Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Harefooted Halloween: The Good Son

Image result for the good son 1993 skatingWhat I Liked: Killer children is a tough topic to tackle in any medium.  Getting the right age, look, method of killing and motivation is so hard to nail down.  How do you convince the audience that this very young person can do something as awful as premeditated murder?  I’m not sure but the filmmakers ended up doing a decent job of presenting us one nasty ass kid.

Macaulay Culkin (Party Monster) as Henry does a really good job of emitting an unsettling aurora.  There’s something about his facial expressions and the way he delivers his lines that you know he can’t be trusted.  I can totally understand some folks finding his smirk heavy performance grating and/or comical but I didn’t get either of those.  This shows Culkin had range at an early age and if you can sense there’s something wrong with this kid even during the scenes when he’s not acting like a creep and only doing normal twelve year old stuff then that’s kind of impressive.

The movie wastes no time with getting to the bad seed shenanigans you came for.  There’s a sharp escalation in unscrupulous behavior which doesn’t let up until the end.  Like Henry starts off by breaking windows at an abandoned factory but then he kills a dog and that quickly leads to endangering the lives of dozens of people by throwing a dummy off an overpass into heavy traffic (the movie tries to downplay it by telling us no one got seriously injured but that’s impossible with the huge pile up they show us, like an RV completely flips onto its side).  There isn’t very much room to breathe because you have to keep up with a constant increase of horrible events.

Image result for the good son 1993This thing is shot beautifully (John Lindley (Father of the Bride, Shakedown, Pleasantville)).  The “Maine” landscape (really Minnesota, Massachusetts and New Hampshire) is wonderfully captured with nice big wide angles and sweeping ocean shots.  The small town and huge house where this takes place look so picturesque with water facing windows everywhere and a roaring fire constantly going.

Spoiler on this last point

The ending is absolutely perfect with Henry and Mark (Elijah Wood (Sin City)) dangling off a cliff and Henry’s mother is holding onto them and has to decide between her disgusting son and her loving nephew.  This is one of the most fitting endings to any film ever.

What I Didn’t Like: Most of the dialogue doesn’t sound like kid dialogue.  But I can’t be too hard on the screenwriter for this (Ian McEwan (Atonement (the book))) because it’s difficult enough to write regular child sounding lines.  And in this case you’re piling on a battle of good vs evil.  They tried their best to make the leads sound tough and menacing but it sounds too much like adults.

The score is too damn cheery for the first twenty mins.  It’s distracting how much it doesn’t fit.  Sure you might not wanna go for a plotting-a-malicious-scheme theme right off the bat but there needed to be something more neutral.  The upbeat almost carefree music that legendary composer Elmer Bernstein wrote for the beginning was not a good choice.

Image result for the good son 1993
Holy shit, that's edgy!
Some scenes were clearly cut heavily where it’ll end abruptly or intensify suddenly and others must’ve been deleted altogether.  The last half hour specifically moves at a breakneck pace.  I know I said I liked that the film doesn’t give a lot of room to breathe (and I’m always for shorter runtimes, this one’s under ninety minutes) but at the same time it could’ve benefited from slowing down a touch and building some more suspense.

A kinda major problem I have with this picture is it promotes the idea that someone is born evil.  You see we never find out what triggered Henry to act the way he does.  They don’t go for any supernatural or revenge angle or hint at the parents being awful people that do similar despicable acts either.  Henry’s simply evil and that’s all there is.  And I take issue with that because I don’t think someone is born evil.  Yes everyone’s predisposed to certain diseases, disorders and other genetically transferrable health issues but not the urge to kill those around you for no reason.  It was a cheap way out for the movie to not approach the topic.  I wish they would’ve given some sort of explanation of this kid’s motivation no matter how flimsy.

Overall Impressions: I know this is another non-horror entry but thrillers are a closely related cousin.  Plus you have to hand it to the filmmakers on this one.  They definitely delivered on the killer kid idea.  Henry attempts to eradicate his entire family so he’s out there giving it his all.

Image result for the good son 1993 posterAnd I just wanna say I find everything about Macaulay Culkin being in this movie fascinating.  At first it may seem like an odd choice (actually his father pushed extremely hard for the role even to the point of holding Home Alone 2 hostage) but very quickly you realize he’s totally got this.  It turned out to be a good casting decision even if it was by force.  And the filmmakers must’ve came around to feeling the same way because just look at the poster.  It’s a close up of Macaulay smirking into the camera with the tagline “evil has many faces”.  They knew that’s all they needed to sell you on it.  The boldness of that decision kinda blows my mind.  I mean this was only one year after Home Alone 2: Lost in New York for fuck’s sake.  Wow.

