Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Movie Review: "The Conjuring"

By Skip Tucker
July 24, 2013

I can’t believe I saw the same movie. My long-time friend (and Mean Old Coot) Gary writes movie reviews (he actually does it as a job, while I just dick around with it from time to time). 
This is Gary.
And he's way scarier than this stupid movie.

Mostly, his taste in movies matches mine. 


He wrote this absolutely glowing review of “The Conjuring.” He used terms like “terrific acting” and “pitch-perfect directing,” and wrapping it up with his verdict was that the director “…does everything right.” 


Man, that wasn’t the movie I saw. 

I like scary movies. Not the “torture porn” genre, but truly psychologically scary movies that freak me the hell out. And, from time to time, I also get a kick out of scary movie parodies. 
The Conjuring is essentially a haunted house movie. Using the old, tried and true hook of claiming that it is “based on a true story” (arguably the most meaningless phrase in the English language), Director James Wan (Saw, Insidious), sets the stage with a young couple, Roger and Carolyn (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) and their brood of daughters who move into an idyllic house in the country. 

Things start going weird almost immediately, and they contact a ghost-hunting married couple, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) who essentially tell them, “You’re screwed.” 

The film then devolves into every hackneyed cliché from this type of genre, and every stupid thing anyone ever does in horror movies. Spooky noises from the basement? Let’s check it out – in the dark! Scary ghosts lurking around in your bedroom? Scream a little, then go to bed. There was the house from “Amityville Horror,” the doll that bore an uncanny resemblance to Linda Blair’s character in “The Exorcist,” and the ball from “The Changeling” bouncing around down in the basement. The opening credits claim that The Conjuring is based on a true story, but what it seems to be based on is every other horror movie preceding it. 

In truth, the only “scares” were the “Boo!” moments, where something appears onscreen to startle you. But you could tell when they were coming. Every. Single. Time. You’re not scared or startled when they TELEGRAPH that something’s about to happen. 

So I vehemently disagree with The Old Coot’s movie review. To be fair, though, most other reviewers and audiences actually liked it. Even Rotten Tomatoes gave it a rating of 85%. 

Did we see the same movie?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Musical Review: "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

By Skip Tucker
September 15, 2011
Okay – I just finished watching “Spider-Man – Turn Off the Dark” at the Foxwoods Theatre on Broadway. Mixed feelings. The set was spectacular and the flying sequences were amazing (although the visible wires and harnesses diminished the effect). The music (written by Bono and the Edge) is loud and mostly in a minor key. Maybe it’s the sound system, but the lyrics were, for the most part, muddy and incoherent. The bottom line is that the music simply isn’t good enough to hold the production together.

The minor villains were dopey as hell and their costumes looked like something you’d see at a Grade-B theme park, but the Green Goblin (played by the scene-stealing Patrick Page) was great. He’s campy and full of fun – and the absolute best scene of the entire production was a bit where the Goblin is trying to leave a message for J.J. Jamison (the asshole editor of “The Daily Bugle”), and he keeps getting hung up with the automated voicemail system.

There was a weird sub-plot love story with a spider-goddess named Arachne. Apparently in the first incarnation of the musical, there was a romantic triangle between MJ, Peter Parker and Arachne, but they toned it down a bit and turned her into a sort of a benevolent fairy god-spider.

It’s not the worst show in Broadway history… but unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Spidey fan, you might want to wait for the DVD version.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Movie Review: "Super 8"

By Skip Tucker
June 12, 2011
2011 is shaping up to be a pretty good movie year. I liked “Source Code” and “Thor,” and I really liked “X-Men: First Class.” But “Super 8” is (so far, anyway) the pick of the litter. Set in 1979, the story of a group of middle-schoolers (wasn’t it called “Junior High” back then?) making a film during their summer vacation is the kind of adolescent innocence we can all relate to and it's featured extraordinarily well in this film. It poignantly tells the story of childhood friendships, family conflicts and first loves.

