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“Fallen Kingdom” packs action, lacks in science

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25 years ago, audiences entered Jurassic Park. A wonderful summer blockbuster that pushed the boundaries of special effects and made dinosaur movies worth while. Since then, the park has eroded into Jurassic World, a new attraction that met its end at the guise of not a runaway dinosaur, but mixed reception. For me personally, I didn’t mind Jurassic World considering the amount of destruction and chaos I paid my movie ticket for. This time, the park is completely gone in Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom and all we are left with is the promise of what’s to come. But is it enough to sustain for popcorn entertainment? Many are going to disagree, but I think it does in some way.

On Isla Nublar, it is revealed the park was built on an active volcano that will cause imminent extinction to all of the dinosaurs on the island (for those questioning Site B, apparently they moved a bunch of them over to Nublar. I question if that was a good idea…) Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) return to the island to rescue a bunch of the prehistoric beasts, despite U.S. Senate ruling in favor of letting the creatures perish. They are grouped with a batch of people set to get the dinosaurs off the island, but things take a turn when our leads find something sinister is at play.

Fallen Kingdom is structured with the park’s demise in the first half while the other half focuses on the fate of the dinosaurs. Viewers going into this might be letdown by the constant claustrophobic feel of the final hour, but oddly, I thought it was fine. It was a nice change of pace from the previous movies where these creatures roam free and cause mayhem. Now, they are out of their primitive habitat where one simple action could unleash them to the entire world to run around in. There is some relevance to Pandora’s Box as these prehistoric monsters are contained in one place with the knowing tension that one loose dinosaur could set forth Ian Malcom’s chaos theory.

Replacing Colin Trevorrow for the director’s chair is J. A. Bayona (A Monster Calls and The Orphanage). Reasonably, he does a good job here as we go from one action set piece to the next. There is a slick pace that never feels slowed down or even too fast. One minute, the island is destroyed in a fury of lava and ash and then we get a dinosaur version of M*A*S*H* as our heroes need to perform a blood transfusion on one of the creatures.  It’s clear Bayona really likes to soak us in the horror with some intense scenes that will keep viewers on the edge. He really knows how to raise the stakes in the visual department, especially during the scenes in a lock-tight mansion.

Those bummed out by the CGI in the first film will be pleased to know there is some use of practical effects at play here. However, it is only when they are usable for certain scenes like when a character needs to interact. The CGI in those scenes are thankfully minimal, save for some extra eye movement and some small color touch-ups. There is better coordination between effect and actor here as the two blend rather well at times.

However, despite Bayona’s directing, there are aspects of Fallen Kingdom that feel weaken and that is mainly in the science. First off, there seems to be a never-ending interest in making more genetic raptors. This leads me to question exactly why chose this species time and time again. Are there any other creatures you could use at all?

Second, and I will be light on this as it is a spoiler, just how far can the cloning techniques really go in this universe? I won’t say too much, but there is a certain twist near the end that shows the science in this movie seems unlimited, or hints at it. Honestly, I felt it was a pointless tidbit that could have been easily removed from the picture and nothing would be lost.

The only element were Fallen Kingdom stands for me is in the entertainment. There are some really cool set-pieces and scary images that will certain leave a bit of an impact. The volcano explosion is clearly the centerpiece of the whole feature and is every second intense as well as fun. The final moments in the mansion are well-done and are packed with a lot of suspense. Then again, I am a sucker for movies like Congo or Waterworld where the enjoyment is in the silly yet action-packed moments.

Not everyone is going to like this one, but I’d say it was worth the admission alone, at least for me. Is it a perfect movie? No. Is it a good sequel? Well, its better than Jurassic World in certain areas. Does it make the power and beauty of Jurassic Park? Not so. Jurassic Park was lightening in a bottle. It can never be duplicated no matter what you. Fallen Kingdom goes in a completely different direction that has its share of good moments and some flaws that almost ruin the fun. However, I feel the thrills and creatures are enough to keep my summer blockbuster thirst full for a little while. Not a perfect movie all around, but certainly NOT the worst. And believe me, I’ve seen Alien: Covenant and Terminator Genisys. I know what true disappointment is like…

Drive-In Mutants Radio Theater – Agent Shade In At Midnight, The Mummy Stalks The Passenger Car – Act 1

Introducing, The Drive In Mutants Radio Theater! An all-new anthology podcast play series full of comedy, fantasy, mystery and horror. Join us if you will, for the first adventure of Agent Shade as our fellow detective goes undercover at a party on a train. There, you will find an archaeologist who discovered a lost mummy princess and made a lot of enemies in the process. But no sooner does the sarcophagus open, the bodies start to drop one by one….

