[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 25 – The Fog (1980)

Director: John Carpenter

Cast: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Houseman, Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook, Tom Atkins, Nancy Loomis

Screenplay: John Carpenter, Debra Hill

89 mins. Rated R.

 

This one does for fog what Jaws did for the water.

There’s a fog rolling into Antonio Bay on the eve of its 100th anniversary, and as soon as the clock strikes midnight, people start seeing strange things in it. Father Malone (Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild, Blackway) discovers an old journal in his church that tells him a terrible secret from the town’s inception, one that involves an old ship called the Elizabeth Dane and its captain, Blake. Now, the Elizabeth Dane has rolled into town on the fog, and its captain is out for vengeance. Radio DJ and lighthouse keeper Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau, Argo, Creepshow) is the only one who can warn the residents of Antonio Bay that danger is coming; she just hopes they’re listening.

The Fog is proof that director John Carpenter (Escape from New York, The Ward) can just about do anything. He has guys in costumes in a foggy atmosphere with glowing eyes, essentially just tall Jawas, and he makes them scarier than any current CGI could do (and we’re looking at you, 2005 remake to The Fog). It’s because he’s a smart filmmaker who solves problems. He knows that he is making a low-budget, possibly cheesy horror film, and so he chooses to shoot it in anamorphic widescreen Panavision in order to add to the grandeur of the gothically beautiful Antonio Bay layered in fog.

I like how separate Carpenter keeps things in this film. For the most part, Stevie Wayne barely shares the screen with anyone else. She gets her own slice of the story. Then, there’s the story of the hitchhiker Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis, True Lies, Halloween) and Nick (Tom Atkins, Night of the Creeps, Drive Angry) as they try to uncover the mystery in the fog. Then, there’s the Father Malone sequences and the centennial sequences with Kathy (Janet Leigh, Psycho, The Manchurian Candidate) trying to keep the celebration together amidst the lingering danger. The film is filled with great characters in an insane situation. These individual “pocket stories” on their own would be great, but together they weave an eerie and creepy tapestry.

The Fog is truly brilliant. I can see why this is often called a Carpenter favorite. It’s a truly incredible little horror story that makes the ghosts (guys in costumes with glowing eyes) more terrifying than most other films could do with a bigger budget. John Carpenter is a horror maestro, and The Fog is just another master stroke.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of John Carpenter’s Halloween, click here.

For my review of John Carpenter’s The Thing, click here.

For my review of John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper’s Body Bags, click here.

For my review of John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, click here.

For my review of John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 9 – The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)

Director: André Øvredal

Cast: Emile Hirsch, Brian Cox, Ophelia Lovibond, Michael McElhatton, Olwen Kelly

Screenplay: Ian Goldberg, Richard Niang

86 mins. Rated R for bloody horror violence, unsettling grisly images, graphic nudity, and language.

 

I don’t think enough people talk about André Øvredal (Trollhunter, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark). To be fair, he hadn’t made a mainstream movie until this year, but horror fans should be celebrating this auteur and his amazing attention to tone and suspense. One of his more recent films, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, skirted under the radar when it came out in 2016, but it’s on Netflix now, so I finally caught it.

Father/son coroners Tommy (Brian Cox, X2: X-Men United, TV’s Succession) and Austin (Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) have been tasked by local police with a rather curious task. A body has been recovered at a crime scene, a woman with no easily discernible identity or cause of death. Sheriff Burke (Michael McElhatton, Justice League, TV’s Game of Thrones) has asked the two to discover answers to both before morning, and as they delve into the mystery, they are beset upon by strange happenings, all possibly linked with the dead woman on the slab.

This is a tight little thriller, pretty much singular-location, that led by two excellent performances from two talented individuals. This movie doesn’t work without the talent of Hirsch and Cox. Their chemistry is strained just like it should be, with Tommy wanting his son to carry on the family business, and Austin not too interested in that idea. There’s a scene in the elevator that allows them to dig into the tension between themselves without really leaving the inherent suspense of what’s going on during the autopsy.

Speaking of the autopsy itself, it’s absolutely incredible to have an actual actress playing the body. I get it, you’re thinking how easy it must be to just sit there, but I’ll tell you, there isn’t a moment that I noticed movement. In so many films featuring a character death where you can see them breathing softly, but not with Jane Doe, played by Olwen Kelly (Winter Ridge, Darkness on the Edge of Town). So yes, hers isn’t an acting powerhouse, but she succeeds where she’s trying to: giving an authentic visual aesthetic that makes Jane Doe look realistic without drawing away from the story or suspense.

Øvredal has a command of the story here and slowly unravels layers of this mystery with biting pressure and some seriously strange visual and audio cues. The movie is a tightly-wrapped mystery filled with strange moments, and for the most part, everything works. I’m not big on the final moments of the story, where I feel like it comes off the rails a bit and sacrifices some of the story for the option to go weird with it, and I feel like it doesn’t stick the landing as well as it should, but everything before it is so worth it.