The kids have decided to make a film about zombies using a Super 8 camera for a film festival coming up. They sneak out one night to film scenes at a train station when they witness an incredibly horrific train crash. The camera is knocked over but keeps filming, but it isn’t until halfway through the movie that we catch a glimpse of the dangerous cargo it captured. The kids flee the scene just as the military arrives and, not too long after that, the town starts experiencing some mighty strange goings-on, including objects and people disappearing.
The kids are mostly unknown newcomers and are brilliantly cast. None of them are any more obnoxious or precocious than necessary. Joel Courtney (who bears a remarkable resemblance to Henry Thomas from “E.T.”) plays the pint-sized hero Joe Lamb. Ryan Lee is the braces-sporting kid who loves things that explode, and Riley Griffiths is terrific as Charles, the portly writer-director of their movie who runs around screaming “Production value!” But it’s Elle Fanning (Dakota’s younger sister) who demonstrates some serious acting chops. You’re going to see more of her.

It’s pretty obvious that writer-director J.J. Abrams is paying homage to Steven Spielberg here. The two men first met in the early 1980s, when Abrams was a teenager making his own Super 8 movies, and Spielberg was looking for someone to repair his 8 mm childhood films.

I can imagine the pitch writer-director J.J. Abrams (“Star Trek,” “Lost,” “Fringe”) made to the studios.
“Okay, I got this great idea for a movie!”

“What’s it about?”

"Well, think ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ meets ‘Cloverfield’ meets ‘E.T.’ Oh yeah, and toss in m ‘The Goonies’ while you’re at it. And maybe some “War of the Worlds.”

“Hmmm, I don’t know…”

“Spielberg is producing it.”


Granted, there’s not much that’s original about this move, but it works, and it’s a blast to watch.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Movie Review: "X-Men: First Class"

By Skip Tucker
June 6. 2011


I thought “Thor” was good.

But I walked out of “X-Men: First Class” with two primary, gut feelings. The first was that I’d just seen my New Favorite Movie of the Year, and the second was that I had to pee – really bad! When a film is this action-packed, with chemistry working on almost all the levels, it’s certainly an exercise in bladder control (especially after downing a Turbo Chug of Diet Coke).

XMFC gives us the mutant back story, before Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr became known as Professor X and Magneto. The movie opens with them as kids – Lensherr at Auschwitz and Xavier at his Westchester mansion (which would later become The Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters). Fast forward to 1962. The US and USSR are gearing up for their nuclear pissing match over the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the mutants are being recruited by the CIA.

There’s a lot more gruesome violence than in the first three movies, and the action is intense – but the real super power here is the chemistry between the two stars. James McAvoy ("Wanted" - he was also Mr. Tumnus in "The Chronicles of Narnia: Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe") as Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender ("Inglourious Basterds") as Erik Lehnsherr both add an earnest weight to their roles, without taking it over the top. They’re playing mutants, but their performances are very human and relatable.

Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw is actually surprisingly understated. He could have easily gone off the deep end into the Evil Bad Guy caricature, but he instead kept his performance quietly sinister. Jennifer Lawrence is also excellent, taking the Raven character from a scared, shy little girl to the über “Mutant and Proud” Mystique.

The same can’t be said for January Jones ("Mad Men"). Her portrayal of Shaw’s sidekick and face candy Emma Frost was flat and uninspired. Riptide comes off like a second-rate magician, and Azazel sort of looks like a cross between Hellboy and Darth Maul.

My favorite scene in the movie was a cameo by Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. That quick bit had me howling out loud.

X-Men fans will love it (although some of the purists are going to be pissy little bitches about some of the later characters in the comics showing up here), and even a lot of those new to the franchise will be roped in. The violence is much more explicit and brutal than in the first three films, so you might want to heed the PG-13 rating, but other than that, “X-Men: First Class” is a fun ride.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Movie Review: "Thor"

By Skip Tucker
May 8, 2011

The summer movie season arrived a few weeks early with the release of Thor, the latest in the long line of Marvel Comics adaptations (Spider Man, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, The X-Men, The Fantastic Four – and they’re just getting started).

While Thor’s Hammer might be his primary weapon, director Kenneth Branagh’s primary weapon of choice is humor.

Chris Hemsworth (Captain Kirk’s father in “Star Trek”) plays the title role, the God of Thunder who has defied his father Odin (played by Oscar-winner Sir Anthony Hopkins) and has invaded an enemy territory. Cast down to Earth as punishment, he’s literally run into by scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, who seems to be in everything these days), along with her Norwegian colleague, Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard, “Bootstrap Bill” in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise) and her ditzy intern, Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings from “The 40 Year-Old Virgin”).

