Archive for January, 2014

Tower of Terror

Posted in Family, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The film begins in Halloween 1939, revolving around the fate of five people – singer Carolyn Crosson, her boyfriend Gilbert London, child actress Sally Shine (who is modeled after child actress Shirley Temple), her nanny Emeline Partridge, and bellhop Dewey Todd, they were invited to be at the Tip Top Party located on the hotel’s twelfth floor. The elevator suddenly got stuck at the eleventh floor, then at exactly 8:05 pm, lightning strikes the building which causes the elevator to collapse, and the five people mysteriously vanish..

The scene then travels to almost sixty years later, when newspaper reporter Buzzy Crocker and his niece Anna meet up with an old woman named Abigail Gregory, Abigail claims that Emeline Partridge, nanny of child actress Sally Shine, orchestrated the incident through an evil spell because she was annoyed over the girl’s spoiled attitude. However, the spell backfired, trapping the guests as spirits in the earthly realm inside the hotel. Abigail says she can reverse the spell if the elevator is repaired and the team finds something that belonged to each of the hotel guests, then repeat the guests’ actions in the elevator on Halloween. This will free their spirits from the hotel. They then enlist the help of Chris “Q” Todd, a car mechanic and Dewey’s grandson, who, despite being initially reluctant, volunteers to help his deceased grandfather and the four other guests.

The team realize that Abigail was the one responsible for the disappearance of the hotel guests on the elevator, including her younger sister Sally, born Sally Gregory, out of personal vendetta and jealousy against her sister’s booming career. The final straw being the party, to which she wasn’t invited, having been set on her birthday, which no one remembered . Buzzy then realizes that what they did actually gave Abigail the means to complete her spell. The team then rushes back to the hotel, but they are too late.

Meanwhile, the ghosts board the elevator. Anna rushes in as well, trying to keep them from boarding. Sally manages to run out of the elevator, joining the living, but Anna gets trapped as the passenger elevator moves up. They then confront Abigail, who then tearfully admits her wrongdoing. Meanwhile, the elevator continues to move up, only to once again get stuck on the eleventh floor, with only minutes left before history repeats itself. Sally, wondering what the commotion was about, joins the group, and Abigail gets frightened. When asked by Buzzy what would she say to Abigail, Sally says that the whole party was meant to be a surprise birthday for her older sister, and apologizes for not being able to get to the party. Sally even kept the present she wanted to give to Abby, a bracelet with their names on it, but couldn’t since she could not get to the party. Abby, Buzzy, Jill, Q and Sally then board the service elevator, catching up with the others on the eleventh floor. Anna manages to escape from an emergency escape hatch, rejoining Buzzy and the others in their elevator. At exactly 8:05pm, the lightning strikes the hotel again, and both elevators plummet downwards. Amidst the chaos, Sally forgives her sister, and as they hold hands, they both turn into a shower of gold dust, breaking the curse and stopping both elevators just as they were about to hit the ground floor.

The groups are saved, and they all go to the Tip-Top Club on the top floor, restored to its former glory. One by one, the ghosts then ascend to Heaven, along with the other partygoers. Abigail, young once more, appears, meeting up once more with her sister, and thanks her for the present. The Gregory sisters then join hands and vanish into the night, breaking the curse on the hotel. With the spell broken, the Tower is re-opened to the public, with Q taking charge.

REVIEW:

Back in March, I went to Disneyworld and one of the rides I rode was the “Tower of Terror” (thank my boss’ super-hot sister for getting me to forget my fear of heights and getting on that thing). I really was digging the 30s vibe that was used as decoration and also the Twilight Zone video that was used to set up the story of the ride. I came back to find those episodes, only to be disappointed that they weren’t real. I did find Tower of Terror. This is a made for TV movie of the mid-90s, so I guess the question is how bad/cheesy is it?

What is this about?

Steve Guttenberg stars as a tabloid reporter who wants to return to mainstream journalism; all he needs is a big story. He gets one when he happens upon the mystery surrounding the disappearance of five people at an old luxury hotel in the 1930s. The locals believe that the ghosts of those five people now haunt the hotel.

What did I like?

Location. As you can imagine, a good chunk of this film takes place at the hotel. I imagined they would have just found some way to make a Tower of Terror replication, but it appears that they used the actual ride for the set. Considering that this was made for no other reason than to advertise the ride, that was some inspired scouting. Not to mention the fact that they probably saved some money.

Back and forth. As any avid reader of mine will tell you, I’m a huge fan of all things retro, swing, 30s, etc. This starts in 1939 at a hotel party, complete wit big band playing swing and a Shirley Temple inspired character. I was eating this up and wishing they would have stayed there the whole time. However, that wouldn’t have worked, as they needed to be ghosts and the old woman needed to be…well, old. The flashbacks appeased me, though, and the present day stuff wasn’t too bad, so it was a nice balance.

What didn’t I like?

Connect the dots. As I said before, the purpose of this film is that it is propaganda for the ride that had just opened when this was released. If you’ve ever been on that ride, you know that there is a story there. Parts of it are kept in this plot, but I have to wonder, if Disney had the right to use the Twilight Zone name, footage, etc, why couldn’t they have the same story that we see on the ride and expand upon it, rather than coming up with this, which was almost too sweet to stomach.

Magic storm. There is a plotline in here involving a jealous sister and magic that caused the elevator accident that fateful night. I think this was part of the attempt to make this a totally separate entity than the ride, but it just comes off as uninspired to me. A mechanical malfunction caused by a freak lightning bolt works just as well. Now, if they must bring in magic, that could have been used for how they still walk the earth. Hell, one of them even gets hired as an actress! I just feel they could have done something more interesting with the witchcraft angle, if they must use it.

