Tag Archives: cinema saturday

R.I.P. Bingo ~ Haunted House

To misquote a tagline, what’s better than one haunted house? Four haunted houses! I’m not against remakes and I had the opportunity recently to watch some classics back-to-back with their turn-of-the-century remakes. How do they stack up?

House on Haunted Hill (1959) and 13 Ghosts (1960) were both directed by William Castle and written by Robb White. Castle was rather well known for promoting his films with gimmicks. House‘s gimmick was Emergo: in certain theaters, at a certain point in the film, a skeleton would be made to fly over the audience. Ghosts‘ had Illusion-O: a viewing device that audience members could use to see the ghosts in the film. Honestly, 13 Ghosts loses a lot without its gimmick because there isn’t much going on other than seeing the ghosts.

House on Haunted Hill is by no means a great movie, but it generally serves as a bit of schlocky seasonal fun. Vincent Price is delightfully wicked, the exterior of the house is a Frank Lloyd Wright design, and it has a few actually creepy moments. The plot (spoilers) isn’t exactly supernatural, but it has enough double dealing and betrayal that , if the house wasn’t haunted before, it is now. It’s also the easiest to view now. A copyright SNAFU has led to it being in the public domain.

In 1998, genre heavy-weights Robert Zemeckis, Joel Silver, and Gilber Adler founded Dark Castle Entertainment. The production company’s first two films were remakes of the two William Castle films mentioned above.

House on Haunted Hill (1999) was directed by William Malone and written by Dick Beebe. While the basic plot stays intact (stay over night in the haunted place, win money) the “house” is actually a former insane asylum, a trope that’s wearing thin for me. One of the criticisms of both of these movies (and of a trend in horror films that started during this period) is that they become too reliant on CGI effects. Yes, the ending of this movie is very over-wrought as our survivors flee from a Rorschach-test-like dark cloud. Luckily, there are some uncanny moments earlier in the film and there are also a few nods to the original. Winner of the Vincent-Price-level evil award: Famke Janssen.

Thir13een Ghosts (2001), directed by Steve Beck and written by Neal Marshall Stevens and Richard D’Ovidio, diverges even more from the original, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As in the original, a hard-up family inherits a haunted house, but in this case, what a house! It’s all glass, glowing runes, and clockworks. The set design is really the star of this movie. The titular ghosts have back stories, which the movie doesn’t really worry about fleshing out. That’s fine, those details go into the character design where they belong. While the ghosts may not be that scary, they are interesting. Like House on Haunted Hill, the ending is the weakest point in Ghosts, but it’s kind of a fun ride while it lasts.

80s in August: 1989

Warlock

Year: 1989
Runtime: 1h 43m
Rated: R

Director: Steve Miner

Writer: David Twohy

Stars: Julian Sands, Lori Singer, Richard E. Grant

Streaming on: Tubi

Initial: I used to own this movie on VHS.

Production Notes: Apparently, this movie didn’t get a US release until 1991. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What Did I Think:
First off, I want to talk about the gay side character in Warlock. On the plus side, hey! there’s a gay side character! Also, Kassandra defends Chas, her roommate, as just being a nice, normal guy. On the minus side, there is an odd distinction between gay and queer, Chas dies first, and, well, his name is Chas… So, mixed bag.

Otherwise, I find a lot to like in Warlock. Julian Sands plays evil without mustache twirling or scenery-chewing. Redferne, the witch-finder, shows the proper amount of unease with his 20th century surroundings, and Kassandra is kind of a proto-Buffy. She doesn’t want to be pulled into the plot, but when she has no choice, she’s the shrewdest character in the room.

The effects aren’t great, but I’ll over look that.


The Blood of Heroes

Year: 1989
Runtime: 1h 30m
Rated: R

Director: David Webb Peoples

Writer: David Webb Peoples

Stars: Rutger Hauer, Joan Chen, Delroy Lindo

Streaming on: Tubi

Initial: Like many Rutgar Hauer movies, I probably saw The Blood of Heroes some late night on syndicated TV.

Production Notes: So, there are actual rules to jugger, the sport in The Blood of Heroes. It, of course, isn’t as brutal, but it’s interesting that this film has had that much impact.

