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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: A Nightmare on Elm Street Franchise (Part 2)

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Even the poster sums up how weird the movie is

Even the poster sums up how weird the movie is

After Dream Warriors, the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise sort of went downhill. Unlike Friday the 13th where the concepts got more ridiculous, there was at least an attempt to try and stick to what made the first film so memorable. The idea that dying in your dreams can be real and how surreal a dream can be. Well, they took these elements and things got campier as each sequel was made. In fact, the next three movies really had some bizarre stuff the more I think about it.

Case and point is how Freddy gets resurrected in the fourth film The Dream Master. It’s so weird that it needs to be seen to be believed. A dog urinates fire on Freddy’s grave and that’s the trigger to how he comes back. It feels like it comes out of nowhere. Of all the things to try and bring back the dream demon, it all boils down to a canine peeing flames. Supposedly, this idea was originally a joke by director Renny Harlin but later used in a metaphorical manner from what Robert Englund stated. He sees it as a Hell-Hound and how evil Freddy is. Even without that context, its a weird scene.

As Freddy returns, he dispatches the dream warriors with such ease that it feels like the movie should be over. But no, the torch is passed down to Alice Jonson (Lisa Wilcox) who somehow gets Kristen’s powers before she dies. The rest of the movie I guess makes some sense as Freddy starts to kill Alice’s friends in gruesome ways but it sort of defeats the purpose. Freddy was supposed to kill the kids on Elm Street for the parents that burned him to a cinder. Now, he is used as a Jason prawn going around and killing random folks. You could argue it sort of works seeing Alice has Kristen’s powers and Freddy is doing this to taunt her. But even then, it sort of doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Even Alice is sort of uninteresting. I guess they wanted another Nancy-ish character but crank up the heroic levels. In a nutshell, she comes off as a mini-Ripely clone by the end and even when the movie does try to clear up the logic of her powers and everything, it still seems off. She only exists to carry the torch of the franchise because Nancy’s story ended in the third film and Kristen along with her friends got killed off in the opening. Even Ken Sagoe who plays Kincad told his fans that if they were to see the fourth film, they would have to see the movie immediately after getting their ticket or else “my ass will be dead.”

Speaking of which, the staging of the kills are interesting in a sense leading to a lot of creativity. Some are basic like Freddy literally sucking the life out of a teenager and others are over the top like one where a girl turns into a human cockroach and crushed. At least this movie tries to deliver the fun when needed even things don’t add up. Freddy is more campier than before just as the deaths feel a tad more cartoony. At least with Dream Warriors, the theme of the dreams and cinematography helped make the nightmares look dark despite having an exaggerated look. With Dream Master, there’s more light and certainly less menace. Its all about the fun fact and less about the scares.

And then came Freddy with a baby carriage...wait, what?

And then came Freddy with a baby carriage…wait, what?

Thankfully, it didn’t end up as weird as The Dream Child. Lisa Wilcox returns as Alice who graduates from college and might possibly be pregnant. Of course, Freddy returns again but this time wants to take control of her unborn son making her child a monster. As expected, he goes around killing teens she knows in order to give power to the baby in her belly. Yeah, I dare you to make a shred of sense of that. It just raises too many questions and certain too many ethical ones too. I’d go into deeper detail but its hard to deal with the subtext of teen pregnancy and mix it with dark fantasy. Moments when they considering things like abortion come off as awkward and feel really forced. I guess after something heavy like teen suicide, they wanted another heavy topic to explore. But this one doesn’t feel full realized and comes off as awkward and uncomfortable.

Even the death scenes push a little too much of the dark toll for something that is trying to be dumb fun and serious at the same time. A kid’s motorbike morphs into him in such a graphic way and in one infamous scene that had to be cut down, Freddy feeds the innards of a character’s guts to herself. Its absolutely nasty and feels a bit too gruesome. I know the deaths can be creative but also frightening too. Here, there is no sense of fun and we just watch on in disgusted shock. The only exception is a kid who turns into a super hero but gets defeated by (ugh) Super Freddy who slashes at him like tissue paper. Already too soon for such a grim entry and way too over the top for something like this. I admire the effort in trying a new direction but it comes off weird and clunky in the long run.

They said it was the best...but we know better

They said it was the best…but we know better

Even thought Freddy’s Dead was supposedly the last one, we had that suspicion there would be another one. But after all the franchise went through, New Line Cinema felt it was best to end the series while they had the chance. Nice idea but I wish we got a more serious entry. Instead, it goes for a more horror comedy vehicle as Freddy kills his victims in a Looney Tunes fashion. From dressing up as the Wicked Witch to even using Nintendo for a kill, the deaths get sillier and sillier as the movie goes along. Again, I still respect the creativity but at this point, a straight up comedy just felt really like desperation. And nowhere is that more evident with cameo appearances by Rosanne Barr, Tom Arnold or even Johnny Depp (which honestly is one of the more funnier moments in the film.)