For a made-for-TV movie, Tower of Terror is much better than you would imagine. It even passes the test of time…for now. A teenaged Kirsten Dunst and Steve Guttenberg as well as the gorgeous Nia Peeples and Melora Hardin star in this family light-hearted supernatural thriller, but it is the hotel and the elevator that should be getting top billing. This is not a great film, but it is sweet enough that you can enjoy with the whole family. I recommend it based on that, but if you’re looking for something on the ride, best to look for Youtube videos and enjoy people’s screams.

3 1/4 out of 5 stars

Escape from Alcatraz

Posted in Classics, Movie Reviews, Thrillers/Mystery with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The story begins as Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood) arrives at the maximum security prison Alcatraz, having been sent there after escaping from several other prisons. He is sent in to meet the warden (Patrick McGoohan), who curtly informs him that no one has ever escaped from Alcatraz. Eventually he meets his old friends, brothers John and Clarence Anglin (Fred Ward and Jack Thibeau), and he makes the acquaintance of the prisoner in the cell next to his, Charlie Butts (Larry Hankin). Morris befriends numerous other inmates, including English (Paul Benjamin), a black inmate serving two life sentences for killing two white men in self-defense; the eccentric Litmus (who keeps a pet mouse and calls himself Al Capone), and the elderly artist and chrysanthemum grower Doc (Roberts Blossom).

Morris also makes an enemy of the rapist Wolf (Bruce M. Fischer), whom Morris beats in the shower room after Wolf attempts to come onto him. Still seething from this encounter, Wolf attacks Morris in the yard and both men spend time in the hole. When the warden discovers that Doc has painted a portrait of him, as well as other policemen on the island itself, he permanently removes Doc’s painting privileges; in response, a depressed Doc cuts his fingers off with a hatchet from the prison workshop and is led away. Later, the warden finds one of Doc’s chrysanthemums and crushes it in front of the inmates; an angry Litmus leaps at the warden and suffers a fatal heart attack. The warden coldly reminds Morris that “some men are destined never to leave Alcatraz–alive.”

Morris notices that the concrete around the grille in his cell is weak and can be chipped way, which evolves into an escape plan. Over the next few months Morris, Butts, and the Anglins dig through the walls of their cells with spoons (which have been soldered into makeshift shovels), make papier-mâché dummies to act as decoys, and construct a raft out of raincoats. On the night of their escape, Butts loses his nerve and does not go with the others. Morris and the Anglin brothers make it out of the prison and are last seen paddling their raft into the night. When their escape is discovered the following morning, a massive manhunt ensues. The warden is adamant that the men drowned, despite no bodies being found. He finds a chrysanthemum on the shore of Angel Island and throws it into the bay after being told that they do not grow there.

REVIEW:

So, this morning, since I’m stuck here at home thanks to the icy roads for a 3rd straight day, I turned on Netflix and decided to check out Stephen Fry in America. Quite the interesting viewing, if you get the chance. Seeing all 50 states from the point of view of a British guy. When he reached San Francisco and visited Alcatraz, he mentioned no one escaped from there except Clint Eastwood, which prompted me to look up the reference. This is how I came to view Escape from Alcatraz.

What is this about?

Sent to Alcatraz for life, hardened crook Frank Morris plans his unauthorized departure from the island prison. Enlisting two bank-robber brothers as accomplices, Morris meticulously works out every detail before commencing his daring escape attempt.

What did I like?

Deception. Clint Eastwood is the star, but that doesn’t mean that he is the hero. As a matter of fact, there is no true hero in this film. To some extent, the “good guys” are the bad guys.. We only happen to cheer for Eastwood because we want him to escape. The deception is a bit of a switch from what we are used to, thus making for some interesting filmmaking.

No sugar. Alcatraz is not a happy place and this film doesn’t sugarcoat how horrible the inmates were treated by the guards. I’ll get into some other parts of life there a little later, though. For the tone of this film, it really works. This is a flick that has a couple of sympathetic, comedic characters, but for the most part is serious and dark in its tone. Would you really expect anything less from a film about Alcatraz?

Escape. As you can imagine the escape scene is quite exciting. What is really worth mentioning about it, is that they mange to keep it exciting without the use of explosions, gunplay, or anything other than just the actors doing what they were supposed to do. It should also be noted that these are not stunt doubles, but the actual actors.

What didn’t I like?

Work, boy. In the beginning of his stay in Alcatraz, Eastwood’s character is put to work in the library. The way this scene plays out, it would appear that it was going to go on and become something more important to the main plot and also the relationship with English, who turns out to be one of the most respected guys in the prison, should have been a bigger, but didn’t turn out that way. There is a relationship there, just not as much focus is placed on it as the audience expects.

Hotel Alcatraz. Early on, we meet the Warden who tells Eastwood’s character the rules. One of the points he makes sure to drive home is that the inmates aren’t there for a vacation, unlike other prisons. Then we turn around and see that each of the prisoners get certain amenities given to them, such as art supplies, accordions, etc., things that aren’t exactly given to prisoners.

D-block. After a prison fight with some inmate named Wolf, Eastwood’s character is sent to the dreaded D-block. After what seems like a couple of days, they release him back to his regular cell (the other guy is apparently there for 6 months or so). What’s so bad about this? Well, for such a bad place, it isn’t mention, except in passing in one scene, then it is never brought back, even when he returns to the regular cells. It just seems to me that a prisoner or two would be curious, its just human nature.

Every year, it seems that there is a loop of The Green Mile. I noticed some similarities between the characters in it and Escape from Alcatraz, showing that this film has etched quite the legacy for itself. Does that mean it is worth watching? Well, it isn’t the most exciting, thought-provoking, dramatic, or funniest film, but it is solid enough from beginning to end to warrant a viewing or two, so sure, give it a shot!

