HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (2011)

MZNJ_New_HYMHM_2

now playing

dont be afraid of the dark_2010

bars

DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (2011)

The original Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark may be corny and a bit cheesy by today’s standards but, it still has plenty of spooky atmosphere and chilling moments and I’ll admit it scared the heck of me as a little boy when first aired in 1973. It told the story of a young couple that move into an old house inhabited by demonic creatures who target the young wife, Sally, to claim her soul.

The remake from producer Guillermo del Toro and director Troy Nixey, keeps the old house but, makes Sally a little girl (Bailee Madison) with the diminutive demons after…her teeth? Sally moves into the cavernous old mansion with her dad Alex (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) and once the creatures are unleashed, their nasty activities (shredding Kim’s dresses and Sally’s teddy bears) are continually blamed on Sally as a result of her emotional distress over her parents divorce… despite a character being savaged when Sally is nowhere near. Even when it is obvious something else is going on and Kim looks into the folklore behind the house, Alex still doubt’s it’s anything but Sally’s bid for attention and leaves her in situations where she can easily be victimized by the scurrying little monsters. But if they didn’t, it wouldn’t allow for the overblown Gremlins-ish attack scenes in the finale act.

So, does Nixey deliver a spooky flick and are the creatures at least scary? Sadly, no. The CGI critters show up fairly early and are smaller and more numerous then the original demons but, don’t have anywhere near the menace they should. They evoke the hairy wingless versions of the tooth fairies from Del Toro’s Hellboy 2 and to a degree they are similar as teeth play a part of their character for whatever reason. That and they are paraded out in full view far too much and the over-exposure and the obvious CGI origins kill any effectiveness they might have. As for the positives, the film does look great with sumptuous production design and gorgeous cinematography but, sadly Nixey, from Del Toro’s and Matthew Robbins’ script, never is able to make it scary. He’s a competent enough director but, just not able to establish suspense or the atmosphere of dread the film needs. It may entertain some as a dark Disney film or a humorless Gremlins 3 but, it never works as a horror film even thought the intended victim is a child and she is played sympathetically by young Bailee Madison.

And while on the subject… the cast are fine with Madison standing out as Sally. Holmes is adequate as the new girlfriend trying to overcome Sally’s dislike and win her over. Her concern once things get weird appears genuine. Pearce is a little heavy handed as the dad who thinks it’s all in Sally’s head and seems a little callous when it comes to his daughter’s well being but, that seems to be how the character is written and the character in the original TV movie wasn’t much better, a little too self-centered to realize something strange is going on till it’s too late. Too bad a good cast could help generate what the film lacks, scares.

Overall the film is not bad, just not scary. It is sumptuous to look at but, the CGI creatures look like exactly that and have no weight or threat or personality. The film is simply not frightening and afraid of the dark is something it never makes us.

2 and 1/2 CGI creatures.

dont be afraid of the dark_2010 rating

bars

REVIEW: BATMAN BEGINS (2005)

MZNJ_New_review

now playing

Batman_Begins_Poster

bars

BATMAN BEGINS (2005)

Watched this while I sat on the couch in my Thanksgiving food coma and decided to write a more comprehensive review then I had when it first came out…

