Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—Argento’s Dracula (2013) *½

NR, 110 min.
Director: Dario Argento
Writers: Dario Argento, Enrique Cerezo, Stefano Piani, Antonio Tenori, Bram Stoker (book)
Starring: Thomas Kretschmann, Marta Gastini, Asia Argento, Unax Ugalde, Miriam Giovanelli, Rutger Hauer, Maria Cristina Heller, Augusto Zucchi, Franco Guido Ravera, Francesco Rossini, Giovanni Franzoni

Dario Argento is the Italian cinematic maestro that helped put Italian horror on the map in the 70s with such visual gore orgies as “Suspiria”, “Deep Red” and “Inferno”. His extreme visual style all but defined this particular subgenre of cult horror filmmaking. So when news came that he would be tackling Bram Stoker’s horror classic “Dracula”, it was welcomed with much anticipation. While Argento’s more recent output hasn’t matched his earlier efforts, this was a master taking on another master’s work. It had to be worth watching, right?

What is so shocking about the failure of “Argento’s Dracula”, a title affixed to the film following its theatrical release which was titled more simply “Dracula 3D”, is its utter lack of style of any kind. There is no visual flare to the camera set ups or the cinematography. The scenes are blocked very basically, almost as if it were a stage production at times. The CGI effects are pathetic. The acting is flat and uninspired. The dialogue is sophomoric. And, the whole production feels like it might be some perverted 8th grade staging of the “Dracula” play… with boobies. 

I did like that Argento and his co-screenwriters stay fairly true to Stoker’s original story. In this age when vampires have been desensitized into some high school fantasy about being immortal and having superpowers while remaining celibate, it’s nice to see a filmmaker who appreciates and understands Stoker’s original intentions with the character as an extension of our primordial sexual desires and horrific solution to our need for familial lineage. The film improves greatly upon the entrance of Rutger Hauer as Van Helsing, much later in the story than most audiences are used to. It still isn’t good, but some of Stoker’s horror themes begin to shine past the terrible production values and utter lack of any apparent opinion about the material on the filmmakers’ parts. It’s a shame Argento didn’t try to make it his own, though.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—Cropsey (2009) ***½

NR, 84 min.
Directors: Barbara Brancaccio, Joshua Zeman
Writer: Joshua Zeman
Featuring: Joshua Zeman, Barbara Brancaccio, Dr. Bill Ellis, Dorothy D’Elletto, Karen Schweiger, Donna Cutugno, Ralph Aquino, Bobby Jenson, Andre Rand, Jim Callahan, Theresa Doyle

So we open Horrorfest this year with a documentary about a real life horror tale of an urban legend that turned out to be true, however the truth of it all is impossible to determine. Growing up on Staten Island, the filmmakers remember stories of Cropsey, an insane killer that would snatch kids if they were out too late in places they didn’t belong. Only once they were adults did they learn that these were not merely stories designed to make sure kids were home and safe when their parents wanted them home.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Horrorfest 2014

Once again my favorite time of year has rolled around, and once again all my reviews over the next month will concentrate on the horror genre or variations thereof. That is about all that will be the same this year, however. This will be the first year I go into Horrorfest without a clear plan about what movies I’m going to watch over the next month. I’m a little excited about this prospect at going into it without a plan of attack. Of course, that makes it a little difficult to put together some sort of preview for it.

What fueled this change of format are some major life changes. At the very end of last year’s Horrorfest my family suffered a minor tragedy that uprooted many of the way things had been for quite some time. It didn’t affect last year’s Horrorfest as I’d finished watching all the films on my schedule before it happened. Immediately after Horrorfest ended, A Penny in the Well felt the changes. A movie a day was just no longer possible to keep up. I still do my best, but there is only so much time in a day and a week. The addition of my fourth child this past spring has made things even more difficult time wise and there are more important things to concentrate my energies on than movies. Movies are still important, however, and horror movies are my favorites. So Horrorfest will prevail.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Big Trouble in Little China (1986) ***

PG-13, 99 min.
Director: John Carpenter
Writers: Gary Goldman, David Z. Weinstein, W.D. Richter
Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Catrall, Donnie Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong, Kate Burton, Donald Li, Carter Wong, Peter Kwong, James Pax, Suzee Pai, Chao Li Chi