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

The Invincible Iron Man

Posted in Action/Adventure, Animation, Movie Reviews, Superhero Films with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

While attempting to unearth an ancient Chinese city using his company’s resources – while also diverting money into a project that will put Stark Enterprises on the cutting edge of technology – Tony Stark’s ambitions are thwarted when the Jade Dragons attack the excavation site, killing almost everyone and kidnapping his friend James “Rhodey” Rhodes. Traveling to the site to investigate, Tony is captured and injured by the Jade Dragons, his life saved by a Chinese shaman named Ho Yen and Rhodes’ skills as an army medic after a piece of shrapnel damages his heart.

The shaman tells Tony that the Dragons leader Wong-Chu seek to prevent the return of the Mandarin, an evil ruler of great power who ruled China three thousand years ago, and who the city commemorates. Should four rings created by the Mandarin – their purpose being to grant him power over death – be brought together after the city rises, the Mandarin will awaken. The Dragons force Tony to construct, within a week, a weapon to sink the city or he will face execution. To show they are serious they kill the shaman. Befriending Li Mei, a member of the group, Tony learns that she has a duty that has been passed down her family from father to son – she had no brothers – but she will not reveal what it is. Meanwhile, four elemental spirits are released when the city is raised, and they find two of the Mandarin’s four rings.

When the weapon that Stark and Rhodes created is revealed to be a fake, Chu is about to shoot Rhodes, but Li Mei shoots him from behind. Tony subsequently emerges in their true project; a suit of armor. Rescuing Rhodes, Tony flees the temple and return home, but Li Mei refuses his offer to take her with him. Studying a painting of the prophecy, Li Mei realizes that Tony is the ‘Iron Knight’ who it was foretold would battle the Mandarin, but this brings her no comfort, as the prophecy only states that one of the two shall die without specifying who. To spare Tony this fate, she leads the Jade Dragons in attempting to destroy the city, but the rest of the Dragons are killed and she is confronted by a shadowy dragon-like creature.

After returning to America, Tony and Rhodes are shocked to discover that they are wanted by S.H.I.E.L.D. for selling weapons to the Jade Dragons; Howard Stark, Tony’s father, sent Rhodes weapons to provide enhanced security for the site against Tony’s wishes, and, with the Dragons having stolen the shipment, he has apparently used Tony as a scapegoat to maintain his position.

Having escaped the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and sneaked into his office with the aid of his secretary Virginia “Pepper” Potts, Tony reveals his secret project to Rhodes; multiple suits of armor, each one designed for tasks that human beings could not possibly accomplish alone. Taking an underwater suit of armor to the third temple at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean (the temples’ locations provided on a map from the shaman) – Tony manages to defeat the Fire Elemental by throwing it into the water, but the other three escape with the ring.

Following a brief confrontation with his father over Howard framing Tony for arms dealing (during which it is revealed that the two men have long been at odds over their opinion regarding weapons, a division that has only worsened since the death of Tony’s mother), Tony dons another armor and flies to recover the last ring, located in an active volcano, Pepper and Rhodes allowing themselves to be arrested to buy Tony time. Although he defeats the Air and Water Elementals – he tricks the Water Elemental into freezing the Air Elemental before throwing the Water Elemental into the molten lava – and escapes with the ring, Tony’s armor is badly damaged by the Earth Elemental’s assault, forcing him to abandon the armor and make his own way home.

Having returned to New York, Tony is confronted by Li Mei, who begs him to give her the ring to prevent the Earth Elemental from attacking Tony. Deciding to try and destroy the temple, but unable to reach his more advanced armors due to the S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel in the building, Tony and Li Mei return to China using the armor Tony developed while being held prisoner, which remains on the plane he and Rhodes used to return home.

Arriving at the city just as the Earth Elemental raises an army from the ground, Tony clashes with the Elemental, destroying his adversary with a final desperate mid-air collision. However, as he prepares to search for the last Ring, Li Mei reveals that her bracelet is the final ring; her family seeks to ensure the resurrection of the Mandarin rather than his defeat, and, as the last descendant of the Mandarin, only Li Mei can hold the Mandarin’s spirit, and only she can become the vessel he will need to walk the Earth again. Admitting that she was the one who gave S.H.I.E.L.D. the documents incriminating Tony for arms dealing in an attempt to protect him, Li Mei begs Tony to leave while he still can, but when he refuses, the army activates, forcing Tony to fight the soldiers as Li Mei advances towards the Mandarin’s tomb.

Although Tony vanquishes the soldiers, he is subsequently forced to fight a vast dragon as Li Mei makes contact with the Mandarin’s spirit. Despite his damaged armour, Tony manages to defeat the dragon by forcing a vat of liquid metal to expand and solidify inside it, but when he enters the temple, he finds Li Mei naked and under the control of the Mandarin. As his armor is torn even further apart by the assault, Tony begs Li Mei to remember who she is, managing to convince Li Mei to turn against the Mandarin. As she removes the rings from her hand, the Mandarin’s connection to the real world is broken, triggering a brief explosion before his spirit vanishes,but with his last breath, he unleashes an energy which blasts Li Mei. After thanking Tony for saving her with a kiss, Li Mei dies in his arms, leaving Tony alone in the temple to mourn her death.

Returning to the U.S, Tony is cleared of all charges by the Chinese government and S.H.I.E.L.D., subsequently buying up all available shares in Stark Enterprises, bringing the company under his complete control. However, he has only two actions to take: promoting Rhodes to the position of Chief Engineer for Advanced Technologies, and handing control of the company over to his father. Saying that he’s always regarded the company as a father/son enterprise, Howard and Tony shake hands, Howard subsequently firing the board of directors to free him and Tony from the bureaucracy that nearly tore them apart.

REVIEW:

Remember a few years ago when no one knew anything about Iron Man? That seems like forever ago, right? Well, before Iron Man was released, or at least around the same time, audiences were treated to the animated adventure, The Invincible Iron Man. Is this just another animated superhero origin tale or is it just another in a long line of forgettable films in the subgenre.

What is this about?

In this animated adventure, inventor Tony Stark digs up more than he bargained for when he unearths an evil entity buried for centuries in an ancient Chinese ruin. To protect himself from the destructive force, Tony designs a high-tech suit of armor.

