[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.

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 13 – [Happy 15th Birthday!] The Grudge 2 (2006)

Director: Takashi Shimizu
Cast: Amber Tamblyn, Arielle Kebbel, Jennifer Beals, Edison Chen, Sarah Roemer, Sarah Michelle Gellar
Screenplay: Stephen Susco
102 mins. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, disturbing images/terror/violence, and some sensuality.

It only took three days after the release of the American version of The Grudge for this film to be greenlit. Then, it spent close to a year in development hell before finally gracing screens on a Friday the 13th in 2006. Now, 15 years later, this notorious reviewer known for his distaste of J-horror remakes tackles The Grudge 2!

Immediately following the events of the first film, The Grudge 2 continues the tale of the spreading curse of evil that has attached itself to Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar, Cruel Intentions, TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Now, Karen’s sister, Aubrey (Amber Tamblyn, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Nostalgia) is headed to Tokyo in search of her sister…and answers, but the Grudge is a continually spreading curse which has also attached itself to a group of schoolgirls and a family living in an apartment complex in America, but how do all these pieces fit together?

This seems like a hot take, so stay with me while I explain myself: I think this is my favorite of the American Grudge films. It’s not amazing by any means but this film feels closest to what the original Ju-On films were. It seems, to me at least, to improve on many of the faults of the first film. Again, I don’t really think these movies are scary at all, but this is at least the most engaging story and overall viewing experience of the four American films.

Let’s address my faults with the first film. First of all, as I mentioned, the first American Grudge is just not scary. The sequel isn’t either, but I did have one moment that worked for me in the later portion of the movie. I also think that the atmosphere and structure of the sequel work to deliver some decent unnerving quality that affected me. The ASMR ghost thing still mostly fails to deliver on frights, but this is a much moodier picture.

The nonlinear style of storytelling here is the film’s best asset. It caused me to really invest in the narrative as I tried to wrap my head around connecting the various pieces of the film. I’m not sure if any of these narrative threads would work on their own, and by the time the film was at an end, I was losing a bit of drive in answering my questions, but it kept my focus more than any other American Grudge film. The first film’s focus on Karen was its downfall.

You can also tell that director Takashi Shimizu (Homunculus, Suicide Forest Village) is having more fun in his playground this time around. As opposed to the first film, which is a fairly close remake of the original, this sequel allows him to tries some new things and tell an original story again. The Grudge 2 isn’t a remake of the second Ju-On film as some would believe, but it actually takes more from the Jurassic Park sequels in picking and choosing elements from the source material to include (the JP films played a lot with unused material from Crichton’s books, but you get what I mean). Shimizu pulls elements from Ju-On: The Curse and the more well-known Ju-On: The Grudge, and even grabbed some elements from the Japanese short films that preceded the Ju-On series. With that, there’s a more interesting sandbox feeling to this film, which Shimizu himself admitted to enjoying more than the first film. For someone who directed every single installment of the franchise up to this point (up until 2009 for the direct-to-DVD sequel The Grudge 3), he really knows his world and has an interesting tale to give us.

This sequel still struggles to give us worthy performances from any of its cast, and I know many of them are capable of more than we’re getting. It’s helpful that the nonlinear storyline doesn’t give us any one lead so we aren’t stuck with anyone for too long and it allowed me to invest in the story more instead (not a win, but at least an ever-so-slight improvement).

The Grudge 2 is not the holy grail of horror films, but there is a renewed excitement for what’s to come next (at least until you see what came next), and the film is engaging and interesting with a moody texture and some surprising narrative choices. Sadly, it underperformed so hard that Sony cancelled the Blu-Ray release of the film. In fact, the film still, to this day, does not have a Blu-Ray release because of its performance at the box office. You might say that Sony knows how to hold a…Grudge? All joking aside, the film is a mess but that’s kind of the point, and it understands its messiness better than the previous entry and way better than the latter American installments. It may not win you over, but if you liked the previous installment, give this one a try…on DVD.

3/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Takashi Shimizu’s The Grudge, click here.
  • For my review of Takashi Shimizu’s Marebito, click here.

[Early Review] Land (2021)

Director: Robin Wright
Cast: Robin Wright, Demián Bichir
Screenplay: Jesse Chatham, Erin Dignam
89 mins. Rated PG-13.

The story behind Robin Wright’s directing of Land, her feature directorial debut, came about by a mere scheduling conflict. Wright, who had previously helmed several episodes of House of Cards as well as the short film The Dark of Night, was asked to direct the film when all the pieces had come into play but there was no director, and the film had to be completed with production in 29 days. The entirety of Land was shot in those 29 days with Wright, who appears in every scene, behind the camera as well as in front.