Also cast down to Earth is the aforementioned Hammer of Thor, named Mjolnir, which imbeds itself in a chunk of rock in the middle of the desert. The local yokels try to make like King Arthur and pull it out until S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Colson (Clark Gregg) shows up to take all the fun away, along with everything else.

Hemsworth is obviously having fun with his character. The drinking scene with Skarsgard is a riot, especially when Thor shows up with a drunk Selvig over his shoulder, announcing, “"We drank. We fought. He did his ancestors proud."

Portman is eye candy and Sir Hopkins is regal. Also of note is Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Thor’s brother who is more than he appears to be. Hiddleston nails the role with just the right amount of guile and menace, without going over the top (in a clearly over-the-tip movie). His descent from mischievous younger brother to evil antagonist is as fast-paced as the movie itself. Rene Russo also has pretty much a cameo role as Thor’s mother.

As with pretty much all of the Marvel Comics adaptations, there’s a scene following the credits that gives a hint of what’s coming.

There’s scheming and battles between the gods, the humans, and shadowy government agencies, all delivered with winks and nods and things blowing up. MY type of movie!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Movie Review: "Source Code

By Skip Tucker
"Source Code" is a major disappointment. A blatant rip-off and unholy coupling of 1993’s “Groundhog Day” and the TV series “Quantum Leap.”

Naw, just kidding. April Fools. "Source Code" was an amazing, edge-of-your-seat thriller that sets a new standard for this type of sci-fi.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Capt. Colter Stevens, a helicopter pilot serving in Afghanistan who wakes up to find himself on a train bound for Chicago, surrounded by people he doesn’t know. He no sooner discovers that he’s in someone else’s body when a massive explosion rips through the train. He awakens to discover that he’s acting as part of a top secret military program known as ‘Source Code’, which allows him to cross over into another man's identity in the last eight minutes of his life. The whole premise is for Capt. Stevens to find the bomb and the bomber, not stop the attack – that’s already happened – but to avert a second attack, this time involving a nuclear bomb. After each 8-minute trip back, he slowly unravels what’s going on – both on the train and with the Source Code itself.

Directed by Duncan Jones (who was also responsible for the under-hyped, overly praised 2009 bomb “Moon”), “Source Code” delivers. If I hadn’t accidentally spilled an entire large-sized cup of Diet Coke all over myself and Eldest Unmarried Son William halfway through, this would’ve been the best movie experience of the year.

So far.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Movie Review: "Skyline"

By Skip TuckerOkay, I’ll admit it. I was sucked in (absolutely pun intended) to see this movie by the trailers – reminiscent of “Cloverfield” and “Independence Day.” The special effects looked awesome, and the cast was, by in large, fairly easy on the eyes. Firmly ensconced in the center seat in the center of the theater (it was a 9 AM showing, so there weren’t a lot of people in attendance), I eagerly anticipated the beginning of a sci-fi blockbuster.

What I got was a sci-fi dud.

I tried, I really tried to like this thing. The movie opens with a hungover couple (Eric Balfour from “24″ and “Haven,” and a spectacular-looking Scottie Thompson from “NCIS”) awakening to a shaking room and eerie blue light. Now, if you’re unfortunate enough to actually look at the blue light, your veins pop up, your eyes turn milky, then you’re sucked up into the sky.

No kidding.

The rest of the film has these two, along with Donald Faison (“Scrubs”), his snappish, aging trophy wife (Hey! I used to have one of those!), and a few others peeking out the windows, desperately trying to figure out what was going on.

I know how they felt.

You know a movie is in trouble when at no point during the film do you care nor identify with any of the individuals. Instead of what you got in “Independence Day,” the characters in “Skyline” were, for the most part, simple bystanders to all the action going on between the Stealth fighters and Matrix-style Sentinels.

And the ending – without TOO much of a spoiler, suffice it to say that I can confidently predict that your reaction will be pretty much the same as mine, which was … “Wait… that’s IT???”

While the special effects are pretty good (especially for a limited budget movie), “Skyline” was a major disappointment. One of the signature lines from "Independence Day" was Will Smith muttering, "Oh HELL no." The closest equivalent in "Skyline" was one of the characters saying, "This can't go on forever." At 92 minutes, it just felt like it.