What did I like?

Mandarin. Similar to Iron Man 3, this is not the true version of the Mandarin, but another interpretation. Normally, Mandarin is a green (in some interpretations) megalomaniac who uses 10 magical rings. In this interpretation, he uses 5 rings and was a murderous dictator who spirit inhabits his descendants after some strange ceremony that they voluntarily go through. I’m a purist, but this version is acceptable, as it makes Mandarin seem to be more of a threat, keeps some elements of the character, and doesn’t make him a stereotype (although I’ve never thought of him as such).

Howard. I’m not really sure what universe of Iron Man this takes place in, but apparently Howard Stark is still alive and Tony is in charge of the scientific division. Thinking back to all of the Iron Man animated series and films, I believe this is the only one that feature Howard. Sure, he appears in a couple of flashbacks here and there, but that’s about it. Nice to get him some screentime, if you ask me.

Shrapnel. The first issue of Iron Man that I read, incidentally, featured the Mandarin and a flashback to Tony Stark’s origin, which was him getting shrapnel lodged in his chest moving ever closer to his heart, hence the real reason he created the chest plate, which evolved into a full suit of armor. This has been retconned since then, and this is another version of it, but it does keep the hunk of metal lodged in his chest. Without that, you can’t really have Iron Man, now can you?

What didn’t I like?

Animation. For me, this anime style of character design was a big turn off for me. I actually think it is one of the reasons I have avoided this film for all these years. Also, the early CGI animation that they used was not doing it for me. I’m not really a fan of the stuff as it is, but for some reason, it didn’t seem to gel. It feel antique when used with the more modern look of the rest of the film.

Mandarin. Is it too much to ask for the real Mandarin? I mean come on, the spirit of a murderous dictator with 5 rings? No Fin Fang Foom? WTF?!? Also, what was the deal with the elementals? Why did they have to bring these guys in? I want to say they were just created so that the animators could use their crappy CGI, but I hesitate because they could be a part of the Mandarin’s origin that I am not aware of. Still, I want the Fu Manchu mustache having, green skinned, pure Mandarin. Guess I’ll just have to look up some Iron Man cartoons to get that, more specifically the 1994 show.

Pacing. The first hour of this film has very little in the way of action, but rather just seems to go on and on with family drama. Yes, it sets up the characters, but most people who are going to check this out come for some action, and we don’t get it until the last 30-45 minutes, and I’m not quite sure it is worth the wait.

The Invincible Iron Man is anything but invincible. There are flaws with this film, many of which are par for the course when it comes to Marvel Animated features. They try to be more adult, using violence and adult themes, but end up suffering from lackluster pacing and relying way too much on computer animation. Marvel may be winning the “war” at the box office, but DC has the leg up in the animated feature department. This could be an interesting film, but it just doesn’t capture one’s interest. For me, it is worth watching if you’re an Iron Man fan, but for everyone else, you’re best checking out the Robert Downey, Jr. films.

3 1/3 out of 5 stars

Ghost Dad

Posted in Comedy, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 28, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Elliot Hopper (Bill Cosby) is a workaholic widower who is about to land the deal of a lifetime at work, which he hopes will win him a promotion and a company car. After he forgets his daughter Diane’s birthday, he attempts to make it up to her by promising her she can have his car when he secures the deal at work on the coming Thursday. After being persuaded to give the car to his daughter early, Elliot must hail a taxi from work, which is driven by Satanist Curtis Burch (Raynor Scheine), who drives erratically and speeds out of control. Attempting to get the taxi stopped, Elliot announces that he is Satan and commands him to stop the taxi. Shocked to see his “Evil Master,” Burch drives off a bridge and he and Elliot fall to their deaths.

Elliot emerges from the accident scene, but when he approaches a police officer, he learns that he is a ghost when the officer urinates on his shoes, then when he walks into the road, a speeding bus goes straight through him and he endures an ugly old lady on the back seat chomping into a sandwich with her legs far apart coming closer towards him. While not shown it is implied he passes through her crotch. When he gets home he discovers that his 3 children can see him, but only in a totally dark room, and they can’t hear him. He struggles to tell them what happened when he is whisked away to London by paranormal researcher Sir Edith (Ian Bannen), who tells him he is a ghost who has yet to enter the “After Life”; his soul will not cross over until Thursday.

The pressures of work and family life lead to a comedic events, such as Elliot rubbing meat tenderizer into his face while screaming about the burning in his eyes, as Elliot struggles to keep his job until Thursday to ensure his family’s survival without him. One day, he must choose between staying in an important work meeting and helping his son with a magic trick at school. He eventually decides that his family’s happiness is more important and walks out on his furious boss, Mr. Collins (Barry Corbin), who later fires him.

Dejected, Elliot reveals himself as a ghost to his love interest, Joan (Denise Nicholas) whose initial shock soon turns to sympathy. Edith arrives from London to announce that Elliot is not dead; his spirit jumped out of his body in fright. In the excitement to find Elliot’s body to reunite his spirit with it, Diane trips on a pair of skates that her little sister Amanda left on the stairs; she falls and is seriously injured. The family rush her to the hospital where her spirit has also jumped out of her body. As she delightedly flies around, Elliot begs her to re-enter her body; his own has started to “flicker.” When he collapses, Diane becomes concerned and races into the intensive-care unit to find her father’s body. She helps him into the room and they discover that the taxi driver had taken his wallet before the accident, so he has no identification. Elliot returns to his body and wakes up; Diane does the same and jumps off the operating table to tell the family what has happened.

As the reunited family leave the hospital, Elliot spots a yellow taxi parked outside and Burch behind the wheel. Delighted to see his “Evil Master,” Burch returns Elliot’s imitation Gucci wallet back. Elliot then tells Burch to go to hell and sit on red hot coals waiting for him “until it snows.” Curtis agrees enthusiastically and drives off while Elliot, Joan, Edith, and the family leave the hospital.