CAST OF MUTANTS FOR THIS PLAY
Morgan Leger
Colin Servo
Michael D. Kimpton
Cody Kluesner
Kathy Kennedy
Daniel Swallow
*STAR*
Daniel Beaulac
James Sullivan

How To Enter Into the “Agent Shade: Who Done It Contest”

To enter into our “Agent Shade: Who Done It Contest,” submit your answer to agentshadecasecontest@gmail.com. Have your name, e-mail address and your answer as to who you think committed the murder in the body of the e-mail. In the subject, type in “Agent Shade: Who Done It Contest!” and send it in before Friday, July 13th! Don’t delay. Winner gets to take place in a future podcast play with the Drive-In Mutants!!!

The Drive-In Mutants Radio Theater – Agent Shade (Teaser)

Coming soon to Manic-Expression.com and BlockbusterChronicles.Wordpress.Com, comes an all new series of murder, mystery, comedy and horror…and it all goes to your ear.

This Sunday, June 17th, prepare yourself to enter into a new world as the Drive-In Mutants brings you the first adventure of Agent Shade, a detective that is half human and half of…what ever he is….

Why I Left Cinema Royale

So may things have to be said…and needed to be said….sit down…and I hope I do not bore you
 

“Infinity War” starts on a bang…and ends on a whimper

From the moment the lights went up during the end credits, I did not feel a sense of optimism or joy. I turned to the left and right, noticing many kids, and Marvel fans, upset and/or in tears. Even the post-credit scene didn’t add any sign of hope. I’m certain it did set-up the future debut of a certain Marvel character, but at that point, I really didn’t care. For the first time in my life, I felt great disappointment in a Marvel movie and I have to thank “Avengers: Infinity War” for giving me that feeling.

For a good bulk of the first half, “Infinity War” really does feel like a Marvel movie. There is a fight scene in the city and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) delivers some funny one-liners. However, midway that joyful and light-hearted tone takes a noise dive going for a more darker concept. Those who want to get an idea, look up “Dalek Master Plan” and you will see what I mean.

Even in theaters, this is a hard movie to critique and talk about when the whole thing feels like one massive spoiler. There are certain story elements and sequences that make it tough for me to elaborate on and that might be hard to discuss when some wish to go in blind. So, I will try my best to be spoiler-free as I can here.

The first thing I should talk about is Thanos, a evil purple skinned and muscle bound alien that wants to conquer the universe. He is played by James Brolin under all that motion capture effects and does the job well. They give a reason for his tyrannical nature that doesn’t make him feel one-sided. He is a villain that will do anything in his power to obtain a bunch of powerful gems known as Infinity Stones. And when I mean anything, I mean, by God, ANYTHING. This not only makes him the darkest, but also the scariest being to ever hulk on the big screen.

As expected, there are some nice team ups, as Thor groups with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Iron Man works off of Doctor Strange, the list kind of goes on. But for a 2 and a 1/2 hour movie, there is the sense that some characters feel underplayed. A prime example is Black Panther. After “Captain America: Civil War” and his own solo movie, you think he would play a major part in this. However, he gets saved for the big finale at the end, when maybe some of his expertise could have been used earlier.

Did I mention this movie is long? Length is an expected criticism for a feature like this, but there are some things I felt that could have been shorten down or made more simpler. I feel like they are trying to make something grand or epic, like the “Lord of the Rings” franchise. It does make sense when you think about it. We have had 18 Marvel Comic movies within the past 10 years. And yet, it suffers the same  fate of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies by going too big and too grand. The pacing for certain storylines feel somewhere between too complex or not fleshed out enough.

And that falls onto the final nail in the coffin I have with this entry. Yes, the action scenes are good. Yes, it feels nice to see other characters work off each other. But what it lacks is a sense of heart or, to a lesser extent, a solid conclusion. I guess they are planning to resolve many things in another movie, seeing one is coming out next year. However, here is my argument. “Back to the Future: Part II” and “Empire Strikes Back” did have cliffhangers, but they felt hopeful. They gave you a feeling that you knew problems were going to be resolved and indicated a sense of good under a mass of darkness.

Here, they go straight to the wall and let things conclude on a downer note. I admit, I was really caught off guard by this. But after sitting through so much fighting and superhero banter, to end it all on a whimper is the last thing I would ever do. Certain characters die off and it really makes you feel like this is the end. From all the fatigue of fighting and arguing, could they at least end it on a note of hope?

And furthermore, there are too many open holes to let this end on. How did this character from (movie name withheld) end up here? How come this guy can’t use his powers anymore? What happened here? What happened there? Why even care when we are given this big of a tease and left with little to no sign that good will rise up? It makes movies like 1974’s “Earthquake” more joyful in comparison. OH YEAH, I went there!

