31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 17 – Beetlejuice (1988)

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Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O’Hara, Winona Ryder

Screenplay: Michael McDowell, Warren Skaaren

92 mins. Rated PG for adult situations/language and violence.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Makeup

 

I remember really enjoying the animated Beetlejuice television series as a kid. When my mother finally introduced me to the idea that it was preceded by a live-action film, I just about went crazy. When she told me that it was going to be on television that night, I lost it. I saw it. I loved it. I still love it.

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Meet the Maitlands: Adam (Alec Baldwin, The Departed, Aloha) and Barbara (Geena Davis, Thelma & Louise, In a World…). They just died and now confined to an afterlife in their home. But when Charles (Jeffrey Jones, Sleepy Hollow, 10.0 Earthquake) and Delia (Catherine O’Hara, The Nightmare Before Christmas, A.C.O.D.) Deetz move in, accompanied by outcast daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder, Black Swan, Homefront), they are forced to go to extreme situations to haunt the Deetzes into moving out. In steps Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton, Birdman, Minions), a bioexorcist who specializes in getting people to move out of their dwellings, but the self-described “ghost with the most” has an agenda of his own, and the Maitlands have just gotten in too deep.

Beetlejuice came after director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Big Eyes) greated great success as director of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and used his clout to reveal his true genius with the visual medium as a gothic director of merit. Beetlejuice is an excellent exercise in tone, cinematography, storytelling, and excitement.

It seems as though everyone knows their place in this film, from Baldwin and Davis playing the timless Maitlands to the big city quirky Deetzes, and especially an often overlooked performance from Glenn Shaddix, who plays the smug and cynical Otho (after Shaddix’s death in 2010, the famous Day-O from the film played at the end of the funeral). Otho’s role in driving the plot with his hubris-filled attempts at showing his wide array of skills gives the story so much flavor.

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From a storytelling perspective, Beetlejuice proves that you don’t have to explain away the mysteries of your film. The script from Michael McDowell and Warren Skaaren was rewritten from being a straight horror film with several cliché plot points into the afterlife character study that it is today. It is arguably one of Tim Burton’s finest works, and is easily viewable to any audience in any time, even if some of the effects have not dated well.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Batman, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, click here.

[Batman Day] Batman (1989)

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Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance

Screenplay: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren

126 mins. Rated PG-13.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration

 

Happy Batman Day! I think, in honor of the legendary Caped Crusader’s special day, we should look back on the 1989 Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Big Eyes) film, Batman, featuring Michael Keaton (Birdman, Minions) as the tycoon-turned-hero.

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On the dark criminal-filled streets of Gotham, tough guy Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson, The Shining, How Do You Know) has been betrayed by his boss, villainous gangster Carl Grissom (Jack Palance, The Swan Princess, Tango & Cash) and now, disfigured by a vat of toxic chemicals, he has donned a new persona, the Joker. Commissioner James Gordon (Pat Hingle, The Land Before Time, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams, Star Wars – Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Fanboys) are powerless to stop him, but there is hope in the guise of the near-mythical masked vigilante Batman (Keaton) to stop the incoming crimewave.

Batman is a strange but not entirely out of line choice for director Tim Burton, who had previously worked on dark horror-comedies like Beetlejuice and the short film Frankenweenie. Burton had a very tall order to deliver on, having a pantheon of stories to honor is his depiction of Bruce Wayne and his story, and fans were not too thrilled with the decision to cast Keaton in the role.

I think I can say wholeheartedly that fans were proven wrong. Michael Keaton kills it in this role. His decision to play Bruce as an unhinged man, fully committed to his insane lifestyle is what drives his performance home. He fits perfectly in Burton’s over-the-top occasionally overtly-goofied version of Gotham.

Add to that an absolutely bonkers portrayal of The Joker given by a perfect casting choice in Jack Nicholson. Nicholson almost passed up the opportunity to play the villain, but thankfully, due to a considerable offer, he signed on. This is also the first time ever that viewers received a Joker origin story. Up until that point, and in many subsequent versions of the character’s tale, we do not get the answers to why he is the way he is. This origin is perhaps not as powerful as the mystery surrounding the character, though.

Now, from a technical perspective, Batman is hit-and-miss. The set decoration, for which the film won an Oscar, is incredible, but from a sound perspective, I believe the film mostly misses the mark. The sound mixing is a real loss, and the idea of jamming a great theme from Danny Elfman (I can’t believe I just said that) with original music from Prince was a huge mistake.