REVIEW:

So, Bill Cosby has had huge success as a comedian and on the small screen, but when it comes to the big screen, not-so-much, as I last saw in Leonard part 6 (whatever happened to first 5 parts?!?). Cosby takes another stab at big screen success with Ghost Dad, but is there any difference in the result?

What is this about?

When workaholic widower Elliot Hopper (Bill Cosby) is killed in a tragic accident, his three children — Danny (Salim Grant), Amanda (Brooke Fontaine) and Diane (Kimberly Russell) — are left parentless. Now, Elliot has three days to return from the dead and get his family’s finances and priorities in order. Will he be a better father in the afterlife?

What did I like?

The zone. Usually, we are used to seeing Bill Cosby play a character that is squeaky clean and extremely likable, such as Dr. Huxtable or Fat Albert. As Elliot Harper, though, he isn’t necessarily unlikable, but he doesn’t make you want to give him a big hug. This guy is just out to move up at his job and forget about his deceased wife. Stepping out of his comfort zone, in terms of characters worked for Cosby. I joked with someone last night that he stepped out of it in real life, as well, and has just become a bitter old man. Ha!

Connexus. The connection Cosby forms with the kids is heart warming, especially the scene where he triumphantly connects with his son, despite the consequences. If you know Cosby, then you know how important family is to him, so this is no surprise that he is able to make the connection so believable.

Give up the ghost. As far as ghosts on film go, Cosby’s characters isn’t the worst. As a matter of fact, watching him fumble through his new found situation may very well be the best part of this film. I actually felt that I was with him on this journey to convince certain people he was still alive, come to terms with his state of non-living, and still be an effective father.

What didn’t I like?

Ball of confusion. For me, this plot could have worked, but somewhere along the way things got so muddled that the viewer can’t really keep up with the storyline. It jumps all over the place and has no cohesiveness whatsoever. Also, for the most part, it seems to be an innocent family film, but it has Satanic elements, strong language, and sexual innuendo. Basically, this is a flick that doesn’t know what it wants to be or do.

Hereditary. Heading into the final act, it is brought up that the father of Cosby’s character was the only other known case of a spirit jumping out of their body. A few minutes later, the oldest daughter jumps out of her body, further proving the hereditary trait. All this is fine and good, but it should have been a little more, I don’t know…detailed? They way it is casually brought up and then quickly forgotten leads me to believe that they only brought it up to fill in the blanks about why he is a ghost.

Aw, hell. The boss of the company seems to be a decent guy, until the Cosby goes to help his son, which suddenly sends him over the edge. For a second there, I thought we were going to see him turn into the devil and try to claim the spirit of Cosby’s character for himself. Also, how is it possible that the Satanic cab driver, who fell into the water with his cab, still lives? That seems like some evil stuff, too, if you ask me. Maybe this would have been a more interesting and arguably better film if these two character would have had some kind of devilish intentions, especially since they brought in the Satanic angle and Cosby’s character said he was the “Evil Master”

Ghost Dad is listed on many of the worst films of all time lists. As much as I tried to see the positives in this film, there just aren’t very many. While it isn’t as horrible as many think it is, I don’t think this is a flick that should be seen in any other form than a couple of clips. The few redeeming factors this film has aren’t enough to save it and leaves you wondering how a competent actor director Sidney Poitier allowed this to be released under his name. I only hope that the studio made changes and the result was this. All that being said, avoid this film, if you can. Trust me, it is not worth your time.

2 out of 5 stars

Last Tango in Paris

Posted in Classics, Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , on January 27, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Paul, a middle-aged American hotel owner mourning his wife’s suicide, meets a young, engaged Parisian woman named Jeanne in an apartment that both are interested in renting. They proceed to have an anonymous sexual relationship in the apartment, and Paul demands that neither of them share any personal information, not even their names. The affair goes on until one day Jeanne comes to the apartment to find that Paul has packed up and left without warning.

Paul later meets Jeanne on the street and says he wants to renew the relationship. He tells her of the recent tragedy with his wife, and the telling of his life story carries them to a tango bar, where he continues telling her about himself. The loss of anonymity disillusions Jeanne about their relationship, and she tells Paul she does not want to see him again. Paul, not wanting to let Jeanne go, chases her back to her apartment, where he tells her he loves her and wants to know her name.

Jeanne takes a gun from a drawer. She tells Paul her name and shoots him. Paul staggers out onto the balcony, mortally wounded, and collapses. As Paul dies, a dazed Jeanne mutters to herself that he was just a stranger who tried to rape her, that she did not know who he was, as if in a rehearsal, preparing herself for questioning by the police.

REVIEW:

As a budding cinephile, it has been brought to my attention that I need to step out of my comfort zone and check out some films that every good (or bad) reviewer should see. First up is Last Tango in Paris, a films starring Marlon Brando that received an NC-17 rating, which it might still keep today, but not for the same reasons.

What is this about?

An American expatriate living in Paris is still reeling from his estranged wife’s suicide. While searching for an apartment, he encounters an equally despondent Frenchwoman, and the couple embarks on an anonymous, no-strings-attached sexual liaison.

What did I like?

Underbelly. The other day, I was having a discussion about The Simpsons. For those of you that were around in the early days, you may remember the episode when Bart is a foreign exchange student and ends up at a wine farm, a far cry from the France he was expecting. That same idea is what one gets watching this film. There is nothing glamorous about the Paris of this film. Come to think of it, I don’t believe they show any landmarks. As much as I love the tourist views we get, it was nice to see the other side for once, and it set the gritty tone for the film.