We go to movies to escape from our own reality. We want to join in on the adventure and enjoy the ride. All of the pain from our reality deserves to be nullified for a good 2 hours or at least something longer. That is my own personal view of what a movie should be to me. And yes, once in a while, I will go for something darker, but there is a point to the existence of why it is there. Movies are a dream-like thing with shadows of character that hope not to offend their viewers. And if they do so, man…do we feel cheated in the end….

“Ready Player One” packs fun and replay value

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Steven Spielberg is the only director I can think of who can handle an adaptation like this. He has taken novels before with harsher characters and environments like Jaws or Jurassic Park. After having read Ready Player One, I figured he would have the opportunity to fix all the problems I had with the book’s pacing, story-line and connections to the characters. In many ways, Spielberg succeeds. However, there are times when I do feel there could be room for improvement here and there. On the whole, I’m still thankful to have a version that is far different from the source and knows when to have fun.

The story is set in the not-too distant future of 2045, were trailer parks are basically giant stacks of RVs. Everyone in the world is more invested in a virtual reality system called the OASIS, that is sort of like the Internet. The biggest difference is that it give many the ability to do what they want, even to go as far to cosplay as The Joker from Batman or drive the DeLorean from Back to the Future.

The creator of the OASIS, Jim Halliday (Mark Rylance), passes away and leaves his inheritance in the form of a giant video game. The set-up is simple. Beat the three levels, collect all three keys and the winner will get half a trillion dollars and complete control of the OASIS. Now, that is enough for everyone to jump to their VR visors and start hunting.

Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is one of the players, who goes by the avatar name Parzival. In many ways, the Wade character is dorky, but at least identifiable. Unlike the Ernest Cline novel, where the character constantly spits out 1980s references, he at least seeks more than the prize. While his ambition is to beat the game, he’s not too selfish and knows when to help others out in need.

This comes to another character he meets named Art3mis (Olivia Cook), who is more than a girl with a badass attitude. I liked the tough approach they give her and they do hint she is much smarter than you think. Her and Wade hit it off with a romance that is a tad dorky, but cute enough to be accepted. They both have the same goal in mind to do something better for the world and both come from tragic backstories. Cliche, but they are better compared to the novel.

Also in the chase is a greedy business man named Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who seeks to control the OASIS and make it an entire business affair. I found Nolan to be the right balance of cartoony for a video game character and his personality works well as a fun villain. There are times when he can get threatening near the end, but something about him lacks a certain menace like Matthew Modine’s character from Stranger Things. Yes, this guy will go as far to cheat his way, like in the novel, and they do allow extra time for us to know how big of a scum he is. While I didn’t find him threatening, at least until the last third, I still thought Mendelsohn’s performance was at least fun.

And that is the key word here, fun. Spielberg packs many scenes full of action and thrills that warrant much replay value. However, this is where the problem of this version of Ready Player One comes in. So much time is spend on these great set pieces, that we don’t get much with our characters. There are some nifty ideas like a museum in honor of Halliday that is run by a robot butler and moments like those got a good laugh out of me. But all of that is used for the sacrifice of knowing our characters more. When Wade does meet up with the real-life counterparts of his online friends, they meet, greet and move on to beat the final level. Part of me wishes that we could spend maybe a few minutes more understanding who these people are. I admit, the novel did add some interesting backstories to these kids which are somewhat missed.

Most of our time is spent going into 1980s horror movies, racing around New York and a battle, so massive, that I predict you will rent this on DVD and spend hours and hours freeze framing to see if your favorite character is there. The final moments alone are certain worth the admission price as characters from movies and video games band together to go against Sorrento and his army. But all of that at the risk of lacking development in certain things and people. There are times when they visually show the emotion and even visually show the way the world works without spelling it out. And yet, there are some lines of dialogue, or narration at the start, that exist just to set up things in this world.

But does that make Ready Player One worth skipping out? I don’t think so. Director Steven Spielberg is able to dig into elements of Cline’s novel and provide the best from the book while also adding needed improvement. Not everything is fixed, but I did except that. For all its faults, this movie still packs much that the average moviegoer can enjoy. If you liked Jaws, Jurassic Park, Gremlins, Back to the Future, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Duel, The Goonies, Young Sherlock Holmes, Who Framed Roger Rabbit or The Adventures of Tintin, stop what you are doing and see this movie. After all, a little escapism from reality wouldn’t hurt….

“The Last Jedi” Review – Spoiler Free

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As I walked out of the movie theater, I kept thinking back to the many things that happened in the latest “Star Wars” entry. For those keeping score at home, I felt “Force Awakens” was ok, but it was too embedded in servicing the old fans. However, “Rogue One” felt like a true “Star Wars” movie, amidst the grim war tone. Where does “Last Jedi” fall at my judgement you ask? Well, fans will be pleased to know I walked out during the end credits with a decent smile on my face. There was much to enjoy to give it a recommendation for the holiday, but at the same time, I still felt there was much improvement needed here.

