‘Fright Night’ (Movie Review) ** 1/2

Fright Night

“Fright Night” (2011) is a remake of the 1985 film of the same name. I admit that I wanted to be cynical about the newer film, but I cannot be.  The remake is not bad.

Charley Brewster, portrayed by Anton Yelchin, is a senior in high school. He lives with his mom (Toni Collette) in a suburban Las Vegas neighborhood. Charley begins to get suspicious of their new neighbor, Jerry (Colin Farrell). The neighbor seems nice enough at first but has some strange habits–namely, that he’s a blood sucking vampire. Charley becomes convinced that Jerry is out to get his mom, his girlfriend (Imogen Poots) and the entire neighborhood.  So he reaches out to a local “fright night” horror TV host, Peter Vincent (played by David Tennant.) Vincent thinks Charley is crazy, so Charley decides he must stop the monster on his own before it’s too late.

The 1985 version of “Fright Night” looks very dated when you watch it now, with its retro hair styles and sensibilities. The new film sticks to the same basic story, but updates the performances and the special effects. Each film contains about equal the number of thrills. The older version just a bit campier, due in large part to a fun performance by Roddy McDowall as Peter Vincent. The 2011 “Fright Night” does contain a very nicely done car chase scene that the first film doesn’t have. In the scene, our neighbor vampire chases the family on a highway out into the desert. The camera work here reminded me of the stellar move-around-the-car-while-it’s-speeding camera work when Tom Cruise and his family were driving along the highway in Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds.”  Though, admittedly, Spielberg’s film is much better than “Fright Night.”  There’s also a nice cameo in this scene from the 1985 film’s vampire actor, Chris Sarandon.

Farrell’s vampire is formidable, smoldering and, well, more masculine than Sarandon’s Jerry. Farrell seems a little less refined and worldly, perhaps a tad more truck-driver-like. No complaints from me on that. Generally speaking, all of the acting in the 2011 film is good for the lightweight material, including a supporting performance by Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Charley’s friend Ed. To be honest, though, I sort of missed McDowall as Peter Vincent.

“Fright Night” is directed by Craig Gillespie who previously directed “Lars and the Real Girl” and episodes of the television series “United States of Tara.”  The screenplay was written by Marti Noxon, based on the original story and film written and directed by Tom Holland (“Child’s Play” and “Thinner”).

One criticism that I have for “Fright Night”  is its darkness. I don’t know if it was intentional (since vampires move around only at night) or if it was because of the 3D.  Either way, it was at times too dark to clearly see the action on the screen. That said, “Fright Night” is generally an enjoyable, fun film.

Rating 2.5 out of 4 stars
2011, Rated R, 106 minutes, Horror, Comedy

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Shout Out to The Lamb

The Lamb

"Large Ass Movie Blogs"

I am just giving a quick shout out to The LAMB (Large Ass Movie Blog), which was nice enough to mention me today.  You can visit their site here:  http://largeassmovieblogs.blogspot.com/

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‘Tabloid’ (Movie Review) ***

Tabloid Movie Poster

Errol Morris' "Tabloid"

Acclaimed director Errol Morris is known for making smart and engrossing documentary films.  The director’s best works include “The Fog of War” about the nature of modern war, “The Thin Blue Line,” an investigation into the murder of a policeman, and “Gates of Heaven” about the eccentric patrons of a pet cemetery in California. “Gates of Heaven” managed to be funny, yet bizarre and honest. Now, with “Tabloid,” about a beauty queen accused of kidnapping her true love, Morris has returned to the playfulness that made “Gates of Heaven” so enthralling.

Tabloid Movie

Joyce McKinney, featured in the movie "Tabloid"

Meet Joyce McKinney. Joyce was a young lady who’d achieved success in beauty pageants. She even won Miss Wyoming. According to the film, Joyce dreamed of meeting and marrying her prince charming. When she finally did meet him, his name was Kirk Anderson. The two had a romance. Kirk was a mormon. Joyce claims that before the couple had a chance to marry, the Mormons whisked Kirk away from her to England in 1977. Joyce believed that the Mormons were a cult, and that they were brainwashing Kirk.  So Joyce did what any other young lady would do:  She saved up her money, hired a private detective, a pilot and a couple of body guards then flew to England to get her man back.  Once there, Joyce rescued Kirk from a mormon temple, took him to a cottage and chained him to a bed.  A few days later, Kirk told police that he had been abducted and raped.  The story gets more wild and interesting from there, as tabloid stories often do, but you’ll have to get the juicy details by seeing the movie.

Tabloid

"Tabloid"

Joyce McKinney is still alive and well, and she participated in the making of “Tabloid.”  Her on-camera interviews depict her as likeable, fun, opinionated and spunky, but also eccentric and perhaps a little crazy. Morris said of McKinney in an interview, “I think she’s a great, romantic-slash-tragic heroine. She’s fabulous.”

