BARE BONES: A GHOST STORY (2017)

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A GHOST STORY (2017)

Supernatural drama tells the story of a young couple (Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara) whose lives are shattered when the husband is killed in a car accident right outside their home. His spirit returns to the house and watches as his wife grieves, heals, moves on and eventually moves out. Now it is his spirit that needs to learn to move on as he haunts the house and anyone that comes to live in it.

Written and directed by David Lowery, this is a somber yet effective story of grief and healing told interestingly from the perspective of the deceased. Lowery also has the audacity to have his silent, brooding ghost portrayed simply by having his actor wear a sheet with the eyes cut out and it works. It is definitely not a movie for everyone as Lowery lets scenes linger for a very long time, but these scenes have resonance and Lowery achieves a lot with silence in terms of telling his story. It is only in the last act when things get a little trippy that the film looses it’s grip a little bit. Here the ghost seems to be reliving the history of the house, up to his living there with his wife, though reliving the couple’s time there does help us understand his reluctance to leave…and maybe helps him understand too. A very unusual but effective and original indie flick from David Lowery, with very good performances from his small cast.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010)

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A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

2010’s remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street isn’t really a bad movie, it’s just a very unremarkable movie that doesn’t bring enough new to the franchise to justify it’s existence. To a degree it’s just another sequel with a new Freddy and new characters, including a new Nancy in name only.

The story follows that of the original film very closely with a group of teens having nightmares of a horribly scarred man with a gloved hand fitted with knives. He is murdering them in their dreams and they are all now afraid to sleep as their numbers dwindle. The man is Freddy Krueger (now played by Jackie Earle Hayley) and he is a child molester that their parents hunted down and burned alive…and he has returned to exact his revenge against the teens he preyed upon as children.

The film is actually directed fairly well by Samuel Bayer from a script by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer and does have a few effective sequences. But one of the main problems here is the fact that it just comes across as another series entry with very little new, other than a new actor as Freddy and a brief period of time where they try…but don’t succeed…in making us have doubts surrounding Freddy’s guilt. It’s obvious from the get-go how horrible he is and that this is not a nice guy done wrong. The dream sequences are well filmed, but again, offer nothing really new and it wouldn’t seem like a remake at all if it were for a couple of sequences lifted from the original, a heroine named Nancy (Rooney Mara) and rehashing Freddy’s origin…and adding little new to that. Why not just make this another series entry and keep Robert Englund as Freddy? And that is another big problem, despite a strong turn in Watchmen as Rorschach, Haley does not impress or scare as Freddy. He comes across as someone’s sleazy, perv of an uncle and he is never as threatening as Englund in the early installments and certainly not as charismatic as Englund was in the later installments when Freddy became more of a wise-cracking gremlin. Haley is just a generic boogie man and that legendary persona is all but gone. He’s bland and the film is neutered without a strong villain. The make-up and visual FX are top notch, as is most of the production, but it’s kinda hollow without a stronger story and more fearsome villain.

Aside from Hayley not living up to the challenge as Freddy, there at least is a strong lead from Rooney Mara as Nancy. She makes a strong heroine with her own inner turmoil and pain and it’s too bad she’s not in a better film to play her character in. Although, her character is so different from Langenkamp’s Nancy, that she could had been re-named and it would have had no effect on the story. Kyle Gallner is good as Nancy’s friend Quentin who helps her uncover the truth behind who this dream specter is who is hunting them and killing their friends. As those friends we have Katie Cassidy as Kris, Kellan Lutz as Dean and Thomas Dekker as Jesse and they all do a suitable job as Freddy fodder. And we also have good performances by Connie Britton as Nancy’s mom and Clancy Brown as Quentin’s dad. A decent cast, but wasted in a ho-hum reboot attempt.

I’ll admit this mediocre attempt to restart the series is still better than the worst of the original series (2 & 6 in my opinion), but far from the best of the bunch and can’t hold a candle to the original. The film is well enough directed by Samuel Bayer, who has a nice visual eye, but doesn’t deviate nearly far enough from what has come before it to justify it being made. It plays it safe and gives us little new except recast Freddy unsuccessfully. I didn’t hate this flick, but it is unremarkable and quite forgettable and certainly nothing worthy of building a new franchise over. And it lacks the kind of intensity that made the familiar yet, entertaining Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake one of the better of this remake trend. Not the worst, but far from the best and makes you appreciate the great Robert Englund even more.

