[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 22 – Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005)

Director: Mary Lambert
Cast: Kate Mara, Robert Vito, Tina Lifford, Ed Marinaro, Lillith Fields
Screenplay: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris
93 mins. Rated R for strong violence and gore, drug use and some language.

It’s interesting to note that there are a few different fledgling horror franchises that took the supernatural route for their third installment, ultimately sending them direct-to-video in the process. One of them was I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer, and another more well-known one is Urban Legends: Bloody Mary. The latter is much less egregious of a turn for the franchise, choosing a more anthological route for the series. Let’s see if it helped.

Back in 1969, a horrible act on prom night causes the death of Mary Banner (Lillith Fields, Tracker, Treasure State). Thirty-five years later, the story of Mary Banner has been passed around into urban legend as the fabled Bloody Mary. Samantha Owens (Kate Mara, Fantastic 4, TV’s A Teacher) and her friends tell their version of the story at a sleepover, but when the morning comes, the girls have gone missing. When they find their way home, they discover that the bullies they believe responsible for the “prank” are being picked off, one by one. Or is there a larger reason for the deaths?

The first two Urban Legend films are heavily influenced by the slashers of the 90s, but this third installment goes in a completely different direction, aiming toward ripping off the J-horror remakes like The Ring and The Grudge. This is the most obvious and notably lazy element of the film, but it is not the only aspect to be completely stolen from better films. I saw a lot of Prom Night II here along with bits and pieces of Final Destination (the influence of music and Rube Goldberg-style deaths) along with A Nightmare on Elm Street (the back-from-death killer searching out the children of those who wronged her). Add in that, some poor writing, acting, directing and a heavy dose of lazy CGI, and you have Bloody Mary. It’s frustrating to see a film without any new ideas being placed in a once-innovative series of horror films.

I’m actually completely fine with the shift into supernatural horror, but this film just didn’t accomplish the task. I would’ve loved to see them turn the series into standalone anthology-like films covering each of the urban legends that influenced the killers in the first two films. It would’ve been a pretty cool cinematic universe a few years before it became the IT thing to do in Hollywood. If they had done something interesting with the legend of Bloody Mary by taking their favorite elements of the story and setting it within the framework of the first two films, tying it into the locations and characters that we know from the previous films, you maybe could see something fascinating come out of this series, but we never get that, and the film is rather forgettable. I’ve seen it three times since 2005, and I struggle to remember any of it after more than a few days.

Kate Mara underwhelms as Sam. Unfortunately, she isn’t written all that well, and her character is dull and dumb, so I’m not even sure if she could’ve improved the material. I like her in most everything else, but I can’t see anything good in her performance or the character in general.

Director Mary Lambert (Pet Sematary, Presumed Dead in Paradise) was disappointed in the decision to move this release to direct-to-video, but I don’t see anyway this film would’ve ended up in theaters. The CGI is atrocious, and her direction is abysmal. It’s weird to see the director of Pet Sematary make such a lackluster and lazy effort. She wanted to deal with the date-rape elements of the narrative in an interesting way, but she doesn’t do that. She has these strange sequences like three teenage girls having a pillow fight at a sleepover and then telling the legend of Bloody Mary and seeing her in the mirror, and then they don’t actually use a mirror when they conjure her. In fact, does anyone actually utilize the actual legend of Bloody Mary in the finished project? I don’t think so.

Urban Legends: Bloody Mary is a supremely dull movie experience. I had convinced myself that it wasn’t that bad as I was watching it, and I even initially thought about what I would score a film that is bad but not offensively so. The more I think about it, though, the more I realize that there isn’t anything good in this movie, so I will give it the most deserving score of a indefensible movie. I’m just happy that I never have to watch it again.

1/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Jamie Blanks’s Urban Legend, click here.
  • For my review of John Ottman’s Urban Legends: Final Cut, click here.

[#2016oscardeathrace] The Martian (2015)

 

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor

Screenplay: Drew Goddard

144 mins. Rated PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role [Matt Damon]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design

IMDb Top 250: #208 (as of 2/23/2016)

 

The Oscars have been pretty good to science fiction in the last few years. We had 2013’s Gravity, 2014’s Interstellar, and this year with The Martian, Ex Machina, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (yes, I know the last one is more fantasy). Today, though, we will focus on the one nominated for Best Picture this year (that’s The Martian).

Mark Watney (Matt Damon, The Bourne Identity, Interstellar) is dead. There was a storm on the surface of Mars and his crew, led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty, Crimson Peak), barely managed to escape. With one casualty, the crew is on the long journey back home, their collective hearts and minds in grief over the loss of Mark. There’s really only one major problem: Mark Watney is actually alive. Having survived the storm, he is now stranded on the desolate planet by himself and no way of getting home. But then he starts to think he may not be so doomed, and Mark probably says it best: “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”

I found The Martian to be a rather thrilling and enjoyable ride. I know many have come to doubt director Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Exodus: Gods and Kings) and his abilities as a filmmaker in recent years, and I have to admit he has had some real flubs in his previous projects, but he still interests me with his unique films, all carrying a very-Ridley-Scott flavor to them. The screenplay for The Martian, by Drew Goddard (TV’s Daredevil, World War Z) is fabulous and, other than genre, very much a diversion for Scott, especially considering its comedic tones, which I did not expect, but the director handles it very well, proving his versatility behind the lens.