What Did I Think:
I hadn’t seen The Blood of Heroes in a number of years, but it was pretty much as good as I remembered it. I hadn’t realized it before but, while it’s set in a post-apocalyptic world, this is a sports film. I love sports films!

I’m also kind of impressed with the low-key treatment of gender politics. There’s not talk of whether Kidda or the veteran Big Cimber are lesser players because they’re women. They are also not assaulted because they are women nor are they used as prizes because they are women. (The only time there is much of a difference in how they are treated as juggers is when the men have women throwing themselves at them after a win while Kidda and Cimber are left with scrawny company for the evening.) In general, while the sport is brutal, its players have a certain code of honor. And if there is any politics to The Blood of Heroes, it’s class politics.

Annoyingly, the Tubi version of this film is in 4:3 ratio. It’s a very dark film, but I think that’s on purpose, and it works for the most part. The action scenes are chaotic, but not confusing. I also liked how there isn’t overheard dialog in several scenes, yet what is being talked about is obvious.


Parents

Year: 1989
Runtime: 1h 21m
Rated: R

Director: Bob Balaban

Writer: Christopher Hawthorne

Stars: Randy Quaid, Mary Beth Hurt, Bryan Madorsky, Sandy Dennis

Streaming on: Tubi

Initial: Another fairly well-regarded horror movie that I hadn’t seen before.

Production Notes: Randy Quaid’s second appearance in August. He was the sheriff in The Wraith (1986).

What Did I Think:
What an odd movie. Since it ends up being very discomfiting, I guess it’s successful. Parents is very slow, though, and maybe a tad unfocused. Honestly, this movie weirdly reminds me of A Christmas Story (1983)—granted, a twisted horror version. Maybe it’s just that I find both a little bizarre and kind of dull. Both are told through the lens of childhood misunderstandings, which I don’t find that entertaining.


Other Movies from 1989: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Ghostbusters II, The Abyss, Back to the Future Part II, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Pet Sematary

Cinema Saturday, 7/31/21

First, a programming note: I’m going to be doing another month-long movie watch next month — 80s in August! I’ll be picking three genre films from each year of the decade, a fantasy film, a sci-fi film, and a horror film. I’m limiting my choices to the streaming services I currently have access to (Hulu, Netflix, the library, and the free ones) and will skew toward movies I haven’t seen or movies I haven’t seen in a long while. Hopefully a fun way to cruise through August.

Life of Crime

Year: 2013
Runtime: 1h 38m
Rated: R

Director: Daniel Schechter

Writers: Daniel Schechter, Elmore Leonard

Stars: Jennifer Aniston, Yasiin Bey, Isla Fisher, John Hawkes

Initial: Oh, hey! A movie based on an Elmore Leonard book!

Production Notes: Based on the novel The Switch. Several characters from that novel show up again in Leonard’s Rum Punch, which Quentin Tarantino made into Jackie Brown (1997).

What Did I Think:
Yes, this movie has Elmore Leonard fingerprints all over it. Quirky, ambiguous bad guys? Check. Scheme that goes sideways without the quirky, ambiguous bad guys being utter idiots? Check. Set in the 70s? Well, that’s just bonus points I guess. Not as smart or funny as a film like Logan Lucky (2017), but enjoyable, if you like crime dramedies. And it occurred to me that I like Jennifer Aniston. She plays a great straight man here, handling her circumstances with a good deal of poise.


Enola Holmes

Year: 2020
Runtime: 2h 3m
Rated: PG-13

Director: Harry Bradbeer

Writers: Jack Thorne, Nancy Springer

Stars: Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin

Initial: I put off watching Enola Holmes for quite a while because, as much as I like the thought of extended Holmes works, they so rarely turn out well.

What Did I Think:
Thirteen year-old me would have loved this movie. Forty-six year-old me finds it very…likeable. It’s well-made, a bit ridiculous, but almost tries too hard. You kind of have to be on board for the meta, fourth wall-breaking that is going to occur because what you see in that trailer is what you’re going to get. Millie Bobby Brown is charismatic and Helena Bonham Carter is perfect as her mother. I would also be in favor of some spin-off Henry Cavill Sherlock Holmes.

Bonus! YouTuber Jill Bearup tested stabbing a corset!