Morris utilizes McKinney’s own words along with interviews from others, including members of the British tabloid press. (The story was huge and salacious in England at the time.)  The director also includes older footage, such as televised press reports and a film of McKinney reading aloud her love story about waiting for her one true love.  Morris also makes brilliant use of clippings, headlines and images from the tabloids (as well as on-screen text) to tell his story and to punctuate several sequences. Combine all of this with wonderfully nudging, playful and captivating music by John Kusiak, and you get a film that is as enthralling as it is fun.

At its heart “Tabloid” is the story of an obsessed woman who did some very questionable things (or did she??)–and the notoriety this brings her. It’s also a commentary about “self-fulfilling prophecies” or how one’s outlook on life might actually shape one’s future.

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
2010, Not rated, 87 minutes, Documentary

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A Dozen Recent Movies (with Star Ratings)

the-double-hour

A scene from "The Double Hour"

I enjoy writing about movies. But I admit that I enjoy watching movies more than writing about them. As a result, I sometimes get ahead of myself. Now is one of those times to play catch-up. Below are a dozen movies I’ve seen in the past couple of weeks. They probably deserve full reviews here, but due to life’s other responsibilities, I doubt I’ll be able to get that done. So here, I am cleaning my slate, presenting 12 films with their directors and my star ratings. More reviews coming soon.

  • “Captain America: The First Avenger” (Joe Johnston) ***
  • “The Double Hour” (Giuseppe Capotondi) ***
  • “The Trip” (Michael Winterbottom) ***
  • “A Screaming Man” (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun) ***
  • “Neds” (Peter Mullan) ***
  • “A Boy Called Dad” (Brian Percival) ** 1/2
  • “Cowboys and Aliens” (Jon Favreau) **
  • “Project Nim” (James Marsh) *** 1/2
  • “The Perfect Host” (Nick Tomnay) ***
  • “Crazy, Stupid, Love” (Glen Ficarra & John Requa) **
  • “The Change-Up” (David Dobkin) **
  • “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (Rupert Wyatt) ***
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Ten Fave Films from the First Half of 2011

I thought it might be fun to share the ten movies I have enjoyed the most so far this year.  Of course, there is much more to come in 2011, so stayed tuned . . .

Ten Favorite Films from the First Half of 2011:

poetry-movie

Jeong-hie Yun in "Poetry"

1. “Poetry (Shi)” – An incisive script and wonderful acting by Jeong-hie Yun make this suspenseful slice-of-life film from South Korea both wonderful and devastating. Here’s my mini-review.

2. “The Tree of Life” – Terrence Malick’s masterpiece is a grand but earnest spiritual poem that explores a young man’s relationship with God. Here’s my review.

3. “Project Nim” – This startling, touching documentary about Nim, a chimpanzee raised by humans, proves that real life stories can be more powerful than fiction.

Meek's Cutoff

"Meeks's Cutoff"

4. “Meek’s Cutoff” – One of the most artistic yet simple films of the year. Settlers trudge across the wilderness and meet an American Indian. Here you  can read my “fun-size” review.

5. “Midnight in Paris” – Woody Allen’s smart tale of a dreamer exploring old Paris will warm the cockles of your heart. Here you can see my “fun-size” review.

Mad Bastards

TJ from "Mad bastards"

6. “Mad Bastards” – Director Brendan Fletcher, together with an Australian aboriginal non-actor cast, explored and created realistic characters who struggle to do the right things in tough circumstances. Here’s my review.

7. “The Double Hour” – It’s nail-bitingly suspenseful, intelligent, well-acted and sexy. I loved every minute of it.

8. “A Screaming Man” – This film is set during a civil conflict in the country of Chad.  It’s a parable involving a man and his young adult son that contains heartfelt lessons for us all.

The Perfect Host

David Hyde Pierce is "The Perfect Host"

9. “The Perfect Host” – David Hyde Pierce  is the title character in this delicious and diabolical dark comedy.

10. “Win Win” – While it’s a slightly predictable crowd pleaser, “Win Win” is much more enjoyable than most coach-makes-a-difference-in-a-kid’s-life type films. Here you can read my “fun-size” review.

Honorable mentions: “Neds” is a harsh, well-made UK film about teens in Scotland becoming trapped in a life of violence. “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” is Werner Herzog’s sublime documentary about the oldest drawings ever discovered, and “Jane Eyre” is the perfect love story to curl up to on the sofa.

I have also viewed several older films this year which I enjoyed more than many newer films, including Sophia Loren in Vittorio De Sica’s delightful “Marriage Italian Style” (1964), Terrence Malick’s  dark and funny “Badlands” (1973) and Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s sci-fi dystopian classic “World on a Wire” (1973).

And one more thing: The worst films I’ve seen this year are “Atlas Shrugged: Part 1” and “Battle Los Angeles.” You can read my full reviews of each movie here and here.

