Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Gremlins" the reason to be scared of the holidays

TITLE: "Gremlins"
STARS: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Dick Miller
EDITOR: Tina Hirsch
AWARDS: Best Director (Dante), Best Horror Film, Best Music, Best Special Effects, Best Supporting Actress (Polly Holliday) (Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films, USA)
BOX OFFICE: $153,083,102 (USA)
RUN TIME: 106 min.

When Billy (Galligan) is given a new pet for Christmas, he is also given three rules to obey. Keep it away from bright lights (sunlight will kill it), don't get it wet, and above all else, never feed it after midnight. Billy is about to find out how hard it is to keep those rules, and how horrible the consequences are.

"Gremlins" is a film that changed the game when it was released in 1984. It is largely credited as being a strong reason for the release of the PG-13 rating from the MPAA. It's merchandising was unheard of at the time, and its box-office success lead to many imitators.

Joe Dante was hired by producer, Steven Spielberg, to work on "Gremlins" based on his previous work on "The Howling" (1982), one of the foremost horror films of the decade. Dante wanted to make a film that was more family friendly, and emphasized the comedic parts of the story. This created one of the first purposeful horror/comedies of the 1980's. The family oriented story falls apart about halfway through as the mischievous creatures ransack the town, killing locals, and finding messy ends themselves. Many parents left theaters during screenings, due to a misleading add campaign, and the PG rating. This film, along with Spielberg's "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" (1982) helped the ratings board put forth the new PG-13 rating, which has since risen in popularity.

Besides the success at the box office, dolls, books, cassettes, records, and action figures all helped raise the earnings of the film. Even the famed Furby dolls of the 1990's had a "Gremlins" version. All of this success lead to countless imitators, including such films as: "Critters" (1986), "Ghoulies" (1985), "Munchies" (1987), and many more.

This film spawned one sequel, "Gremlins 2: The New Batch" (1990), which did not fare as well at the box office, but has since gained a cult status, and is regularly regarded as one of the great sequels in Hollywood history. The sequel followed more of the comedy elements of the original rather than focus on horror, and even parodied this film.

This is one of those films that will stay with someone after they see it. Watching it as a child gave this writer a nostalgic feeling when popping into the DVD player this last weekend. It's focus on dark humor, with some legitimate scares, fine acting, and fun set pieces add to an exciting movie-watching experience.

Anyone who saw this as a child will continue to love it. People who see it as adults will still find plenty of entertainment, it is not, after-all, a children's film. For horror fans, this is a must see, as well as for comedy fans. For everyone else, it is still well worth the time put in.
MY IMDb RATING:  9 out of 10

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"The Lion King" a cherished masterpiece

TITLE: "The Lion King"
DIRECTOR: Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff
STARS: Matthew Broderick, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons
EDITOR: Ivan Bilancio
AWARDS: Best Music, Original Score (Oscar), Best Music, Original Song (Can You Feel the Love Tonight) (Oscar)
BOX OFFICE: $771,900,000 (Worldwide)
RUN TIME: 89 min.
VIEWING FORMAT: 35 mm. film print

When King Mufasa (Jones) is killed by his brother Scar (Irons), his son, Simba (Thomas & Broderick) runs away to escape shame. After being absent for years, he returns to his home to find it destroyed by corruption. Simba has one last chance to honor his father's memory, and claim his birthright from his uncle.

"The Lion King" is often regarded as one of the best animated films of all time. It is one of only three animated films to win a Golden Globe for Best Picture (the other two being "Beauty and the Beast" (1991) and "Toy Story 2" (1999)). The film also won two Oscars for it's musical achievements, and went on to become one of the best selling home videos of all time.

This film gained almost universal critical acclaim upon its release, and still holds an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. It please audiences as well, and became the top grossing film of the year, beating the worldwide gross of even "Forrest Gump" (1994).

Its status as a family classic was cemented when it not only broke records in its initial theatrical run, but also in home distribution sales (selling 4.5 million tapes on its first day). It also went on to be the first re-release since 1997's release of "Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi"(1983) to claim the top of the box office, garnering over 30 million dollars last weekend alone.

Stats can only say so much. This film is a classic because it is a character driven, action packed, funny, family drama. The tale borrows elements from Shakespeare, African folklore, Judeo-Christian mythology, and even classic Japanese cartoons, to blend into a story that many find believable and beautiful.

The hero's journey that Simba takes, after being condemned by his uncle, is a classic tale told in many mythologies, and oft repeated in film. The mixture of incredible animation, song-writing, humor, and fun characters keeps the audience tear-filled and enticed the whole way through.

This is not just a family film. It is not just for children. This is a classic in its own right, and deserves to be seen by all. The term "movie magic" has never meant so much. A delightful experience for young and old, men and women, people of all different cultures. This is a film worth celebrating.

