Mini-Review – “The Exorcist” (1973)

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Why do you think people find “The Exorcist” so scary? Why do people keep coming back to this horror film, year after year, to return and find out they’re still terrified by it? Shouldn’t most of the creepy factor fade after the first or second viewing? What is so special about “The Exorcist”?

Well, I think I have an answer. Part of it is because the film plays it with the utmost seriousness and sincerity. “The Exorcist” takes the concept of a little girl being possessed by the devil and never once plays it up for laughs, never shying away from how graphic and disturbing the devil can be. This is the ruler of the underworld that we’re talking about. He is sneaky, under-handed, fiendish and will do just about anything to mess with people. We see the intensive therapy, the logical reactions to what is happening to this girl and the world trying to rationalize what might be happening, only to come up with no definitive answer. All we know is that what is happening is not of this world.

Another part is the unknown. Like most great horror films, what we don’t see is often the most terrifying aspect of a horror film. Is this the devil we’re dealing with? It’s possible, but not necessarily true. What we do know is that Regan (Linda Blair) is not alone in her body and mind, and that her body is being torn apart by these hellish creatures. Is the exorcism actually working, or is the devil letting them only think it is working? Has the devil orchestrated this from the beginning? We may never know.

The final part of what makes “The Exorcist” one of the greatest horror films is Linda’s mother, Chris (Ellen Burstyn). It isn’t enough that the devil possesses a little girl, but that we witness her mother watch her pride and joy fall to pieces. Her daughter is being torn apart by some spawn of evil, and there is nothing she can do about it. Yet, like a good mother, she attempts every treatment, every psychologist, every person or source that might help save her daughter. Her emotional outbursts drive home how heartbreaking and tragic something like this could be and make it feel all the more real.

This isn’t just a possession, but a life being taken away by some force we’ll never hope to understand.

Final Grade: A-

 

 

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Movie Review – “Mr. Holmes” (2015) – Gandalf, Magneto or Sherlock?

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Imagine that Sherlock Holmes was not only real, but that he quit being a detective. Why would he do that? Sherlock Holmes is one of the craftiest, egotistical and ingenious characters of all times, who above all else wants to solve crime.

But what if Sherlock realized that solving crime has repercussions? In most adaptations, Sherlock is a man driven by logic and devoid of empathy for other human beings. He thinks more like a computer, setting his emotions aside because they can’t make solving the crime any easier.

“Mr. Holmes” takes that side of the most famous private detective of all time, and shows how it would reflect in an aging Sherlock Holmes. That over the years, he has come to realize that without human connection and understanding, he has grown to be a man with many regrets in life. While he has solved countless crimes, what he should have done is save the people effected by these crimes.

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Ian McKellen plays Sherlock Holmes, who hasn’t been in the detective business for thirty years, yet cannot remember his last case, the one that caused him to go into self-imposed exile. He now spends his time at a house on the English coast, collecting royal jelly from bees and writing the tale of his final mystery. Holmes had read Dr. Watson’s book about this case, as well as a movie adaptation of it, and found both lacking in finality. He intends to right this wrong and prove to the world that Sherlock Holmes is human after all.

McKellen does a wonderful job at playing both a young and decrepit Holmes, and gives us a look at the character that is rarely seen, one of him being at his most vulnerable. We watch as all the years of chasing criminals and clashing with mortal enemies has amounted to memories he cannot recall, and more people hurt by his actions than anything else. All because he never knew when to keep his mouth shut.

Overall, “Mr. Holmes” is a tragedy about Sherlock looking back on his life, and realizing that he was a terrible human being. That he sacrificed his humanity to be one of the most intellectual creatures of his time. And in the end, he would take it all back if he could.

Final Grade: B+

 

Mini-Review – “The Red Shoes” (1948)

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This one might get added to the list of films I hate, but everyone else loves.

I have made it no secret that I’m not a fan of musicals at all, as most of the subtleties and nuances of music go over my head. I admit my lack of the basic understanding of music is the problem, but a film should still rely on visual storytelling and stand on its own merits even without the music.

While there are parts of “The Red Shoes” that are impressive, such as the 15-minute sequence that comes in the middle of the film where Vicky Page (Moria Shearer) enacts the entirety of the Red Shoes ballet, there are so few scenes that left an impact on me that it is hard to remember exactly what happened.

We are told about a plot about the start of the ballet falling in love with the composer, as the director of the play being completely against it, but I don’t buy for a second that the ballerina and the composer are in love. As I said, we are simply told about it, never shown it. The cast and crew talk about how great it is that love has blossomed, but we never see any chemistry between the two until after the romance has supposed started. After that, it is only kissing and making googly eyes at one another.

The only character actions that seem logical are the emotional reactions from the director, Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), as he watches the greatest dancer he’s ever witnessed and his miraculous composer fall in love and his jealousy consumes him. He is a man who only sees the beauty of art in life, and sees anything else and childish and a waste of talent and time. This does lead to a memorable ending where Vicky must make the ultimate decision as to which world she wants to live in – a world of love, or a world of ballet.

Though it does beg the question – Is it too much to ask for both?