Battle Los Angeles

A scene from "Battle: Los Angeles"

What are your favorite films from 2011 so far?

Note: Some of the films above may have release dates earlier than 2011, but I’m listing them because they are (or were) released theatrically in the U.S. during 2011.

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Eight ‘Fun Size’ Movie Reviews (from ‘The Ward’ to ‘I Saw the Devil’)

The Ward

"The Ward"

“The Ward” is director John Carpenter’s latest thriller about a young woman (played by Amber Heard) who is being held against her will in a psychiatric hospital. While there, horrific things begin to occur. I’ll be honest: this is a generally bad movie; however, Carpenter knows what he’s doing. For fans of creepy but tongue-in-cheek horror, “The Ward” will satisfy. Expect things to jump out from nowhere and scare the bejesus out of you. Mamie Gummer also provides a somewhat captivating performance as one of the inmates. 2010, Rated R, 88 minutes, horror, thriller. Rating 2 out of 4 stars.

Xmen First Class

"Xmen: First Class"

“Xmen: First Class” is a commendable comic action film from director Matthew Vaughn. A talented cast, a story that pulls you in and dazzling special effects set this film a bit above most other summer movies. We go back in time to see when Professor Xavier and Magneto meet–and learn when Xavier begins his school for students with super-human abilities. 2011, Rated PG-13, 132 minutes, action, adventure, drama. Rating 2.5 out of 3 stars.

Larry Crowne

"Larry Crowne"

“Larry Crowne” is about a recently fired middle-aged man who returns to college. The film is based on a moderately funny script and features charismatic acting from Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks (who also directed). The feel-good comedy-romance never really rises above the lightweight category, but it entertains. 2011, Rated PG-13, 98 minutes, comedy, drama, romance. Rating 2.5 out of 4 stars.

Green Lantern

"Green Lantern"

“Green Lantern” is yet another comic action hero fighting to save the planet. The film was generally panned by most critics, but I enjoyed it well enough. Yes, it’s cheesey. But if you go into the film expecting a bit of corny fun, then you’ll likely enjoy it more. Ryan Reynolds plays an airline pilot enlisted by a dying alien hero to become the Green Lantern. Peter Sarsgaard is his perfectly disgusting nemesis. 2011, Rated PG-13, 114 minutes, action, crime, fantasy. Rating 2 out of 4 stars.

Horrible Bosses

"Horrible Bosses"

“Horrible Bosses” is yet another let’s-see-how-crude-we-can-be comedies; this one is about three guys who hate their bosses and plan to kill them. Okay, so it’s a dark comedy. Of course, despite the heavy premise, hijinks ensue. The dialogue is slight and many of the jokes flimsy, but the film is saved by some genuinely funny performances, notably Charlie Day (who almost steals the show), Kevin Spacey and Jason Bateman. 2011, Rated R, 98 minutes, comedy, crime. Rating 2 out of 4 stars.

Zookeeper

"Zookeeper"

“Zookeeper” is a largely unfunny film about a zookeeper who wants to win over a girl who doesn’t like him because he is a zookeeper. Also, there are talking animals. The animals set out to help their favorite keeper to fall in love. The film’s title character is portrayed by Kevin James who enacts pretty-much the same character from all of his other movies.  The animal voices are annoying, but the film isn’t all bad–I laughed a few times. Younger movie goers might get a kick out of the talking animals.  2011, Rated PG, 102 minutes, comedy, family, romance. Rating 1.5 out of 4 stars.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II"

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” is a well-executed, thrilling special effects extravaganza filled with quirky characters and of course, magic. I’ve enjoyed Harry’s run over the years, but to be honest, this most recent film felt a little soulless to me and the acting a bit stiff. That said, Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort is a sight to behold. Even behind his disfiguring makeup, the actor’s performance is one to be remembered for the ages. Fans of the books and earlier films will love the movie–and non-fans will likely enjoy it too. Awesome music near the end of the movie provides a befitting end to the epic. Though, it wouldn’t surprise me if we see more from the world of Harry Potter in the future. 2011, rated PG-13, 130 minutes, adventure, drama, fantasy. Rating 3 out of 4 stars.

I Saw the Devil

"I Saw the Devil"

“I Saw the Devil” is a knock-down, drag-out, crime-horror-chase movie from South Korean director Jee-woon Kim. Min-sik Choi portrays a psychopathic serial killer. Byung-hun Lee is the fiance of one of the killer’s victims. The latter wants revenge and sets out to get it. The film is exceptionally violent, bloody and intense, which are not normally things I enjoy, but the film is well-directed with great performances. So while this film is not for the squeamish, if you can stand it, it’s a horrific, nail-biting ride. 2010, Not Rated, 141 minutes, crime, drama, horror. Rating 3 out of 4 stars.

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