Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Are You Don't Be Afraid of the Dark?

Forgot to post my review of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, the Guillermo del Torro-produced remake of the 70's TV horror movie (which I have yet to see). It's a pretty effective little horror movie. Despite the R rating, there isn't a whole lot of gore in this tale of a family that move into a house infested with little goblin-like creatures that feed on children's teeth. In fact, unlike most horror movies these days, the film spends most of its running time building up a sense of dread without really showing you anything. The creepy set design, lighting and sound had me expecting something terrible to happen at any moment. Unfortunately, when the creatures finally do take center stage, impressively realised though they may be, much of the tension dissipates. What we imagine is more awful than anything the filmmakers can show us, and the creatures even come across as endearing in some of their scenes. The film also falls into the trap of other supernatural family in peril films (such as Poltergeist) by having the parents' complete stupidity enabling the horror to continue. It does have a disturbing ending, though.
Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes are adequate as the parents, but the real standout is young Bailee Madison as their daughter. She carries much of the film (drawing parallels with del Torro's Pan's Labyrinth) and perfectly captures both the childlike wonder and intense fear of the dark in her character. Technically the film is near flawless. Don't expect any groundbreaking horror, but it's a fun ride for old school horror fans.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Welcome to Fright Night . . . again

I watched the remake of Fright Night yesterday and, while it wasn't a bad movie in itself, it doesn't hold a candle to the classic original. The main problem is that all the characters are pale shadows of their original versions. That's not the fault of the actors but the writing - a real disappointment from Buffy writer Marti Noxon.
First off, Charlie is something of a douchebag in this. Right from the outset we learn he stopped being friends with Evil Ed so he could hang with the cool kids. That wouldn't be so bad except he never changes this attitude and Ed is killed too early for them to have any kind of reconciliation. That negated much of the empathy I would have had for his character, even though I like Anton Yelchin.
Jerry the vampire is just a brute in this version. While I appreciate Colin Farrell trying to give a more savage and animalistic take on the character, the charm and pathos of Chris Sarandon's Dandridge is sorely missed. And when he starts blowing up houses and throwing motorbikes at people - no, just wrong. I also missed his companion, Billy. Farrell does his best, but just compare his delivery of "welcome to Fright Night" with Sarandon's more flamboyant version.
David Tennant as Peter Vincent comes off the best of all the cast. He's no Roddy McDowall but he's clearly having fun in the role. I can almost forgive him being a Las Vegas entertainer rather than a horror host, but I can't forgive how little screen time he has. His turn from coward to vampire slayer is unconvincing, especially as he doesn't even get to stake any vamps! Which is a shame as I would pay to see a movie about Tennant offing bloodsuckers.
Evil Ed is reduced to little more than a cameo. Aside from the way they screwed up his relationship with Charlie, having him figure out Jerry is a vampire long before anyone else removes any suspense the film might have had for viewers who haven't seen the original. He does come back as a vampire, but it lacks the pathos of his turn in the original.
Imogen Poots is cute as Amy. That's all.
Technically the film is fine. The effects are good, though the 3D is just okay. If this movie had taken the same basic premise (kid discovers a vampire living next door) and spun off its own story and characters I probably would have enjoyed it more. But as it sticks so close to the original, for the most part, the changes were just jarring. Worth a watch for vampire fans (it even has a nice dig at Twilight) but it won't be remembered years from now.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Guess who's a published writer now?

This guy! My short story Mind the Gap, after receiving around six rejections, was finally published in, appropriately enough, The Rejected Quarterly. Aside from the thrill of seeing my story in a printed literary magazine (internet publishing just isn't the same thrill) I got a check for $20 too! Maybe I can make a career out of this writing thing, after all. It just shows if you want to get anywhere as a writer you have to keep trying. Now if only I can get someone to publish my novel . . .

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Final Destination . . . oh just kill them all already!

Final Destination movies are a guilty pleasure of mine. Although only the first movie had anything approaching a decent script, all of the sequels have been at least entertaining, which is more than you can say for most horror series. The last movie, called THE Final Destination (a blatant lie) was the first one in 3D and offered the usual inventive deaths, this time with gore popping out at you, along with characters that were less than 2D. Final Destination 5 continues the trend of characters that you just want to see killed nastily, though it is a slight step up from its predecessor. The opening accident is spectacular (if illogical) and the later deaths are squirm-inducing, especially a laser-eye surgery gone wrong and a physics-defying gymnastic accident.
The main twist this time is that, thanks to a tip from coroner Bludworth (Tony Todd, making a welcome return to the series) the characters realise that if they kill someone else they get to cheat death and live as long as the other person would have lived. Of course, the crazy Tom Cruise lookalike is the one that tries to take advantage of this. This results in a rather generic confrontation between him and the last survivors. There is a big twist beyond that, though it's one I saw coming. Without completely giving it away, the true title of the film should be Final Destination 0.
I don't know if I'm up for too many more Final Destinations, but I'll take them over another Hostel or Saw.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Return of the Revenge of the Rise of the Conquest of the Planet of the Apes!

So summer 2011 continues to be a pleasant surprise. Who thought another Planet of the Apes movie would actually turn out to be one of the best films of the year? Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a prequel (or a reboot, if you prefer) but it doesn't fall into the trap of showing us stuff we already know. The story focusses on chimpanzee Ceaser (who also led the ape revolt in the very different Conquest of the Planet of the Apes) and really, aside from good guy scientist James Franco and his Alzheimer's afflicted dad (John Lithgow), the human characters are pretty unimportant, mostly serving to illustrate how much humans are plain old gits.
Having a chimp as the main character (and a computer generated one to boot) could have backfired disastrously. Luckily, Ceaser is created by Weta and motion-captured by Andy Serkis who, after playing Gollum and King Kong deserves at least a special award for mo-capping performances. We follow the chimp pretty much throughout the whole movie as he grows more and more intelligent, thanks to the brain drugs given to him by his owner. After he bites a man harassing Lithgow, Ceaser ends up in primate prison and it is there he sees exactly how cruel humans can be and leads an ape revolt that spills out onto the streets and bridges of San Francisco.
The film is a character drama first and an action film second, which means it has a lot more impact than your standard summer blockbuster (hello, Michael Bay). By the end of the movie, as in Avatar, I was cheering for the damn dirty humans to get what they deserved.
The special effects are mostly flawless, though there are a few scenes where the CG apes look a little too rubbery. The performances are good and there is a nice amount of humour in the film (though I could have done without Draco Malfoy quoting two lines from the original). More importantly, unlike the 2001 Planet of the Apes (which I actually enjoyed more than most people) this film is actually about something, with a strong argument against animal testing. It's rare to get excited about a reboot of a franchise (especially from Fox) but I'm excited to see where both this and X-Men: First Class go next. It's been one hell of a summer.