This is a divider.  If you can get over adorable Kevin McCallister being a murderous little shit then that’s half the battle.  The trouble is you still have to accept that this kid can do all the terrible stuff you witness.  It’s a mixed bag, some things work others don’t.  I guess I cautiously recommend this one.  It’s a tough sell though.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Harefooted Halloween: Texas Chainsaw 3D

Image result for texas chainsaw 3d
What I Liked: Even though the setup and execution is mostly conventional it has a different feel partly due to the very long action scene in the middle with Leatherface chasing the kids around.  They changed the Texas Chainsaw formula enough to freshen things up which was welcomed.  We haven’t had a truly different type of installment since number 2 back in 1986.

The filmmakers sneakily make you sympathize with Leatherface and doggonit I fell for it.  This is a minor spoiler but I wanted to mention it because it may get you to see the movie and come on, who couldn’t use more Chainsaw in their life?

After Leatherface slices a tire on the kids’ van as they’re peeling away there’s an awesome shot of him picking up his chainsaw and watching the van careen down the road and flip over in the distance.  These films never go for more reserved shots like that where you see something play out uncut so this was a pleasant surprise.

What I Didn’t Like: The story makes no goddamn sense whatsoever and is pretty stupid.  A twenty something (Alexandra Daddario (Bereavement)) inherits from her late grandmother a huge house along with everything in it.  The only catch is there’s a Leatherface living in the basement.  He’s a relative of the grandmother and she’s been secretly taking care of him.  When the inheritor and her friends show up Leatherface tries to kill everyone not realizing the new girl is also family.  That’s quite a different (and bad) premise for a Chainsaw.

It’s never a good idea to have “3D” in your title.

Image result for texas chainsaw 3dOverall Impressions: This one’s supposed to be a direct sequel to the original 1974 film and not part of the 2003 remake franchise.  The movie starts with the sheriff and his posse confronting the fucked up family right after Sally escapes to freedom.  The mob kills the family and burns the house down except Leatherface mysteriously disappears in the confusion.

You probably didn’t need to go all the way back to the first picture to setup a film where Leatherface goes solo.  And Leatherface on his own without weirdo family members surrounding him is really the main idea here.  It’s strange that it took thirty nine years for this happen considering he’s pretty much the only thing most people remember from the Chainsaw series.  I mean I’m glad someone tried it once because I think it’s a worthwhile experiment.  But in the end Leatherface doesn’t work great just by himself.  You kinda need the whole bizarre family to help round out the experience and give more variety to the horror.

But the big question the filmmakers had to tackle was how do you get Leatherface alone?  He can’t take care of himself and he’s not supernatural like Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees.  He needs a caretaker but they can’t actually be in the picture because that would defeat the purpose.  So the best the filmmakers could come up with was the inheritance angle.  It’s weak as shit but I guess it maybe sorta works if only to achieve the goal of isolating the character for this one movie.

Image result for texas chainsaw 3d carnivalOn another note I remember when this came out the semi-big deal was that we were gonna get to see Leatherface going on a rampage in public.  He shows up at a carnival, wreaks havoc and even throws his chainsaw at someone.  All of that is fun but not nearly as crazy as the trailers and commercials would have you believe.  It isn’t like Leatherface is gutting people left and right.  Everyone scatters when he shows up and he’s after one particular person so he’s focused.

Oh and did anyone else notice the pig masked person in a black robe at the carnival?  You know like from the Saw movies?  What the hell was that all about?  It’s clearly intentional but I’m not sure what the connection is.

The concepts in Texas Chainsaw 3D had to be done.  Let’s see how well Leatherface does by his lonesome and let’s see if they can get the audience on his side.  The film is kinda interesting in that sense but it turns out Leatherface can’t really carry a movie by himself.  I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re curious to see what a family free Chainsaw installment is like.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Harefooted Halloween: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning

Image result for texas chainsaw massacre the beginning r lee ermeyWhat I liked: R. Lee Ermey (Toy Story 2) is the main villain for most of the film and it’s great to see him in the spotlight like that.  He definitely plays it sadistic enough to fit in with the Chainsaw family.  His wild eyed performance is by far the best in the movie where he acts totally crazy but also has complete control of every scene he’s in.

Like the 2003 remake Leatherface is once again played by Andrew Bryniarski (Street Fighter (1994)) and he’s better this time but I can’t put my finger on why exactly.  He just has more presence and a sense of vulnerability like the character should have.  Nice job.

The production design (Marco Rubeo (The Hateful Eight (set designer))) is more restrained than in the remake.  With less clutter and gross deteriorating shit lying around it grounds the family house and gives everything they do more weight.