NC-17. In my opening paragraph, I mentioned that the rating for this film was NC-17 and that it may keep that rating if this was released today, but not for the same reason. Well, the reasons it was given that rating when it was released was because of “sexual explicit content”. I would like to see the original X-rated version of this, though.  Truth be told, this content isn’t so explicit. Today, it would the full frontal hairy bush and all the smoking that would garner that rating. I still don’t get how smoking can affect a rating, but whatever. There are some odd things that do so. For me, though, such raw content is a contrast to the artsy feel of this film, very similar to Monster’s Ball.

Tango with Brando. Marlon Brando was one of the world’s finest actors. I believe this was released a couple of years before The Godfather films, but I don’t know the exact years. Brando’s acting chops seem to have been forgotten in the wake of sexual controversy that surrounds this film. Damn shame, really. On another note, the titular tango scene, which does not include either of our leads, is pretty entertaining. Maybe it is all these years of watching Dancing with the Stars, but I was wanting to see more of the tango.

What didn’t I like?

Starting line. Brando’s character’s wife has committed suicide before the film starts and this serves as the motivation for his character. Now, I know how I would be if I experienced such a loss. I wouldn’t want to feel anything. Does that mean I’d go around picking up any chick I come across in town? No, but different strokes for different folks. My issue with this suicide angle is that they brought it up now and then to develop the character and then, after what seems like a few weeks, we see the body of the wife laying in repose in the apartment. It is almost implied that she’s always been there, which is quite odd, if you ask me.

French tickler. This is going to make me sound totally uncultured and uneducated, but the subtitles of this film were too much reading. Yes, this is a film made in France by an Italian director, but for some reason, I suppose I was hoping for more English, even though Paris is in the title.

Shove it. There is a scene where Marlon Brando tells his chick to stick a finger up his butthole and then he says something along the lines of her having sex with a pig. For those that are into this kind of thing, it may have been a treat to see/hear in a major Academy award nominated picture. However, for many of us, this was a little uneasy to watch. I can imagine it was meant to be hot and sexy at the time, but didn’t really come off that way to me.

There is no doubt that Last Tango in Paris is a great film. The problem with it is that is too artsy fartsy for my taste. There are elements of this film that are intriguing and interesting. There are moments of sexiness that will lend themselves to the rewind button, as well. In the end, though, this is just a flick that was made more for the Academy, as opposed to the audience. That being said, if you were to ask me whether or not you should watch this, I’m going to say that this is a film you need to watch at least once, so check it out.

3 out of 5 stars

Prisoners

Posted in Movie Reviews, Thrillers/Mystery with tags , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and his family attend a Thanksgiving dinner at the house of their neighbors, the Birches; that afternoon, both families’ young daughters, Anna Dover and Joy Birch, go missing. A police hunt finds an RV which had been parked outside the house, and when Detective David Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) tries to confront the driver, Alex Jones (Paul Dano) he attempts to escape but is arrested.

Loki’s investigations uncover a corpse wearing a maze pendant in the basement of a local priest, who says he had killed the man who claimed to be “waging a war against God” by killing numerous children.

Alex Jones is found to be developmentally disabled, having the IQ of a ten-year-old, and despite many hours of aggressive questioning, the police cannot link him to the missing girls, so he is released. Dover then confronts Jones, who whispers to him “They didn’t cry until I left them”, although no one else hears it. Dover abducts and imprisons Jones in an abandoned apartment building, and tortures him for days, but obtains no further information. Franklin discovers that Dover has abducted Alex and later Nancy discovers it too. They do not help in the torture but plead with Alex to tell them where the girls are.

During a candlelight vigil for the girls, Loki sees a hooded man acting suspiciously. When Loki approaches the man for questioning, he runs away. Both girl’s houses are broken into, apparently by the same man, who is now a suspect. A clerk at a local store reports the man had been buying different sizes of children’s clothing. This suspect, Bob Taylor (David Dastmalchian), is arrested at his home, where the walls are covered in drawings of mazes. In a back room, Loki finds crates filled with maze books, live snakes, and bloodied children’s clothing. The Birches and Dover positively identify some of the items of clothing. Detained, Taylor confesses to the abduction, but before giving any more information, he kills himself.

Dover continues to torture Jones, who finally says he is not Alex Jones, and that he escaped from a maze. Dover visits Jones’s aunt, Holly (Melissa Leo) and brings up the topic of mazes, but Holly only says Jones does not say much ever since an accident involving snakes when he was young.

The blood on the children’s clothes is found to be pig’s blood. It is concluded that Taylor had been abducted as a child, and had been play-acting recreations of abductions using a true-crime book which involves unsolvable mazes; the clothing was items that had been stolen during the break-ins, and Taylor had no real involvement in the abductions.

Days later, a drugged Joy Birch is found, having escaped, but Anna is still missing. When Dover visits Joy in the hospital to ask for information, she mumbles to him “You were there.” Dover runs off, believing he now knows where his daughter is. Not knowing Dover’s true motivations, Loki goes looking for him at the abandoned apartment building and finds the imprisoned Jones.

Dover is not there, however; he had realized that Joy overheard him at the Jones’ house and that is where he returns, intending to torture Holly. She invites him in and pulls a gun on him, revealing that she alone was responsible for the recent abductions. She and her husband had abducted many other children, including Bob Taylor, as part of their own particular “war on God” for letting their young son Alex die of cancer. The man now known as Alex was the first child they abducted, and probably the only one along with Bob whom they did not murder. Holly shoots and imprisons Dover in a pit under an old car in her yard; there he finds a whistle that belonged to his daughter.

Loki goes to Holly’s house to tell her that “Alex Jones” was found. There is no answer at the door but he hears someone inside, so he enters. When he sees a photograph of Holly’s husband wearing the maze pendant, Loki draws his weapon, and searches the house, discovering Anna being injected with poison by Holly. When he confronts her she shoots at him, but he returns fire and kills her. Loki rushes Anna to the hospital, where she soon recovers. “Alex Jones” is reunited with his real parents.