Land is the story of Edee (Wright), a grieving woman who has purchased a plot of land deep in the Wyoming forest. She doesn’t seem particularly skilled at living off the grid, minus a phone and any technology, and when she nearly dies in a snowstorm, she is luckily rescued and brought back to health by Miguel (Demián Bichir, The Hateful Eight, Chaos Walking), who also lives in the wilderness nearby and has passed her house several times. Edee would much rather be alone, but she’s in no condition to push Miguel away. Miguel instead offers to teach her to successfully hunt, fish, and care for herself in the wild. Edee takes him up on his offer, and she begins to see all the ways that they are more similar than she expected.

Land is a solid debut for Robin Wright as a feature director, but it is not without its faults. The pacing of the narrative holds mostly well for 89 minutes, but this is a case where even 89 minutes feels a little too long. I don’t think the extended periods of Wright all alone on screen consistently maintained my interest. I held this criticism for the Robert Redford film All is Lost, another movie with even less dialogue than Land, but both struggled to keep my focus on the narrative with the lack of visual action onscreen. I never had flat-out signs of boredom, but I found myself checking the time more than once.

The film’s cinematography makes up a lot of ground, though, thanks to some truly striking imagery of the beauty in Wyoming (well, the film was shot in Canada, but we are meant to see Wyoming). The shot composition did a lot to position me in the world with Edee. I felt cold watching the snowy environment and I could almost smell the morning dew on the blades of grass. It’s a wholly arresting bit of scenery that evokes every sense.

I also found Wright’s performance to be quite strong as Edee. I would have liked to peel back the layers of her character earlier on in the narrative. We get a big emotional information dump at the end of the film that would have been more interesting had it shown up earlier than the final ten minutes. We get bits and pieces of her backstory as the film moves along, but we never really get the ability to reconcile with her past and her pain because the movie ends as soon as we get the story that Edee’s been struggling to bury at the very end and therefore the reckoning that we’ve been waiting on never really occurs, though we are meant to believe it has.

Wright plays off of Bichir very well. In fact, so often, Demián Bichir is the secret weapon of any film, as he can do so much with so little. He’s easily the best part of the underwhelming The Grudge from last year, and he even stand out among The Hateful Eight with limited dialogue and screen time. Bichir and Wright have such solid chemistry and they each come at their roles differently, Wright with stoic sadness and Bichir with a limited sense of hope and happiness. The scenes with the two of them onscreen are electrifying.

The only element of the film that flat-out doesn’t work is the invasive and, dare I say, annoying score that invades every scene like an unwelcome intruder. It grates on the ear drums and, though I can sense what it’s trying to do, it never seems to add anything to the film but irritation.

Land has more strengths than weaknesses, and the strong acting from Wright and Bichir as well as an arresting bit of visual delight save an otherwise more forgettable movie. There’s just a lot here that has been done before, and better, but I wouldn’t say that Wright’s feature directorial debut is a bust. It’s a solid little movie for an afternoon matinee, and I would still give it a slight recommendation, if you can handle the score.

3/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

Bombshell (2019)

Director: Jay Roach

Cast: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Malcolm McDowell, Allison Janney

Screenplay: Charles Randolph

109 mins. Rated R for sexual material and language throughout.

 

Bombshell is a movie I was very excited to see as soon as I caught the trailer. First of all, I didn’t realize it was Charlize Theron (Monster, Atomic Blonde) under all that makeup, and that shocked and excited me. Also, I was a big fan of Vice, which follows people I don’t much like doing bad things, and I felt like Bombshell had a lot in common with Vice tonally, so that made me all the more excited.

It’s 2016, and Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly (Theron) has made an enemy of Donald Trump by asking him about his comments toward women. Meanwhile, Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge!, TV’s Big Little Lies) has been removed from her place on Fox & Friends, and she is contemplating a lawsuit. At the same time, Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad, Peter Rabbit) has just been hired and she wants to get to the top. When she reaches out to the Head of Fox News, Roger Ailes (John Lithgow, Late Night, TV’s 3rd Rock from the Sun), she is put into an inappropriate situation by Ailes. Soon after, Gretchen begins a firestorm when she comes forward with sexual harassment claims against Ailes, and Fox News begins to implode in the process.