I don’t want to get too deep into the mystery itself because I don’t want to ruin the story for you, but you need to check out The Autopsy of Jane Doe. It’s an elegantly creepy chiller that I cannot recommend enough. The ending may work for you, or it may not, but I don’t think it will detract from the film either way. Seek this one out and see it for yourself. This one is a must-see.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of André Øvredal’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, click here.

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

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Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Daniel Bruhl, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Rudd, Emily van Camp, Tom Holland, Frank Grillo, William Hurt

Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

147 mins. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence, action and mayhem.

IMDb Top 250: #140 (as of 6/16/2016)

 

We’ve come a long way with the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the past eight years. Phase 2 ended with last year’s Ant-Man, and now Phase 3 begins with Captain America: Civil War, the thirteenth film in this mega-franchise. How does it place? Let’s take a look.

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Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, Before We Go, Snowpiercer) has been leading the new Avengers on a mission to capture Crossbones (Frank Grillo, Warrior, The Purge: Anarchy). But when an accident causes the world to look at the Avengers as a possible liability, Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt, Into the Wild, Race) is brought in to introduce the Sokovia Accords, a measure to keep the superbeings in check. When Cap puts his foot down against it, he finds himself at odds with friend and fellow Avenger Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Chef). Now, as the superheroes are divided in their beliefs of what is right, a new villain appears: Zemo (Daniel Bruhl, Inglourious Basterds, Burnt), a man on a mission of vengeance who wishes to tear the Avengers apart from within.

Captain America: Civil War is shocking in how perfectly constructed a film it actually is. It chooses to adapt a beloved arc of Marvel lore, and it succeeds. It chooses to properly introduce two very important and very difficult heroes in Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman, 42, Gods of Egypt) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland, The Impossible, In the Heart of the Sea), and it succeeds. It chooses to show all sides of the central conflict and create believable arguments for each, and it succeeds. Just about everywhere this film could’ve failed, it succeeds. Well, almost.

Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr share a lot of the screen here, and neither one truly drowns out the other like many had worried. Whereas Cap has seen how great power has been corrupted in the past and believes that history could repeat itself, Tony has drastically evolved as a character since 2008 when he first built an iron suit. Tony once wanted the government to keep its hands off his personal property, he now sees the mistakes he has made in the past (like Ultron) coming back to haunt him, and we find Tony to be the type of hero who carries his pain upon him, like when he suffered PTSD following the events of The Avengers.

But directors Anthony & Joe Russo (You, Me and Dupree) have dealt another master stroke by allowing arcs for just about every other character in this film. We get to see Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan, The Martian, Ricki and the Flash) attempt to reconcile the horrors of his past. We get to see a tortured Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, Godzilla, I Saw the Light) trying to deal with the unique hero Vision (Paul Bettany, A Beautiful Mind, Mortdecai). We get a Wakandan prince named T’Challa searching for vengeance for the loss of a loved one. Even those without full arcs still get a signature moment for fans to chew on until the next solo film. I’m looking at you Ant-Man (Paul Rudd, TV’s Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, Role Models).

For me, the only disappointment of the film falls in its portrayals of the villains. I would have loved for Crossbones to have had more to do. I would have loved for a more cinematic incarnation of Zemo. Not that these were faults, but it felt like they were tossed to the side a bit. As it comes, Captain America: Civil War feels less perfect because of it, but only slightly.

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For a film that boasted that it wasn’t just Avengers 2.5, and on the other side being told that it could’ve been far too bloated, Captain America: Civil War comes out on top as one of the best stories in the cinematic universe. The Russo Brothers have proven that with a great script, top notch performances, and a keen set of eyes behind the camera, any amount of odds stacked against you can be toppled. Bravo, sirs.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.

For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.

Race (2016)

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Director: Stephen Hopkins

Cast: Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Eli Goree, Jeremy Irons, Carice van Houten, William Hurt

Screenplay: Joe Shrapnel, Anna Waterhouse

134 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and language.

 

Well, 2015 was an interesting year in film. But all years must come to an end, so today we look forward at 2016, starting with the Stephen Hopkins (TV’s House of Lies, Lost in Space) film, Race.

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Race is mostly a biographical film chronicling the career of Jesse Owens (Stephan James, Selma, Lost After Dark) leading up to his time in the 1936 Olympics in Germany and his battle to win the gold over Adolf Hitler’s Aryan athletes. The film also displays the work of Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons, The Lion King, High-Rise) to come to a decision over whether it is worth it to travel to Germany in the first place.

First of all, I should point out how terrific the title is. Sure, a little on the head, but nonetheless effective.

