Category Archives: movie of the week

The Great Gatsby 2013

The Great Gatsby ~ Every time I think of this Baz Luhrman flick, I can’t help thinking about the “Entourage” fictional version Gatsby. Maybe if I keep thinking that, I can also manifest another fake movie from the show, Aquaman, ’cause that one I really want to see.

At first, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to see this new version of Gatsby. I remember vaguely reading it as a teenager, and then being made to read it in college. I remember watching a TV version as an ABC movie of the week back in the seventies and being bored to tears.

The Great Gatsby is a lot of tell vs. show, along with subtext and metaphor that if you don’t get, your English teacher or professor will have a seizure. It’s also full of unlikable characters. It serves its purpose, like say Catcher in the Rye, don’t get me wrong, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Then there’s the problem of the director. Baz Luhrman, for me, is a creator of extremes. I think his Romeo + Juliet is a work of brilliance, yet his critically acclaimed Moulin Rouge! revels in the mud of my bottom five. I hated it. And because of it, I approach any further Luhrman work with contempt, derision, and caution. The Great Gatsby, seemingly in a similar vein to those two previously mentioned films, is definitely no exception.

I did not hate this version of Gatsby, but I didn’t love it either. It falls somewhere around my impression of the 1970s one, less than impressed, and bored. The leads are strong and perfect had this been in hands of any other director. Luhrman resorts to camera tricks, fast motion, modern music, and even 3-D trickery, and all any of it does is sour and dilute the classic story. Don’t waste your time, unless you’re a fan or morbidly curious.

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The Initiation of Sarah 2006

The Initiation of Sarah ~ The original came at the tail end of the great ABC telemovies of the 1970s. In it, Kay Lenz, who I always mixed up with Susan Dey, plays the Carrie part in this Carrie rip-off. Morgan Fairchild is chief tormentor and Shelley Winters the witchy housemother mentor. There were a few of these Carrie wannabes in the 1970s, The Spell with Susan Meyers from “James at 15” was another, that aped the mousy scapegoat girl, who also happens to have telekinetic powers, flipping out in her tormentors. Sarah took place at a college sorority as opposed to high school.

The 2006 version is a re-imagining of the 1978 movie of the week done for, believe it or not, the ABC Family Channel. Well, at least they’re keeping it in the ‘family.’ Yeah, I know, sorry. Here, Morgan Fairchild returns as the snooty mom of two girls about to enter college, and join her old exclusive sorority. Lindsay, played by a post-“Firefly” Summer Glau and mousey cutter Sarah played by Mika Boorem of Blue Crush, are, as one would expect, polar opposites.

It is essentially the same story, with a decidedly non-fun Jennifer Tilly in the Shelley Winters role, but it has become unnecessarily complicated, almost as if someone was watching nothing but “Buffy” and old soap operas for a couple weeks straight. The warring sororities are the guardians of good and evil, people pretend to be other people to sleep with them, and it gets worse from there.

I wanted to like this one, I really did. It could have been the good old campy fun the original was but just took itself too seriously, and too much ABC Family as well, adding a crapload of teenage melodrama to the mix. Avoid and look for the original.

Dark Shadows 2012

Dark Shadows ~ When I first saw the trailer for this new version of Dark Shadows my thoughts were, “Oh boy, here’s Tim Burton raping another piece of my childhood, just like he did with Batman, Willy Wonka, Planet of the Apes, and tried to do with Superman.” To an extent, I was right, but if I’m absolutely honest, having seen the film, there’s also a lot of love and homage in there too, right next to the blatant disrespect and mockery.

The story for those who don’t know is that of Barnabas Collins, cursed by an ex-lover, also a witch, to become a vampire in the 18th century, imprisoned, released and awoken in the 20th century. This was the basis for the last few years of the late 1960s/early 1970s ABC soap opera cult classic “Dark Shadows.” Tim Burton, a supposed fan of the series, has decided to remake it as a camp comedy horror drama, emphasis on the camp and the comedy. Not that “Dark Shadows” wasn’t camp, mind you, it was, it just wasn’t planned to be. Like all good camp, it took itself deadly serious. That’s not the case here at all unfortunately. Often, as with most of his films, what’s funny to Tim Burton is rarely funny to everybody else.

