R.I.P. Wes Craven

Ah, this is a tough loss. One of my favorite directors growing up, hell, just in general: Wes Craven, passed away at the age of 76.

My first memory of Wes Craven being brought into my life was one of my earliest memories. In the mid-1980's, my family decided to rent the 1984 classic A Nightmare on Elm Street and allow me to take in the film. My only memory was of being so scared that I had to be taken into the other room while the rest of the family continued to watch. Being the man responsible for providing my first scare through cinema is about the highest praise I can offer.

Not to be deterred by being traumatized at the hands of Wes Craven, I spent the latter part of the 80's and all of the 90's catching up on Wes Craven's current and past films. From blind-buying The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes to watching films that Wes Craven only associated himself with including Wishmaster and They, he made a fan out of me for life.

Skipping over the classic that A Nightmare on Elm Street is, a fond memory of mine was watching his 1989 film, Shocker, multiple times on USA's Up All Night. Though not Wes Craven's strongest film, it is a film I associate with my childhood and holds a special place in my heart. Around the same time, Wes Craven created the highly-underrated The People Under the  Stairs. Touching on socio-economical themes to balance out some of the horror elements, the film is a gem that needs to be revisited.

Another memory I recall having was watching the short-lived Nightmare Cafe, starring Robert Englund. I couldn't really tell you much about the show, but I do recall waiting anxiously for the premiere as Wes Craven was involved in the production.

Wes Craven did a lot to influence my childhood, all for the better.

After a string of films that didn't seem up to par in the 1990's, though New Nightmare is a must-see, Wes Craven came back with a vengeance in 1996's Scream. Sending up the genre he helped influence, Wes Craven created a new horror icon for the next generation. As the years of his life came to a close, Wes Craven stayed busy and created the better-than-expected Red Eye, which stepped out of the comforts of horror and instead thrust the audience into a high-paced thriller.

Always a good commentator, Wes Craven was a very smart guy who appeared to enjoy his audience by participating in film commentaries and documentaries. Always appearing willing to discuss his filmography, good and bad, Wes Craven was someone you always wanted to keep talking.

The world is a little less scary today. And that's not a good thing.

R.I.P. Wes Craven 1939-2015



Arnold Schwarzenegger acts. Well, sort of.

Set in a time when a large portion of the population are affected with the Necroambulist virus, which turns people into zombies, Wade Vogel (Arnold Schwarzenegger) finds that his daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) has been infected. Wade brings Maggie home to stay with him and his current wife, Caroline, (Joely Richardson) who fears for when Maggie will turn into a full-fledged zombie.

                                            "Let me AXE you a question!"

With society still able to function on a semi-regular basis, Wade and Maggie try to live their lives as if nothing has changed; while also preparing for the inevitable. As the infection is still fresh, local police and hospital personnel who know of Maggie's situation allow Maggie to be home with Wade until the time comes that Maggie must be quarantined.

What could have been Arnold Schwarzenegger battling zombies is instead treated as a slow, thought-provoking film that is earnest in its efforts, but doesn't always hit what it is striving for. Surprisingly, the cast isn't the weakest part of the film as Abigail Breslin does a solid job of providing the audience a character who knows what her fate is, yet still wants to live.

                                            "It's just a scratch."

Arnold, on the other hand, underplays his role to the point that I'm not sure why he was cast. Arnold is a big personality on film, which is nothing like the character of Wade. Spending scenes where he's thinking about the situation at hand or just conversing with Maggie and trying to hide the hurt he feels for the situation; Arnold tries his best. Not always achieving what is needed for the character, it was nice to see Arnold step out of his comfort zone and try something new, even if it's more of a sacrifice fly that brings in the runner versus a home run.

The slow pace and monochrome-type look of the film, provided by director Henry Hobson is what really will make or break your opinion on the film. Maggie is not a fun film nor will you find yourself wanting to check it out again. We are set into a bleak world where color is at a premium and happy characters are a rarity.

                                         *Cue the Incredible Hulk theme song*

Maggie is a small film in the zombie genre and doesn't offer up much that hasn't been seen before. With Arnold top-lining the film, though, some people may be interested in seeing Arnold taking on hordes of zombies. With that not really being the case, though, I would rather people seek out Maggie for Abigail Breslin and Arnold Schwarzenegger's performances, for good or bad.