This movie was painful to watch, and that’s kind of the point. The film’s trailers presented a very chic and stylized film, and while the style is definitely there, the story made me really uncomfortable, and in that way, I really found it to be an effective drama. It’s hard to really explain the techniques, but I think mostly it came from the tremendous acting work across the board and the sharp writing from Charles Randolph (The Big Short, Exposed). Director Jay Roach (Trumbo, All the Way) also elected to focus his camerawork on the performances and the story, which I really respect. The film’s overall effect on me was powerful.

Our three female leads are all incredible, each one owning their screen time quite well. The fact that Margot Robbie is able to hold her own against Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman is astounding considering the latter two actresses have been around for awhile and are playing real-life humans, whereas Robbie is an amalgam of other people. Their interactions are fiery and full of so much humanity. It’s astoundingly-performed.

John Lithgow is a disturbing presence as Roger Ailes. I never would have placed him in the role, but he is incredibly slimy and full of so much villainy. His makeup as well as that for Theron and Kidman is incredible, and their strong performances work all the better for the makeup. Having seen recent films like The Grudge, I can say that a poor makeup prosthetic can ruin a good performance and a good one can elevate it.

I also have to throw some love to Connie Britton (American Ultra, TV’s Dirty John) because she won’t get the attention she deserves for her work as Beth Ailes, Roger’s adoring wife. She doesn’t have a lot of scenes in the film, but with that time, she disappears in this role and showcases a woman who believes with all her heart that her husband couldn’t have done anything wrong (that, or she willing ignores it), and it’s shocking how long she is able to keep up with the scandal. In a lot of ways, we like to believe that our loved ones could never do anything to hurt us, and Britton exemplifies that.

Outside of the writing and acting work, there’s nothing too flashy in the film other than the strong production design, which recreates an environment like Fox News, and I think it creates a sense of realism in the film. Director Jay Roach also capably creates connections with people that I don’t really know and makes them realistic.

Bombshell is a strong performance-laden film with some shockingly-good acting work from pretty much the entire team, and its screenplay is incredibly well-constructed to connect with its audience on a cerebral level. It’s not an easy viewing experience but it is well worth it. Outside of those elements, there isn’t a lot of notable wins here, but I highly recommend the film to anyone, whether or not you like the people being portrayed.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jay Roach’s All the Way, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 22 – [Happy 15th Birthday!] The Grudge (2004)

Director: Takashi Shimizu

Cast: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, KaDee Strickland, Clea DuVall, Bill Pullman

Screenplay: Stephen Susco

91 mins. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, disturbing images/terror/violence, and some sensuality.

 

The Grudge is 15 today! Not the original one. The English one. Is that a problem?

Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar, Cruel Intentions, TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is living in Tokyo with her boyfriend Doug (Jason Behr, Dragon Wars: D-War, TV’s Roswell) and working as a care worker. When one of her coworkers doesn’t show up, she is assigned to care for Emma Williams, an older woman suffering from lethargy and dementia. While attending to Emma, Karen discovers something strange happening in the house. She hears noises and is seeing people that aren’t supposed to be there. She begins to unravel a strange mystery involving death, pain, grief, and a grudge upon the house, one that will not leave her alone.

I didn’t like The Grudge the first several times I elected to view it, but, being that it was coming up on the 15th anniversary and the upcoming sequel, I figured it was only right to try it one more time. So what’s changed this time, if anything? Well, I will say this: the first few times I watched the film, I didn’t find a whole lot to like, but this time, I actually found the mystery and story of the film quite engaging, but all that being said, it’s still not scary whatsoever. I still find the ghosts to be almost laughable and the sound design, while being important to the story, doesn’t work. The ASMR mouth sounds and the cat sounds being uttered by the ghosts is really not scary in the slightest.

Sarah Michelle Gellar is not doing anything special, and I really wish I’d gotten to see something better from her. I’m far more interested in the police officer character who gets involved in the story, but none of the main cast is given a lot to do. Jason Behr gives a mostly monotone reading of his dialogue. Truly, just about any part of the nonlinear story structure is better than Karen’s.

The Grudge may be fine for some, but I still didn’t think it provided enough of the thrills and excitement I was hoping for. I really want to like it, and I think that the story, the mystery, and especially the mythology is very strong in the film. The problem is that I’m just not feeling the central character arc of the film. I have to judge the film for what it is and what it wants to be. It’s just not scary, even with the same director as the original film. Go watch the original.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

November 2014 Preview

We’ve been to this part before. I have not seen any of the films we are going to discuss today. I merely feel as though you should be aware of what will be coming to theaters this month. I am pretty good at assessing possible wins and likely failures in the film business. So here we go. Hold onto something.