To avoid mobs of fans and enthusiasts from wanting to Vader choke my neck, let me first talk about what stood out to me the most. There is a lot more character development at play here as new faces from “Force Awakens” get a chance to do more. X-Wing fighter Poe (Oscar Isaac) gets a lot of screen time, Finn (John Boyega) gets a chance to show he’s more than a mindless solider and old faces get a nice scene or two.

For those who recall where “Force Awakens” ended, we pick up with Rey (Daisy Ridley) discovering Luke Skywalker’s whereabouts and trying to learn about her past. Mark Hamill returns as the famed Jedi warrior whose character is taken in direction different and darker from the original trilogy.  Luke starts to question if he’s fallen into the same despair his old mentors did or just under self doubt. The scenes on Luke’s island are easily the best part of the whole movie showing not only how Luke is able to live, but also why he’s changed so much. Even Daisy Ridley is given more to do with her character as we explore deeper into her personal fears and hopeful desires of seeking the truth behind her existence.

I’m also happy to report that I loved more of Adam Driver’s performance as Kylo Ren this time around than before. In “Force Awakens,” he felt to me like a whinny teenager trying to be Darth Vader and it wasn’t interesting. Here, the stakes are raised so much, that I really started to enjoy how conflicted Driver’s character was. Confused between his good and bad nature, there is a sense of a really complex character here that is more unique than what was done before. When Ren was menacing, you could really feel that presence as he’s stuck between choosing to support the Dark Side or maybe turn over a new leaf.

There’s all sorts of good moments in “Last Jedi” that give it an operatic scale and weight to it. There’s so much talent and effort going into it, that you feel like your watching a really big and epic story. There’s a lot of great powerhouse moments to choose from while each sequence tries not to overdo what the originals have done before.

But it also leads into what I didn’t like about this entry. Don’t get me wrong, I still had a good time watching this one, but not every movie is going to be 100% perfect. When you do find out what the main story is, you sort of realize how paper thin it feels. In comparison to another sci-fi blockbuster, that came out this year, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” felt like there was more going on with Star Lord meeting his father and the team trying to figure out how to deal with their personal issues. In “Last Jedi,” there are so many plot lines going on that you sort of wonder what the real story is. It’s kind of a shame when Rey’s plotline is the more interesting between (without spoiling too much) a never-ending space battle that is very much the car chase in “The Sugarland Express”, but in space.

And that leads into another problem I have with “Last Jedi,” it’s too bloody long. Clocking in at 150 minutes, this movie feels like it goes on for ages. There are plenty of cool moments and really great scenes, but there’s only so much you can put in. How much grander of an adventure does it need to be? There’s obvious spots of comedy that could have been so easily cut down or things changed for the sake of plot.

For example, in the middle of the movie, a couple of characters have to find this hacker at a gambling planet. And when our main characters go there, it lingers on it for way too long. In between all this, Rey is learning the Force and the Resistance is trying to get away from the First Order. When we cut back to the gambling planet, it feels like a big screeching halt and just stops the movie for us to look at weird aliens gambling. On top of that, there’s nothing really interesting about this concept. Even “Futurama” did this idea better because the concept of a casino on the planet Mars could fit within the TV show’s comedic and satirical tone.

The biggest problem I have with “Last Jedi” is that it doesn’t know when to end. After it gives us on great powerhouse moment, it just keeps going and going and going tossing one scene after another. As much as I admit, it does try to rehash moments from “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi,” but reshuffles them around. I can at least look past a tiny bit of that, because these moments don’t feel as “fan service” like in “Force Awakens.” But when it keeps tossing out one climax after another, it gets tedious. There’s no reason for this to be 150 minutes long. By the time it got to the final battle, I was thinking to myself, “why does it need to top itself five minutes ago? Didn’t we already have a really cool climax?” And just when you think it ends, it doesn’t. Even when you feel like there is a good place for the movie to conclude, “Last Jedi” doesn’t know what kind of final image to rest itself upon. At that point I was getting very restless and close to yelling, “END! END!” right at the big screen.

Does that mean I really disliked this one and deserve the wrath of many Star Wars fans? No and this is in part to one crucial scene that won me over. Without spoiling it, it’s a very crucial character moment where Luke comes to terms with who he is. It makes you realize there was a character arch with Luke Skywalker all along after “Return of the Jedi.” There is this feeling of satisfaction when THIS CERTAIN SCENE happens. It’s so well-written and executed so perfectly, that it felt like a genuine Star Wars moment. No dialogue explaining things or going into political jargon. It made certain things come full circle in a sense. I will remember this scene as my favorite moment in this new Star Wars trilogy and admit to being moved to tears over it.