Outside the Jones residence, a police team stops digging for the night. They tell Loki it will take weeks because the ground is frozen. Loki hears the faint sound of a whistle; he initially hesitates, but then hears it again and turns to investigate as the screen cuts to black.

REVIEW:

I don’t have any children, so I can’t relate to Prisoners, but I can see how the sudden disappearance of a couple of young girls can send someone off the deep end. Will they find the girls in time? Who is behind the kidnapping? What was the motivation behind the abductions?

What is this about? When his 6-year-old daughter is abducted and the investigation stalls, carpenter Keller Dover tracks down the culprit himself. But his vigilante action pits him against the case’s lead detective and puts his own sanity at risk.

What did I like?

Intense. I cannot remember the last time I saw Hugh Jackman this intense, outside of him playing Wolverine. I think we sometimes forget that the guy is a very talented actor, who can pull off these disturbing roles and then go sing in a Broadway show. Jackman’s character is hell-bent on finding his daughter. He’ll stop at nothing to get her back, even beating the snot out of some punk kid who just happened to be in the neighborhood, and torturing him until he talks. This is not the kind of guy you want to mess with. At times, it is uncomfortable to watch, but you know that you are watching greatness.

Truth. The deeper and deeper I get into this world of movie reviewing, the more I hear that trailers are giving away too much. Well, I went back and looked at the trailer for this. The only thing it gave away was the basic plot, who was starring in it, and the tone. For me, that is all a trailer need do to be effective. Sure, there are trailers that literally show all the good scenes, and there are those that tell you absolutely nothing, but the ad blitz behind this film was smart enough to keep it close to the vest and give us the bare minimum, making the film that much more of a mystery. Remember the says when you had to actually go see a picture to know what it was about, rather than look it up on Wikipedia or somewhere else on the internet? That’s the truth behind this trailer, and it works, for the most part.

What didn’t I like?

Solo act. At some point in the film, it becomes more about Jackman than anyone else, followed by the same kind of film from Jake Gylenhaal. Where is everyone else? Well, apparently they were there strictly as supporting cast and nothing more. Terrence Howard, who I thought was going to be awesome in this, especially since he was playing trumpet in the beginning, plays a guy who is a little more reserved and, for lack of a better term, conservative about getting his daughter back. After his wife is brought in on what Jackman is doing, we don’t see them again until near the end, and then neither one has a line of dialogue, if I’m not mistaken. This is pretty much the way it is for all of the families, but for what reason? The film just takes them out and plugs them back in later, without any explanation for what they were doing. Had it been something like they were researching previous abductions or wanted time away from this town, that would have at least made sense.

Length. At 153 minutes, this film felt as if it dragged in a couple of places. I know, I know, I’m always complaining about the lengths of movies, but this is one that I literally was getting into and then it lost me because it wasn’t really going anywhere. Luckily, it does take a sharp turn, dare I saw twist that brings the audience back in for the final act. I would say that about 15-30 minutes of this film could have been cut, making it much more effective and not so bleh.

I must apologize for the briefness of this Prisoners post. I just got in from a long weekend and am dead tired. Still, the show must go on, right? What is my final verdict on this film? Well, if you’re into thrillers of this sort, then this is right up your alley. For me, I would have preferred something a little more action-driven, as opposed to character based, but that’s a personal preference. This not a bad film. You get great performances from Hugh Jackman, Jake Gylenhaal, and a chilling one from Melissa Leo, but I can’t really say that I was gushing over. Perhaps you will so, at your own risk, give it a shot.

3 out of 5 stars

Mr. Bean’s Holiday

Posted in Comedy, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on January 22, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson) is attending a raffle. Mr. Bean wins the raffle and claims his prize. The prize is a holiday involving a train journey to Cannes, a Sony video camera, and €200. Bean proceeds to film his trip to the French Riviera beach on the video camera.

Accidentally taking a taxi from the Gare du Nord railway station to the arch at La Defense in Paris, Bean is forced to make his way on foot, literally walking through Paris (with disastrous effects) towards Gare de Lyon from La Défense to board his next train towards Cannes. He misses his train when his necktie gets stuck while trying to buy a sandwich from a vending machine. Discovering that a back-up train wont leave for 1 hour, he has time to try some French food at Le Train Bleu restaurant. Not knowing how to speak in French and not understanding the waiter’s suggestion, he accidentally orders oysters and langoustines, which he cannot bring himself to eat. He pours the oysters into a nearby lady’s handbag and eats a whole lobster without removing the shell.

Back on the platform, Bean asks a man, who happens to be a Cannes Film Festival jury member and Russian movie critic Emil Dachevsky (Roden), to use his camcorder to film his walking onto the train. By the time they are done, the TGV is about to leave. Although Bean manages to get onto the train, the doors close before Dachevsky can get on. Dachevsky’s son, Stephan (Max Baldry) is left on board by himself. Bean attempts to befriend Stepan, who gets off at the next stop to meet his father. While confronting a threatening stranger who approaches Stepan, Bean accidentally misses the train’s departure, leaving his bag aboard. The train that Stepan’s father has boarded does not stop at the station, and he holds up a mobile number which reads 06-08-08-07-97, but the last two digits are covered by his fingers. When their efforts at calling the number prove fruitless, they board the next train, accidentally leaving Bean’s ticket, passport and money behind which results in the duo being forced off the train. They ask a lady for money to try and contact Stepan’s father, but still, they are unable to reach his father. Then a security camera takes a picture of Bean and Stepan. The station master falsely sees Bean and Stepan vandalizing the phones and chases them out of the station.

