas was remade in 2006, but I haven't seen that version yet.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Cujo (1983): Mini-Review

Cujo is okay, but inconsistent and overall nothing special. This first part of the movie before the crazy rabid dog stuff starts happening is pretty boring and I wasn't particularly interested in the characters' affairs and personal drama. I was pretty much just waiting for Cujo to start attacking people.




Once he does, the film definitely starts improving. It does a reasonable job of getting across a tense atmosphere and Cujo is effectively intimidating and scary. It just takes way too long in getting there.
They did a good job of making up the dog so he looks rabid, although he looks pretty cute without the makeup.


I understand they couldn't just have a whole movie of a woman and her child fighting off a dog, but there wasn't enough meat to the story to be compelling. I haven't read the book, but I'm sure the affair plotline was significant as I've heard the movie was relatively faithful. So maybe this just wasn't enough of a story for a feature film and would have worked better as a short or a TV episode or something like that.


Also, don't expect any gore, the horror is more psychological, which isn't at all a bad thing.
I'd recommend this if you've already seen a decent amount of 80s horror and just haven't gotten around to this yet.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) [Mini-Review]

Halloween III: Season of the Witch is infamous for its (in retrospect) baffling decision to not feature Michael Myers or even be set in the same universe as the original two films. In fact, Halloween is a fictional film in Season of the Witch's universe.

Producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill wanted to turn the Halloween brand into an anthology of unrelated installments that all took place on or around the holiday. Apparently, they were hesitant to work on an another one in the series, and this was the only way they'd do it. This may have worked better had they not have already made Halloween II, thus firmly associating the name with the character of Myers, as well as actors like Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance.



Fans were disappointed that there was no Michael, and reviews were negative. It took six years for the franchise to come back with Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. They made sure to put him in the title to make sure audiences knew they wouldn't be disappointed again.

I wasn't alive at the time, so I knew before I watched it that it was an oddball in the series and that Myers would come back for more movies. If you just think of it as its own thing, it's not that bad, but certainly not that great either.

Not only does Season of the Witch have a new continuity, it also represents a genre shift for the franchise as while it is a horror, it's also science fiction.

Stars Tom Atkins and Stacey Nelkin give passable performances, but I can't get over how creepy the age difference between them is, and their relationship feels very forced and sudden. She basically throws herself at him without having shown any previous signs of chemistry or attraction.

One of the positives of the film is that John Carpenter did do the soundtrack, which is always a good thing and sets the atmosphere. Unfortunately, a really annoying jingle also plays throughout that will undoubtedly be stuck in your head for days.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Curse of Chucky (2013) [Mini-Review]

Curse of Chucky is a surprisingly solid sequel. Most horror franchises run out of steam by the sixth installment by this is much better than Halloween 6 or A Nightmare on Elm Street 6, for example.
The fourth and fifth Chucky movies brought the series more towards horror-comedy, but this went back to the roots of the franchise and is a relatively serious horror film. It was also the first one to be direct-to-video and the first to be shot digitally.
Despite being less comedic, it doesn't take itself too seriously and manages to strike an appropriate tone.




Bride and Seed of Chucky introduced a family for the title character, but Curse goes back to having him as the only talking doll.
It was directed by Don Mancini, who created Chucky, has written all the films, and directed Seed of Chucky.


Brad Dourif returns as the voice of Chucky and even appears in the flesh for the first time in the series since the original Child's Play. It's pretty cool to see him, but it looks a little odd as they try to recreate his look from the time period.
Brad's daughter, Fiona Dourif plays the lead role. This may seem like nepotism that could hurt the quality of the film, but these movies don't require Oscar-level acting and she had already appeared on shows like Deadwood and Law and Order: SVU. She even had a small part in P.T. Anderson's The Master.




She actually does a pretty good job, considering she was relatively inexperienced at the time and the film largely centers around her character.
This was described early on in development as a reboot or a remake and it seems like it could be at first, but by the end, it's clear that it takes place in the same continuity as the previous installments and there are plenty of neat homages and references to the other Chucky movies.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Seed of Chucky (2004): Mini-Review

The fifth installment of the Chucky franchise is a decent entry but doesn't really stay true to the roots of the series. The 4th film started the slide into comedy, but this one, directed by Don Mancini, goes all the way.



Jennifer Tilly joined the franchise in the fourth movie as well, and she stars in this one. She is great as always and it definitely one of the highlights of the series in my book.

Brad Dourif also returns as the voice of Chucky and is fantastic as always.

For some reason, a lot of horror franchises in this era had films starring rappers. Halloween H20 had LL Cool J, Halloween: Resurrection had Busta Rhymes, and Seed of Chucky has Redman.

There is a significant subplot involving Redman playing himself and directing a movie that Jennifer Tilly, also as herself, is trying to get a role in. It's pretty funny that the role is for the Virgin Mary.

Tilly playing herself adds a bit of a meta quality and a convenient way for her to still appear in the flesh despite the events of the previous film. John Waters also appears in a small role and it's always entertaining seeing him, but it did feel a bit random.

The film centers around Chucky and Tiffany's child named Glen, while also going by Glenda at times in a fun reference to the classic B-movie Glen or Glenda. The character is pretty goofy and I'm not sure how I feel about his design.



Also, there's a lame bit about Britney Spears that feels out of place and seemed just to be an attempt at referencing someone in pop culture.

Seed of Chucky only has a 32 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, but this isn't surprising as somewhat silly horror films like these usually don't get great reviews. The IMDB rating is a bit better at 4.9 out of 10.