I should point out that I do love the opening titles. How about that fantastic theme? Am I right? Another interesting tidbit from this film is in the sequence where an underground doctor is fixing up Napier after the incident with the toxic chemicals. The tools used to operate actually came from the Little Shop of Horrors props, which was remade from a 1960 film featuring Jack Nicholson way before being famous. Movies are fun, eh?

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Batman wouldn’t have worked if it were made in a different time period. It is darker than the overtly campy 1960s iteration and yet still embraces the silliness more so than Christopher Nolan’s self-contained trilogy. I still find the film, despite its shortcomings (seriously, how do people not know who Bruce Wayne is), to be an interesting and enjoying piece of pop art, and it was a ton of fun to revisit.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

  

For my review of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, click here.

[Star Wars Day] Return of the Jed-Five…Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Bakers, Frank Oz

Screenplay: George Lucas

140 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and some intense images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Makeup

 

As we continue the tradition of Star Wars Days, on Return of the Jed-Five (it is a term I coined so that I can continue celebrating well into Revenge of the Sixth tomorrow), we will look at Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, the final film in the Star Wars Saga that was released almost ten years ago. Fans have waited a decade for the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.

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The Clone Wars have waged for three years, but the battle is far from over. Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen, Jumper, Vanishing on 7th Street) is now a full-fledged Jedi Knight and, along with Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, Mortdecai) have been leading armies into battle against the Separatists and the tyrannical Count Dooku (Christopher Lee, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Dark Shadows). Anakin’s secret marriage to Padme (Natalie Portman, V for Vendetta, Knight of Cups) is further complicated when she discovers she is pregnant, and Anakin’s nightmares of her dying in childbirth lead him towards the dark side and a few revelations about his friends on the Jedi Council and those in the Galactic Senate.

If one were to look at the prequel trilogy, Revenge of the Sith is easily the best in the series. A nearly perfect entry in the Star Wars Saga, Episode III features some of the more incredible action sequences and emotional beats.

Hayden Christensen again continues to underwhelm as Skywalker. His performance is carried by Portman, McGregor, and Ian McDiarmid (Sleepy Hollow, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) as Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. In fact, just about all the performances here with the exception of his are amazing.

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Director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138) has learned from his previous mistakes here and gives fans exactly what they want here. Revenge of the Sith ties up the franchise with a nice little bow. The flow is great, and the opening sequence, in which our heroes attempt to save Palpatine from the mechanical General Grievous, is stunning, with special regards to the first shot of the film.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

[Star Wars Day] May the Fourth Be With You…Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Frank Oz

Screenplay: George Lucas, Jonathan Hales

142 mins. Rated PG for sustained sequences of sci-fi action/violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Visual Effects

 

Happy Star Wars Day, and May the Fourth Be With You. Today we will look back on Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, from director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138).

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Ten years after the events of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen, Jumper, Vanishing on 7th Street) and his master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, Mortdecai) have been called to Coruscant to protect the former Queen, Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman, V for Vendetta, Knight of Cups) against those who wish to assassinate her. As Anakin and Padme grow closer, Obi-Wan finds himself getting closer to the truth as he encounters the sinister Count Dooku (Christopher Lee, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Dark Shadows) and an army of clone troops trained to be an Army of the Republic.

The second in George Lucas’ prequel trilogy fixes a lot of the problems that the first film had, though not all. I love the tone of the film as it shifts from mystery to romance to war to fantasy and back to mystery. The tonal shifts keep the film invigorated and interesting. McGregor and Portman turn in excellent work as Kenobi and Amidala, as do Ian McDiarmid (Sleepy Hollow, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) as Chancellor Palpatine and Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Avengers: Age of Ultron) as the Jedi Master Mace Windu. New character Count Dooku is excellent and terrifying.

Hayden Christensen is a better Anakin than Jake Lloyd, but not by much. He is by far the biggest problem here.

As always, George Lucas presents us a stunning vision of his galaxy. The film is stitched together nicely and is beautifully scored. There are a lot to love here. Now the aging of the special effects is noticeable here and could have been avoided with a more practical touch. I miss the look of the original films, but I can deal with it.

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Attack of the Clones is a fantastic Star Wars event. It has a few detractors, but it is lovely nonetheless.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

[Oscar Madness] Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Pernilla August, Frank Oz

Screenplay: George Lucas

136 mins. Rated PG for sci-fi action/violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects

 

Today we are going to look back on Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, a film that has truly polarized fans of perhaps the most-beloved sagas in motion picture history.

Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson, Schindler’s List, Taken 3) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, Mortdecai) are about to take part in trade negotiations with the insidious Trade Federation over trade disputes. When negotiations go south and the Trade Viceroy takes control of the peaceful planet of Naboo, the Jedi take refuge on the remote desert planet of Tattooine, where they meet young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd, Jingle All the Way), a child who may just be the Chosen One, a Jedi who can bring balance to the Force.

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Director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138) returned to his beloved Star Wars franchise sixteen years after 1983’s Return of the Jedi to create one of the most discussed entries in the canon. Some love it; many loathe it. I find it to be an enjoyable, albeit flawed entry in the series.

Jake Lloyd absolutely destroys his role as Anakin by not understanding the characters and delivering his lines as though he is just reading them. His scenes can’t even be saved by Neeson and McGregor. Anthony Daniels (The Lego Movie, The Lord of the Rings) and Kenny Baker (The King and I, Willow) return as C-3PO and R2-D2 and help to tie this film to the others. Then there is Ian McDiarmid (Sleepy Hollow, Annie: A Royal Adventure!) as Senator Palpatine. I love his performance here. He is slippery like a politician should be with just a note of secrecy.

I want to say something about George Lucas. I might get flack or praise, not sure which, but George Lucas can direct just fine. He cannot write all that well. He should stick to storytelling but leave the screenplay work to others. Look back at The Empire Strikes Back. It is considered by many to be the best in the saga, but it is the only one not specifically written by Lucas. Just sayin’.

The flow of the film is nicely tied together. I enjoyed the time spent on Tattooine, and I felt like the Naboo sequences add something new to the series. I honestly didn’t care much for Jar Jar Binks, but I also accepted that galaxies far far away probably had annoying aliens. There just has to be some.

The effects are wildly well put together, from the podrace sequences to the battle for Naboo. The new Yoda (played by Frank Oz, Zathura, Monsters, Inc.) is more advanced than previously, though it doesn’t really look like Yoda.

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Looking back at the first chronological Star Wars adventure brings up a lot of questions. How has the film held up? Did the love or the hate soften? Will Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens have the same reception? I don’t have the answers to all those questions, but I can say that expectations are often the culprits for long-waited installments. I like Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. It is far from the perfect Star Wars film, but it is an enjoyable reintroduction to the galaxy and the time that we love so much.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 15th Birthday!] Sleepy Hollow (1999)

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Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci

Screenplay: Andrew Kevin Walker

105 mins. Rated R for graphic horror violence and gore, and for a scene of sexuality.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Costume Design

 

I remember reading The Legend of Sleepy Hollow as a kid. I remember the way it made me feel. It was a very unhappy and dreary story, as was expected to be. I remember my excitement at hearing that there was a new film version coming along in 1999. It was a new film from director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Dark Shadows), with whom I was already familiar with at a young age. I remember finding the film to be very different than the original story, much more convoluted than it needed to be. I wasn’t a great big fan of the film, though I remembered that it had several some really great moments. I thought I would look back on the film for its 15th anniversary and see if I felt any different about it.

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As it turns out, I still find numerous flaws with the film, but I feel as though it has aged very nicely over the past fifteen years.

It’s the story of Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Transcendence) as he hunts down a murderer in Sleepy Hollow who lops his victim’s heads off. Along the way, he meets Katrina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci, Monster, Lizzie Borden Took an Ax), a woman he develops an emotional connection to even though she may have more to her past than he knows. The townspeople believe that the murders are being committed by The Headless Horseman, a mythical being who has been birthed from Hell to avenge his death.

This film looks pretty damn good for its age. I still find the lighting to be too little during some of the more menacing action sequences. I think it could use a bit more light in its scenes. I like Johnny Depp, pre-overused by Tim Burton here. Christina Ricci returns to the genre that made her famous in The Addams Family. I find her inert sensuality and innocence brings chilling ambience to her performance here. Then there’s Christopher Walken, who gets a lot less screentime as The Headless Horseman, but all the seem, he gives one of the most iconic and terrifying performances I have ever seen here. He is almost monstrous and beastly even as a humanoid spirit.

I also enjoyed the cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki here. He definitely deserved the nomination from making this film feel like a Hammer film and gives homage to even older films of the horror genre.