However, there are some welcome exceptions like seeing Alice Cooper as Freddy’s father and there is something enjoyable about the deaths even when they get way too bonkers. And at least they have a story that is trying to be engaging even when it doesn’t make sense like Freddy having a kid and trying to find out who it was. The biggest highlight is the climax which was seen theatrically in 3D but ends on a lame note as Freddy is defeated with such a simple weapon that is too weak to describe here. And if watched in 2D, your very much looking at stuff being tossed out at the screen. There is a box set that contains a version with the ending as it appeared in theaters but of course, you have to set up yourself to get a “good 3D reception.” It feels like New Line went all out on this entry and they really tried to make it a spectacular finale but it fails because of how it overdoes itself. Considering how uneven Dream Master and Dream Child are, I’m slightly more forgiving seeing it falls as a guilty pleasure for me. But even with that knowledge, I still can’t find the guts to recommend it.

It feels like after Dream Warriors, the series transitioned itself to be more fun and light. These three tired to be dark when needed but felt unnecessary when you take into effect how off putting it is. I can’t say 4, 5 and Freddy’s Dead are the worst but they are not the best. Fans make some exceptions with the fourth film but I just have a few too many problems it. I say stick with the first film and Dream Warriors if you want a good dark fantasy about nightmares. But as for these three, pick your own poison.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Casper

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"Seeing is believing." Quite true about this one

“Seeing is believing.” Quite true about this one

I knew at some point I had to toss in a family movie that had some relevance to the holiday other than E.T. Among the many that get airtime on networks, I’m surprised to see how many times they play the 1995 live-action/CGI hybrid Casper. Its very much become a staple on ABC Family to the point its this generation’s Rankin Bass. Its not Halloween until they play it and its not Halloween without people seeing it. Seriously, its getting airplay at least three or four times this year. But to be fair, I watching movie a lot as a kid and have fond memories remembering what scenes I liked and some notable quotes. But over the years, there comes a point where as an adult, you have to revisit those films and TV shows that you grew up with to see how well it holds up. And for the longest time, I didn’t get a full look because I didn’t think it would live up to my expectations. Thus, I finally sat down to watch one of my childhood favorites and surprisingly, it still holds up. Ok, technically there’s problems but it still holds up in my books.

The first problem I should address is how much time we spend with the villain. The first 20 minutes focuses on a greedy woman named  Carrigan who hopes spending time with her off-screen dying father would give her some dough. With everything going to charity, she is left with nothing but a condemned mansion in Friendship, Maine (and yes, this town does exist in real life oddly enough.)  But it’s revealed a treasure of some value is buried and she plans to see what gold lies in the rundown place. To be fair, Cathy Moriarty is a good actress as playing characters like this but the entire character of Carrigan is just uninteresting. We’ve seen this kind of villain before. Its the Cruella de Vil kind of character that is self-centered and wants what she wants. What saves it from being boring is Moriarty’s performance who is clearly having fun but there has to be more to this character than being a selfish brat that wants hard cold cash. Even at her side is a bumbling butler named Dibs played by a surprisingly unfunny Eric Idle. And don’t get me wrong, I like Monty Python but his character really doesn’t do much for me. He’s the lackey that always gets the shaft and its a bit predicable at times. There’s a moment near the end they do this twist with him trying to turn tables but its very brief and doesn’t affect the narrative in anyway.

Carrigan and her sidekick find that getting rid of ghosts won't be easy as they thought

Carrigan and her sidekick find that getting rid of ghosts won’t be easy as they thought

Well, its revealed the entire place is haunted by a friendly ghost named Casper and his unruly uncles who don’t tolerate “fleshies” in the household. Carrigan tries every method in the book to get rid of them from exorcisms to even a pointless one-note joke of a Dan Aykroyd cameo. Her last resort is in the form of a therapist that claims to have helped ghosts psychologically pass on who agrees to try and rid the spirits with his odd methods. Bill Pullman as Dr. Harvey is not too bad seeing how much invested he is in the supernatural. But at one point, when he runs into the Ghostly Trio, they start to mess with him so much that he acts like he’s doing this for the first time. A bit weird considering someone who claims to have dealt with ghosts before. Its never fully explained if he’s a con man or really dealt with spirits but its up for debate.