Overall the film is entertaining and has quite a few funny moments. If you liked the previous films in the series, you'd probably enjoy this one. Just keep in mind it's much more like the 4th than the original trilogy.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Psycho (1998): Mini-Review

The original Psycho is one of the best films of all-time, regardless of genre, but the remake feels completely pointless. Such a classic film really didn't need to be remade.

This is probably the most faithful remake ever made, as the vast majority of shots and scenes are taken from the original. It's worth seeing once just because it's so unique, although its uniqueness paradoxically comes from trying to slavishly copy another film.


It's directed by Gus van Sant and I like some of his other films like Elephant, Milk, and Goodwill Hunting. But this is definitely not one of his better films and I'm sure I'll never watch it again. Gus van Sant was quoted as saying he remade Psycho so "no one else had to", which is a perplexing justification to the say the least.

Also, Vince Vaughn is nowhere close to as good as Anthony Perkins. And I didn't need to see him pleasuring himself in one of the few scenes that are different from the 1960 version.
William H. Macy and Anne Heche are decent, but nothing special.

The movie was a box office bomb, making only 37 million dollars worldwide and it's easy to see why. No one was asking for this, and 38 years after the original, many younger people probably don't even know about the Hitchcock film. I'm not sure who this was for.

As far as I'm aware, no one has tried to do a shot for shot remake like this since then (besides Haneke remaking his own Funny Games), and that's probably for the best. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Quick Thoughts on the Disappointing Live Action "Ghost in the Shell"

Unfortunately, the live-action adaptation of the Ghost in the Shell manga and anime is disappointing and a huge missed opportunity. The movie, directed by Rupert Sanders (who also made the mediocre at best Snow White and the Hunstman) looks great and presents a cool futuristic world filled with giant holograms and neon lights. This only keeps you entertained for about 30 minutes and the neat visuals can't carry the movie on their own or make up for the many glaring flaws.



The 2017 version is not nearly as deep and philosophical as the original anime from 1995, which was comparatively subtle when put next to the heavy-handed remake. There's plenty of clumsy expository dialogue including on-the-nose bits like "You have no idea how alone that makes me feel" from the main character. Equally clunky is the introductory text at the very beginning that could have easily been left out.

Even the action scenes are only passable and are never that memorable or anything we haven't seen before.

There are some solid actors in the cast including Scarlett Johansson, Juliette Binoche, and Takeshi Kitano, and while none of them are bad, they don't have much to work with and seem to be phoning it in.

For a movie about soul, it has little.

I'm a bit worried that this may become a thing like video game adaptations where live action versions of anime can never quite hit the mark as both are difficult mediums to adapt into big-budget Hollywood movies.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Experimental Films of the 1930s

The first big experimental or avant-garde film of the 1930s was L'Age d'Or, or The Golden Age, released in 1930. It was directed by Luis Buñuel and written by him and one of the most famous painters of all-time, surrealist Salvador Dalí. However, the two were not getting along by the time production began and Buñuel supposedly ran Dalí off the set while brandishing a hammer.




They were fresh off making a landmark in avant-garde cinema, the shocking Un Chien Andalou. That was a short film, but L'Age d'Or was closer to feature length at 63 minutes. Like Un Chien Andalou, there is no clear plot and events that take place appear to be random. Surrealism is an obvious influence and well-known Surrealist artist Max Ernst appears as an actor.

Buñuel was Spanish, but this was made in France and in the French language and premiered in Paris in 1930. The film caused an uproar as a conservative group called the League of Patriots tried to stop a screening by hurling ink at the screen and assaulting audience members. It was only a couple weeks before Paris banned any screenings of L'Age d'Or.

The controversy was so strong that it wasn't publicly shown in the United States until 1979. This was because of the sexual content as well as content that was considered blasphemous towards the Catholic Church and one of the producers was even threatened with excommunication. It's not surprising that the church found it sacrilegious as the film featured lots of religious iconography such as bishops and crucifixes.

There's even a reference to the infamous 18th-century novel 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade with an intertitle that states "120 Days of Depraved Acts".

L'Age d'Or was easily one of the two most significant films on this list, what I'd consider to be the "essentials."




The other was made that same year when Jean Cocteau directed The Blood of a Poet. He began his career writing poetry, plays, and novels and became well known in the 1910s and 1920s. Cocteau made films from 1925 up until just a few years before his death in 1963, including a 1946 version of Beauty and the Beast.



The Blood of a Poet was the first part of Cocteau's Orphic trilogy, which had a second installment in 1950 with Orphée, and concluded in 1960 with Testament of Orpheus.

The Blood of a Poet contains a lot of odd imagery like a talking statue and a man jumping through a mirror. Like L'Age d'Or, there isn't an obvious plot or story. These factors lead many to call this is a Surrealist work, and they aren't entirely wrong. However, Cocteau himself said "surrealism did not exist when I first thought of [the film]" and that "The Blood of a Poet draws nothing from either dreams or symbols."

This film was quite controversial and wasn't allowed to be screened until 1932, with its first showing at a gala evening in Paris. This was partly because The Blood of a Poet was perceived as anti-Christian, another similarity it shared with L'Age d'Or.

A famous American photographer named Lee Miller appeared, and this would be the only time she'd ever be in a movie.

Cocteau's 55-minute long film also has some very impressive special effects and visual tricks for its time and is worth watching for this reason alone. The Blood of a Poet is clearly up there with L'Age d'Or as one of the must-see experimental movies of the decade.