After the disastrous Batman and Robin, the Batman series went on hiatus until Chris Nolan rebooted the series with this dark and yet energetic film that returns Batman (Christian Bale) to his origins and portrays The Dark Knight like he should have been portrayed all along, a dark brooding character who dwells in the shadows and not a cabaret act with plastic nipples on his costume. The story starts off with a first half that flashes back and forth between Bruce Wayne’s life as a child (Gus Lewis) and young adult and the subsequent murder of his parents in front of him, and his modern day quest to get deep inside the criminal mind-set by living and acting among them. While in jail in South Asia, Wayne is confronted by Ducard (Liam Neeson) an emissary for Ra’s al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) a mystic who promises to give him the means to fight the criminal element. Ducard trains Wayne in the art of the ninja but, when Bruce finds that Ra’s methods include murder, he rebels and destroys The League Of Shadows hideout before returning to Gotham to put his training to use as a symbol of good who’ll combat the evil rotting away at Gotham… and The Batman is born. But not only must Batman, along with his trusty butler Alfred (a brilliant Michael Caine), scientist Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and good cop Sgt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman), battle crime boss Carmine Falcone (Tom WIlkinson) and the psychotic Dr. Jonathan Crane AKA The Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) but, a resurrected Ra’s al Ghul who has a catastrophic plan for the city of Gotham. Now that Nolan’s classic Batman trilogy is complete, I can say that this first entry is the lightest and least drama heavy of the three… thought it is far darker and more intense then the previous series. While Batman/Wayne is a brooding character, he has yet to gain the weariness and emotional battle scars he would experience in the following entries. And that works here as we see a Batman who is new at this crime fighting gig and is kinda enjoying it before the weight of the responsibility he has given himself sets in. There is depth to the character and Bale makes a great Bruce Wayne/Batman bringing the pain and rage that drives him to life, without losing the hero in the process. As for his beginnings, the story not only handles the origin strongly but, gives us some strikingly powerful scenes that give us a far better sense of how this man came to be who he is, far better then the Burton film did. Chris Nolan creates a dark and gothic Batman, both visually and conceptually, but, never gets swallowed up by it. The film is still fast paced and exceptionally entertaining despite it’s dark trappings and Nolan also mixes in 3 villains and  large cast of characters and does it without creating an overcrowded mess as with the last film. Every character is developed properly and a fine cast gets equal credit. And what a cast it is. This is possibly one of the best cast films… and series… that you can get. As stated, Bale is great in the part, he creates a Batman who is strong and noble yet very human and he creates a multi-layered Bruce Wayne who is carefree playboy to the outside world and a complex and emotionally scarred man to those few close to him. Watching him evolve the characters over the next two films is a cinematic treat. Caine is simply brilliant as the supportive, caring and honorable Alfred, as is Freeman as the Wayne Enterprises scientist who answers the question “Where does he get those wonderful toys?” and Oldman as the possibly last honest cop in Gotham, who may now have an ally who is above all the corruption and serves the same noble purpose. We can see the hope it gives him, thought is is imbued with caution. Neeson is near perfect… as always… as the villain who shares Batman’s nobility but, with a far different set of principles and methods. Cillian Murphy is slimy and creepy as both Crane and his alter ego Scarecrow and has some amusing cameos in the following entries. Tom Wilkinson practically steals the show as Carmine Falcone, the smug mob boss with a sarcastic sense of humor that makes him even more threatening. Katie Homes may not be quite up to the caliber as some of her co-stars but, she does present a strong and spunky assistant D.A., Rachel Dawes, who is quite believable when she stands up to Falcone’s thugs and Crane’s Scarecrow on her own and also as a caring love interest to Bruce. Rounding out are Rutger Hauer as Wayne Enterprises CEO with his own agenda, Mark Boone Junior as Gordon’s crooked partner and the incomparable Shane Rimmer as a DWP technician. Batman Begins is a great comic book movie and is still one of the best Batman films despite being overshadowed by the masterpiece that is it’s sequel and the epic and operatic third entry. It’s the most “fun” of the three modern classics Nolan has crafted and a great start to a film trilogy that is simply of of the best trilogies in movie history. A Bat Blast!

3 and  1/2 Bats with bats!

batman begins rating

bars

MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE FACULTY and DISTURBING BEHAVIOR

MZNJ_SNDF

now playing

double feature_TF_DB

bars

Faculty_movie_poster

THE FACULTY (1998)

The Faculty plays basically like a high school version of The Thing with elements of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and Night Of The Creeps thrown in for good measure. But since it’s from pop-culture horror writer extraordinaire Kevin Williams (Scream) and director and film geek Robert Rodriguez (Sin City), we know this is intentional and they playfully acknowledge their homage with some high school versions of some of those movies’ most famous scenes and some outright character references to those original works.

This tale of an alien invasion that starts in a small town Ohio high school has a group of five students, including mean girl Delilah (Jordana Brewster), geek Casey (Elijah Wood), rebel Zeke (Josh Hartnett), goth Stokely (Clea DuVall) and new girl Marybeth (Laura Harris) facing the alien menace which starts by assimilating the school faculty. And what a faculty we have with Robert Patrick, Bebe Neuwirth, Famke Janssen, Salma Hayek and Piper Laurie, to name a few. Of course no one believes them that aliens are among us and up to no good and as the adults are assimilated by the alien’s slimy slug-like swarm, they are soon outnumbered and being hunted with no one to turn to but each other. Now the 5 must overcome their differences and mistrust, to find the alien queen, destroy it and save the school and the planet.

