Friday, May 22, 2015

Original vs. Remake: Poltergeist (2015) vs. Poltergeist (1982)

So it’s time for another episode of Original vs. Remake, because Hollywood is obsessed with retelling successful stories from the past in a bland, less intense fashion. I’m beginning to notice a trend on my ‘Original vs. Remake’ articles, the old ones always win! I’m not biased, I always give remakes a chance, because there’s always the odd chance we might get a good one. Unfortunately, 99.9% of the time remakes are shit, or as is the case with this new Poltergeist remake, a lesser version of the original. The original Poltergeist trilogy started with one fantastic film: Poltergeist (1982), a Tobe Hooper film. Tobe Hooper as some of you may know is one of the masters of horror. He was the guy behind the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Salem’s Lot (1979) amongst a slew of other horror films. Hooper’s Poltergeist was a film that captured the imagination and frightened audiences back in 1982, why? Because it was a spectacle, it was made to wow us and frighten us. It wanted to make you squirm in our seats. The filmmakers didn’t just want to tell a spooky story, something they did splendidly well anyways, no, the idea behind the original Poltergeist was to razzle dazzle us as well, give us a magic show. And that they did, the supernatural shenanigans were an awesome spectacle to behold. When ghosts appeared, you knew you were in for something special. That’s one of the elements I loved the most about Poltergeist (1982), the effects. The guys at Industrial Lights and Magic really went the extra mile to do something awesome.

 I mean, back then they’d actually have to build the ghosts from the ground up, which of course gave the visuals a tangibility that is sourly lacking in the new version. Those slimy tentacles that caught little Carol Anne looked freaking real, not so with the computer generated ghosts on this new version. I will admit that the visual effects on the new one are slick looking, but they are simply put not better than the original. Those days of cool effects seem to be gone forever, replaced by computer animation and it’s really sad. That artistry that the Industrial Lights and Magic guys pulled off, it was pure magic and illusion. I long for movies that mix both things, the practical with the computer generated. When a filmmaker uses computer generated images to enhance, not to take over the visual effects…then it’s magic. A recent example of this would be the awesomeness that is Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). Sadly, everything is computer generated today, and it takes away from that feeling old movies had of being a magic show. I sincerely miss that.

Craig T. Nelson fights some ghosts in Poltergeist (1982)

Why does is the modern horror film so toned down these days? It’s all about one of the worst inventions ever made, the dreaded PG-13 rating. It’s sad, it truly is. I mean on the first one, the tree that comes alive and tries to eat poor Robbie Freeling looked like some sort of monster, trying to gulp down the little kid, on the remake they toned that whole scene down. The tree tried to eat the kid on the original film! Not so in the remake. Here the tree grabs the kid, that’s it. I guess anything that was too crazy was eliminated; it’s the Modus Operandi of modern Hollywood. The producer, Sam Raimi, knows what horror fans want in a horror film, he’s given us some of the best horror films ever; the Evil Dead films. Yet he is playing ball with Hollywood, producing the kind of films they are asking of him, not the kind of horror films he would make. Hollywood doesn’t seem to care that people like cheesy, people like crazy ideas and concepts, that’s why we go to the movies! We don’t go to the movies to see “reality”, we go to see escapism, at least in these kinds of movies we do. So when a tree is going to come alive and eat a kid, we want exactly that. Not a toned down version of that.  

Honestly it’s starting to feel a whole lot like George Orwell’s 1984 around here. In that novel the government doesn’t allow people to feel intense emotions, everyone’s supposed to be emotionless all the time, all this because intense emotions supposedly lead to war and all that. In reality, it was a technique to control the masses, keep them from revolting against the oppressive government, to keep them from expressing themselves, saying what they want and feel. I think a similar technique is being used in Hollywood films of today. Why is Hollywood so afraid to be intense? Is there something wrong with feeling intensely? I want that spine tingling feeling, I want that jolt, that’s why I go to see horror films; afterwards I go home to reality. But for two hours, I want to escape man! There was a time when the occasional good remake would slip in, but nowadays, wow, all the remakes are just bland renditions of the original. Total Recall (2012)? Bland. Robocop (2014)? Beyond bland and back again. Poltergeist (2015)? Bland again. It’s just sad. Let’s count the ways in which this new Poltergeist film is bland when compared to Tobe Hooper’s original special effects extravaganza.

