Monday, June 29, 2015

Return To Oz

This has been one of my favorite movies since childhood, around the time where the Wizard Of Oz pretty much resonated in my life. It was something about the Land Of Oz that captured me. Beautiful but dangerous, strange but whimsical. And it was one of the few children's novels I read many times than most fairy tales. I was much more familiar with the 1939 film than the book when I was a wee little child, though about around age 5 or 6, I stumbled upon this little video store called Video Spectrum. It was at the time where I was looking for every Wizard Of Oz adaptation there was.

Once I found what I was looking for I was distracted by adorably cute art cover and in an instant I got my mom to rent for me.
But boy was I in for a surprise.....

I wasn't particularly frightened by the dark, mature nature of the film but this was far from the happy, jolly musical I grew up with. The movie was much more high adventure, with the stakes higher and the villains much more frightening.

I swear both Mombi And The Nome King would put the wicked witch to shame.
But beside all that, I fell in love with this movie. After watching this, I became more interested in dark fantasy kids films that was pretty much underrated among the mainstream. However, Return To Oz was indefinitely misunderstood. Robert and Ebert named it one of the worst films of 1985 because they grew up more with the 1939 movie than the book, and was pretty much upset of the ominous atmosphere of the film when case in point, the books had some dark themes as well.

It was all but forgotten until I discovered it and even since then my obsession with The Wizard Of Oz grew.

Books, Toys, Merchandise you name it. I was all over it until the age of 12.

So this is my dubious honor to Return To Oz, Who celebrated it's 30th anniversary a few days ago. Now before I begin my good points with the film, there are some flaws here and there. My main problem is how Dorothy would run all the way to the Emerald City in what seems like just a mere minute. In my eyes, It was a pretty long journey so it would be in impossible for her to approach the city with no problem. In my opinion though, they should've placed the setting in the Land Of Ev from the Ozma Of Oz novel. That's probably the only minor problem, nothing much else really. But for those of you who don't know, this is more of a semi-sequel to the 1939 movie, having elements from both the film and the books which I liked.
The acting is fantastic, especially from showstoppers like Piper Laurie's small role as Auntie Em and Nicol Williamson as the Nome King.

But the biggest star of them all is Fauriza Balk in her first starring role. Never have I seen a child actress with such maturity and grace, having the exact manifestation of Dorothy in the book. She's brave, practical, and a lot more effective than Judy Garland's Dorothy (just my opinion, guys).

The biggest showcase of Return Of Oz is it's special effects. To the animatronic structures of our favorite Oz characters maintaining the exact same illustrated sketches from the novels to continuing human-like transformation of the Nome King, it shows that the special effects crew put a lot of hard work into their craft. This was way before CGI and I have to say that even 30 years later it still holds up quite well. I like how it's a mixture of both the books and the movie, though the only element I could find was the iconic ruby slippers that would always gives a little color and imagination to the World Of Oz, fitting the film perfectly.

Major props to Walter Murch, which is sadly his only directing credit. It's a shame because he has a really good eye along with the classic music score the feel of a Wizard Of Oz movie.

By and By, it's movies like this that inspire me, Movies like this is the reason I have a rich imagination, and it's movies like this is the reason I'm an aspiring writer. So this is my tribute to Return To Oz, a truly underrated classic.




Saturday, June 20, 2015

Movie Review: Carrie (2002)

When I first heard there was going to be a television remake of Carrie, I was super siked. Although I was only eleven years old at the time and it was unnecessary to remake an already classic movie but for those of you  who don't know this is more based on the book than the Brian De Palma movie. At first I thought I liked it but through the years I noticed the bad acting, bad writing, and horrible, horrible CGI effects, which again was not needed but hey it's a TV movie, they had to think of something right? But in the end, it's not really all that great though at least, Brain Fuller, who later give his writing credits to the hit show Hannibal, did put some effort with this, so the risk they took with this version is worth the take.
The Story: Misfit girl with unexplained powers decided  to take her revenge on her vicious classmates on Prom Night.
The Acting is....not all that great. Though Angela Bettis did an alright performance, she is nowhere near as good as Sissy Spacek, and it's not particularly an Emmy-winning performance, however, she is still a very underrated actress and did a somewhat decent job. Also Kandyse McClure did an okay performance and not to mention Rena Softer as Miss Dejardian. It's just that the rest of the acting seemed forced and not all believable.