“The Red Shoes” has moments of ingenuity and passion for the art of ballet, but it is surrounded by scenes of unimportance and banal that it makes the experience feel forgettable. Like other films that tackle art forms, such as “Almost Famous,” there is clearly a love for that almighty art, but the movie never bothers to keep the audience in the loop. The only people who would utterly get this piece are those understand ballet and theatre inside and out.

Final Grade: C-

 

Movie Review – “Ant Man” (2015) – Size Is Irrelevant

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I think it is now safe to say there is a set pattern to most Marvel movies. Now that we have over a dozen entires into the Marvel cinematic universe, plot points and themes are shared throughout most of these films.

For example, in many of the solo hero entries, like “Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk” and “Captain America: The Winter Solider,” our titular hero ends up fighting a foe who has nearly identical powers to his own in a city landscape where destruction is at the greatest potential. The heroes are often cocky, full of themselves but can back it up, especially Tony Stark, Thor and Star Lord from “Guardians Of The Galaxy.”

This is bound to happen when you have a series that has more than ten entires, but this does tend to get a bit dull after a while. When every main character is similar and ultimately lead to a final confrontation with someone like our heroes, you kind of want something a bit more after so many films.

Well, in a way, that is what we got with “Ant Man.” I am hesitant to say so, because we still get a protagonist that leans more on the comedic and improve side, much like Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Pratt, but there is enough of differences in this film to give “Ant Man” its own unique flare and presentation. The film doesn’t necessarily break the mold, but it does what it can with the mold it was given.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), an expert thief and hacker, has been in prison for some time now, and has missed his daughter growing up. Lang promises to quit cat burglary and get a real job so that he can spend time with his family, but finds it difficult for a former inmate to keep a job. When his friends call upon Lang for a heist that is “air tight,” he accepts, only to find there is one item to be stolen – a strange suit and helmet. What Scott doesn’t know is that the suit will transport him to a new world he never thought possible – the world of the insects.

Now Scott must take part in a new heist, orchestrated by the creator of the suit, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Pym wants to make sure the power to shrink down to bug size isn’t given to the military by Lex Luthor…I mean Obediah Stane… I mean Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), and Pym is willing to break into his own company, with the help of his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), and stop power from falling into the wrong hands.

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Let’s get this out of the way, the plot is almost identical to “Iron Man” – A man reaches his lowest point, uses his ingenuity and cunning to create (or find) power he never thought possible, wishes to use said power to help the world (most of the second act is the hero testing the limits of his power), but the big bad corporation wants to use the same power for evil military purposes, leading to the final confrontation of similar powers duking it out.

To be fair though, “Ant Man” had to go through four different writers after Marvel’s original pick to write and direct, Edgar Wright (director of “Hot Fuzz” and “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World”), left the project due to creative differences with the company. So they attempted to make a new hero in a proven formula, which most would say is the best written Marvel movie. Still, the plot is not the most imaginative and is one of the weaker points of the film, especially since it has many of the same character traits between Scott and Tony Stark, as well as the villain.

What does shine through in “Ant Man” is in its simplicity. Unlike most other Marvel films, this one doesn’t try to overly impress us with flashy effects or grand battles that take up whole city blocks. If anything, the effects are not that impressive and every battle is confined to microscopic sizes. This film is more about pulling a heist than anything else, outside of the over arching theme of the film – rekindling family love.

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The best part of “Ant Man” is the father-daughter relationship between Hank Pym and Hope, and really shows off how great Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly are of actors. Hope resents her father for most of the film, because he has shunned the outside world after being the Ant Man for so many years in secrecy. When the two of them begin to concoct this heist, Hope insists that she put on the suit. She knows it better than anyone and has inside connections. Hank refuses to let her become Ant Man.

For a long time, we’re not told why. Because we don’t need to told. Douglas’ body movement and tendency to snap at the suggestion of Hope taking an active role says it all – he cares more about his daughter than he does about this mission. Hope is the only thing he has left in this world, and he regrets throwing her out of his life. Hank did the same thing to Darren Cross, who was his apprentice that he never told about Ant Man. Now Darren has taken it upon himself to prove that the Ant Man is possible and that he’ll share this power with the world, by weaponizing it.

Perhaps in Hank’s old age, he is gotten sentimental and wishes to pay for the mistakes he has made. But we watch all of this unfold through Scott’s eyes, and we see him doing the same thing to his daughter – throwing her aside so that he can improve the world, when she should be his world.

This makes the character dynamic of Scott far more relatable than any other Marvel movie. Instead of being this larger than life persona of gods attempting to bring peace to the world, we get a guy who wants to make things right with his family. Instead of overcoming his own ego, Scott has to deal with the mistakes of his past.

The comedy of “Ant Man” is hit-and-miss. Sometimes we get a good joke, like when Scott learns to use his powers and keeps growing while still stuck underground, or most of the scenes involving Scott’s best friend, Luis (Michael Pena). Luis seems to have this permanent smirk on his face, and takes everything in stride that it is impossible to hate him. He’s like if Groot could speak English and drove a van.