Bean attempts at busking by miming to Puccini’s O mio babbino caro (sung by Rita Streich) and other music prove successful in a shopping area. Bean buys two bus tickets to Cannes, and some food to eat on the way, but loses his ticket when it gets caught in the breeze and then snagged in the talon of a chicken, which is subsequently loaded into a farm pick-up. Bean steals a nearby bicycle and follows the pick-up, only to reach a large chicken pen with no hope of finding the ticket. While he is on the farm, the bicycle is run over by a passing tank. Ironically, a van with Stepan in it passes by when Bean accidentally locks himself in a public loo. After attempting to steal a moped and almost getting killed by a passing truck, Bean falls asleep in a village but wakes up to realize that he has stumbled onto a set for a 1940s film. His video camera battery dies but while recharging it, he accidentally blows up the set, injuring the director Carson Clay (Willem Dafoe).

Hitchhiking, Bean is picked up by actress Sabine (Emma de Caunes), whom Bean encountered at the commercial filming, driving the same car as Bean. She is on her way to the 59th Cannes Film Festival where Carson Clay’s film in which she makes her debut is going to be presented. When they stop at a service station, Bean finds Stepan in a café. Continuing to drive to Cannes, Bean finds Sabine’s cell phone, which gives him an idea to try and contact Stepan’s father, but yet again, they still are unable to reach him. When Sabine falls deeply asleep on the way due to Bean accidentally activating a lullaby on her cellphone, he drives the car himself happily, finally reaching Cannes.

When Sabine goes into a fuel station to change for the premiere, she watches TV news depicting Bean as Stepan’s kidnapper and Sabine as an accomplice. On their way, they pass a billboard saying that Stepan was missing and Bean was wanted with the picture of Bean and Stepan the security camera at the train station took. Confronting Bean, he explains he is “going to the beach”. Not wanting to miss the premiere, the three plan to get into Cannes without being identified. Stepan dresses up as Sabine’s daughter, while Bean dresses up as Sabine’s mother. They manage to get past the police and Sabine arrives at the premiere on time.

The three sneak into the premiere, “Playback Time”, a shameless vanity production written by, produced by, directed by, and starring Clay himself. From the first few moments, the audience is horribly bored. Sabine tells Bean that her big scene is coming up, but is disappointed to see that her role has been cut from the film. Hoping to cheer up Sabine, Bean goes to the projection room and plugs his video camera into the projector. The ensuing scenes, heavily featuring Sabine, fit director Clay’s narration. Emil then sees footage of his son and claims that Bean stole Stepan despite not seeing that he is enjoying the videos. Bean walks on stage nearly arrested as Stepan is finally reunited with his father. The audience gives a standing ovation for what they believe to be part of Clay’s movie. Clay’s initial anger fades and he embraces Bean and takes credit for the film’s success. After the screening, Bean leaves the building and goes to the beach, encountering many of the other characters including Sabine and Stepan. The film ends with Bean and all the other characters of the film miming a large French musical finale, lip-syncing the famous song by Charles Trenet, “La Mer” (Beyond the Sea).

In a post-credits scene, Bean writes “FIN” on the wet sand using his foot. He films it until the camera says “low battery” again, then the sea washes the words away and the camera turns off.

REVIEW:

Mr. Bean, the lovable, silent, bumbling guy who always finds himself in bad, yet comical situation returns to the big screen with Mr. Bean’s Holiday. True, no one was really asking for this film, but is anyone really going to complain about a character that does nothing but make people smile?

What is this about?

The hapless Mr. Bean takes a vacation on the French Riviera, where he becomes ensnared in an accidental kidnapping, discovers romance with a lovely actress at the Cannes Film Festival and manages to give a pompous movie director his comeuppance.

What did I like?

Bean…Mr. Bean. One of the biggest complaints everyone has about Bean: The Movie is that it changed who Mr. Bean was and tried to make him into more of a joke, rather than the comedic figure he really is. Thankfully, this film returns Bean to his Chaplin-esque roots. The silent antics and nearly undecipherable language are what he is known for. Not to mention the accidental way he gets into trouble and has things happen to him, good and bad.

Partner. While it may not have been the best of circumstances, bringing in the kid for Bean to have chemistry with was a stroke of genius. Not only do they work well together, but he gives the audience someone who can actually speak, even if it is in Russian. As their relationship grows, it becomes apparent that Bean actually cares for this kid. Who would have thought a Mr. Bean movie would dabble in getting deep, huh?

Language barrier. So Mr. Bean speaks, when we can understand him, English. The kid talks Russian. Enter cutie French chick who drives the same kind of car as Bean and she talks French. In real life these 3 wouldn’t be able to get a word in for trying to figure out what they are saying, but it turns out that the filmmakers made for some great comedic moments when they are talking and they think they are saying something that is the total opposite of what they have actually said. I could have done with more of this, it was hilarious.

What didn’t I like?

Clayface. Man, Willem Dafoe is one strange looking man, isn’t he? It like his face is made of clay or some other strange substance that hardened wrong. Anyway, I question why or how they brought him in for this. First off, he is the only name actor, even though you can make a case for Rowan Atkinson. Second,  his character isn’t exactly material worthy of Dafoe, which makes me wonder if he owed someone a favor, lost a bet, or just genuinely wanted to take on this role.

Camera. For this vacation, Bean is given tickets to Cannes and a video camera. For me, the hand-held camera shots were cute at first, but after a while it got old fast. I’m not sure why because it was actually a good gimmick. I just felt that it was overused to the point that it took a bit away from what they were trying to accomplish by using it.

Film Festival. This is actually a small complaint, but it is still a complaint, nonetheless. When I think of Cannes Film Festival, I think of many celebrities in attendance, and yet there were none in sight. I realize the budget may not have allowed for it or that no one wanted to, but it just seems as if they could have made up some if the latter was the case, rather than have it come off as just a screening.

Everyone needs to take a holiday once in a while, even Mr. Bean. Mr. Bean’s Holiday is a fun film featuring the titular character, but something seems to holding this film back from being the hilarious masterpiece it should be. Parts of it really work and parts of it don’t quite gel the way it feels they should. All that aside, this is a decent flick that everyone will find something to latch onto and enjoy. This isn’t the best film in the world, but it is watchable, so check it out!

3 4/5 out of 5 stars