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Of all the films in the Burton canon, this one feels more like the Burton we know and doesn’t tread very much new territory, but overall, I enjoy the film much more now, and part of that has to do with the awesome soundtrack and the screenplay from Andrew Kevin Walker (even with an uncredited rewrite that messed with the pacing a bit). Tim Burton has done better, but he has also done worse, and Sleepy Hollow exists somewhere in the middle.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 19 – Dark Shadows (2012)

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Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller, Chloe Grace Moretz, Bella Heathcote

Screenplay: Seth Grahame-Smith

113 mins. Rated PG-13 for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking.

 

For horror fans, the 1966 television series Dark Shadows is a pretty big deal. For soap opera fans, it is also a big deal. A dark brooding and eventually supernatural based soap opera, Dark Shadows was so far ahead of its time that it didn’t really take off during its initial run. It didn’t really take off during its revival either. In 2012, director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Frankenweenie) brought a reimagining to the big screen from a screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith (TV’s The Hard Times of RJ Berger, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). It, too, did not take off. So how does a movie with this much going for it, a new and promising screenwriter, a talented director behind the camera, and explosive leading man Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Into the Woods) as a lead, fail so much? Truth be told, I rather enjoyed it for all the reasons you should.

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Depp portrays Barnabus Collins, a privileged man who took too much for granted. He loved and left women like the voluptuous Angelique (Eva Green, TV’s Penny Dreadful, Casino Royale), and he paid dearly for it, for unbeknownst to Collins, Angelique was a witch who cursed his beloved Josette (Bella Heathcote, In Time, Not Fade Away) to walk off a cliff and turned Barnabus himself into a vampire and had him buried for all eternity. Around 200 years later, Barnabus is awakened by random happenstance and returns to his beloved home of Collinwood Manor to find distant relative Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer, Scarface, The Family) and her family residing. Collins’ family name has been tarnished by the still living Angelique who has taken the town of Collinsport for herself. As Barnabus tries to put the pieces of his afterlife in order and bring his family back to their stance in the community, he is bewitched by the Collins’ new family tutor and caregiver Victoria, who bares a striking resemblance to Josette.

This movie succeeds at what it is trying to be. Much like the adaptation of Rock of Ages from a few years ago, this film is not rounding the bases to Oscar glory. All it wants is to remind you of cheese from which the original Dark Shadows bore and is what it is so beloved for today. Dark Shadows was not a great television series ever, but we love it. Why? Because it is so much fun. Exactly. Not because it was filled with nuanced performances, but because it was filled with such lovable (or unlovable) characters. I think people didn’t do their research for this film (surprise, surprise, those same people didn’t expect Sweeney Todd to be a musical) and they expected something dark and brooding, perhaps for akin to Edward Scissorhands or Sleepy Hollow, when really this is more attuned to Beetlejuice and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, being dark comedies with dark undertones.

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Now the film is far from perfect. Some of the performances are wooden, while others come off as over goofy. The cinematography is nothing particularly special. The music and visual effects are rather fun, but the film isn’t going to be remembered or rediscovered as perfect, but it is just a good time. This is a movie I should have expected to fail, but I had faith in moviegoers. If you saw this during its initial release, I advise you to give it another go, because it wasn’t all that bad. It is, ironically, rather lively.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

Lizzie Borden Took an Ax (2014)

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Director: Nick Gomez

Cast: Christina Ricci, Clea Duvall, Billy Campbell

Screenplay: Stephen Kay

91 mins. Not Rated by the MPAA.

 

Do you want to know the story of Lizzie Borden? Good, because this is practically a documentary. Lizzie Borden Took an Ax is the story of, well, Lizzie Borden (Christina Ricci, Sleepy Hollow, The Smurfs 2) and when she, well, takes an ax…to her parents.  Clea Duvall (Argo, Conviction) is Emma, the sister. Billy Campbell (The Rocketeer, Killing Lincoln) is the family’s law representative. The plot is nothing of great merit. Lizzie Borden finds her parents murdered in the upstairs of her home, she goes for help, and then people start believing that she may have been the culprit. Everything about this movie is predictable, down to the title being a major giveaway (granted, I understand that the film is based on true events and most people already know the story enough to put the pieces together. This film is very simplistic, the plotline runs very television movie-ish, which makes sense because it is a Lifetime television movie. The performances are so-so, really nothing special.

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All of this film is meh. There is no cinematography. The camera is more nailed down than the sets. The film’s editing allows for commercial breaks, which I have always found to be very meh as well. Really, the reason this film gets a extra point is for detail to the actual events. I looked up actual information after seeing the film, and it was pretty spot on. So, for that, I give Lizzie Borden Took an Ax 2/5.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

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