The Freaky Bowens

First, as is to be expected, there were a few changes, for example, the family in this new film isn’t “The Freaky Freelings! The family whose house disappeared!” Nope, these are the Bowen’s the family who goes through everything the Freelings did; only they aren’t the Freelings. Why the change? Why is the little girl not Carol Anne? Isn’t yelling out “Carol Anne!” a million times one of the most iconic things about the old Poltergeist movies? I mean, seriously, you could have a drinking game every time they say Carol Anne in the old movies! Trust me; you’ll be passed out half way through the movie! But no, on this one we get a little girl called Madison, and she isn’t even blonde. But whatever, those are minor changes right? What really pissed me off where the major changes, like the whole softening up of the horror elements, which I didn’t get because from inception, Poltergeist was always a straight forward horror film, it meant to horrify you. These films weren’t afraid to push the limits; they wanted to scare your pants off. In contrast, this new Poltergeist film feels like its holding back, like it doesn’t want to scare you too much for fear of losing its coveted PG-13 rating. And that’s really what it’s all about these days, retaining the PG-13 rating so you can reach a wider audience and make more millions. Because if it’s rated ‘R’, then the kiddies cant pony up their allowance to see the movie, because theaters won’t sell tickets to an ‘R’ rated film to a minor, right? Stop me if I’m wrong, but this never happened to me, ever. Maybe where I live things are done differently, but I was never stopped from seeing an ‘R’ film by the theater! Does this really matter? It’s so sad that the quality of our horror films is decided by this factor.

So what else did they change? Well, let’s see, anything that was too edgy or horrifying; two elements that any horror movie should have in spades. For example, remember how Steve and Diane Freeling smoked weed in their room and were being all sexy with each other? For this new one, they switched the weed for alcohol, which immediately takes off that imperfect, free spirited feeling that the Freeling family had in the original. They weren’t a perfect family and because of this they felt real. Mom and pop were struggling to survive, but they still knew how to have a little fun, smoking a dooby in their private chambers after the kids were tucked in. There’s a scene in which their eldest daughter flipped the finger on the men who were working on their pool when they started saying nasty things at her. So anyhow, say goodbye to that edginess the Freelings had, this new family is pretty much the picture perfect American family. The father, portrayed by a “gimme my paycheck” Sam Rockwell doesn’t have a job, but you’d never know he’s worried about this because his portrayal of the father figure without a job is very unrealistic. He doesn’t seem to be worried that he’s got no money to feed the kids. Is he supposed to live on his credits cards forever? These problems are presented, but never dealt with in a realistic manner. I know I’d be freaking ripping my hairs out of my head if I had three kids and no job. And how about the chemistry between the parents? It’s nothing like the magic that Jobeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson had in the original film. That relationship I bought. The one in this new one is Non-existent. Sam Rockwell, I’m sorry to say, was not truly invested in this film. In the original, both Jobeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson displayed emotion, I bought them crying out to Carol Anne, here, it’s like they are ashamed to be talking about ghosts and “the other side”. I guess we can chalk that up to modern cynicism.

Then we have the ghosts, which are decidedly a whole lot less horrifying. On the old film, the ghosts showed their ugly faces all the time, I remember that spider like creature that came out of the closet, which sadly doesn’t make an appearance on this one. There’s no slimy, sinewy tunnel to the other side. On this one the ghosts are relegated to being shadowy creatures that we hardly ever get a look at. The old film reveled in showing us the ghosts. When the ghosts showed up, you were going to be wowed. Not so here. The spectacle is gone. They don’t want to scare you too much. The best example I can think to explain the dampening of the horror elements in this film is the pool scene. On the original, the Freelings are building a pool, so they got this muddy hole next to the house. And of course, as anyone who has seen the original knows, the house was built on top of the cemetery, so when it starts to rain and the earth loosens up, we get that awesome scene in which all the corpses start popping out of their caskets, apparently trying to grab Diane Freeling as she screams in horror. On the remake, it was almost funny….we only get one little cgi skeleton that pops out of the ground, for 5 milliseconds. On the original, that scene just went on and on, horrifying us with its real, tangible skeletons. On this one, it’s a freaking joke. That was one of my favorite scenes from the original! Want another example? They even took out that scene where the guys face melts as he looks at himself in front of the mirror! How could they! The bastards!

So anyhow, I’m sorely disappointed with this remake. It’s another fine example of how violence and horror is being toned down on purpose by the powers that be. Hey, Hollywood, check this out. I want horror movies to be scary. When I go see a movie about ghosts, that’s what I want, I want to see the ghosts, I want to see something that’s intense and scary. Bottom line my friends: the original Poltergeist is still the superior of the two films. It has the spectacle element, it had the horror element turned up to the max and it had a family I could believe in, with some real heart and chemistry.  At the end of the day, that’s really what the Poltergeist movies are truly about, family. As for this remake, I wouldn’t say it’s a horrible film. Its well shot, looks pretty and in a surprising twist, actually take us to “the other side” without being overtly cheesy like Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986). It introduces a couple of innovative concepts, like sending a drone with a camera into the other side to check it out, gotta hand it to them,  that was a cool idea. I went into this one wanting to hate it, but it kind of warmed up on me, but there's no denying it was missing that edge. Sorry. 