Casper interacting with the anti-social Kat showing just how well special effects can be done if right

Casper interacting with the anti-social Kat showing just how well special effects can be done if right

The center of the picture is really between his daughter Kat (Christina Ricci) and Casper. The two have a connection of social problems and try to work out each other’s faults. Casper is kind but his status as “undead” keeps people away and Kat wants to be a normal teenager like everyone else but her father’s work gets in the way or has trouble fitting in. Its the usual family film teenage schlock but its done ok. Even more so, she the more she bonds with the chipper spirit, the more she learns being a ghost is much harder than living. The way the world of a ghost is simple. You die, you loose memory. You go from hair and clothes, to an abstract blob. At least that is what I get from it because the universe and plot of Casper is so weightless that its hard to consider what kind of story its going for. Heck, the Carrigan character is not bothered with until the very last third and it just feels like she’s tossed in as something to move the story than be an effective villain.

Who you gonna call for a pointless cameo?

Who you gonna call for a pointless cameo?

I’d go into the many problems it has but that would be spoiling a lot for new viewers. In short, the story is not really there and is all over the map. Each moment feels more like a vignette that wonders with a purpose but ends without one. The only one I can think of that truly pays off is a storyline involving Dr. Harvey’s dead wife which I admit concludes nicely. But the rest of the movie feels like its on auto pilot most of the time. For example, when the Ghostly Trio meet up with Dr. Harvey, they try to mess with his mind or at least try and scare him. It leads into this whole fight scene which is cool but what’s the point. How did we go from scare the pants off this guy to fencing with umbrellas in the main hall? Speaking of which, the magnitude of cameos range from enjoyable to pointless. There’s a whole scene where Carrigan hires people to rid the ghosts like Father Sarducci and a Ghostbuster but it feels too obvious. Also, I don’t kids will remember Don Novello’s SNL character THAT well. There’s even a scene when Fatso, Stinky and Stretch posses Harvey into shape shifting into different celebrities. As a kid, I honestly thought it was the Ghosty Trio’s true forms when they were human. But as an adult, they feel like pointless cameos.

Dr. Harvey (Bill Pullman) tries to find out why the Ghostly Trio won't pass over. Again proving how great CGI animation can be

Dr. Harvey (Bill Pullman) tries to find out why the Ghostly Trio won’t pass over. Again proving how great CGI animation can be

So for all the negatives, there’s at least some good stuff that balances it out. For one, the CGI is amazing. This is the first film to utilize computer-generated characters instead of using them as effects. You could also argue, its the first live-action/CGI hyrid movie seeing the computer is making characters and not effects. For the longest time, CGI was used to bring things like dinosaurs or morphing effects for movies like Willow or T2. Here, they pushed to the next level by making a three dimensional character as opposed to a special effect. And that is really the true star of the show. There are times I want to marvel at the blend between computer effect and live-action. But it gets so blended to the point I feel like I’m seeing ghosts with a soul and personality. This was ILM in their prime and it shows.

As said before, the stuff with Dr. Harvey and her daughter Kat are the better written parts of the movie. I feel its also because of how much they sell the fact they are interacting with CGI effects to the point you really feel like they are there. They are practically talking, fighting, flying and interacting with something not there which isn’t easy to do. They way they play off these characters can be a lot of fun. Again, Casper and Kat trying to fit in with who they are and Dr. Harvey’s long battle with the Ghostly Trio. Speaking of which, Fatso (Brad Garrett), Stinky (Joe Alaskey) and Stretch (Joe Nipote) are surprisingly entertaining. I find myself wishing the whole movie was more about them and less about Casper at times. Not to say that friendly spirit is uninteresting but there’s so much material written for these three that I can’t help but smile when I see them. Yeah the stuff they do is mean and cruel but they are just poltergeists. You expect them to be these nasty spirits that are mischievous and dangerous to be with. They are a huge highlight of the movie and even if some of the pop culture jokes they spew is unneeded, it still gets a laugh by the timing and delivery.

Great CGI, great atmosphere and decent acting...shame there was no sequel

Great CGI, great atmosphere and decent acting…shame there was no sequel

To say Casper is a perfect movie is an understatement. Its really a technical achievement but still packs entertainment value. The whole tone of the movie is so cartoony that you can’t help but admire its light tone and comedic beats. And that’s the correct term here, its a cartoon. Its very much what Roger Rabbit did for hand-drawn animation as this movie did for CGI animation. It provided you can give a three-dimensional being heart and soul no matter if they are meant to be living or dead. I don’t think its a masterpiece but you can tell there is a lot of effort and heart being placed here even when it starts to lag at times. This is my definition of the kind of movie that is mindless but ghostly fun at the same time.