I thought the casting of Angela Bettis was a pretty good idea. When I looked at her, she seem to perfectly embody a  high school outcast, though I could tell that Angela Bettis doesn't "look" like a high school student. She was pushing thirty at the time and looks it. Sure, Sissy Spacek was twenty-six during the filming of the original but at least the filmmakers made ways to make her believable as a high school student. But In my honest opinion, the filmmakers should've casted Alison Pill in the role. She was around the same age as the character around that year and fit the psychical description of the character and had the right emotional range to carry that role.

Besides all that, again, Angela Bettis did an alright performance, she wouldn't hold a candle to Sissy Spacek but at least she tried. The character of Carrie leans more towards the book version, Being a bit more talkative and is able to stand up against her mother. Also in this version, they seem to make her cationic and to be suffering from anxiety, going into nervous spats, like jittering and shaking in a trance-like state once her powers take over her.

But what bothered me the most about this version is how they make Carrie extremely powerful. For example, she can lift up a two-ton desk across the room, lift up a person on a bike in mid air, and crack open a chalkboard. I know it's a build up to how Carrie is not in control of her powers but the filmmakers pushed it up to 11 that I couldn't take it seriously anymore. In addition to her powers, she seemed to have premonition as indicated in the prom scene before the pigs blood is dumped on her,  it's an interesting touch but still overdone.
For now that's all I should say about Carrie because those of you who haven't seen this, there is a major spoiler about her that I should leave in the middle of the review.

Margret White played by Patricia Clarkson was a bit stiff. Don't get me wrong, Patricia Clarkson is a good actress, it's just the way the filmmakers portrayed the character which is bit, well, safe.

I think they were trying to make her  more cold and calculating, however, I liked when Margret was a little crazier, a little bit more manic. That's how Piper Laurie made the character memorable with her over the top, zealous performance. But Patricia Clarkson next to her seems too soft in comparison. She came off like a strict schoolteacher and it just didn't work for me. With this version of Margret, there's just nothing for me to look in upon and therefore I have to leave it at this note.

Sue Snell played by Kandyse McClure, actually did a decent enough job, At least she's better than most of the supporting characters in the movie, who'll I will take a riff on their acting later.

And just to add this, This version of Sue maybe of a different race but I swear she has the uncanny resemblance to Amy Irving's Sue. It's like they were separated at birth.

Anywho, what the filmmakers did different was have a much more deeper connection between Sue and Carrie. The scene  where she helps Carrie with her makeup was really sweet and is one of the few scenes that I liked in this version. What I also like is how she is treated as an ally and is able to give Carrie the confidence that she needs, not just some girl who's giving up her prom date out of pity.

Speaking of Prom Date, Tommy Ross played by Tobias Mechler was just eye candy. Sure, there's really nothing about Tommy in the book but at least William Katt gave him a personality and charm in the De Palma version. So Tobias, Cute guy, not high on acting chops.

Chris Hargensen played by Emile De Ravin was....not a great performance. She will become a better actress over time but upon seeing her in this, she came off rather bland and was trying too hard.

As for the character of Chris, she leans more to how she was in the book: A spoiled, entitled Daddy's girl who happens to drive into the dark side under the influence of Billy.

Billy's actor by the way is terrible. He tries too hard to be this aggressive bad boy mixed with sociopathic tendencies, it just didn't work for me.

Unlike the De Palma version, Billy is in control of the whole pig's blood prank and seems more adamant on humiliating Carrie, without  even knowing of her, making him more ruthless and vindictive rather than dumb and manipulated by Chris. It is he who is the manipulator.