2 and 1/2 Freddys…and the real one, might I add.

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REVIEW: HER (2013)

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HER (2013)

Finally caught up with this interesting, involving and slightly whimsical Spike Jonze flick and found it a very enjoyable, offbeat and heartfelt movie. The story takes place in a not too distant future and focuses on Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a man who writes letters for others for a living and has just suffered a heartbreaking separation from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). Theodore, in his loneliness, buys a computer operating system with an artificial intelligence made to learn and adapt to their owner’s wants and needs. Theodore chooses a female voice and the OS chooses the name Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). But, the more time Theodore spends with Samantha, the more their relationship grows and the more Theodore thinks she’s all he needs and starts to fall in love with her. And Samantha feels likewise but, as Samantha grows and evolves and begins to experience new emotions and desires, will Theodore be all she needs?

Writer/director Spike Jonze delivers a rarity, an intriguing and very original romantic-comedy, a sub-genre that is one of the least adventurous genres and one that rarely steps outside the stale formula. He presents the idea of a computerized operating system that becomes such a perfect fit for it’s owner that it creates an emotional attachment, becoming a friend and a lover. Especially poignant, as it does so at a time where Theodore is wounded and afraid to connect with others of flesh and blood including his cute best friend Amy (Amy Adams) who has also recently gotten a divorce. Of course Jonze is making a comment on the increasing reliability on personal computers and cellphones, which almost seem to be a more important part of our lives then our friends and loved ones. We seem to spend more time communicating with and through our computerized devices and less and less actual time socially interacting with those around us. Why commit to the emotional investment of talking to someone face to face when we can text or E-mail and be done with it. Jonze gives his cautionary tale of loving our gadgets too much a very subtle and sly sense of humor and filmed his romance in the city of Shanghai to give it that futuristic look. The cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema accents Jonze’s colorful but slightly sterile future and there is a very effecting score by the band Arcade Fire that really embellishes the atmosphere and mood set by Jonze’s deft direction and clever story.

The cast is wonderful with Phoenix creating a very strong character in his Theodore, a man with his own intimacy issues who is wounded by the collapse of his marriage and afraid to start looking again and thus finding the perfect mate for his current emotional condition in the artificial intelligence that grows to suit his every need, Samantha. As the voice of Samantha, Scarlett Johansson gives a wonderful performance as an intelligence that is learning new emotions and experiences and who falls in love with the man who teaches them to her. She has only her voice to convey her feelings and does a simply amazing job of portraying the wonder of discovering new emotions and the joy of love for the first time. She and Phoenix make this work. If either of their performances were off, the film would simply have not come together and so well. We also get another strong performance by Amy Adams as the nerdy Amy, Theodore’s best friend and a person he cares for more then he wants to admit. The actress has become quite the chameleon. Rooney Mara is fine as the estranged wife who still haunts Theodore in his thoughts and has a really nice scene with Phoenix as they hesitate when the moment to finally sign the divorce papers comes. A very effecting and real sequence as they both must face the fact that it is indeed over. There are also some eccentric supporting performances by Chris Pratt as the quirky receptionist at Theodore’s job, Olivia Wilde as a pretty blind date that Theodore wasn’t quite ready for and Portia Doubleday as Isabella, a beautiful young woman who wants to act as the surrogate for the bodiless Samantha. A very eclectic and strong cast that really make Jonze’s vision work very well.

In conclusion, I really enjoyed this film very much. It’s a heartfelt romantic comedy as it is an original one. It is also a cautionary tale about becoming too close to our computerized gadgets and letting our flesh and blood relationships fall to the side. It is well directed, intelligently written and has some wonderful and understated performances by all the cast. A very unique indie film and a real treat. Highly recommended! Also features vocal cameos by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig.

MonsterZero NJ extra trivia: Pretty actress Portia Doubleday who plays the surrogate Isabella is the daughter of actor Frank Doubleday who played the creepy Romero in John Carpenter’s classic Escape From New York!

3 and 1/2 Scarlett’s.

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