There are great movies, good movies, average movies, halfway decent movies, and movies you'll never forget -- no matter how hard you try. I am here to try to help you navigate through them, to help you choose your movies so you can spend your money (and your time) wisely.
And yes, these reviews are being copyrighted as they are written.
For reasons we never really get to know a little girl we really never get to know or care about gets sent to live with her not terribly supportive, workaholic architect dad and his designer/girlfriend in a big giant spooky house that turns out to have awful little mischievous and bloodthirsty CG creatures in the basement. Hilarity via predictability and narrative paltriness ensues.
"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" (2011)
directed by Troy Nixey
written by Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins
starring Guy Peace, Katie Holmes, and Bailee Madison
How Is It?
To put not too fine a point on it, it's rather flat, all told. It's designed beautifully and looks great, but most of the story and script are rather tired. There are a few good bits here and there, but overall... it's generally a rather ineffective gimmick movie.
If Guy Pearce had enough screen time in it or if his character was terribly important, which you would think would have been the case, I could tell you how he did. He did alright as an archetype, the Career Success Oriented And Not Terribly Empathetic Father. Katie Holmes manages well as the Awkward Girlfriend/Surrogate Mother Who Doesn't Feel She's Ready To Be A Mother But Finally Finds The Strength When The Kid Is In Danger. To give credit where it's due, both did alright with the material they had to work with. The movie belonged to Bailee Madison, who played the Misunderstood And Terribly Socially Awkward But Allegedly Quite Bright Child, who was let down by two things. One was a woefully ordinary and overly long script for the story. The other was she couldn't carry it and didn't have any help in the effort, primarily from the script and direction.
Behind the Camera
The film looks great. The sets are very nice and lit and shot pretty well. The shots are well framed, and the movie has atmosphere. And the creatures look good. Troy Nixey's first feature length film looks good. It's just not got much in the way of substance, and it feels maybe like it's maybe twenty or thirty minutes too long. There is too much wandering in the dark, too much spotty lighting, too much emphasis on looking mysterious without there really being any mystery whatsoever. It's not so much a haunted house film as it is a mouse hunt, which is a real let down, and much of it has to do with the script.
The script is subpar. There. I said it. There's not enough story for its hour and a half, and the story that we get is, well, more than a bit hackneyed. It pains me to say this about a script by Guillermo del Toro, who is one of my favorite directors and storytellers and a true artist of the macabre, but the script, by and large, is just painfully below average. The characters are cardboard and not original, plain and simple. The scares, or what passes for them, come quite by the numbers and are for the most part visible from miles away. And the whole thing reeks of melodrama and fails to establish even an internal reality beyond "This is supposed to be scary." The script is the foundation, and it doesn't work well.
A very weak script in the hands of a novice director has the odds against it at the outset. "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" didn't beat the odds. The few good moments it had weren't enough to hold my attention as a viewer. Honestly, if I had not been watching it to review it, I would have switched it off before the thirty minute mark.
Not frightening. Dreadfully predictable. Characterless. Uninspiring. Not recommended.
It took thirty-three years for it to show up, a prequel to "Alien" or at least something to give a shot at explaining the background. It's Ridley Scott's instead of someone else's, which means the likelihood of real quality is much higher than average. I'm looking forward to seeing this one.
It was a rough year at the Academy Awards that year, and as cool as "Braveheart" was, for my money this was the Best Picture. Superbly directed, visually stunning, with a top-notch script and near flawless cast, "Apollo 13" is a master class on how to put together an historical drama for film. It also put into pop culture the saying I hear several times a year: "Houston, we have a problem." I believe this film was tops in what was truly a good year for movies.
"Army of Darkness" (1992)
While relying more on slapstick comedy than the violence and gore of its two predecessors, "Army of Darkness" is a fun comedy-horror, and Bruce Campbell is in top form. Critics generally panned it when it came out, comparing it to the first two Evil Dead films, but that was a mistake. On its own "Army of Darkness" holds it own and has a distinct style and tone, and it's good stuff.
With all the hubbub over Christopher Nolan's two Batman film installments and Heath Ledger's Joker, many people look back uncharitably on Tim Burton's film, and that's a shame. It's a good script with a good story. It has very good, stylized art direction and a distinct, dark feel. Its Batman, portrayed by Michael Keaton, and its Joker, portrayed by Jack Nicholson, don't disappoint. It's just cultural tastes have changed. "Batman" is a very good film, and I recommend it.
This film was an integral part of my development as a kid, a science fiction buff, an actor and writer, and a movie fan. It's a sequel unlike its predecessor in style and can work by itself as a standalone film. Its script is top notch, and it's a technically superbly executed film. All of it has held up well over time, the special effects in particular. It's a smashingly entertaining cinema experience.
A pretty solid drama, this is one I came across quite by accident back in the '90s while channel surfing one night. It's a simple story, effectively told, and featuring a very good cast, with Tom Selleck and F. Murray Abraham at the fore. The script is well written and tight, and it's well directed and gets everything right on cue. It's kind of predictable, but it's genuinely engaging and so is better than most. I like it.
"An American Werewolf in London" (1981)
This was one of the first movies I ever saw on cable television and was the source of some of my fiercest nightmares as a pre-teen. Sometimes deadly serious, sometimes comic, sometimes deadly serious and comic -- it's a highly effective, quickly paced, very well performed, and extremely fun horror film. It was the first VHS tape I ever bought, the third DVD and third Blu-Ray I ever bought. A solid film. One of my favorites.
I don't have an enormous library of movies. Well, I don't have nearly as enormous a library of movies as I would like. Let's put it that way. The following is the start of the list that will be on Thursdays for a while. I'm going to detail what I have and why.
"2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968)
Easy. This is one of the best, most influential films ever made. For all intents and purposes technically perfect, it wove special effects seamlessly into a marvelous story, balancing the two perfectly in a way, alas, not seen again until 1982's "Blade Runner"... and then not much after. It's #2 in my Top Ten and was the second Blu-Ray disc I ever bought. I watch it once or twice a year. It's that phenomenal.
"2010: The Year We Make Contact" (1984)
It's an '80s movie, and it looks like one... a lot. And it's dated... a lot. That said, it's solid, well conceived and executed, entertaining, in one of two scenes rather moving, and the cast is exceptional. It was also one of the first movies I ever watched when my parents go HBO. So in addition to being a very good film it's one of this film geek's sentimental favorites.
Again, easy. This is one of the top ten science fiction films ever made, as well as one of top one hundred films ever produced. I owned it on VHS, and then on DVD. I now have the Blu-Ray, and I'll get it on whatever format comes next. "A simple story, brilliantly told." That's it in a nutshell. Add to that a striking visual design that hasn't aged a bit in over thirty years and one of the greatest shocks in the history of cinema, and that's why it's in my collection.