Other times though, the comedy falls flat. Most of the scenes involving Darren Cross’ testing his shrinking formula on co-workers and goats are strange and off-putting that leaves me wondering if Cross thought his actions were hilarious or tragic. At times, the comedy felt rushed so the story could advance, but again that might have to do with having so many writers.

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But the funniest scene is the climatic battle between Scott and Darren, all of which takes place on a Thomas The Train play set. The two toss toy trains, set others on fire which we see doesn’t look like much from a human’s perspective, and even growing ants to giant size. While this is another case of a final battle of characters using similar powers, like “Iron Man,” this battle is creative in how it uses the growing and shrinking abilities to give “Ant Man” its own unique feel.

Overall, “Ant Man” is a flawed but fun ride that feels different enough from any other Marvel movie. Instead of big battles where thousands of lives are threatened, we get a more personal story of a man redeeming himself in the eyes of his family and the heist that comes from that. The writing and effects are not Marvel’s best, but the comedy and acting more than make up for it.

Final Grade: B-

 

Mini-Review – “The Incredible Shrinking Man” (1957)

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Sometimes all you need is the tiniest of set-ups to have a great B-movie with effects that transport you to another world.

“The Incredible Shrinking Man” does not dwell on details of why or how this man, Scott Carey (Grant Williams), began to shrink from a man who hardly fit his clothes, to the size of a child, to hardly fitting in a doll house, and then to the point where a common spider is utterly massive to him. We get the basic understanding of how it happened, but it is so rushed that you almost miss it. Not that it matters, the film only uses it as an excuse to show the true highlight of the film – making us feel like we’re right along-side Scott in this tiny world.

Truly great special effects do not make the impossible possible, but make us care and rejoice in the impossible. Films like “Godzilla” (1954) and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” not only have impressive effects, but effects that make you terrified for the characters. The same can be said about “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” as we watch Scott’s world deteriorate from phones being too big for him, to using a pencil as a lifeboat, to a bobby pin acting as a sword. The effects never go over the top and compliment how even the tiniest of menaces in our world can become life-shattering problems when you’re smaller than an ant.

My only complaint with the film was the closing monologue about how being so tiny made Scott feel one with the universe and how pretentious it was. That type of speech didn’t fit with the rest of the film, so it came out of no where and didn’t do the film any favors. If anything, I found that speech laughable because of all the 1950s cheese attached to it.

Overall, “The Incredible Shrinking Man” is an impressive piece of 1950s science fiction that deserves more recognition. It might not have changed much, but its use of size manipulation and sets helped to elevate this above most other B-films. With a great performance by Grant Williams, this one is certainly worth a watch.

Final Grade: B-

 

Mini-Review – “Mortal Kombat” (1995)

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This might be the first movie I’ve watched that is based on a video game. I’ve attempted to avoid such films, like “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” “Street Fighter: The Movie” and “Max Payne” (starring Mark Wahlberg), because they attempt to turn video games that have very little character and even less plot into a feature-length production. The results have always been disastrous.

“Mortal Kombat” falls into the same group when it comes to story and character – It is a martial arts tournament with the fate of the world in the balance. The characters are little more than stereotypes, like the female military leader that bottles up her emotions, and the cocky and smug Hollywood type that is somehow good at kung fu, especially at punching four-armed demons in the private parts.

But let’s face it, people don’t watch “Mortal Kombat” for the story, they watch it for the action.

One of the main attractions of the Mortal Kombat video games is the ultra-violent finishers with characters getting ripped in half or burned alive, yet they decided to make “Moral Kombat” PG-13, with next to no blood for the kids to enjoy. Most of the charm of the video game is removed by doing this, making the movie a standard kung-fu film with a kick-ass soundtrack.

I’ll admit, the main theme to “Mortal Kombat” gets me excited to watch two warriors duke it out to the death. Listening to the opening cords makes me want to punch a wooden board. The theme gets the job done at building up the action and making it seem all the more grand and exciting. Easily the best part of the film.

Overall, “Mortal Kombat” is devoid of any good character moments and very few action sequences that stand out, even a few hours after watching the film. Johnny Cage has a few good moments of being a dick, and the soundtrack is amazing, but that’s all this film has to offer.

Final Grade: C-

 

Mini-Review – “The Giant Claw” (1957)

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What is wrong with your face?

I’m not sure what else I can say about this film. Just look at this thing. This is monster that everyone is supposed to be afraid of, with big dumb doofy eyes, huge flaring nostrils, a mouth that is never fully closed and a wing span that makes an Ostrich feel embarrassed. And the characters would not stop calling it a “flying battleship.” This is the most laughable monster I have ever seen.

Like most B-movies, “The Giant Claw” has its charm but it is full of techno-babble right out of Star Trek, and a plot that makes little sense as it tries to understand that this giant bird came from outer space and has an energy barrier that prevents anything from getting through.

“The Giant Claw” is stupid, nonsensical and overly dramatic about a monster that looks like if Dopey from “Snow White And The Seven Dwarves” got beat up, and then turned into a monster to fight those who wronged him.

Final Grade: C