Cinema…Sunday! 7/25/21

Btw, this trailer is one of my favorite bits of visual and sound editing.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Year: 2018
Runtime: 2h 14m
Rated: PG-13

Director: Bryan Singer, Dexter Fletcher

Writers: Anthony McCarten, Peter Morgan

Stars: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee

“Paul is out. I fired him.”

“On what pretext?”

“Villainy.”

Initial: Too bad this wasn’t on my streaming platform of choice back when I watched Rocketman.

Production Notes: Speaking of Rocketman (and more comparisons are going to be made), Dexter Fletcher went on to direct that film after he had stepped in to finish Rhapsody when Bryan Singer was fired from the project.

What Did I Think:
I like Queen. Obviously, it helps when watching a musician biopic to like the musician’s music. Rami Malek plays the hell out his role as Freddie Mercury (as do Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, and Joe Mazzello as the rest of the band). I enjoyed the scenes of the band collaborating. I don’t know how faithful they are to real life, but I like the concept of art coming out of not just agreement, but criticism.

For example, in one scene (summed up):
Band: *argues about writing a (gasp) disco song*
John Deacon: *starts playing the bass line for “Another One Bites the Dust” *
Band: “Oh. Well, if that’s what you mean…”

All biopics have to adapt real life to narrative. Sadly, Bohemian Rhapsody does it in a bland way. Here comes the big comparison: Rocketman sidesteps fidelity by cheerfully waving goodbye to the mundane and substituting the heightened reality of a musical. This works very well for interpreting Elton John. It allows for narrative somersaults to make everything Work Out in the End. A musical probably wouldn’t have worked for Freddie Mercury, but there had to be an alternative for the pretty straight (in more ways than one) storytelling of Bohemian Rhapsody. What would have worked for Queen? 80s rock opera, probably, though that would have been difficult to pull off and not be cheesy.

As I said though, I like Queen. This movie wasn’t great, but its 2 hours, 14 minute runtime wasn’t a hardship either. Yes, I watch through to the end of the credits.

Bonus:

Cinema Saturday, 7/10/21

I Kill Giants

Year: 2017
Runtime: 1h 46m
Rated: Not Rated

Director: Anders Walter

Writers: Joe Kelly, Ken Niimura

Stars: Madison Wolfe, Imogen Poots, Sydney Wade, Rory Jackson, Zoe Saldana

Initial: From my random draw TBW list.

Production Notes: Set in the US, but filmed in Belgium and Ireland

What Did I Think: (possible spoilers ahead)
Going in, I saw that this movie can go one of two ways: giants are real or giants are a metaphor. So, a big part of this film’s success relies on how it executes these possibilities. Unfortunately, there is never any true ambiguity between the real and the magical. It’s a little frustrating that the magical realism doesn’t quite seep into reality because the effects are nicely done. But I do appreciate that I Kill Giants doesn’t do any cheesy cheating.

On the plus side, there is some mystery to what is behind our giant-killer’s predicament. The end reveal, while more of a wrinkle than a twist, does reframe many earlier events and that is deftly done. It’s a lovely film and sad. You might want a Kleenex on hand.


Bill & Ted Face the Music

Year: 2020
Runtime: 1h 31m
Rated: PG-13

Director: Dean Parisot

Writers: Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine

Initial: Hey, look! Another movie everyone else watched a year ago!

Production Notes: There’s a nearly 30 year gap between Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991, which I saw in the theater with my sister) and this sequel.

What Did I Think:
Bill & Ted Face the Music has a few basic things going for it for me. First, I have a soft spot for naive, enthusiastic optimism. A song can unite the world or save reality? With how wearing the real world is, I’m there for that sort of nonsense. Second, I’m in favor of the subversion of nostalgia projects: “You know those characters that you identified with when you were young? Yeah, they’re old now too…” (See also Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017).) And third, I just sort of like the goofy, not-quite-parody-of-Doctor-Who* that is the Bill & Ted franchise. It’s an amalgamation of things that don’t quite work, but still exceed the sum of their parts. And, when I moved to Arizona, I was so stoked that there was a Circle K on the corner.

Face the Music is maybe not as clever, maybe not at well-put-together as the first movie, but it’s fun. Thea and Billie (the daughters) tread much of the same ground as the first two movies in the franchise, while Bill and Ted end up meeting future versions of themselves, which is probably the best shtick of movie. This was 90 minutes that flew by.