Rodriguez wisely plays it straight and lets the material provide the fun. He knows not to make a joke out of what basically is a silly sci-fi story, but he never takes things too seriously that we don’t have a good time watching our teens battling alien drones that once were their teachers and friends and trying to convince themselves that this is actually happening. Sure we’ve seen it all before, from the doubting adults to the paranoia over who is an alien and who is human, but that is part of the fun. Rodriguez knows we’re familiar with this type of story and uses our familiarity to sometimes pull the wool over our eyes and play with our expectations. And when he doesn’t do that, he simply delivers what we want expect, as with the final showdown between our heroes and the big bad alien bitch herself. It’s not perfect, sometimes the familiarity of the material works against it and a few of the classic film scenes recreated are a bit too obvious, but overall it’s an entertaining movie with some really good SPFX and a cast who knows exactly when to take things seriously and when to camp it up a bit and have a good time. And the large ensemble cast, also including Jon Stewart and Usher Raymond, are all up to the task with Patrick and Janssen especially chewing up the scenery when appropriate.

The 1998 film is a bit dated at this point, but if you enjoy the Scream era horror flicks then you won’t mind it. It’s not old enough for nostalgic charm just yet, but it will be soon enough. A fun movie from an era where pop-culture references and horror went hand in hand quite often.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) high school hunting alien queens!

faculty_rating

**************************************************

plus

Disturbing_behavior

DISTURBING BEHAVIOR (1998) 

This late 90s flick tells the story of high school student Steve Clark (James Marsden) and his sister Lindsay (a pre-Ginger Snaps Katherine Isabelle) who move with their parents from Chicago to the quaint remote community of Cradle Bay, Wa. A community that seems to be run by the elite high school varsity Blue Ribbons, a group of clean cut teens with valedictorian goals. But Steve bonds with outcasts Strick (Nick Stahl), Rachel (Katie Holmes) and U.V. (Chad E. Donella) who warn him that all is not right with the picture perfect Blue Ribbons. Soon he finds out his friends are not being paranoid, as the Blue Ribbons acquire some surprising new members, including Strick and these honor society students seem to easily and violently react whenever they face normal teenage emotional turmoil. Even more suspicious, is the Jim Jones-like Dr. Caldicott (Bruce Greenwood) the man behind the ‘seminars’ that recruit Blue Ribbons members. Is this some kind of cult or is Caldicott more Dr. Frankenstein then Dr. Phil?

Disturbing Behavior is an entertaining flick from X-Files episode director David Nutter and does play very much like an episode of that classic show. Which isn’t a bad thing. Nutter gets some good suspense and chills out of Scott Rosenberg’s script and gives this high school Stepford Wives some nice atmoshere. Not everything works. There are a few of the Blue Ribbon melt-down scenes that come across as silly rather then disturbing and the film’s climactic confrontation with Steve and Rachel being hunted down by the Blue Ribbons and their deranged creator at the edge of a dam ends in an equally silly denouement.

The cast perform well, for the most part, with Marsden making a fine hero, Holmes making a feisty rebel-chick and Greenwood an appropriately charismatic yet slimy villain. Sadly, the usually dependable William Sadler overacts as the school janitor Dorian and A.J. Buckley hams it up a bit too much as the short circuiting Blue Ribbon with a crush on Rachel and it stands out as the rest of the cast play it straight including bad guy Greenwood. Both these performances give their scenes an element of camp that is not present in the rest of the film, except for the unintentionally goofy climax.

Overall Disturbing Behavior is an entertaining enough thriller that is brought down a few notches by some campy performances and a few scenes that didn’t quite work, but David Nutter does provide enough suspense and chills to keep it afloat and it deserves credit for doing it’s own thing and avoiding the pop-culture heavy teen horror of this era. Flawed, but still an entertaining watch.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) hot pre-Cruise Holmes!

Disturbing_behavior_rating

**************************************************

bars