It’s also a perfectly good movie to get your 10 year old kid started with horror films. Why? Because it’s an extremely light horror film which probably has something to do with the fact that it was directed by Gil Kenan, the director behind the children’s horror film Monster House (2006). Sadly, I don’t think he was the right guy to direct this film; we needed somebody with more of a horror loving heart, a true horror connoisseur. I mean, we went from Tobe Hooper to Gil Kenan? Something’s not right there. Why not give today’s horror masters a chance? Sadly, what Kenan did was take away what I loved about the original, a film that it wasn’t afraid to scare us at the while still being a family film, which is an odd mix. Kenan treated this one like it was another kid’s film, which I think was a huge mistake because audiences are expecting something along the lines of the horrifying spectacle that Tobe Hooper and Stephen Spielberg gave us back in ’82. And it’s a bad thing to play with audiences expectations, especially when it comes to a remake. Yes my friends, the original Poltergeist was a strange bird. It was the first family oriented horror film that didn’t forget it was a horror movie and that it was there to scare us. Worst part of this whole ordeal? The original Poltergeist was rated PG, a whole rating beneath PG-13 and as it turns out, it was far scarier. Go figure!

Poltergeist (1982) Rating: 5 out of 5

Poltergeist (2015) Rating: 3 out of 5     

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Bad Moon (1996)

Bad Moon (1996)

Director: Eric Red

Cast: Michael Pare, Mariel Hemingway

Werewolf movies are a tricky bunch, same as the characters in these films, the werewolf film seems to be cursed at the box office where they rarely make their money back. And I’m not talking about vampire films that include werewolves like the Underworld and Twilight franchises, I’m talking about films where the werewolf is the central character. Hell, even when they are actually good they fail! For example The Wolfman (2010) starring Benicio del Toro was an excellent werewolf movie in my book, yet it bombed horribly. In fact, if we get down to it, there hasn’t been a true blue successful werewolf film since An American Werewolf in London (1981) and The Howling (1981) ripped into theaters and wowed everyone with their excellent make up effects. Maybe that’s the reason why we haven’t had a successful werewolf movie. Nobody has been able to top what was done in An American Werewolf in London (1981) in terms of makeup effects. But most of the time, werewolf movies simply aren’t that good. For example An American Werewolf in Paris (1997), made the mistake of replacing practical transformation effects with bad CGI, plus the comedy angle just fell flat. Of course, there have been exceptions. Teen Wolf (1985) made a hefty profit, but that was because its budget was a measly 1.4 million and it starred 80’s ‘it’ boy Michael J. Fox. There was also Silver Bullet (1985), which made its money back because it was based on a Stephen King novel. But putting these exceptions aside, werewolf movies are rarely successful. The film I’ll be reviewing today, Eric Red’s Bad Moon (1996), is a good example of the werewolf curse. Was it one of the good ones?

I’d say that it had potential, but failed to perform. The main problem I had with Bad Moon is that it was too damn simple. A photo journalist named Ted gets scratched by a werewolf while on an expedition in Nepal. Sadly, while Ted only gets a nasty scratch on his chest, his girlfriend gets ripped to shreds! When he returns to America, he lives an isolated life in the middle of the forest, trying to forget it all. That is until his sister visits him and tells him that he should move in with her for a while. He agrees, because he comes to the conclusion that maybe family love might cure him from the werewolf curse, which of course makes no sense at all! You’re putting your sister and her son in jeopardy! But whatever, I chalked it up to wishful thinking. Point is that his sister has a dog named Thor, and Thor detects Ted’s werewolf condition. Um…there really isn’t much more to say about the plot because there isn’t much conflict, a quality sorely missing in this film. We needed more complexity to the story; the movie is just too damn simple. The thing is that the book on which the film is based, a novel called ‘Thor’ by Wayne Smith, actually offered an innovative concept. It tells the story from the dogs’ point of view. Now I realize you can’t really make an entire movie that way, but I find the director could have exploited this angle a bit more.