Plus, any Arnold is good Arnold.

                                          "With this and Terminator: Genisys, 2015 will be a great year..."



Kingsman: The Secret Service

Harry Hart (Colin Firth) is a master secret agent with class who recruits Eggsy (Taron Egerton) as a potential new Kingsman. When Eggsy was a child, his father was a Kingsman who sacrificed his life for the cause; to which Harry now feels guilt and keeps a watchful eye over Eggsy during the recruitment process. While keeping one eye on Eggsy, Harry and his team, including: trainer Merlin (Mark Strong) and Arthur (Michael Caine) begin an investigation on internet billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) and what he might have to do with the disappearance of V.I.P.'s from all over the world.

With Eggsy's story playing out somewhat like Men In Black, we are treated to multiple scenes where Eggsy faces off with other potential Kingsman in training; showing off Eggsy's unorthodox thinking and skill during various tests that the Kingsman throw his way. Whittling down the recruits through the testing, the scenes never really provide any thrill or excitement as you know that Eggsy will make it far into the training (or else, why have him in the movie?).

On the other side of the film, Harry and the veteran Kingsman begin to infiltrate the lifestyle of Valentine after academic professor James Arnold (Mark Hamill) goes missing and a rescue attempt on the professor fails. Harry begins to uncover a plot set in motion by Valentine to use an online app to control the world population and tries to prevent Valentine's Bond-like plot from occurring.

Co-writer/director Matthew Vaughn continues the job he did with Kick-Ass, though to a lesser degree in my opinion. Kingsman: The Secret Service is fun, but is bogged down by not being as fun as it wants to be and running a course that REALLY is similar with the plotline of Men In Black infused with heavy doses of the James Bond franchise. Eggsy's training sequences, to me, bogged the film down as I expected the training to be more and less by the book.

Colin Firth does a really good job as Harry, the spy with great dress sense and deadly skills to boot. Samuel L. Jackson is also having fun with his fashionable outfits (and hats) and a lisp for no other reason than it just seems funny. Main character Taron Egerton does a fine, if less impactful performance as Eggsy. He is able to help the movie continue onward, but certainly falls behind the acting of Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson. For me, though, the standout was Mark Strong's Merlin who comes across as a character with warmth and humor, but is also able to get in on the action when the time requires him to.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is fun, though not as much fun as it wants to be. Overall, you could do much worse and with the talent involved, there is something in the film that most people can find enjoyable.



From The Vault: Jaws

The film that defined what a Summer blockbuster is returns to the big screen for its 40th anniversary re-release.

During his first Summer on the fictional coastal town of Amity Island, Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) comes to believe that a shark is feasting on locals. When efforts to close the beaches are thwarted by Mayor Larry Vaughn, (Murray Hamilton) Chief Brody then asks Matt Hooper, (Richard Dreyfuss) an oceanographer to visit Amity Island to try and help rationalize with the mayor about the threat they are dealing with.

When a mother puts up a bounty to catch and kill the shark responsible for the death of her son, local shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw) declares that what they are dealing with is larger than any thought possible. As the shark continues to attack those swimming on Amity's beaches, Chief Brody, Hooper and Quint team up in an effort to stop the shark's reign of terror.

Honestly, you've seen this movie and know the plot.

Being as someone who wasn't born when Jaws first hit the big screen, I decided to take up the chance to see the film when the 40th anniversary rolled out. Jaws still works as a horror film, adventure, drama and even as a comedy, The audience I was with jumped in terror at certain parts (Ben Gardner's boat, most prominently) and laughed at big moments ("you're going to ignore this particular problem until it swims up and bites you on the ass!).

Steven Spielberg and the well-documented problems on Jaws continue to prove that there are such things as happy accidents. With the shark not working on set, having to relegate by not revealing the monster until well into the film helps the film. As someone who has seen Jaws over 25 times in his life, the film still continues to impress with Spielberg's direction and the wealth of acting talent on the screen.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention John Williams' iconic score. The music is the driving force behind Jaws and really becomes its own characters. Especially since Jaws is kept from the eyes of the audience until the second half of the film, the score basically stands in place of the shark to keep the audience on edge of when and where the shark may be.

