Sunday, November 2, 2014

Weekly Round-Up (10/26/14 - 11/1/14)

The Changeling (Peter Medak) ***1/2 - I've often been told this is a rather scary haunted house horror film. Now, I finally saw it. It doesn't QUITE live up to the hype surrounding it but it's still a very well-crafted genuinely spooky ghost story about a musician (George C. Scott) whose wife and daughter is killed in a tragic roadside accident and moves into a house haunted by a ghost of little boy. There are genuinely chilling, creepy and disturbing moments in this one and is as usual superbly acted by George C. Scott. The mystery/plot keeps you on your toes and the pay-off is not disappointing. Highly recommended for Halloween.

Tarzan The Ape Man (W.S. Van Dyke) *** - I've seen a lot of adaptations of the Tarzan story both in film and TV yet I don't think I've ever seen this one which launched Hollywood's long and on-going love affair with the Edgar Rice Burroughs character and Johnny Weissmuller's acting career. It's no masterpiece but there are enough set-pieces that actually holds up. Maureen O'Sullivan is also wonderful as Jane. Pre-code so it's kind of violent and a bit racy and it was made in the 1930's so it's also VERY politically incorrect but once you get over that, it's fun.

Frank (Lenny Abrahamson) *** - An aspiring musician joins an eccentric band featuring a lead vocalist who wears a big giant paper-mache head...all the time, without ever taking it off. Based on that premise, you can tell it's a very quirky film. It really tows the line between annoyingly quirky and endearingly quirky all throughout its running time. It's held together by the fantastic performances, particularly that of Michael Fassbender who has to act without his face throughout most of the film yet still manages to create a wholly convincing, compelling, funny, sad character with just his voice and body movements.

Re-Animator (Stuart Gordon) ***1/2 - This is my Halloween night movie. I have to say this movie is sick, disturbing, disgusting and absolutely fucked up.....and I enjoyed it! Adapted from the work of H.P. Lovecraft, this concerns two young med students experimenting with reanimating dead bodies. I'm guessing a lot of people will be turned off by some elements of it. One scene near the end in particular was so gross and disgusting, I had to laugh at how outrageous it is. One thing I have to point out is the score. It VERY obviously heavily borrows from Bernard Herrmann's score for Psycho that I'm a bit taken aback that he wasn't credited for it. Oh, well. But still is a nice, fun, B-movie horror Halloween treat.

John Wick (Chad Strahelski) ***1/2 - There have been a lot of "revenge" movies lately, thanks to Liam Neeson, where assassins/secret agents "with a specific set of skills" usually played by an older actor is wronged then pretty much kicks ass. This is the BEST among them. This is Keanu Reeves' best work since, well, the first Matrix, I guess as a retired assassin who is wronged by the stupid-ass son of his former employer (played by Alfie Allen who is typecast here as a fuck-up). The action is fantastic and the story and the world is strong and believable with sprinklings of dark humor for good measure. It is one of pleasant surprises of 2014. Very refreshing since it's not based on any well-known property.

T'yanak (Peque Gallaga/Lore Reyes) ***1/2 - This is directors Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes' own remake/reboot of the 1988 Filipino horror film of the same title. I haven't seen it (though I do remember watching the trailers for it and being kind of scared) so I can't comment on how it compares. However, as it is, it's a pretty damn good horror movie. For those not in the know, a "tiyanak" is a ghoul-like creature that shape-shifts in the form of a baby. People hear its cries and when they pick it up, they pretty much eat you. There's quite an amazing balance of dramatic heft and self-aware camp that makes this quite a pleasure to watch. They use a surprising amount of practical effects in this one which is to its credit.

The Sign of the Cross (Cecil B. DeMille) **1/2 - Don't let the title and the Christian theme fool you! This is a violent and racy Pre-code swords-and-sandals epic set during the time of the Roman persecution of Christians. This time it's about a Roman official who falls in love with a Christian woman. The film is lavishly designed and has a truly epic feel. But at two hours, it does feel a bit bloated and the pious elements doesn't seem to jive with the exploitative sexual and violent content (quite graphic for its time, and there are still a few scenes here that will raise the eyebrows of a super conservative Christian despite it being a 30's movie). Fredric March is great as always but the film doesn't quite work.

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