Friday, May 29, 2015

The Babadook (2014)

Introduction:
The buzz around this film was pretty strong. And I enjoy a good horror flick. But then I remembered the buzz around Oculus was pretty strong too, and that one didn’t do much for me. Still, the idea behind this one sounded pretty interesting, and the name, well with a name like that how could I resist. I had to know what the heck a Babadook was!

Summary:
Amelia (Essie Davis) is having a rough time. Her husband died in a car crash while taking her to the hospital to give birth to their son. Samuel (Noah Wiseman) is now in elementary school and is pretty much out of control. He constantly talks about monsters, and builds home made weapons and traps to kill the creatures. Samuel’s behavior concerns all around him, even Amelia, who finds herself losing patience with her son.

But one night, she discovers a strange and disturbing storybook about a horrific creature called the Babadook. It is as if reading the book triggers the arrival of the creature in her home. Suddenly Amelia doubts her sanity, and her son is even more convinced that the Babadook is going to harm them. Reality starts to fray around the two, and Samuel begins to fear for his life. Because it appears that the Babadook has possessed his mother, and she is going to kill him.

Good Points:
  • Uses atmosphere and acting to build up a terrific sense of dread
  • The visuals and sound create a feeling of oppression in the home
  • The acting by Davis is impressive – giving us a very raw and damaged character


Bad Points:
  • A slow burning film – those looking for splatter should look elsewhere
  • If you don’t buy into the creeping dread, then you will find this slow going
  • While an answer is given, it is not obviously stated – this may frustrate some viewers


Overall:
All my negative points come down to the simple fact – if you don’t like what this movie is trying to do, then you won’t like the film. It is all about creating dread and building it up to almost unbearable levels. It takes its time, allowing the viewer to stew in the oppression of the home and the disturbing images of the Babadook. But there are few jump scares and no teen cast members to pull in the normal horror crowd. For me, this is one of the best horror films I’ve seen in recent times, but it is certainly not for everyone,

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 5
Sound: 4
Acting: 5
Script: 4
Music: 4
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4


Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Chef (2014)

Introduction:
At some point I think Jon Favreau just got a little tired of working on big budget tent pole summer films. Sure his film Iron Man was a huge hit (and really set the whole Marvel Universe going), but Iron Man 2 and Cowboys and Aliens weren’t as well received. So I speculate, he just wanted to do something a little more intimate. But does has his brush with the big budget ruined his indy street cred?

Summary:
Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is in a bit of a rut in his role of head chef at a swanky restaurant. When a food critic trashes his meal in an online review, Carl (who is a bit of a luddite) ends up making the whole thing worse, starting an online flame war. It ends with Carl losing his job and losing his confidence.

But his wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) convinces him to get into the food truck business. At first Carl balks. Would this be beneath his talents? But with his trusty friend Martin (Jon Leguizamo) at his side Carl embarks on a road trip in his new business venture, crossing the country and rediscovering his love of food and reconnecting with his estranged son Percy (Emjay Anthony). But will this journey be enough to redeem this Chef to himself? Includes some fun short performances by Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, Amy Sedaris and Robert Downey Jr.

Good Points:
  • A solid mix of humor and drama
  • Very good acting by the entire cast
  • Moves a good pace with some snappy dialogue and excellent music

Bad Points:
  • The story beats are pretty familiar
  • At times feels like it is trying to a little too hard
  • Don’t watch this movie if you are hungry!

Overall:
I really enjoyed this film. Yes it is a “feel good” film about someone who crashes pretty hard and beats the odds to rise up again. Pretty much all the story beats are there and some of them are pretty obvious. But the acting, dialogue, and music keep things moving along and pulls you into the story. But damn, all the food looked great in the movie. A perfect movie to whet your appetite.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 3
Sound: 3
Acting: 4
Script: 4
Music: 4
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4


Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Snowpiercer (2013)

Introduction:
Another day, another post apocalyptic dystopian science fiction film. I admit the luster is starting to wear off on this type of movie, but I keep watching them just the same. What interested me is that you have a Korean director, Joon-ho Bong working with a mostly Hollywood cast including some really talented folks. The concept was unusual and I heard the action scenes where handled really well. So I decided to dive into this dower world and see how it stacked up.

Summary:
In an effort to stop global warming humankind activates a device to cool the world instead. Unfortunately they overdo it a little bit, and before you can say Woolly Mammoth, there is another ice age and most of humanity is destroyed. Good one! Notice I said “most”, because there is a tiny bit of humanity still surviving.

Before the disaster struck a billionaire genius named Wilford (Ed Harris) constructed an amazing train that could circle the globe and bust through ice and snow. He called it the Snowpiercer. The enormous train is packed with people and a rigid social structure has evolved. At the front of the train are the rich and powerful, lead by Wilford and his efficient major domo Mason (Tilda Swinton). At the back of the train are the impoverished and starving lead by the wise Gilliam (John Hurt) and his right hand man Curtis (Chris Evans). Eventually, Curtis leads a rebellion ageist the tyranny within Snowpiercer, and makes his way to the front. But forces are aligned against him and he will need to make allies, battle hordes of foes and face the harsh reality of Wilford’s genius. In the end will Curtis make the decision to stop Snowpiercer and risk the frozen world, or will he become its new ruler?