All the good zingers are in the previews, so don’t go in expecting much more. That said however, in between all the failed jokes are tons of in-jokes and Easter eggs for fans of the show. Tim Burton may have disrespected the TV series, but he certainly did know it backward and forward. He does streamline and he does change many details, but still the love is evident. It’s when he tries to make fun of it and fails that fans and non-fans alike will cringe.

I dislike Johnny Depp’s Barnabas Collins quite a bit. As he sometimes does, it seems as if he made up a character in a improv class and then built a movie around it. Depp might be better off getting together and making movies with that Borat guy rather than raping my childhood with substandard remakes of old soap operas. He does have Jonathan Frid’s speech patterns down however. I have to give props to Helena Bonham Carter’s Dr. Julia Hoffman for the same reason. Her voice is perfect, but her over the top dye job alcoholic drag queen version of the doctor not so much. Fans of the show will laugh their asses off at her, it’s both hideous and hilarious.

Another of my favorites, Jackie Earle Haley is cast brilliantly as groundskeeper Willie Loomis (and yes, I bet that’s where “The Simpsons” got the name from). He is one of the highlights of the flick, both dramatic and comedic. Don’t blink or you will miss the two second cameos by surviving cast members of the soap opera – Kathryn Leigh Scott, David Selby, Lara Parker, and the recently late Jonathan Frid – as guests at the ball/happening with Alice Cooper.

Michelle Pfeiffer is pretty pedestrian for a role she wanted so badly, but she doesn’t have much room to act next to the scene-eating Depp. Same for one of my faves Jonny Lee Miller and newcomer Bella Heathcote – not enough room. I would have loved to have seen more of them, but such is the way of the soap opera. Speaking of over the top scene-stealing, Eva Green from “Camelot” is just absolutely crazy town as Barnabas’ nemesis Angelique. It’s almost as if the actors got drunk and played make-believe as their characters at some points. Also, much like 1989’s Batman, Burton is unable to come up with an ending so it feels like he starts pulling ideas of out his butt. Seriously, the last twenty minutes of this movie are insane, and not in a good way. It’s almost unwatchable.

The problem is that it’s not all bad, and that this really could have been a good movie, and not just that, a good movie, a respectful remake, and it didn’t have to resort to low brow comedy. The credits sequence in the beginning, set to the Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin,” with Victoria Winters coming to Collinsport, is so ABC telemovie that not only would Dan Curtis (creator of “Dark Shadows” as well as more than a few movies of the week) would have been proud, but I was half-expecting to see Kim Darby, Kate Jackson, or Karen Black make an appearance.

There was a lot of stuff to love set amongst the comedic ruins of this flick. I loved both the inside and the outside of Collinwood, the town of Collinsport they built on the set, including the Blue Whale. The bit with Alice Cooper, which in the previews appears to be a one note joke, turns into brilliance by the inclusion of “The Ballad of Dwight Frye” as background for a couple scenes.

All in all, except for the last quarter of the movie, I did enjoy it. It’s not “Dark Shadows,” it’s not the cult classic gothic soap opera of my youth, but I did laugh, I did smile, and I still have my memories. Worth seeing for the curious, the fans, and for those with no point of reference whatsoever. I just would have rather seen the movie it could have been, as opposed to the one it is.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark 2011

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark ~ The original 1973 ABC TV movie of the week called Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark scared the crap out of me. The idea of little buggers running around about a foot high with razors and other implements of cutting danger kept me from enjoying what is for the most a comedy – the Gremlins movies. Yeah, I admit it, I’m that frightened of little people, malevolent or not. I doubt I could deal with Darby O’Gill or The Gnomemobile because of this movie.

Guillermo del Toro has given many interviews citing the original version of this movie, as well as several “Twilight Zone” and “Night Gallery” episodes that similarly scared me, as scaring the crap out of him. He has the same weaknesses, and in this 2011 remake, he pushes those buttons hard, nay, he twists them ’til they fall off.

The only thing that disarmed the original monsters from being truly scary was how fake they looked. The new creatures are del Toro makeovers in the mode of his terrifying creations in Pan’s Labyrinth and the Hellboy movies. If there’s one thing del Toro can do, it’s make monsters. And there are also dozens of them, as opposed to the trio in the original. He also ties in other panic buttons with the themes of children in danger and the irrational reality of the tooth fairy concept. Add in more than a few broken teeth, and I’m terrified just typing this.

The story, slightly altered from the 1973 original, has a young couple renovating a huge mansion with the man’s young daughter from a previous marriage joining them after a long time. Secret rooms, evil fairies and mysterious murder attempts follow in suitable movie of the week horror fashion. Del Toro adds a bit more to the background and origins of the creatures and the house with frightening, almost Lovecraftian, zeal.