I would also give a special mention to Katherine Isabelle, who is again wasted in another giveaway role as one Chris's henchwomen. She supposed to be the equivalent to PJ Soles' Norma but  she didn't make it very memorable and therefore she just faded away into the background most of time becoming the typical annoying cackling villainess. She plays Tina in which unlike in the book, she is in on the prank and becomes the instigator, turning the pig's blood prank into full circle.

Which leads us to the climax: the prom scene.  Though it's what you expect basically with lots of countless CGI, ripped off from Final Destination and random objects flying towards the screen, due to the low budget.

However, the one thing I liked before the chaos starts was the reaction of the prom goers. In this version, we see the actual reaction and they are in genuine shock with the exception of Tina and her boyfriend. And once Carrie snaps and all hell breaks loose, it makes the scene quite effective.
The main thing I liked about the 02' version is the subsequent police interviews by the people who had the most experiences with Carrie, making her this mysterious entity. It doesn't make the movie better but it does give a whole new perspective on the source material.
But wait there's a twist and I wouldn't have known that this remake of Carrie would have a twist at the end:

Turns out, Carrie is alive after all. And Sue helped her clear her name. When I first discovered upon this, I thought, how awesome is that but now that I realize it, Sue just helped someone get away with murder. Who is a mass murderer at that. It just makes the outcome of it kind of hollow.  The purpose of this was to make this into a television series. Yes, this was actually a pilot movie with Sue becoming a recurring character. The plot of this was to have Carrie move to Florida of all places to connect with other people with the same telekinetic abilities. This would've been an interesting concept but I didn't think was going to be executed very well. So due to the low ratings of the pilot movie, the idea fell through.
So there you have it, the TV remake of Carrie. I seem to like the ideas they had with it instead of the movie itself. I mean, it has a lot of things going for it but in the end, it's very forgettable and nothing noteworthy to talk about.
The Verdict? Go with the original. It has a much more organic feel. Whereas to this version, it's more of a analytical study than a psychological coming-of-age horror story with none of the powerful essence of the both book or the 1976 movie.
My last word: If you want to go for it, since it adapted heavily from the book but for all that it's worth, the Brian De Palma film is  and always will be the better movie.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Movie Review: The Haunting(1999)

Here lies one of the worst remakes of the 90's, right beside Diabolique and Pyscho. Now don't get me wrong, this movie had some potential. It had a great cast(which the actors fit the roles perfectly), a great atmosphere, and the house actually looked cool, a perfect setting for a horror movie. So what went wrong? of course, it's the script, then it was the special  effects which looked extremely cartoonish but most of all, the movie was not scary in the least. What made the original so memorable was that it had really tight scares and moments that were skin-crawling. What's missing is the subtly of the suspense. And I know, what remake has any subtly these days? The truth is though, I was contemplating whether I wanted to watch this or not, but since I had a review to do, I said, "Screw It." Bear with me guys, this movie was a chore to get through. I was just waiting and waiting for something to happen and once it did it was right towards the end. RIGHT TOWARDS THE END! ugh.....Anywho, The Haunting is nothing more than your generic PG-13 horror fare.
The Story: After the death of her mother and problems with anosmia, Eleanor Vance, while looking at an ad in the newspaper, decides to volunteer as a test subject for Dr. David Marrow's experiment on sleep deprivation when in actuality it's a paranormal research on the notorious Hill House and his study of fear. Once Eleanor arrives, She meets the carefree Theo and the bumbling Luke as they stay in the mostly secluded house. Just then strange things start to happen and Eleanor sense there is another presence within the walls. Once she figures out the truth, it becomes certain that the house is indeed haunted....

The movie has a great cast and you can tell they at least tried with their performances.

The strongest of the four is Lilli Taylor's portrayal of Eleanor. I'm not going to compare so much on the acting just how the characters are portrayed because I think Julie Harris and Lilli Taylor were good in both movies. To just say this, Lilli Taylor was perfectly casted and did capture the vulnerability of that character. In the novel and the original movie, the house sort of fed on Eleanor's insecurities which dealt with her obvious crush on Dr. Marrow and her admiration of Theo. It's not so much the terror Eleanor is experiencing in the house, It's her psyche, her inner soul that is being haunted.