Do I wish more things could have been handled better like the baddies Emporer Snoke or Captain Phasma? Yes. Do I believe the pacing of the story could have been handled better? Yes. But, did it improve upon things I really disliked in “Force Awakens?” Yes. “Last Jedi” contains plenty of powerhouse moments that will certain leave your rump well glued in the seat. It’s well-acted, well-shot and well-written. I’m not going to praise one person and say they are the soul reason for making a new Star Wars entry that I enjoyed. I think EVERYONE here, regardless of the new director, is the main reason this movie is really enjoyable. Do I feel there could have been some adjustments here and there? Yes, but I can’t argue when it uses Porgs for the right moments for those who love them and hate them. If your going to see one movie this holiday season, for now, I say make it this one before it leaves theaters. It’s a much better early Christmas gift than what J.J. Abrams attempted in 2015.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-thon: Spongebob Squarepants – The Legend of Boo-kini Bottom

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1033445-first-look-spongebob-squarepants-gets-stop-motion-treatmentWe had some very lackluster Halloween specials this year. Michael Jackson’s Halloween proved to be one of the most head-scratching in years while SNL’s The David S. Pumpkins Halloween Special didn’t really do much for viewers (personally, I thought it was ok.) But between these two, how come no one is talking about the recent Spongebob Squarepants Halloween special? Yeah, of all the things to come out this month, how is it that Nickelodeon’s cartoon about a sea sponge actually got it right? It’s full of Halloween imagery, surrounds itself on the spooky holiday and its all made with stop-motion animation…well, partly, but we’ll get to that.

SpongeBobBookiniBottom03Spongebob (voice by Tom Kenny) is not a fan of being scared and likes to make merry on the holiday, not understanding the true meaning completely. His buddy neighbor Patrick Star (a starfish voiced by Bill Fragerbakke) manages him to confuse him into thinking the scariness of the holiday is meant to be taken funny. They visit a couple of haunted houses and it causes Spongebob to feel more comfortable with the new found philosophy while laughing all the way. However, the Flying Dutchman (voiced by a hilarious Brian Doyle-Murray) thinks otherwise as he plans to scare the giggly sponge by any means necessary.

Tom+Kenny+Nickelodeon+SpongeBob+SquarePants+7_NXI8OzDB8lI just want to get this out of the way, I friggin’ love the stop-motion animation here. I loved this animation as a kid and I’m still fascinated by it to this day. The studio Screen Novelties, who also did the Christmas special in 2012, do a great job bringing these characters to a three-dimensional state while also fitting in with the nonsensical tone of the show. CGI animation would have been too easy to use as the animation here has a strange charm to it. The animators even go as far to match the strangeness of jokes like a close-up of Patrick’s teeth or the movement of certain characters. I’d arguable say the show’s concept and animation style are an odd match for the two.

Stop-motion itself was always a laborious process, but it really pays off in the end. There’s behind the scenes videos out there showcasing how difficult the animation is while also being a marvel. The sets on the Flying Dutchman’s ship are great to look at and it’s cool to see the undersea world of Bikini Bottom turned into a full dimensional place. Also, there are times when they don’t use animation. Sometimes, they will use live-puppetry for certain effects which is kind of neat. There’s a good mix of hand puppets and wire marionettes which have this near creepy vibe to them. Even famed animator Sally Cruikshank provides a great piece, known for her psychedelically surreal pieces like her short Quasi at the Quackeradero.

1c277-the-scare-song-spongebob-squarepants-the-legend-of-boo-kini-bottom-halloween-stop-motion-animation-special-nickelodeon-nick-sbsp_2The best highlight for me is easily the “Scare Song” sequence. The Dutchman takes Spongbob and Patrick on this creepy ride which is almost adjacent to Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. There’s puppet ghosts everywhere, strange creatures running about and at one point, our heroes get launched into a pinball machine. It just literally screams out Halloween every time I see it.

The message of Boo-kini Bottom is that’s its ok to be scared, even when you don’t like it. This comes in very well near the final third and it works well to its advantage. So at least kids will be ok with a nice message about the holiday. For adults, there’s plenty of good visuals and funny jokes along the way. Part of me wishes it was a little longer, but it still has a lot of rewatch value for the 24 mins we get. If your not a fan of the show, that’s fine, but I still recommend checking it out for the technical craft. I honestly can’t think of another modern Halloween special like this. It shows how fun Halloween can be while also presenting some nice tricks and treats.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Addams Family Duology (1990 Films)

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LOOK OUT! SPOILERS AHEAD!

The_Addams_FamilyWith a new adaptation in the works, it’s about time to take a look at the two Addams Family movies from the early 1990s. Originally based on Charles Addams’ famed cartoons, the Addams Family were part of a one panel gag for the New Yorker magazine. Addams’ style of humor was to satirize the modern lifestyle in a macabre way. His characters were so popular, they have been brought to life more than once through the famous 1964 TV series and a couple of Saturday morning cartoon incarnations. The one people seem to remember the most are the live-action theatrical films directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and for good reason.