Jaws is still a classic that is driven by sure-handed direction and top-notch acting with a classic score to boot. If you get the opportunity, check out Jaws on the big screen if you're able. Until then, feel free to pop the film into your player at home as it is still a movie that holds up to this day.




For my 100th post on this site, I figured I'd review a prestigious and memorable film. Unfortunately, I watched Blackhat and will be reviewing that instead.

After a hacker attacks a nuclear power plant in Hong Kong, shutting down the coolant system and causing an explosion, the FBI and Chinese government work together to try and figure out who caused the attack, why and where the next attack will be. Captain Dawai (Leehom Wang) and his computer-savvy sister, Chen Lien (Tang Wei) work in conjunction with FBI Agents Jessup (Holt McCallany) and Barrett (Viola Davis). Dawai realizes that the code used was co-written by former hacker turned prisoner Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth).

Like most films that need a criminal, Hathaway is released into custody of the FBI in an attempt to thwart the hacker. After a second attack that causes soy futures to rise, Hathaway and Chen begin to have romantic feelings for one another, against the wishes of Dawai. Globe-trotting from the United States, to Hong Kong and Jakarta, the Chinese and Americans try to play catch-up and also figure out what is going on.

Director Michael Mann continues his post-2004 slump with a movie that will surely be forgotten by, well... it probably is already forgotten. Dating back to Miami Vice, the director has struggled to provide the audience with a film that is engaging and full of rich characters. With the exception of making Hong Kong an amazing place to look at, it feels that Michael Mann has lost his edge about making the type of film he used to be able to do in his sleep.

Chris Hemsworth is horribly miscast, using all the charisma that he puts into every role and discarding it in favor of being bland and boring. The relationship that (quickly) forms between Hathaway and Chen does not feel natural, and comes across as more of a reason to shoehorn and love story into what should have otherwise been a straight-forward thriller. Neither actor has any chemistry with one another and the romantic subplot drags down the film.

Not to say that the rest of the film is great by any means. Watching the characters stare at computer screens, along with the audience staring at computer screens, we are told what is going on instead of going along for the journey. Watching someone type away or looking at movie-version of computer code is not what I would call an entertaining time.

Even though Michael Mann still has a keep eye for shooting a city and continuing the look of neo-noir, his issues are now coming up with a good script to go along with his eyes. Blackhat is not a total failure, but it certainly isn't a return to form either.



RIP: James Horner

Academy Award-winning composer James Horner has died, according to multiple news outlets. James Horner was piloting his small plane when it was being reported as having crashed in California. Sad news for film today.

James Horner is probably best known to film audiences as the composer for the film Titanic; for which he won an Oscar. Along with composing the score, James Horner also wrote the song "My Heart Will Go On", which also won an Oscar for Best Song. Surprisingly, Titanic is the only film in James Horner's entire catalog of film scores and songs that ever won him an Oscar.

My personal favorite scores from James Horner, though were early in his career. I grew up watching the film Commando and love the instrumental score that James Horner brought to the film. It's unique and distinctive. Though sounding similar to Commando, the score for 48 Hrs. is another instrumental score that I really enjoy. The scores for these 2 films really invoke a character shot into what could have been just run-of-the-mill action films.

Though not even garnering an Oscar nomination, James Horner's work on the 1989 film Glory is a personal favorite of mine. The score uses some of James Horner's most familiar tropes, but comes together into a very classy score with some added bravura for good measure. Especially outstanding is the track "Charging Fort Wagner" wherein the heroes make their last charge. The track evokes so much all the emotion that has been building throughout the film and really provides the listener with something to remember the film by.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't mention, what could possibly be, James Horner's most iconic work: Aliens. Composed with the urgency that James Cameron shot Aliens with, the score to Aliens is frantic, yet never really feels cluttered. James Horner was interviewed for Aliens about his score and he mentioned that he did not want to work with James Cameron again as he was put under extreme pressure to complete the score in a short period of time. James Horner may not have enjoyed the conditions to making the score of Aliens, but he delivered one of the most iconic film scores of all time; including the track "Bishop's Countdown" which is a staple for many film trailers.



RIP: Rick Ducommun

Before I came back to the blog on a semi-regular basis, I missed out on writing about some celebrities unfortunate passings including Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman. I also didn't write about Christopher Lee as I truly am not too familiar with Lee's work, though have researched him and his life and the guy was amazing. If you don't know anything about Christopher Lee, go and read up on him.