* George Carlin (Rufus in the earlier movies) would have made a great Doctor. Plus, a phone booth time-travel device that isn’t bigger on the inside is so much funnier.

Cinema Saturday, 7/3

The Haunting in Connecticut

Year: 2009
Runtime: 1h 32m
Rated: PG-13

Director: Peter Cornwell

Writers: Adam Simon, Tim Metcalfe

Stars: Virginia Madsen, Martin Donovan, Elias Koteas

Initial: Why was this movie even on my random TBW list? Was it Virginia Madsen? Was it the séances? It was probably the séances.

Production Notes: The true story on which The Haunting in Connecticut is “based” is connected to Ed and Lorraine Warren. One imagines that if this movie had been made 4–5 years later it would be part of The Conjuring-verse.

What Did I Think:
Some movies are a slog to get through. I watched this one over the course of three dinners, about a half hour at a time. If you’ve never seen a horror movie, The Haunting in Connecticut might be clever and effective. But probably still slightly confusing because some of the choices characters make no kind of sense. Do you really decide to move into a house with an entire half of the basement behind a stuck door? Does any kid really decide to hide in the rusty dumbwaiter? Plus, there is just too much: necromancers and spiritualists, hallucination inducing medical treatments and a semi-estranged alcoholic father who decides that breaking every light bulb in the house is appropriate punishment for leaving the lights on. Verily, I have gained more appreciation for the focus and efficiency of Poltergeist (1982).


Aliens

Year: 1986
Runtime: 2h17min
Rated: R

Director: James Cameron

Writers: James Cameron, David Giler, Walter Hill, Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett

Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen

Initial: Sometimes you just have to rewatch a favorite.

Production Notes: It’s only been nine months since I last watched this movie. I had thought that I’d mentioned it at the time, but it was in the middle of my September horror movie A to Z.

What Did I Think:
James Cameron does two things well in Aliens.

One, he presents a really good sequel. He starts off with enough nods to Ridley Scott’s original before pivoting the whole story into a different genre. This takes time and Cameron takes the time.

Second, he’s good at information management. In action movies, it’s actually really important to know where characters are going and why they are going there. The audience should have some expectation of what’s supposed to be happening so that when things go wrong, we understand the gravity of the situation. The characters in Aliens spend a lot of time looking at maps and explaining to each other what’s going on. Cameron and his co-writers make those explanations work because the characters are either part of a command structure where information is passed down the chain or the characters are trouble-shooting. “Can we do this thing?” “No, we’ll become alien fodder.” “What about this?” “Sure, be we’ll have to go there.” These exchanges take time too, but the movie never lags.

I haven’t seen The Abyss or True Lies in a while, but this might be my favorite James Cameron movie.

Cinema Saturday, 6/26/21

Judy & Punch

Year: 2019
Runtime: 1h 45m
Rated: Not Rated

Director: Mirrah Foulkes

Writers: Mirrah Foulkes, Tom Punch, Lucy Punch, Eddy Moretti

Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Damon Herriman, Daisy Axon

Initial: Saw promotional materials on Hulu and said, “Well, that looks like a movie for me!”

What Did I Think: (spoilers possible below)
Enjoyment of this movie is fairly dependent on some knowledge of traditional Punch and Judy shows. Being American, I was only vaguely familiar: it’s a puppet show, usually done with marionettes; Punch carries a stick and (as the Wikipedia page puts it) other characters are “felled by Punch’s slapstick.” But that wasn’t enough to keep me from being felled by a few WTF moments due to my not being familiar enough. I understood going in (though I hadn’t watched the trailer) that there was going to be a fantastical aspect to the setting and time period. I suspected that there was a meta aspect to the story. I just wasn’t quite prepared for a more or less live-action Punch and Judy show.

Like the also inverse-named Gretel & Hansel (2020), Judy & Punch is more about the female half of this pairing. Judy is co-artist, wife to the “genius” Punch, and over-worked mother. The final straw to her liberation is pretty extreme. She delivers retribution to her husband by the end of the tale, though I wish it would have been a little more grounded. Earlier, Judy is shown to be a talented magician (in the stage magic sense) and I wish those theatrics would have been more solidly used. It’s a beautiful film and well-cast, but slightly misses the mark for me.