We get to see Leatherface use his chainsaw to actually kill a bunch of people and not just wave it around recklessly like he usually does.  He even tears one guy completely in half.  Ouch.

The new skin mask Leatherface gets later on in the movie looks fucking fantastic.  The eye and mouth holes are the right width and there’s the right amount of stitching and everything.

Image result for texas chainsaw massacre the beginningWhat I Didn’t Like: The protagonists are bland as hell.  Yea this is typical for a lot of horror pictures (especially slashers) but it still doesn’t make it right.

The biker character played by Lee Tergesen (Oz) is completely superfluous.  He’s only in here to raise the body count and he does such a lazy bad acting job.

Boy do they really force some jump scares.  They throw that music sting on things that normally wouldn’t have it and it’s pretty damn annoying.

Overall Impressions: Initially this seemed like nothing special.  Everything is setup and paid off in the formulaic way you’ve seen a million times before.  I also thought it was unnecessary that we learn the backstory of the family in the remake.  Why would that be interesting?  Who cares?

Image result for texas chainsaw massacre the beginningBut as the movie went and the more I thought about it afterward all of the ideas they throw at you kinda grew on me.  R. Lee Ermey murdering the real sheriff and falsely taking over his position, the family turning to cannibalism because the local slaughterhouse closed, we find out the guy in the wheelchair got his legs cut off by Leatherface to fix a gunshot wound (?!), and etc.  They all surprisingly work enough to keep you engaged.

I mean this isn’t great or anything but I prefer it to the 2003 installment.  It’s gorier but it has a little more heart like the filmmakers put some more care into their film.  We spend a lot of time with the family here which is a big plus and like I said, R. Lee Ermey is a blast to watch.

Do we really need to know the origins of this insane family and Leatherface?  No, not at all.  But I gotta admit I kinda had some fun with this one.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Harefooted Halloween: Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation

Image result for texas chainsaw massacre the next generation matthew mcconaugheyWhat I Liked: Not a goddamn thing.

What I Didn’t Liked: Every goddamn thing

Overall Impressions: This is way worse than I remembered.  I mean I didn’t like it the one other time I saw it a long way back but holy shit is this kinda unbearable.  It’s completely incoherent.  The dialogue, shifts in tone, mashups of tone, acting, horrendous character development, story ideas that don’t make sense or fit within the franchise, etc, it’s all so fucking awful.  At least on a technical level it’s shot and edited mostly fine.  You know who is where and stuff…well…that is until someone starts speaking then it just turns into gibberish again.

The movie is semi-famous for starring Renee Zellweger (Appaloosa) and Matthew McConaughey (Killer Joe) very early in their careers.  Zellweger actually does alright but there are a couple of times when she can barely muster the shitty lines she’s supposed to say and does the minimal amount of work to get through the scene.  McConaughey meanwhile goes too far over the top with the madman routine.  He’s downright zany, cartoonish and incomprehensible.  It becomes annoying almost instantly how hard he pushes the craziness in every scene.

Image result for texas chainsaw massacre the next generation leatherfaceThen there’s this guy in a suit who rides around in a limo who’s commissioning the murders for no reason that’s explained.  He’s got markings and piercings on his chest that aren’t explained either.  And McConaughey has an unwieldly mechanical contraption on his leg that he needs to walk and he controls it with multiple TV/VCR remotes and he likes to cut himself with a knife and the hard rock soundtrack goes in and out at weird times and one of the other bad guys likes to spout these sophisticated sounding quotes from historic figures and later Grandpa who looks like he might be dead opens his eyes, gets up and leaves the movie mid-scene and guys, I don’t know what the fuck is happening.

This feels more like a terrible Texas Chainsaw knock off than a legitimate sequel in the series.  It’s also too irritating to be an enjoyably bad film so there’s no redemption there.  Just don’t watch it.  Please. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Harefooted Halloween: Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III

Image result for texas chainsaw massacre 3 ken foreeWhat I Liked: Ken Foree of Dawn of the Dead fame (the ’78 version) is awesome as a survivalist who gets caught up in the Texas backwoods butchering.  He goes toe to toe with Leatherface AND Viggo Mortensen (Psycho (1998)) in this.  He’s the fuckin’ man.