The name Rick Ducommun may not ring a bell to some folks, but to me he will always be remembered as Art Weingartner from Joe Dante's The 'Burbs. Rick's performance as the overweight, bumbling neighbor who persuades Tom Hanks' character Ray Petersen into believing that his neighbors might be murderers. His role, mainly as the pratfall sidekick to Tom Hanks' straight man worked well and Rick seemed to have great chemistry with all the cast members of The 'Burbs.

Rick Ducommun made his career out of being a character actor. From brief scenes in Joe Dante's Gremlins 2: The New Batch and John McTiernan's The Hunt for Red October and Last Action Hero, to having substantial parts in other films like Harold Ramis' Groundhog Day and Rupert Wainwright's Blank Check, Rick always brought high energy to his performance, no matter the size of the role.

One last thing, when I was a kid, I loved the film Little Monsters. It took me well into adulthood to realize that Rick Ducommun played the villainous sidekick role of Snik. Under many layers of makeup, it was hard to know who played the role initially, but was a welcome surprise when I realized that Rick Ducommun was responsible for Snik.

Rick Ducommun: 1956-2015


Project Almanac

On the weekend with one of the biggest openings of all time, it would make sense to review the film everyone is talking about: Jurassic World. Project Almanac.

Michael Bay and is trash factory of a production company, Platinum Dunes bring us a found footage (for some reason) time travel thriller about teens who create a time travel device. Sitting on the shelf for about a year, and knowing the "talent" behind the film, one begins to wonder if this film is as terrible as the signs point to, or could this be a diamond in the rough. The answer: neither.

                                               It's no DeLorean, that's for sure.

In 2014, David Raskin (Jonny Weston) has just been accepted to MIT with only a partial scholarship. Not able to afford to the remaining balance for tuition, David resorts to trying to get a scholarship by providing an invention. While rummaging through his dead father's science experiments, (naturally) David and his sister, Chris (Virginia Gardner) and their 2 friends: Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista) stumble across plans for a time travel device.

With Chris recording everything (because, why not?) David and his friends take the plans and find a way to make the machine work. Aided by Jessie, (Sofia Black D'Ella) another student and a girl that catches David's eye, the friends are able to travel back in time. Initially making a pact to only travel back in time together, David does not heed the warnings and begins to mess with the time travel device.

                                          "This isn't like 'Back to the Future'. Hell, it's not even like 'The Butterfly Effect'.

Following the usual tropes of time travel films, the idea of holding the power of time travel in your hands is too great to bear. The characters in the film use the machine to travel back in time to win the lottery, go to concerts and make certain decisions right. Though, by changing the past, consequences of what they have changed affect what goes on back in the present time. Upon returning to the present, the friends discover that their changes have negatively impacted their present time and must find a way to right their wrongs.

As is typical with most time travel movies, the film cannot bear the weight of the paradoxes that the script puts the characters into. Taking a much longer time than usual for setting up the film, the first half is not awful in watching the, mostly likable, characters come together and build the time machine together. Once the time travel begins, though, the film slogs through endless sequences of David and company changing their lives in various ways.

                                            The cast realizing their paychecks come from Michael Bay.

The changing of the lives comes off as boring and overly long, before we finally reach them realizing that they have changed their present-day lives. Their actions and the negative consequences, though, never really feel threatening to the story; especially when the characters know how to fix their mistakes and follow through with the plan. Project Almanac plays it way too safe and that hurts a film that wants to be a different type of time travel film.

I'm a sucker for time travel films, yet Project Almanac fails overall in the story it tries to tell. Stick with 'Primer', instead.

                                            A PG-13 version of 'There's Something About Mary'.



From The Vault: JFK

Let's take a ride into the wacky world of Oliver Stone!

Back in 1991, Oliver Stone's truth about the assassination of John F. Kennedy was released to the public. On November 22, 1963 John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas, Texas and depending on who you ask; one person or many people in a perfectly-coordinated coup de tat were involved in the assassination. I'll let you decide which one Oliver Stone believes in.

                                                "The glasses! They do nothing!"

New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) believes strongly in the beliefs of John Kennedy and, upon hearing of the assassination, believes that a conspiracy to kill John Kennedy has been put in place. Jim rounds up men in his office in an attempt to prove a conspiracy to kill the president of the United States.