Speaking of the dog, he’s gotta be the cutest freaking German Sheppard ever. ‘Primo’ (the dogs name in real life) steals the movie from Michael Pare and Mariel Hemingway who offer some of the most wooden performances ever. There’s no chemistry between them whatsoever, the whole brother/sister thing was not played off in a convincing manner, and I normally dig Michael Pare’s movies! If this was meant to be a movie about family, then they should at least have shown a strong familial bond, which just doesn’t happen here. In a way, this movie was supposed to be like the Poltergeist franchise, where family love is at the center of the whole thing. Sadly, Michael Pare’s character Ted doesn’t even come off as likable. Which of course is a huge mistake, we’re supposed to sympathize with the guy. Eric Red should have emphasized Ted’s despair and anguish a bit more; we needed a scene or two of him in true mental and emotional anguish, the director should have given us time to warm up to Ted and his family. As you can see, we simply needed more character development, we needed to complicate things. And it’s not as if they didn’t have any screen time to do it, the film only runs for a measly 80 minutes.

What else ails this film? Well, the big draw with werewolf films are the transformations, which should try and top everything that has been done before, or at the very least be good. Here’s the thing with Bad Moon, the werewolf looks cool and the creature itself was pulled off rather nicely, when completely transformed the werewolf looks imposing, only a little wooden and robotic with its facial movements. Eric Red obviously wanted to build up the suspense with the creature because we don’t see a werewolf transformation until we are way into the films third half. So we’re left expecting a cool werewolf transformation, and we kind of get it. The practical side of it actually works, sadly, somebody decided to include a few scenes of the worst computer generated effects in the world, so we get this horrible morphing transformation, by the way, I’m really glad they don’t use morphing anymore! Morphing works on certain situations but not for hairy, muscle bound creatures like the werewolf. So yeah, morphing effects aside, the werewolf transformation isn’t all that bad. Also, the gore effects are actually quite good on this one, gotta give it that! 

Everything builds up to a confrontation between Thor and Ted. If this film was going to be centered around the whole Thor vs. Ted thing, they should have built up on that a little more. Sadly, the film feels a little half assed, it could have been so much more. I think the film simply didn’t embrace its strengths which is a sad thing because usually, Eric Red makes fantastic films with strong performances. Case in point, the script for The Hitcher (1986), which Eric Red wrote or Jeff Fahey in Body Parts (1991), which Eric Red both wrote and directed. Hell, Eric Red wrote freaking Near Dark (1987), one of the best vampire films from the 80’s! Now these are films with strong characters! This is the reason why I was stumped that Bad Moon had such weak characters! Normally this is Eric Red’s strength! But whatever, every filmmaker deserves a dud in his repertoire and Bad Moon was Eric Reds. It’s worth a watch, it's far from being the worst werewolf movie ever made, but it’s nothing memorable either.

Rating: 3 out of 5   


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Behind the Scenes Awesomeness: The Back to the Future Trilogy!

This pic is from an early version of Back to the Future, they actually shot the whole film with Eric Stoltz! But they didn't like his rendition of Marty McFly so they filmed the whole thing again, but with Michael J. Fox. 

Director Robert Zemeckis on location for Back to the Future Part III (1990)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Lensman: Secret of the Lens (1984)

Lensman: Secret of the Lens (1984)

Director: Kazuyuki Hirokawa, Yoshiaki Kawajiri

You've probably never heard of Lensman: The Secret of the Lens because for whatever the reason, this film is very obscure, it’s not talked about a lot amongst anime fans, or even science fiction fans, which is strange to me because this movie is so damn entertaining, so well animated, that it’s a pity it isn't more popular. Even finding decent pics for this review was a small task! But whatever, I’m here to spread the goodness and inform you lovers of anime out there that this is one of those movies you've never heard of that you should give a chance to. Lensman was one of the first anime movies that I watched, along with Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of theValley of the Wind (1984), that taught me that animation could be so much more than what we got in Saturday morning cartoons; something far superior and complex than a 20 minute episode of He-Man and The Masters of the Universe. Speaking of which, the animation was fantastic on this film! You could see the filmmakers were going for something special, which is something I always look for in anime films, it has to be something special. So, what’s Lensman all about and why should you take your time to check it out?

Lensman is the story of a young boy named Kim, who lives a happy life farming with his father on the peaceful planet of Mqueie. One day, a spaceship is about to crash land on their corn field, but Kim, being the excellent pilot that he is, boards the ship before it crashes and lands it himself! He quickly explores the ship and comes upon a dying member of ‘The Galactic Patrol’, who hands him a magical Lens which immediately adheres to Kim’s hand. Kim doesn't know it yet, but the Lens will give him enhanced mental abilities and telepathic powers. Soon, Kim learns that the Boskones, an evil race of beings enemies to the human race, are after this particular lens because it holds the location of the ‘Devil Planet’, home planet to the Boskones. The film is a chase sequence, as the Boskones chase Kim and his friends across the galaxy, trying to destroy the Lens. Will Kim unite with the Galactic Patrol in order to hand them the location of the Devil Planet? Or will the Boskones destroy Kim and the Lens first?