Though in this version, it loses the deeper meaning it tries to project in the original. It's more about Eleanor trying to save the spirits of the children from their evil caretaker. So Eleanor is sort of a savior, which is not bad but it doesn't develop her character any, we never get inside her head and feel what she feels. It's a missed opportunity that could've been explored here.

Catherine-Zeta Jones as Theo wasn't bad, she alright performance mostly . They made Theo less more haughty and more carefree and since this is the hip 90's, they made her into a full blown bisexual as opposed in the original where it was more ambiguous about her sexuality. It really doesn't add anything to her character than for her to say, "Hey, look at me, I'm a hot bisexual!"

Is it me or is the filmmakers really trying hard to turn up the sexual tension between Theo and Eleanor? In the 1963 film, it was just subtext, though I like that the sisterly bond is still there and at least it seems as though Theo actually cares about Eleanor. But the strong character dynamic between is how Eleanor see herself in Theo's lavish, independent lifestyle and only a catalyst for Eleanor's insecurities which made the relationship interesting to watch in the original film. Other than shoving her sexuality in our faces and making her much more gusto, There's really nothing more to the character.

Dr. Marrow played by the smokin' Liam Nesson was actually pretty good, though I know that Liam Nesson is a good actor in anything he's in, so no problems there. Though what confuses me about the character is how he is skeptic of Eleanor's explanations of the supernatural force within the house, knowing he himself is pretty much open-minded to the paranormal. Surely, it was his IDEA to bring his experiment to the house in the first place. It kind of makes him a jerkass. So the slap in the face Theo gives him, yeah, he deserved that.

But soon enough, he realizes what's going on and seems pretty much perplexed. I seem to question his motives here.

Lastly, you have Luke played by Owen Wilson, who is just there for the most part. I guess he's supposed to be a comic relief, though there wasn't enough focus on him for us to be invested. In the novel and 1963 film, There is a purpose for him to be in the house. He is actually the sole heir of the property but in this version, he's just an everyday guy who happens upon the experiment Dr. Marrow is planning and he gets killed off maybe because the filmmakers didn't know what else to do with the character. By the way, Owen just playing Owen Wilson. Not that that is a bad thing but there was nothing new or interesting about this character for me to be engaged.
Now I haven't mentioned the director of this movie, he goes by the name Jan De Bont whose best known credits include Speed, Twister, and unfortunately, Speed 2: Cruise Control. The main problem with this director is that he has no experience with horror films and it shows.

He's known for making big budget spectacles, which is why there is so much CGI. And said this once and I'll say it again for all the remakes to come in my next review, CGI is NOT SCARY. For instance, when all the statues come to life attacking the protagonists it's hilarious to watch. The biggest problem is the writing, you can't have too much exposition in a horror film and this movie has a lot of it. To make my point, the house was sort of it's own character and the mystery of whether there were spirits lurking was handled well in the original. And to also mention, there was no, I repeat, there was no outlandish special effects in the 1963 film. Till this day I would love to see a director craft that kind of talent.
Okay, here's for the most important part, The ending:
1963 Version:
So Eleanor, totally consumed by the house is driven to madness and once the house take over her fears, take over her entire being, she runs to the car and drive straight to a tree, killing her. That was the tragedy of the character, having the hill house fully possess her and her unwillingness to have any self-control.

1999 Version:

However, in this version, Eleanor sacrifices herself to protect the ghost children and becomes their surrogate mother. So off she goes with the computer generated ghost children and into the spirit world. Give me a break. You see the 1963 film did it so much better. It wasn't a supernatural entity that killed Eleanor, it was her psyche, that met her end.
There.....There was just no reason for this to be remade. The 1963 Haunting was a perfect movie on it's own. Hell, if the director of this movie know what he was doing, but quite frankly, he didn't know what he was doing. There was even one time where Wes Craven was set to direct this and it would've been much better movie. But sadly we are left with lame scares, a waste of good actors, horrible CGI, and an awful script
The verdict? Just watch the original and avoid this forgettable mess.
My Last Word: To save any precious time you have, skip this.