MY IMDb RATING:  10 out of 10

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"Frankenstein" how horror began

TITLE: "Frankenstein"
DIRECTOR: James Whale
STARS: Colin Clive, Boris Karloff
EDITOR: Clarence Kolster
AWARDS: National Film Registry
BOX OFFICE: $12,000,000 (USA)
RUN TIME: 70 min.
VIEWING FORMAT: 35 mm. film print

When Henry Frankenstein (Clive), leaves the world behind to delve into his personal experiments, no one knew to expect a giant monster would come of it. When his creation escapes and, in confusion and desperation, kidnaps his creator, the local townspeople take matters into their own hands.

James Whale's "Frankenstein" is considered by many to be a classic, if not in its own right, of the horror genre. Whale took on the project in order to get out of the war pictures he had made a name directing. His personal touch, and inspiring filmmaking, would go on to influence generation's of filmmakers.

A scene that was edited in the original theatrical release, but restored in the 80's home video version, has the creature accidentally drown a little girl while innocently playing with her. This scene, showing the emotional understanding of the fearful creature, has inspired countless filmmakers since to show the human side of their creations. Mrs. Voorhees, Hannibal Lector, the Wolf Man, and even zombies have shown their emotional sides in countless franchise entries over the years.

The look of the creature is unlike that portrayed in the original novel, but is often times used as the inspiration for many other "Frankenstein" films. Also borrowed from this film: the lighting technique used by Frankenstein to animate his creations, Fritz (Frankenstein's hunchbacked servant), the scientist's survival, and the grunting, non-sensical speech of the monster.

This film still holds up today. The scares seem a bit old. The acting can be stiff at times, and even some of the camera work and editing is dated. What holds up are the performances of the leads (Clive and Karloff), and Whale's insistence that there be a human side to the creature. The audience continues to care for the monster, even though he would frighten anyone were they to meet it in real life.

Horror, as a genre, has been repeated, remade, and rebooted for decades. Gore has gone up, effects have become more invasive, but some filmmakers continue to include character development and complex antagonists (who is the antagonist in this, Frankenstein or his monster?), which makes for a continually interesting viewing experience.

Any fan of horror needs to watch this film, as does any fan of "classic" films. This is a worthwhile endeavor that keeps up even to this day.
MY IMDb RATING:  8 out of 10

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" a children's classic that transcends the genre

TITLE: "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles"
DIRECTOR: Steve Barron
STARS: Elias Koteas, Judith Hoag
EDITOR: William D. Gordean, Sally Menke, James R. Symons
AWARDS: Best Fantasy Film (Nomination, Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films, USA)
BOX OFFICE: $135,270,000 (USA)
RUN TIME: 93 min.

When the NYC police department cannot control a crime wave throughout the city, four mutant turtles come to rescue, with the aid of their human friends, Apirl O'Neil and Casey Jones. The turtles come to throws with the formidable enemy, The Shredder, who's past haunts not only himself, but Splinter, the turtles' guardian as well.

"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" was an incredible commercial success, becoming the highest grossing independent film in history at the time of release. The success of this film, the comics it was based on, and the continued success of the animated TV show, led to three more sequels.

Critics were not as happy with this film as the audiences though. Roger Ebert gave the film 2.5 stars out of 4 (one of the higher critical rankings) admitting that the films was as good as anyone could expect, but was still not worth much to non-fans.

What many fans loved about the film, besides the fact that it not only was true to the source material in content and tone, but that it also incorporated elements of the popular animated series, were the creature effects. Jim Henson's creature shop created the costumes. Each turtle incorporated an actor in the suit, someone to control the facial movements, and a voice-over actor to provide the voice (with Corey Feldman famously providing Donatello's). Henson himself said these were the most advanced creature's he'd ever worked with. It took 18 weeks to complete the costumes.

This film may not be considered a "classic" in the traditional sense, but this writer is confident that any child of the 90's would attest to its staying power. Three things stick out when confirming this as a classic: good characterization, great humor, and a lasting fan-base.

The creatures, four turtles and Splinter, are all loved by the audience, even those who go in knowing nothing about their history. A short origin story shows that these mutant animals have come from a humble place, and merely want to do what's right with the power they have been given. Raphael in particular is given much screen time as the angsty teenager of the bunch. The film doesn't rush into action after his anger puts him into a near death experience. Instead, it focuses on his brothers' reactions to his pain and suffering. This is rare in children's films, and even rarer in comic book action fare.

The film is consistently funny. Slapstick is present for kids, but adults have plenty of humorous dialog to listen to throughout. The humor fits, as the main characters are teenagers, it makes perfect sense to have them continually cracking jokes.

The fan base has lasted. The sequels performed well, for the most part, and the legacy of the Ninja Turtles has lasted through numerous TV shows, cast changes, and decades. Kids continue to watch, and adults stay true to their fandom (the popular youtube channel, Reckless Tortuga, even took its name from this franchise).

All in all, this film won't change anyone's life, but it is well worth an hour and a half of their time. This writer grew up with this film, and is therefore biased. Its dark tone, consistent humor, and incredible effects have all aged well, and inspired numerous films since (does anyone really think Christopher Nolan began the "dark comic book film?"). If you've missed this one, find it soon, and grab a bowl of popcorn, it's going to be a fun ride.

MY IMDb RATING:  9 out of 10