Stephen Hopkins faces a difficult task with this film, and that task is to decide what his film is even about. He fails in this task. He wants to make a biopic of Jesse Owens, but he wants to make a historical drama focused on the 1936 Olympics, and he wants to touch on Leni Riefenstahl (Carice van Houten, TV’s Game of Thrones, Black Book) and her quest to make a film on the Olympics from all its viewpoints. Sadly, while it is possible to do this in one film, it is unsuccessful in the attempt. For one thing, the very nature of the Jesse Owens part of the film dominates the far-too-much time spent on Brundage trying to keep the peace. The audience becomes fully aware very early on of the outcome but the film chooses to drag the plotline through to its conclusion at the loss of viewer engagement.

Stephan James does pretty solid work as Owens, and Jason Sudeikis (TV’s Saturday Night Live, We’re the Millers) gives an admirable attempt in breaking out of his comfort zone to portray Larry Snyder, Owens’ coach, while veterans Irons and William Hurt (Into the Wild, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them) feel wasted by an underdeveloped screenplay.

The film has its moments, particularly in the sequences where Owens is competing. While these sequences are very much what one would expect, it’s nice to see Hopkins commanding the screen if only occasionally.

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The pacing, though, is really where he loses us, focusing too much time on plot points that don’t add up to enough to maintain his momentum. Stephen Hopkins has given some truly great work to the genre field, but I feel like even he isn’t sure of himself here, and the work suffers from it. Race leaps into the air, reaching for greatness, but unlike its lead character, it comes up far too short.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

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Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson

Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Jennifer Ehle, Marcia Gay Harden

Screenplay: Kelly Marcel

125 mins. Rated R for strong sexual content including dialogue, some unusual behavior and graphic nudity, and for language.

 

And now, ladies and gentlemen, I give you my review of the highest grossing adaptation of a rip-off of a bad book series…of all time perhaps, Fifty Shades of Grey. No contracts to sign for this one, folks, so let’s jump in.

Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson, 21 Jump Street, Cymbeline) has been tasked with interviewing the mysterious entrepreneur Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan, TV’s The Fall, Marie Antoinette) for her friend’s school newspaper. When Grey starts to follow Ana and takes an extreme interest in her personal life, she begins to see that he has wants for more than she may be able to give. As Christian’s sexual fantasies take flight with Ana as a passenger, she questions what or who she really wants in the film from director Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy).

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Let’s discuss our leads here. Dakota Johnson acts to the character well enough, but the character isn’t any good. She doesn’t give her character a path or any catharsis to lead to. Then there’s Jamie Dornan, who is absolutely dreadful as the billionaire playboy. Not only is the character completely unlikable, but Dornan plays him as a whiny baby. His character is a selfish prick, he doesn’t give anything to Ana in terms of her relationship needs. It is all take-take-take. Who would find him an enjoyable character to follow?

The only thing worse than the leads here is the chemistry between them. It is a shame to have some of my favorite character actors given so little screen time to bolster this film as they are squandered in the background. I’m referring specifically about Marcia Gay Harden (TV’s The Newsroom, Into the Wild), Andrew Airlie, and one of absolute favorite people Callum Keith Rennie. Our leads are incapable of driving this story forward, and it really doesn’t end.

So how good is the rest of the film? It isn’t particularly well shot, especially the poorly-shot initial love scene. It is almost as if the director didn’t watch the dailies, because the scene breaks even the simplest of guidelines around how to shoot a scene (I can hear my filmmaker friends telling me that there are no guidelines to shooting a scene, but I even they would agree with me). The film has a tonally broken look to it, similar to the book itself.

Then there is the sound and music editing. There are scenes with Anastasia typing on her new computer and she finishes typing before the sound stops. It is blaringly noticeable. Not to mention Danny Elfman trying his best to not be Danny Elfman, and he fails. The best decision made in this film is not using his score for the sex scenes and opting for some more sensual tracks from major artists. Can you imagine the Beetlejuice soundtrack during the lovin’?

Another great decision by the filmmakers is to avoid using the phrase “inner goddess” which E.L. James’ novel put into the triple digits. They still get away with the wretched “laters, babe” which made my breakfast churn in my stomach.

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Eventually, Fifty Shades of Grey makes its way into classic romantic cliché and shtick with a side order of complete boredom. The film is somewhat slightly better than the original tome it is based on, but that doesn’t make it any good. Perhaps the adaptation that Bret Easton Ellis wanted to write would have been better. As too with less input by the dreck that is E.L. James. It takes a special kind of bad for me to wish for Twilight over this fan-fiction slop.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So have you seen Fifty Shades of Grey? What did you think? Was it so “Crazy Right Now” or did it reach your hard limits? Let me know!

 

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

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Director: Louis Letterrier

Cast: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell, William Hurt

Screenplay: Zak Penn

112 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images, and brief suggestive content.