All the Texas Chainsaws are thought of as slasher movies and yea, I would categorize them that way.  But beneath the surface they’re more weirdo psychological horror films.  The insane family that Leatherface is part of toys with their victims and bickers with each other.  The interaction between family members as seen through the victim’s eyes is what makes up most of these pictures.  We don’t have the usual pattern of a kill, paper thin storyline involving teens, kill, sex scene, kill, paper thin storyline involving teens, kill, surviving girl is on the run from the villain, kill, etc.  In the Chainsaws we’re not sitting around waiting for the next murder.  Instead we’re being entertained by the oddball bat shit crazy characters and getting a glimpse into their world.  In that way this series is unique and number III continues that tradition.
Image result for texas chainsaw massacre 3

Short and sweet running time of only about 80 mins.

What I Didn’t Like: None of the actors in the villain roles really shine like in the previous two films.  They’re not as memorably cracked or possess any standout idiosyncrasies.

Although I do like the Texas Chainsaw formula this one doesn’t add anything new to the mix.  Part 2 is so cool and refreshing because they changed things up considerably and didn’t remake the same movie.  III is much more of a rehash of the first which is fine but nothing to get too excited over.

Image result for texas chainsaw massacre 3Overall Impressions: Not a whole lot to say about this guy.  It’s pretty middle of the road in terms of everything.  There isn’t anything particularly memorable in this installment.  If you liked the first two movies there’s no harm in checking out the third.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Harefooted Halloween: The Crow

Image result for the crow 1994
What I Liked:  Visually awesome.  Apparently Alex Proyas (Dark City) wanted to shoot this in black and white but the studio vetoed the idea.  So instead Proyas went for as close to black and white as he could by using a limited color palette and having almost the entire thing take place at night.

The city setting is fucking filthy and so crime-ridden the police seem helpless.  It’s great atmosphere and setup for a superhero to come along and clean things up.

The makeup job on Brandon Lee (Showdown in Little Tokyo) is actually kinda creepy looking with the ghostly white base and only some black accents around the eyes and mouth.  Throw in the curly wet black hair that’s always covering part of the face and you got yourself an iconic image.

Michael Wincott (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) is very entertaining and so fucking funny as the main villain Top Dollar (good name although I don’t know if it’s ever uttered once).  This might be my favorite performance of his because you can tell he’s relishing being exceedingly blunt and cruel.  Like when The Crow interrupts his scumbag board meeting the two talk for less than a minute when Top Dollar exclaims “aw this is already borin’ the shit outta me.  Kill him!”  Plus he sports a southern accent for no apparent reason.

Image result for the crow 1994 michael wincottWhat I Didn’t Like: The bad guys are all pure evil with no redeeming qualities.  They rape, murder, loot and do dumb shit like swallow bullets with their round of shots.  Do they have any idea how much that toxic piece of metal is gonna tear up their insides?  That’s gonna be one extra painful shit later.

Conversely The Crow, or Eric Draven when he was alive, is kinda too good.  Even though he has such a dark and ghoulish appearance he’s a total sweetheart to everyone that’s not a terrible human being.  I know it sounds like a weird aspect to pick on but the polar opposite way of how he treats his enemies and friends clashes a little.  It would’ve been nice if he were a bit more even in his personality.  But maybe being brought back from the dead fucks you up so I should probably cut him some slack.

Overall Impressions: True, this is not a horror movie but come on, it’s so damn gothic and the events take place on October 30th (Devil’s Night as it’s mainly known in Detroit) and the 31st (Halloween as it’s mainly known in, uh, Detroit?).  It’s really a comic book action film but on an aesthetic level it has a strong horror vibe and I guess that’s why I dig this one so much.  You don’t see that combination too often in movies (Blade is another kickass one).

Image result for the crow 1994 darlaThe action itself is just ok which is why I didn’t include it in either of the main categories.  Brandon Lee does minimal martial arting because The Crow is supposed to be some regular dude (albeit invincible) who fights the bad guys and not a skilled assassin trained in the ways of Bruce Lee.  And that’s fine it’s just that the action isn’t choreographed particularly well or showcases the best camera work.

Lee in the lead was an interesting choice.  There are moments when he completely loses himself in the role and tears it up a la Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.  And then there are moments when he’s too goofily sentimental which feels out of place.  Lee drives the story though and overall he does a very good job holding his own against Michael Wincott, David Patrick Kelly (Last Man Standing), Ernie Hudson (Oz) and Terry Todd (The Rock).

This is a fun one to return to every now and again.  I always forget how quickly everything moves like Draven turns into The Crow in the first fifteen mins and then it’s all revenge killings after that.  It’s also way more of an action picture than I remember too.  There’s a big shootout sequence involving dozens of henchmen, a car chase and the finale is a sword fight on top of a cathedral in the rain.  Unfortunately the grunge soundtrack really dates the movie and if it weren’t for that it would hold up much better.  But don’t let that stop you.  It’s pretty cool and right up there among movies about a human sized crow that kills bad guys.