Monday, November 01, 2010

Horror Thoughts 2010: Final Weekend

Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (2005) ***½
Directors: Tim Burton, Mike Johnson
Writers: John August, Caroline Thompson, Pamela Pettler, Tim Burton (characters), Carlos Grangel (characters)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Tracey Ullman, Paul Whitehouse, Joanna Lumley, Albert Finney, Richard E. Grant, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough

It’s no surprise that Tim Burton’s stop-motion animated “Corpse Bride” looks amazing in HD. Burton has an amazing vision in his films and for stop-motion in particular. Even many of his live-action films have a stop-motion look to them in their production design. Of course, one of the most impressive choices Burton makes in his production design for “Corpse Bride” is the decision to present the world of the living as a drab, monotone world of blues and grays, while the underworld of the dead is filled with vibrant pastels and neon colors. This is a beautiful film with a fine appreciation for the fun in the macabre that fuels all of our love for Halloween. This is a movie that can be cherished.

The Lovely Bones (2009) **
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Alice Sebold (novel)
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon, Michael Imperioli, Rose McIver

“The Lovely Bones” was the great disappointment of last year’s awards season. Is it as bad as it’s reputation? No, but it’s not good. Cinematically, it’s a well-made film, but many of the story devices just don’t work. First off, it’s very difficult to pull off the whole narrated by a dead person premise. William Holden pulls it off in “Sunset Boulevard”. I can’t think of another movie right off the top of my head that does this well. Unfortunately, Saoirse Ronan’s precise voice-over work here only highlights the weaknesses of the script that uses many of the same lines and set ups in repetition to little effect, whatever effect could be desired by this storytelling technique.

Director Peter Jackson produces some stunning visual sequences in the girl’s afterlife, despite using a similar tower spotlight threat to his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Unfortunately, the girl’s journey after death isn’t half as interesting as the fate of her killer. Every time the movie breaks from her family’s search for the killer to return to the dead girl it’s a disappointment for the audience. It doesn’t help that the killer seems like he should be the police’s most obvious suspect, yet they never really investigate him. The story isn’t really about the police investigation, but shouldn’t there be some reason why they rule him out for so long?

I should probably stop now, because “The Lovely Bones” is one of those movies that look better than it actually is and just collapses under any form of scrutiny. Continuing to try and figure it out will only make me more disappointed with it.

What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962) ***½
Director: Robert Aldrich
Writers: Lukas Heller, Henry Farrell (novel)
Starring: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono, Maidie Norman

The most surprising thing about Robert Adlrich’s “What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?” is that it was made in 1962. It seems somehow like a movie made from a younger Hollywood than that, yet a younger Hollywood couldn’t have made a movie this biting with a pair of pitch perfect performances by two old Hollywood legends. Joan Crawford was Mommie Dearest, but hers is a very sympathetic role here next to Bette Davis’s nasty, nasty insane Baby Jane.

While not an all out horror flick, really, what’s more scary than family. The two play sisters locked in a lifelong battle of one upmanship. The final battle ground was set years earlier when an automobile accident involving Baby Jane left her sister without the use of her legs and physically dependant on Jane. Their psychological game against each other is wicked and intense and provides a powerful cinematic relationship. What a treasure to watch two masters of the craft really going at each other.

Leprechaun (1993) ½*
Director/Writer: Mark Jones
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Warwick Davis, Ken Olandt, Mark Holton, Robert Gorman

Watching “Leprechaun” just a day after “The Lovely Bones” makes the latter seem like a masterpiece. Of course, “Friends” star Jennifer Aniston infamously got her first starring role in this ultra-indie schlock, but really you can’t blame her for taking this job. She didn’t know she was about to be cast in the most popular sitcom of the ‘90s. The real question is, was Warwick Davis really so hard up for work to return to this dreck five more times, including a trip into space and two times into the ‘hood? Does being a little person make you immune to shame? I don’t think so. Shame on you, Wicket! Bad Ewok!

The Haunting in Connecticut (2009) **½
Director: Peter Cornwell
Writers: Adam Simon, Tim Metcalfe
Starring: Kyle Gallner, Virginia Madsen, Elias Koteas, Amanda Crew, Martin Donovan, Ty Wood, Sophi Knight

Well, I couldn’t end Horrorfest on the atrocity that is “Leprechaun”, so, after all the trick or treating on Halloween night, I settled down to a good ghost story. Well, maybe not entirely good, but a ghost story. “The Amityville Horror”… I mean “The Haunting in Connecticut” tells another ghost story based on real events. Different real events than the superior “Amityville”, but they might as well have been the same, since the movie doesn’t really tell a story anything like the one it’s supposedly based on.

It’s made well enough I suppose, but to continue the comparison with “Amityville”, it plays things out just a little too neatly. Sure the family gets out in the end of Amity, but it’s a messy ending. This movie feels like it pulled its punch in the end. It spends too much time giving you shocker moments, and not enough giving you real ones. The ghosts aren’t shy, even in the beginning of the picture; and considering the plot’s twist, they should be. “Poltergeist” might make for a good comparison piece as well, because they share similar false endings. But again, “Poltergeist” is messy, and this one’s just a little too neat.

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