Good Points:
  • An innovative concept that keeps the dystopian surroundings fresh
  • Some intense and brutal action scenes
  • A dash of humor and snappy dialogue keeps things from getting too dower

Bad Points:
  • Still this is a grim movie, so the dreary does permeate
  • Some familiar story beats in the “revolution” style story
  • The ending rings a bit hollow 

Overall:
Overall I enjoyed by trip on the Snowpiercer. The cast works really well and helps deliver an intriguing story with some intense moments. Evans makes a very good hero, one who is more damaged and harsh than Captain America. The visual effects, style and editing are top notch. Well worth checking out if you are in the mood for a darker science fiction film.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 5
Sound: 4
Acting: 4
Script: 4
Music: 4
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4


Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

John Dies at the End (2012)

Introduction:
You’ve got to love a movie that gives you a spoiler right in the title of the film. But Don Coscarelli is one of those directors who enjoys going bold in his films. I heard quite a bit of good buzz about this odd film when it came out. It sounded like an amusing mix of comedy, dark fantasy and a dash of the uncanny. Plus it is from the director of Bubba Ho-tep, which is reason enough for me to check this one out.

Summary:
Dave (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayes) are in a bit of a bind. You see they’ve managed to get their hands on a bizarre drug known as soy sauce. Once you take it, the laws of space and time cease to be an issue. Instead you get to experience other dimensions, other times and all kinds of oddball people. Unfortunately, it also has the side effect of trashing reality – so, that could be a small problem.

At first the drug trip seems to be nothing more than surreal. But Dave begins to wonder if what he is seeing is actually occurring. Are aliens really spilling into our dimension Lovecraft style and slowly taking over the earth – or is Dave just really, really high? There isn’t much time to decide because now Dave has a detective hunting him a down, a reporter trying to get his story, and a Las Vegas magician who may actually be able to warp time and space himself. Before it is all over time will be traveled, universes pierced and yes, John Dies at the End. Keep an eye out for appearances by Doug Jones, Clancy Brown, Paul Gamatti and Glynn Turman in key roles.

Good Points:
  • A crazy plot that takes the viewer on a wild ride
  • Some fun and unique performances by the cast
  • Has a few, “Did I just see that?” moments

Bad Points:
  • This movie is strange
  • This movie is strange
  • Yes you read that twice, but did I really write it twice, or are you just high?

Overall:
Oh boy! Here we have a movie that is not for everyone. It stays true to its style and that style is off center for sure. I enjoyed the twisted and twisting plot, some of the crazy visuals and even the main characters who aren’t quite likable, but in a way it suits the film. But if you are looking for something off the beaten path, with a dark sense of humor and a nonlinear storyline than you’ll have a blast with this movie.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 4
Acting: 4
Script: 4
Music: 4
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4


Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Movie Music Musings - Mining for Goldsmith Part 5

In the previous installment of Mining for Goldsmith I took a look at film composer Jerry Goldsmith’s work on forgotten science fiction films. Goldsmith claimed he wasn’t a big fan of science fiction, but after Planet of Apes was a huge success he was always asked to score them. One genre that Goldsmith enjoyed working on was family films. He said he always found a way to musically express these kinds of stories.

Here is a sampling including one of very last scoring assignments in 2002.

The Secret of NIMH (1982)



Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend (1985)



Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003)


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Noah (2014)

Introduction:
You know you just don’t see many biblical epics any more. The heyday for them was really back in the 1950s and 60s when cinemascope allowed directors to really show off these huge ancient worlds. These days, if you even dare attempt a biblical story… well most likely you’ll attract a bunch of ire from all kinds of folks. It’s a shame really, because for a film score fan, biblical epics provide some of the best Golden age film scores ever written. But I digress. Because honestly I didn’t think we’d get a Ben Hur style score from a biblical film directed by Darren Aronofsky.

Summary:
You think you know the story of Noah (Russell Crowe) but you don’t know the fantasy adventure version of the story. Yes, Noah is told by his god that humans must be destroyed in a flood (via some really cool and surreal imagery). After confirming the vision with his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), Noah starts working on his ark with his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) by his side.

As some family drama begins to affect the progress on the ark, a band of devious humans lead by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone) fear that Noah may be right, and decide to build an army to take the ark. Why an army? You see Noah isn’t alone working on his construction; he has some enormous rock monsters (no, I’m not kidding) helping him out. But even if Noah survives the attack by the children of Cain, can he survive his own self-doubt? As the voyage continues Noah becomes more and more convinced that all human kind must die – including him and his family.

Good Points:
  • A serious attempt at biblical characters facing the end of their world
  • Some very good acting by the entire cast
  • Impressive visual effects

Bad Points:
  • Fantasy imagery ripped right from Jackson’s vision of Lord of the Rings
  • Gritty, dower and dreary… again
  • Clint Mansell’s score is distracting, in a bad way

Overall:
I appreciate the idea of turning a biblical story into a full-fledged mythic event film. Basically this is your Clash of the Titans version of the Noah story. As neat as that is in concept, for some reason the final product doesn’t mesh. Turning Noah into an angst ridden, angry, bitter man feels like this film is aping Batman Begins. With the relentlessly dreary visual overtones and scenes cribbed right from The Two Towers it feels like a mish mash of other movies instead of being its own thing. I admire Aronofsky as a director, because his films feel very much like they are his own. This one… not so much.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 4
Script: 3
Music: 2
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3


Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Movie Music Musings – Mining for Goldsmith Part 4

In the previous installment of Mining for Goldsmith I took a look at film composer Jerry Goldsmith’s work on films about conspiracy and espionage. It was a fruitful genre for him all the way up to the 1990s. But this time I wanted to look at a genre that Goldsmith is very famous for: science fiction. The man provided scores to some real classics like Planet of the Apes and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. But he also provided scores for science fiction films that are less well known and some are quite frankly not that good. But Goldsmith always went that extra step and provided a solid (and sometimes a stellar) score for these.

Here a few of my favorites from this forgotten set of films:

Seconds (1966)


I included the opening titles so you can see how well this creepy score matches the visual style of Seconds. The opening titles sequence was created by the legendary Saul Bass.

Damnation Alley (1977)




Runaway (1984)