 

In 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe began in a silent but deadly fashion with two superhero releases: Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. The former was a major box office winner and critical darling. The latter was largely dismissed, like every previous incarnation, and hasn’t been referenced much since, due in large part to the difficulties in crafting the film and the replacement of the title actor in The Avengers. The difference between this version of The Incredible Hulk and the previous 2003 film Hulk is that the 2008 film is actually pretty damn good.

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The film is presented in a “Requel” of sorts, chronicling Bruce Banner (Edward Norton, Fight Club, Birdman) and his journey off-the-grid. He has estranged himself from his love Betty Ross (Liv Tyler, TV’s The Leftovers, Armageddon). Betty’s father, General “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt, Into the Wild, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them), continues his obsession with finding Banner and tearing him apart. Ross enlists Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth, Pulp Fiction, Selma), a military mercenary, to help hunt down Bruce. In the process, Blonsky is given some of the same gamma radiation that turned Bruce into the raging creature known as The Hulk.

First off, I’m not going to try and convince you that this is a Best Picture quality superhero film. It isn’t. 2008’s The Incredible Hulk is still, to me, a far superior film to Iron Man, but most won’t agree. I find Bruce Banner to be a more likable character. The relationship between him and Betty Ross is powerful and layered. I also find Tim Roth’s portrayal of Emil Blonsky to be a strong and villainous performance and it helped start the trend of strong villains in Marvel films. Director Louis Leterrier (Now You See Me, Clash of the Titans) even helped set up future villains in the process (though so far none of these have come to pass).

Norton’s portrayal of Banner is great, but the problem with him came from constant rewrites and the fact that Edward Norton is a terrible person to work with on a film set (see Birdman for more info). I can completely understand his replacement with Mark Ruffalo, though it still was a bad way to create this character.

As far as this film’s relationship to the MCU, there are references in there, but they are very quick and underplayed. A lot of references are found to Stark Industries in the opening credits. Then there is the major callback to Tony Stark in the final scene. There are also some moments of setup to the future Captain America: The First Avenger, even a cut scene revealing his fate. Captain America and The Incredible Hulk have a lot in common, so it helps to introduce both at the same time. We will get to finally see some more connective tissues in next year’s Captain America: Civil War when William Hurt returns as General Ross.

The majority of callbacks and references in the film actually highlight the long-storied past of the Hulk on film. There are many moments that call back The Incredible Hulk television series by way of the score and the cameos.

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The Incredible Hulk works as a Requel, meaning it could be a sequel if you enjoyed 2003’s Hulk. If you didn’t, it’s a great opening act. Director Leterrier isn’t anything special, but the film employs some great performances and a terrific screenplay from superhero screenwriter Zak Penn (TV’s Alphas, X2: X-Men United). If you skipped The Incredible Hulk when it came out, take some time to visit it. If it has been a while, take some time to revisit it.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

 

You can find Kyle A. Goethe on Twitter @AlmightyGoatman

Wild (2014)

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Director: Jean-Marc Vallee

Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Michiel Huisman, Gaby Hoffman

Screenplay: Nick Hornby

115 min. Rated R for sexual content, nudity, drug use and language.

 

Who’s ready to get Wild? Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line, Inherent Vice) certainly is, as she portrays real life Cheryl Strayed, a woman about to take on the journey of a lifetime, and Witherspoon takes on the performance of a lifetime.

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Cheryl Strayed has had a rough time: drugs, alcohol, anonymous sex, cheating, lying, deceit. Now, after losing her husband (Thomas Sadoski, TV’s The Newsroom, Loser), Cheryl is ready to take on the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail), an 1,100 mile solo hike from one end of the US to the other. This is a staggering endeavor, and Cheryl takes us along for the ride as she documents the trek and gives us flashbacks to what brought her here.

This is a far different Reese Witherspoon than we have ever seen, and it might just be the best performance in her career. She plays a broken woman ready to stand back up and fight, and her tragic relationship with mother Bobbi (Laura Dern, Jurassic Park, When the Game Stands Tall), proves that both actresses here are at the top of their respective games. Everything in the film is seen through Cheryl’s perspective, and it causes a looseness to the tale that almost feels dreamlike in its portrayal of the trials on the trails.

The screenplay by Nick Hornby (An Education, Fever Pitch) gave me several avenues and relationships to delve into, but the film feels unfinished even though it finished. The ending is tied up so quick I almost wasn’t sure that I should get out of my chair. Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club, The Young Victoria) shows us a stunning vision of open America. The music, and sometimes lack thereof, gives us a more personal and intimate connection to Cheryl’s journey.

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Now, the film has a lot in common with films like Into the Wild and 127 Hours that I didn’t walk away as blown away as I had hoped, but Wild is still definitely worth a trip to your theater, as long as the theater is closer than a thousand miles.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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