The cover for 'Grey Lensman' one of the many Lensman novels written by Edward E. Smith

Basically Lensman is this amazing property which has been around since the 1930’s when its creator Edward Elmer Smith wrote the first Lensman story and published it in the legendary science fiction magazine ‘Amazing Stories’. Since then, there have been a whole series of novels, comics (from Eternity Comics) and manga. There was even an anime series entitled ‘Galactic Patrol Lensman’ and a couple of board games. At one point director Ron Howard was developing a film adaptation through Universal Studios and Imagine Entertainment, unfortunately the project fell apart because it was deemed too expensive by Universal. But of course, it’s a whole universe were talking about here. This is a story that spans planets and many alien races. We’re talking spaceships and wars in space, of course it’s going to be expensive. If you ask me, this whole property has an amazing potential to become a successful franchise, but Hollywood has famously backed out of many a good opportunity, so it doesn’t surprise me. I guess they won’t take a chance with it because it isn’t an ultra popular property like say Marvel comics and a film adaptation could go the way of the dodo like say for example Ender's Game (2013), a film based on a well established science fiction series of novels, that went nowhere. But then again, that movie kind of sucked anyways. But Lensman is all sorts of awesome! Well, at least this anime film version is. I loved every second of it.

The thing about this film is that it feels a lot like Star Wars. This film was released in 1984, so I think its safe to say that Star Wars fever was in full force back in those days (has it ever gone away?) so it doesn't surprise me that for every character in this movie we have a counterpart in Star Wars. Hell, even one of the characters has her hair made up like Princess Leia’s famous hair do. But whatever, Star Wars rip off or not, where this film excels is in its designs. The spaceships, the aliens, everything looks amazing! For example, the Boskones are all organic beings, so their spaceships, their armor, their everything looks organic and alive. This is a unique looking universe that I’d love to see translated into a live action film. Yet while live action films usually have to deal with budget limitations, the cool thing about anime films is that they don’t rely so much on a budget. Everything is done on paper, with traditional animation. There is no limit as to where the imagination of the filmmakers can take us because they don’t have to build sets or costumes, all they have to do is draw and animate whatever cool idea pops into their heads! And in this respect, the animators behind this film really out did themselves. What I loved about Lensman is that they focused a lot on doing these long takes of action where they don’t cut and the camera moves all over the place, following our heroes around. Best example of this would be the amazing escape sequence when they rescue Buskirk and the good guys escape on these hover cycles. Awesome action! Wonderful animation. So be ready for a movie that has some amazing animation techniques that were pushing what could be done in traditional animation.

Back in those days, computer generated images where giving their first baby steps and so animators kept trying to mix computer animation with their traditional animation often times with bad results. Examples of films that tried this are films like Rock and Rule (1983) and Disney’s The Black Cauldron (1985), not bad movies on their own right, but those computer animated sequences just stick out. I personally hate it when they do this, but whatever, lets chalk it up to experimentation. Lensman: Secret of the Lens opens with Boskonian ships that look like giant pulsating brains, but rendered in computer animation. There’s also some computer animation towards the end, but again, this sequence just doesn’t look as awesome as the rest of the traditional animation. Thankfully, these CGI sequences don’t last long and the film reverts back to the awesome traditional animation that Japanese are so good at. The traditional animation side of the film is what really makes it special for me. The computer images seem crude and less detailed then the awesome traditional stuff. Obviously, animators where trying the next hot thing in animation and this is probably why we get some bits of crappy computer animation, which was in diapers back in those days. Still, those scenes are a small hiccup in an awesome movie filled with fantastic moments of animation.  

Lensman: Secret of the Lens is none stop action from beginning to end. It never stops. It’s a huge chase sequence, we go from rescuing one character, to rescuing the next. From planet to planet, with all these crazy alien creatures! There’s this character who is also a Lensman that is just so cool, his name is Worsel, he looks like a man bat or something, cool character, again, this movie is all about the uniqueness in its design. The story for this film is all about the proverbial ‘chosen one’, the farmer boy who becomes a hero, so you see why I make the Star Wars connection. Still, the concept of the Lens and the Galactic Patrol is an awesome one with enough original elements to them to keep you entertained. If you feel like checking out some cool sci-fi anime, with fantastic animation and awesome action, give Lensman: Secret of the Lens a chance, you won’t be disappointed. Or bored.

Rating: 4 out of 5


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