Now, going over the happenings of the movie is a waste of time. Those looking for a history lesson should probably turn away now because if you want the truth, look elsewhere. You don't get the truth. You do get, THE TRUTH! Oliver Stone takes some facets of truth here and there and sprinkles them into a film that builds a strong case for one of the most entertaining FICTION films of all time. Not basing the film on all facts is what actually makes the movie such a blast to watch.

                                                  Behind the scenes still of Oliver Stone disagreeing with a reporter
                                                                  over the factual accuracy of JFK.

What Oliver Stoner and co-writer Zachary Sklar do is provide multiple characters that provide Jim Garrison with just enough information to make this conspiracy theory pop. The film, running at over three hours, never really drags for a second. The film does not fly by either. What Oliver Stone is able to do with JFK is encapsulate the audience in what he perceives as the truth and gets the viewer involved in an interesting conspiracy theory film.

Having a group of A-List actors to support the film and make the dialogue and situations believable is one of the film's biggest strengths. Joe Pesci is wildy miscast as the paranoid David Ferrie and Kevin Bacon's flattop and accent are laughable, but both actors believe in the material and make the film much easier to take. Tommy Lee Jones is on hand (in an Oscar nominated performance) as the antagonistic, yet possibly innocent Clay Bertrand. Stealing the movie, though, is Donald Sutherland's X, who only has one sequence in the film, but it is a show stopper. How Donald Sutherland rattles off all the information in his sequence and doesn't make the audience fall asleep I will never know. Certainly a missed opportunity for an Oscar nomination there.

                                          Uh...this film is still about the Kennedy assassination, right?

Again, the film is nowhere near the truth. As a highly-stylized, fictional story about a conspiracy to assassinate the president, though, JFK is an amazing film and must be seen. One of my favorite films of all time.



Into The Woods

Talent is cobbled together to create a giant mess!

Meryl Streep plays a Witch who has placed a curse upon the family of a Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt) wherein the Baker and Wife cannot have children. The Witch is willing to remove the curse if the Baker and his Wife are able to obtain four objects: a red cape, a white cow, yellow hair and a gold slipper.

                                               "Hopefully there are no half man/half wolf pedophile Johnny Depp
                                                               lookalikes with a penchant for underage girls with picnic baskets
                                                               lurking in these woods."

During this time, the owners of the other objects begin to live out the fairy tales that you have read in books. Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) and her cape are on their way to grandmother's house with a basket full of goodies only to be interrupted by The Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Depp). Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy) spends her days locked in a tower while being secretly visited by a Prince (Billy Magnussen). Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) is on his way to town to sell his beloved cow while Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) struggles continues to lead on her Prince (Chris Pine) and leaving him with a serious case of blue balls.

All these characters meet and intersect "into the woods" as they each have their reasons for crossing through the title. Eventually, in what would seem like the film beginning to wind down, The Baker and his Wife gather the objects desired by the Witch to have the curse removed. Surprisingly, the film continues onward for a long portion of time and leads past all of the characters living out their "happy endings".

                                            "Sup, sexy?"
                                                           "Sup, beefcake."

Watching the characters go through their happy endings and finding out that everything does not end well could be an interesting idea. Unfortunately, the film doesn't really follow through with following the characters beyond where the fairy tale ends. What we get instead is a race against time with the characters teaming up to stop a threat coming down to the woods. Any hope that might have survived for something interesting quickly fades and we are reduced to a bland and boring second half of the film.

Not to say the first half of the film was something to write home about. Into the Woods has a star-studded cast, yet no one seems to hit the notes the characters need for this type of film. Meryl Streep is having a lot of fun, but her Witch is never menacing. Johnny Depp's brief appearance as The Wolf is highly disappointing as The Wolf comes off as just a pedophile version of Johnny Depp with painted on whiskers. James Corden tries to step up and hold the film as the Baker, but Rob Marshall's bland directing and surprisingly ugly set design keep the film bogged down; never allowing Into the Woods to get any momentum going.

                                          Johnny Depp molesting this tree is still more watchable than 'Mortdecai'.

It's a shame, as there is a good idea to be had with Into the Woods. Unfortunately, that idea lays dormant and we are instead treated to an uninspired film that wastes a perfectly good cast.