Both The Addams Family and Addams Family Values are the closest thing to a perfect take on the New Yorker cartoon and TV show. I say that because both movies have their own set of positives and negatives. And yet, the negatives themselves can be overlooked for enjoyment value. The cast and crew is having a good time and there is a lot of good writing behind capturing why we love this creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky family.

addams-familyFirst, let’s talk about the cast, seeing some of them return to reprise their roles the sequel. This is hands down as good of a perfect casting as it will get. Raul Julia is passionate as Gomez, Anjelica Huston is lovely as Morticia, Christopher Lloyd is zany as Uncle Fester, Christina Ricci’s menace to Wednesday is memorable, the list just goes on. Everyone takes a part and really breathes a lot of life into these characters. The chemistry between Julia and Huston is so sexy that you feel like these two have been together through Hell and back. They soak in this lifestyle of dark and misery to the point they relish in it. Everyone’s performance is so good that you almost believe these characters are real.

The only difference in the casting of both films is that for some reason they don’t use Judith Malina for Grandmama Addams in the sequel.  Carol Kane takes on the role and honestly, I think her performance is more animated. No offense to Malina as she does a good job, but Kane’s take is more lively and funnier. That’s not to say Malina is bad as she has a lot of funny moments. It’s a personal preference, but I think both actresses do a good job.

Addams-Family-Trivia-EMGN12Even the look of the movie is good too. The cinematography and sets do a great job noting when to allow the amount of color. When we see the family out in the real world, their Gothic garb stands out as everything is bright and vibrant. When they are home, it feels perfectly bleak and gloomy. These are movies where you could spend hours looking at the sets and marveling at the detail.

Another huge positive is the comedy. Both movies are equally hilarious respecting the campy nature of the 1964 TV series and the darker Charles Addams cartoon. There are jokes and gags that nearly push the barrier of comfort, but still don’t go too far. Some gags are rarely uncomfortable and it’s never taken as being mean-spirited. In the sequel, a villain reveals her family history through a slideshow right before she tries to kill the whole Addams clan. Now that is a clever idea. We see pictures of her killing her husbands in action and it’s played for laughs as oppose to adding the fear factor.

The movie environment also has the ability to push beyond the limits and restrictions of previous incarnations. A prime example is the use of the family’s pet Thing, who is very a disembodied hand who likes to help around the house. Originally seen in a box, we actually get to see the helpful hand run about the whole place and it feels more  like a full-moving character. Special credit goes to Christopher Hart who has to perform with his own hand. I can imagine something like this is not easy to do and I give high marks on it.

So your probably thinking with good things plugging into the production, surly there is a good story to go with all these positive things? Well, as you have noticed, it’s the last thing I think about when remembering these movies. Story is sadly the weakest link in both movies. With the exception of the first one, at least Addams Family Values tries to improve and be more of a plot-driven film. But alas, even Values falls into the same traps as the first.

6cc99b17bda4edc5f793350541e497b9--addams-family--fester-addamsLet’s begin with the first one, because that one feels like the more problematic of the two. Uncle Fester is missing, because of an fight he had with Gomez years ago, and Gomez greatly regrets it. While that’s going on, Gomez’s lawyer (Dan Hedaya) knows of a great fortune the family has and schemes to get it so he can pay off a loan shark (Elizabeth Wilson). As it turns out, the loan shark’s son (Christopher Lloyd) looks eerily similar to the lost brother and plan to disguise him as Fester in order to gain access to the family’s vault. And as expected, the Addams are fooled, but as time goes on, the “impostor” starts to feel right at home with the odd folks. Oh, and there is this added twist where the loan shark plans to double cross the laywer, but it’s only mentioned once never making much of an impact later on.

So, the story is really all over the map here. In fact, we forget about the con and just focus on the family more than the plot. This results in us staying around the house and getting to know these people more. Once in a while, they do head out into the real world to engage in a public auction or, later on, try to fit in with modern life. The scenes of them trying to act within a “normal” society carry the most laughs as folks, opposite to the Addams’ lifestyle, have a hard time gelling with their darker interests. I won’t give too much of the scenes away for new viewers, but it does lead to a lot of hilarious scenes.

But when we jump back to the plot, all the fun and gags take a hard break. When we want to see more of the family, we have to be reminded something is going on and it will lead to a split with the folks. The only positive aspect from this is one crucial change from the cartoon and TV series. In the movie, Fester is actually Gomez’s brother, where-else he’s Morticia’s uncle. This is one thing I do feel is the strength of the movie as Gomez tries to bond with his “brother” who doesn’t seem to warm up to the bizarre oddities.