After finally viewing “Howard the Duck”, I felt I needed to cleanse my palate with another purely 80s flick that is much more satisfying. I had never seen “Big Trouble in Little China” either, but I was taking a bit less of a gamble, since unlike “Howard” this one holds a high cult status rather than a low one. I’d seen much of it throughout the years in bits and pieces, but never the entire thing. It is directed by one of the greatest and underappreciated filmmakers of the 80s, John Carpenter.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Maze Runner / *** (PG-13)

Thomas: Dylan O’Brien
Gally: Will Poulter
Newt: Thomas Brodie-Sangster
Teresa: Kaya Scodelario
Alby: Aml Ameen
Minho: Ki Hong Lee
Chuck: Blake Cooper
Ava Paige: Patricia Clarkson

20th Century Fox presents a film directed by Wes Ball. Written by Noah Oppenheim and Grant Pierce Myers and T.S. Nowlin. Based on the novel by James Dashner. Running time: 113 min. Rated PG-13 (for thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some disturbing images).

It must be a great time to be a developing reader. It seems the young adult fantasy/sci-fi/horror literature genre is gong through some sort of renaissance of late, if the movie adaptations are any indication. In truth, there have been a great number of romances and dramas to come out of young adult literature of late as well. As I get older I find it harder to get excited about these films, but I would imagine were I reading the material that inspires them, I’d be very excited about them. As Toby Maguire complained this past week, it seems young adult novel adaptations and superhero movies are the only options left in film for young performers.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Howard the Duck (1986) *

PG, 110 min.
Director: Willard Huyck
Writers: Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz, Steve Gerber (Marvel comic book character)
Starring: Lea Thompson, Ed Gale, Jeffrey Jones, Tim Robbins, Paul Guilfoyle
Voice: Chip Zien

So the big credit cookie in this summer’s blockbuster Marvel hit “Guardians of the Galaxy” featured an obscure Marvel character who has already had his shot at a feature film. “Howard the Duck” has gone down as one of the worst flops in movie history. Executive produced by George Lucas, the late summer release in 1986 was panned by critics and ignored by audiences, for some pretty good reasons. The biggest of which is that it really is horrible.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Orange Is the New Black, season 2 (2014) ****

TV-MA, 13 60+min. episodes
Creator: Jenji Kohan

Directors: Jodie Foster, Michael Trim, Phil Abraham, Andrew McCarthy, Allison Anders, Daisy von Schuler Mayer, S. J. Clarkson, Jennifer Getzinger, Constantine Makris

Writers: Jenji Kohan, Piper Kerman (book), Sian Heder, Tara Herrmann, Lauren Morelli, Nick Jones, Stephen Falk, Sara Hess, Hartley Voss, Alex Regnery

Starring: Taylor Schilling, Uzo Aduba, Danielle Brooks, Michael J. Harney, Natasha Lyonne, Taryn Manning, Kate Mulgrew, Jason Biggs, Kimko Glenn, Laverne Cox, Wanda Bell, Lea DeLaria, Joel Marsh Garland, Annie Golden, Diane Guerrero, Selenis Leyva, Matt McGorry, Adrienne C. Moore, Matt Peters, Jessica Pimental, Dascha Polanco, Alysia Reiner, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Nick Sandow, Yael Stone, Lorraine Toussaint, Samira Wiley, Vicky Jeudy, Emma Myles, Jackie Cruz, Maria Dizzia, Beth Fowler, Lin Tucci, Julie Lake, Barbara Rosenblat

Guest starring: Laura Prepon, Deborah Rush, Todd Susman, Lori Petty, Lauren Lapkus, Laura Gomez, Ian Paola, Pat Squire, Abigail Savage, Richard Gallagher, Constance Schulman, Yvette Freeman, Judith Roberts, Dale Soules, Michael Chernus, Tracee Chimo, Ramon Franco, Lori Tan Chin, Sanja Danilovic, Lolita Foster, Mary Looram, Alex Wraith, Nick Stevenson, Peter Rini, Alan R. Rodriguez, Stephanie Andujar, Pablo Schreiber, Germar Terrell Gardner, Ben Konigsberg, Jamie Denbo, Deirdre Lovejoy, Brendon Burke, Bill Hoag, Tanya Wright, Hamilton Clancy, Stephen O’Reilly, Aubrey Sinn, Tiki Barber, Ricky Garcia, Trey Gerrald, Donté Grey

There is really one word that describes the strength of season two of the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black” which sets it apart from its previous season. That word is “Vee.” Of anything that was different about this show from the first season, it was the addition of the character of Vee, played spectacularly by Lorraine Toussaint, that brought it to a new level. Vee added an element to the Litchfield prison that really had been lacking in the first season—a villain.