If you look deeper, del Toro, who has help from co-screenwriter Matthew Robbins and director Troy Nixey, has produced a love letter to those old telemovies that ABC made on a regular basis in the early 1970s. There are many nudges and winks here in names and camera angles to those great flicks. There is much love here, and much horror as well.

Going back to the monsters, I was almost hoping we never saw them, because the human imagination is usually more powerful than anything we can be shown. As you might guess, I’m a big fan of Curse of the Demon and the original The Haunting for this reason. When I finally did see the new monsters, I wanted them to go away, and I know I’m not going to sleep tonight. It’s rare that a remake improves on a film in this way. I’m not going to see this movie again, and that’s a compliment.

The cast is okay, neither Katie Holmes nor Guy Pearce, despite their star power, really bring anything extra to their roles. The little girl, Bailee Madison, already an acting veteran at twelve, is the real star here and is wonderful. If the Academy ever even looked at horror movies (which they don’t), they might find a treasure here. Remember her name, even if they won’t.

One plot point bothered me and seemed way out of place. Spoilers ahead, you have been warned. The creatures, weakened by bright light (don’t say it, they did predate Gremlins by at least a decade), are attacked by little Bailee with a Polaroid One-Step camera plus Flashbar. First, a One-Step camera in the day of the cellphone seems like an anachronism, and the Flashbar only had five flashes before it neede to be reversed or changed. This camera keeps going like a bad guy’s gun in a Rambo movie. Small point, but it pulled me out of the flick.

The above aside, this was a pretty good horror flick, with appropriate scares, I recommend it despite the fact I will never watch it again. It’s that scary, and that’s a solid recommendation. Check it out, if you dare.

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White Dog

White Dog ~ This Sam Fuller flick from 1982 is supposedly the movie that destroyed Kristy McNichol’s career. In hindsight, this could have been an amazing Quentin Tarantino, but then again, for many folks, Quentin is only a poor man’s Fuller. Besides McNichol, the star-studded cast also includes Paul Winfield and Burl Ives, not to mention a score by the master, Ennio Morricone. Also look for cameos by Paul Bartel and the legendary Dick Miller.

White Dog is at best hokey horror, not much better than your run of the mill ABC movie of the week in the 1970s, but still that’s a mark to aspire to. Kristy finds a dog and takes him in. She soon finds that he’s a trained attack dog. But he’s not just an attack dog, he’s an attack dog trained to specifically attack black people. Yeah, you got it.

Just for the record, this movie didn’t ruin Kristy’s career, she did. I’ve seen this flick, the dog is a much better actor than Kristy McNichol here. Sad but true…

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Devil Dog

Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell ~ I’m seeing this telemovie for the first time since 1978, but I have vivid memories of the first time this movie of the week was on television.

I remember not the night it first aired so much as the next day at school. In English we were doing a creative writing exercise, and had been doing it for a few weeks, and it was finally due that morning. One kid, who shall remain nameless, but he knows who he is, and anyone reading this who was in the class remembers who he is, handed in his story and its name was “Evil Dog: Hound from Hades.” I wonder what he had been doing the last few weeks, but I sure do know what he had been doing the night before! Man, would I love to read his ‘story’ now!

The original movie, plagiarism lawsuits aside, starred such television luminaries as Richard Crenna, Yvette Mimieux, Ken Kercheval, Lou Frizzell, and those two Witch Mountain kids Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann. The flick was written by mediocre television writers Elinor and Steven Karpf and directed by Curtis Harrington, who actually used to be an interesting director. But it doesn’t show here, the writing obviously overshadows the directing, and the performances, which are worse than the usual movie of the week.

The story is a fairly simple one. The devil mates with a dog (don’t laugh, yet) and a Satanic cult sends the litter of subsequent puppies out into the suburbs to raise havoc. Our feature family receives a German shepherd named Lucky who likes to play mind games with the family, killing a maid and basically effs with everybody.

There’s so much telekinetic stuff going on here I would have thought the Witch Mountain kids would have caught on right away, but no go, they quickly becomes Lucky’s slaves, and total brats. Father Richard Crenna seems to be the only one hip to the dog’s evil and faces off with the devil dog that has taken over his family. Great z-movie fun, this would have been prime real estate for “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”

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