It’s a shame story is not a crucial as our only carry through the movie are a series of scenes. And these are really well-written. My favorite one is when Morticia gives “Fester” a tour of the graveyard showing the family history. It’s eerie but bittersweet seeing all the tombstones of dead relatives. Everything about it is so pitch perfect. The atmosphere, the mood and even the music is perfectly scored.

The_Addams_Family2I feel bad the story is not that interesting and yet, we get a pile of really good moments struggling for connection. There’s even a set piece of a sequence where they perform a big dance sequence called the Mamushka. Here you have a scene where they pause the plot to do all these stunts and sing. It’s a show stopping moment that makes you wish there were more like it. Ironic as the Mamushka was intended to be longer, but a test screening audience felt the scene was too much resulting in it being cut-down. While no footage has surfaced of the complete Mamushka, you can hear the full version on the movie’s soundtrack. It’s a prime example of when the movie stops to do something with the Addams, it gets interesting.

large-screenshot2And yet when we have the villain come in, it’s not that interesting. She poses as a psychiatrist and tries to convince the family he is the real Fester. On top of that, there’s this “Norman Bates style” motherly relationship she has by trying to maintain a grip of control on him. It’s not that interesting and it’s kind of cliche, because you will know where it were end up. The payoff to her demise is all the more rewarding, but I just felt the villain wasn’t that memorable or posed a huge threat. I just felt Addams Family succeeded more when it just focused on the family.

Addams_family_valuesAnd rightfully so, as Addams Family Values decided to have more focus on the family giving each one more screen-time and a set of subplots. It was darker, funnier, the villain was livelier and improved so much. But it also fell into the same problems most sequels would do and even some from the first movie as well.

Don’t get me wrong, this is much different from the first Addams Family in plot and tone. However, it shares many similar beats, but thankfully it provides enough different ones to avoid being a complete clone or copy and paste. The family gets a new baby named Pubert, who is to the envy of Wednesday and Puglsey as they try to get rid of the new child. A new nanny is hired, a hilarious performance by Joan Cusack, and she immediately has her sights on Uncle Fester, who also has a huge puppy love crush on her. However, it turns out the nanny is really a serial killer named the “Black Widower” that kills her husbands just for their money. Her focus is on Fester’s cash, as opposed to his awkward romance, and plans to kill him off in order to get a share of the Addams fortune.

MSDADFA EC021Yeah, haven’t we been here before? Someone is after the Addams fortune and is using Fester as a prawn to somehow get it. First off, is there another interesting story line to go by? The plot thread with the new baby is interesting, but it’s put aside for Fester to take center stage again. Second, why do these movies have plots centered around Uncle Fester? Don’t get me wrong, I’m aware he’s a popular character, but why not let another Addams take the spotlight. When you boil it down, both movies are really revolving around Uncle Fester. Everything that happens is because of Uncle Fester. And while I really love Christopher Lloyd as the bald-headed and electricity loving kook, I would have appreciated to see more of the family involved. Couldn’t Lurch do something  like become a singing celebrity for teens, Cousin Itt losing his hair or Grandmama Addams getting arrested for fortune telling? (Fun fact: Those two storylines are real episodes from the 1964 series)

1-Addams-family-thanksgiving-counselorsWhile this may sound a little contradicting, the second movie does allow more for the family to do, but only when they are given the chance. Wednesday and Puglsey get more screen time as they get sent away to a summer camp so bight and chipper that makes you want to puke. It gives the two kids more to do as they have different mindsets compared to the more bubbly and air-headed kids attending. I won’t go too in-depth with this subplot, but I will say it does lead to one belly laugh of a payoff. And with Peter McNicol and Christine Baranski playing the harsh, but always happy faced camp counselors, you will love what kind of a “just desserts” payback they get.

i84FfYcljpH9FOO26PdvBWzLGRlAnother improvement is just how darker the humor gets. While the first movie trends the campy nature of the TV series, one can compare the sequel more with the Addams cartoon. The jokes are more macabre from the children trying to kill off the newborn, through a Wilie E Coyote and Road-Runner set up, to a prostitute accidentally baked in a bachelor’s party cake. Again, these jokes are handled in a very light way without pushing the envelope. It might get some sensitive viewers bothered, but it’s not overkill.

d66e7741b244a4b1a24ec3911d63d1c1--addams-family-values-the-addams-familyJoan Cusack is definitely a lot of fun to watch as she goes from sweet and innocent to all out psychotic. It makes it all the more humorous when she has to charm her way to the corpse-looking Fester and seems easier than she planned. It’s clear Cusack is having a blast saving her manic energy for the last act. Thought I do must question why she thinks there is a way to kill an Addams? I mean, isn’t the Addams clan already dead?