 

 

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Interstellar

I love Christopher Nolan. Apart from Insomnia, I have found each of his works to be utterly powerful pieces of film. His genres usually stick to the darkness and the fantastic, and perhaps just as much in his new film Interstellar. It is about a team of explorers who go through a wormhole looking for a suitable planet to replace Earth. Now, the basic idea here sees simplistic, but it offers up a lot of avenues to move the plot along. The sci-fi community has been freaking out about this movie and I have to agree with them. I’m already hearing some early Oscar buzz for this one.

 

 

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Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6 might not sound like a big property (to be honest, I hadn’t heard of it until I saw it on Disney’s upcoming slate and decided to look into it. It is actually based on a Marvel property recently acquired by Disney’s banner in their major merger. It will not be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but instead will be an animated adventure from the creators of Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen. I know the plot involves a future city known as San Fransokyo and a young robotic wiz named Hiro and his robot friend Baymax (this year’s Olaf) fighting crime with a group of inexperienced heroes. It sounds like a lot of fun, a more family friendly version of The Avengers with undertones of Disney animation tropes that made Frozen so much fun last year.

 

 

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Jessabelle

Jessie is a woman who just lost her husband in a car accident and now she has gone home to Lousiana, where a spirit waits who wants her dead. I like Kevin Greutert, the film’s director. I liked what he did with Saw VI and as an editor on previous horror films. That being said, he hasn’t had a whole lot of wing-spreading and I fear that he hasn’t proven himself. This film looks good in trailers and poster work, but I’m feeling a vibe akin to The Grudge a little too much here and that doesn’t bode well.

 

 

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Beyond the Lights

Movies like Beyond the Lights, about a woman who has become a singing sensation falling for a cop who wants a spot in political office and can help her get her voice back, all sound the same, and oftentimes, they are. I will say little more on this except that your girlfriend may drag you to this, and if she does, go. Don’t expect this movie to be good, though. Dream of better films in the next theater and maybe sneak away to one of them when you “go for more popcorn.”

 

 

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Dumb and Dumber To

Man, I really want to like this movie. I loved the original Dumb and Dumber as I’m sure you do. I happen to think that 1994 was the greatest year in motion picture history, and I think Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels have tremendous chemistry together. The first trailer didn’t give me much hope except that I’m hoping the best parts are not in it. That would be refreshing. Here’s my advice: See the movie because it is going to be a big release. Do not expect it to be better than Dumb and Dumber. Do not expect it to be as good as Dumb and Dumber even. Just be happy it won’t be the shit-storm Dumb and Dumberer was. See, there is a silver lining.

 

 

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

So, we are at the third Hunger Games movie. I really liked the first installment and I absolutely adored the second film. Returning director Francis Lawrence doesn’t always pick the right properties (Jonah Hex) but when he does, he can do some magical work. He did it with Catching Fire and I think that trend will continue in Mockingjay, where Katniss Everdeen brings her war with President Snow to the forefront after destroying his Games forever. I liked the third book (a lot of fans did not) so I expect that is where the dividing line will be drawn here.

 

 

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Horrible Bosses 2

Comedy sequels are not easy. Far too often we get a Hangover Part II when we deserve an Anchorman II. What I like about Horrible Bosses 2 is that, from the information I have gleaned, it appears that this film will respect the storyline of the first but depart in a whole different way with new interesting characters played by great new actors. I won’t be seeing this film in theaters because I don’t trust comedies there, but I think it will be some solid fun.

 

 

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Penguins of Madagascar

Nope. Nope. No. Not gonna happen. The Madagascar movies were getting stale right around the time the first one came out. Now we get a spin-off already ruined by truly disappointing cartoon series that has tread this territory before and not lightly. Skip it. Worth a rent, sometimes these spin-off can work magic, but not often.

 

 

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Paddington

It is interesting when a film like Paddington gets behind-the-scenes  troubles, like original voice Colin Firth dropping out unexpectedly just months before the film’s release. A bear from Peru gets taken in by the Brown family from London and discovers that life isn’t what he thought it would be. Simple enough, it looks cute and I suspect a winner, but I’m not guaranteeing anything.

 

So there it is. Here’s a tally:

 

Best Bets: Interstellar, Big Hero 6, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Likely Misses: Beyond the Lights, Penguins of Madagascar

On the Bubble: Jessabelle, Dumb and Dumber To, Horrible Bosses 2, Paddington

 

As before, these are but tools. Use them at your own will. Let me know your thoughts as well, and what November 2014 film are you most looking forward to?

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