Matt Damon kills it as Watney, making it look easy to essentially carry a film. Now, that isn’t to say he doesn’t have a terrific supporting cast. Chastain does great work, but it is Jeff Daniels (Dumb & Dumber, Steve Jobs) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave, Triple 9) who really shine here. There are others involved here who really bring it to the table, but I would be deeply disappointed in myself if I didn’t mention Donald Glover who has a pretty small role but creates a very memorable performance from it.

The cinematography is beautiful and blends very nicely with the visual effects to create a stunningly real representation of Mars. The production design is another win here, though its nomination is a little laughable for a film with so few actual sets.

There are plenty of moments in The Martian that harken back to Scott’s original sci-fi masterpiece Alien without absolutely saying “I MADE ALIEN TOO!” and they help to remind us of how this masterful filmmaker has created so many worlds. The Martian is another incredible piece to add to Ridley’s impressive resume. Now, the film runs on a little too long and occasionally bogs itself down in explain Mark’s plight, but these are small problems that fail to dramatically affect my enjoyment.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

“The Martian” Trailer Has Landed!

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Well, boys & girls, here it is: the trailer for Ridley Scott’s The Martian has been released, and I am excited. It stars Matt Damon as an astronaut who was killed when his Mars expedition went awry. The only thing is…he survived, and now he is trying to survive by himself and get a message back to Earth to tell them he is still alive and still out there.

My thoughts on the trailer…I loved it! I am so excited to see this film in all its glory soon!

First of all, let me just say…the cast. Have you seen this cast? Matt Damon, Kate Mara, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Donald Glover, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Pena, Sebastian Stan…good lord! These people from all walks of acting here to give a sci-fi experience. When you see the trailer, too, they mesh so well together when I wasn’t sure they could have.

Another thought from this trailer…I’m not so sure you should see it. I think you need to accept that this film should be seen and just go see it. The reason for it is that I feel like this trailer has given away a bulk of the plot points for the film. I could be wrong, but I think I saw the film’s ending revealed.

In all fairness, The Martian is going to be a film to see, even if it might be Interstellar 2 (Matt Damon should just avoid going to space). See the trailer before (if you dare) and let me know your thoughts.

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

Transcendence (2014)

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Director: Wally Pfister

Cast: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Kate Mara, Cillian Murphy, Morgan Freeman

Screenplay: Jack Paglan

119 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality.

 

When longtime visual perfectionist Wally Pfister decided to make his directorial debut on a project produced by colleague and master filmmaker Christopher Nolan, I think I wet my pants in excitement. And why not? The film, Transcendence, seemed all too perfect to fail. The screenplay was part of a shortlist of amazing unproduced screenplays floating around Hollywood. The director had proven himself visually. It had an all-star cast at the front lines of major players in the business. It couldn’t fail, right? Then, reviews started coming in. The film immediately dropped down to “rotten” on the famous tomatometer, and I started to get concerned. Finally, my chance to see the film came, and I knew I had to form an opinion all my own.

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I saw it. Oh, I saw it.

Transcendence is the story of the Casters, Will (Johnny Depp, Edward Scissorhands, Tusk) and Evelyn (Rebecca Hall, The Prestige, Iron Man 3). Will is dying, and Evelyn will do anything to save him. So when Will comes up with a controversial theory concerning crossing his living mind with a technological super-computer in order to leave his withering body of flesh to exist amongst cyberspace. Longtime friend Max (Paul Bettany, A Beautiful Mind, The Avengers) helps the Casters achieve their goal only to second-guess his decision when Will’s mind wants more input. As Will’s consciousness continues to expand into new avenues of human psyche, a more horrifying truth comes to light for Evelyn: is this thing still her husband anymore, and if not, what has it become?

I want to like this movie so much. I really do. It has fine performances and the dialogue isn’t bad. The real issue of the movie is the pacing. After the first third of Transcendence, it slows the hell down. Seriously. There is a whole middle of this movie that has stuff going on but doesn’t feel important, which leads to an underwhelming ending trying to be deeper than it is. There are issues.

After Will’s consciousness begins learning and becoming something greater than itself, we see him experimenting with humans to progress both humans and itself, but I didn’t feel the stakes. I knew they were there, but I just didn’t find myself caring about them, which disappointed me. Maybe if the film pulled me in more, I would have found myself rooting for a solution, but Evelyn Caster doesn’t take up the lead as far as cathartic characters go. I wanted her to figure out what we had all figured out, but it took too long. On the other hand, Max has entrenched himself with known terrorists to try exposing this experiment to the public, so he wasn’t as likable either. Then you get Cillian Murphy (TV’s Peaky Blinders, Inception) and Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption, Dolphin Tale 2), who play Agent Buchanan and Joseph Tagger. Seriously, who the hell are these guys and why do I care about them. They bare no weight whatsoever on the plot or anything going on. They merely observe. They just exist. Why? Exactly. These roles seemed more like a favor to Pfister than anything else. Yeah, I liked The Dark Knight trilogy too, but I wouldn’t take an easily worthless character to show my affection.

Then, there is the ending. It tries to be the ending to Inception or perhaps The Dark Knight Rises. It tries to compel its viewership into discussing exactly what happened. The problem here is that it feels so forced. It feels shoehorned when it could’ve been a simple explanation of what Max thinks happened without trying to imply anything. Just let us have the info that we have attained and let us use that for watercooler talk. Instead, the film leaves a dry taste on the tongue that leads to simply nothingness.

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I want to love this movie. There are so many parts of it that I do love. Many of the actors turn in fine work, and I didn’t have any issues with the visual presentation of the film, but I think good ol’ Wally needs to learn about pacing.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

What did you think of Wally Pfister’s Transcendence? Did you login or shut down? Let me know!

 

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