Aside from the flaws, you can tell they were trying to make a better movie here. Even director Barry Sonnenfeld seems to have a more comfortable experience, compared to the production stories I heard on the first one. Sadly, Values wasn’t a huge hit at the box-office, but critics did agree it was an improvement in many ways. I do admit, there is much fixed, but I still have some problems with the slight plot rehashing and some family members getting small screen time. But does that mean I hate it? Absolutely not!

14358067_4Both Addams Family and Addams Family Values are equally entertaining and equally flawed. Again, I can overlook the problems to find a lot to be entertained with. It’s popcorn entertainment, but the good kind. I can forgive a lot of the story problems as everyone is really doing a great job bringing these characters to life and having a good time with it. It’s hard for me to say which is the better one as again they have a slightly similar plot and their own pros/cons. Regardless, I love these two movies and without a doubt give my highest recommendation to see them. If you haven’t had the chance, then stop reading and get watching!

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Lifeforce

913id0tbail_sl1500Tobe Hooper is one of the most interesting horror movie directors. He knew how to get that really gritty and dirty feel with his movies like in his famous entry, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Since then, most of his movies have been laid in a middle ground of absurdity or be moderately scary. Lifeforce, on the other hand, is so out there that it’s a wonder to know Hooper was behind it. This one is a testament to his style of taking a B-movie premise and just flying with it.

The story has so many tone shifts that the entertaining value really comes from how many movie tones it channels. First, it concerns a group of astronauts, aboard a space station called the Churchill, who find a floating craft holding a bunch of well-preserved alien, yet human looking bodies in suspended animation. Three of them are taken aboard and then the astronauts go missing. After the Churchill crashes, a rescue mission finds the alien bodies in tack and takes them in at a research center.

lifeforce-naked-aliens-astronauts-containment-shipFrom there, the movie kicks into full gear becoming a part-zombie and part-vampire feature. One of the creatures awakens and starts draining the life energy from scientists. The more life energy it consumes, the younger these creatures get. If the creatures can’t find a fresh host, they explode into a matter of dust. The special effects are highly commendable as one corpse-looking body rejuvenates into a naked woman played by Mathilda May.

primary_lifeforce-500pixIn regards to these alien creatures, I guess the correct term to use here is “space vampires.” The scary thing about these monsters is how they have little to no weaknesses outside of killing the head vampire. Lifeforce takes on a lot of the original tropes and cliches of vampire movie mythology, while adding some “fresh blood” to it. Unfortunately, Lifeforce was greatly re-edited in America to avoid any connection to the blood sucking creatures for some weird reason. Thankfully, the International cut restores a great bulk of the vampire references and is currently available in all home media releases.

There is an interesting idea here I really like where one of the Churchill astronauts, played by Steve Railsback, turns up alive and has a strange connection to the head space vampire. Apparently, he has a physic link that causes him to lose control and be used as a Renfield-like ploy. This is handled in a more erotic manner where the guy is seduced to the dark side, while he struggles to fight against the creatures. You can’t tell if he is with the humans or trying to help the space vampires.

r127There is one scene I have to bring up, because it must be seen to be believed. Patrick Stewart plays the manager of a psychiatric hospital and has the alien trapped in his body. At one point, they hypnotize the alien inside him to talk and he causes the astronaut to make their bond “stronger” by kissing him. Let THAT sink in. Captain Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation has a kissing scene with an actor who played Charles Manson in a 1976 TV miniseries called Helter Skelter. It’s a surreal moment. Again, this too was changed in the US theatrical cut, so it looks like the tortured man is kissing the head vampire instead. This is why I prefer the International cut more when it comes to a movie like this.

Lifeforce-space-vampireThe final third of Lifeforce is just downright insane. After channeling Alien with the outer space scenes to a little of The Terminator, everything just goes out of control as it becomes an doomsday apocalypse movie. The alien gets loose and starts affecting everyone in London. Left and right, pedestrians get their lives drain out of them while the movie turns into a zombie movie on acid. It just comes out of nowhere and rockets into an epic finale.

lf4There is nothing else I can say. Lifeforce must be seen to believed. Even Leonard Maltin was speechless giving it a mild recommendation for it’s crazy detours. I do agree with him on how this movie jumps from many different film tones and that’s where most of its charm comes from. It keeps you wondering what direction it will take not knowing how bonkers it will become by the final reel. It maybe inconsistent with the tone its going for, but it results in a lot of entertaining vaule.

Do Uncle Morgan a favor. Buy this movie, invite a lot of friends over for Halloween night, order some pizza, play the full International cut of Lifeforce and get ready for one wild night with space vampires and bewildered viewers. It will make for a great evening full of “what the $%*# am I watching?!?” God…I love this movie…