Rental Corner: “Popeye” slow and messy but underrated

It is what it is...but its better than today's live action transitions

It is what it is…but its better than today’s live action transitions

Why is it hard to adapt a classic cartoon into a big screen venture these days? I kept asking myself that when it comes to today’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks” or the “The Last Airbender,” they fall very short of being in the style of its two dimensional source or feel way off. But then, you have those adaptions that come very close to capturing the spirit and charm. Case and point is “Popeye” which is the usual butt of many jokes in live-action adaptions. Interestingly enough is the split vote on Rotten Tomatoes with viewers disliking it more than critics. I want to say this movie does have a cult following and I believe it does. But I feel more tend to have a deaf ear then give it a watch. And I can see why.

Robin Williams stars as the title character who is gruff, tough as nails and can knock a man down in one swing. Robin doesn’t do a bad job looking and acting like everyone’s favorite sailor but there are times when I feel he’s restrained a bit. Robin Williams is best known for his unexpected improvisation but there are times when I feel like he’s sticking to the script too much and less making the character of Popeye his own. There are times when he does shine in scenes like talking about the times with his dad and getting into fist fights. But when he talks, it feels straight from the script but under Robin’s delivery.

Much like the cartoon character, Popeye mumbles his way through the picture as we not only try to understand what he is saying half the time (and there are moments when we can) while also trying to understand the plot. He lands in a small sea side town called Sweet Heaven that looks impressive and has cheery and nervous inhabitants that live on washed out buildings that have a depressing but unique charm to it. Wooden planks hold up house and restaurants that serve endless hamburgers that feel like cross between a tourist attraction at Universal Studios and a rocky rundown village.

I guess the reason why the place is nice but sad looking is because its run by heavy-weight sailor Bluto (Paul L. Smith) constantly taxes the town and treats it like money pit than a place. I want to say he is the villain of the movie (and he partly is) but he doesn’t have much motive other than trying to court the Oyl family’s daughter while seeking the buried treasure of his boss named the Commodore. Speaking of the Oyl’s, I have to give props for Shelley Duvall and her potray of Olive Oyl who not only looks the part but even goes as far to channel the feisty but manic nature of the character. Bluto plans to wed her but that doesn’t go over easily when the tough as nails Popeye takes up residence in the Oyl household.

I know your at this point wondering what the main story to all of this and the answer is really none. I guess you could argue its about Popeye trying to fit in with the strange cast of characters ranging from a man named Whimpy (Paul Dooley) who has a constant hunger for hamburgers to trying to take care of an orphan child name Swee’Pea. There is a reason the squinty-eyed sailor is in Sweet Heaven as he explains the search for his father but that never comes back until the last third as a big twist. The whole movie is really on auto-pilot as it lazily shifts from one character to the next and feels all over the place. But at the same time, your focus is really on the characters with their interactions to this and here is where I feel is the heart of the movie.

The trouble with today’s adaptions is to give characters a motive or shoehorn in a way to make them understandable with today’s audience. I feel this take on Popeye is spot on despite its faults. It doesn’t need pop culture references or modern day lingo. One character comes in with a problem and it somehow builds into a story. Perhaps that is not the best way to do a story but it works fine here. If you take into consideration the many adventures of Popeye from his comic strip and the Paramount cartoons, they were very much laid back stories that kept building and building to something. The difference is that the cartoons where short and had a focus. The movie, however, tosses a lot at the screen and some of it sticks or doesn’t.

I feel its too late to mention that “Popeye” is a musical and the origin of how this came to be is stranger. Producer Robert Evens wanted to do an adaption of Annie but lost the big bidding war to the film rights (seriously, EVERY STUDIO WANTED TO DO “Annie” AT THE TIME). So the logical choice was to make a movie musical close to Annie while using a different character. The good news is that “Popeye” beat Annie to the punch as the first comic strip character to have a movie musical but the bad news is that we got “Popeye” as the first movie musical based on a comic strip character. Most of the songs do work like Popeye’s “I Yam What I Yam” that add character but some just feel unneeded like a rant on “Kids” or Olive’s “He’s Needs Me” which feels off tune and uninspired. I can’t say the singing is that bad seeing its director Robert Altman chose to do the singing live (with the exception of Robin doing ADR) but if only there was more spark to the lyrics than the delivery.

To say “Popeye” is the worst live-action adaption is an understatement. Its not the best, but far from being bad. I feel the cast is having a good time getting into their roles, the sets do look impressive and there is some unique charm to all of it. I just wish there was more of a focus on story but I don’t think the focus veers too much. Its obvious its trying to be its own “Superman: The Movie” by having the story focus on more character than plot but plot can drive characters. In the world of “Popeye,” characters creature situations rather than have situations effect them and as they move about, we the viewer wonder what story we got to work with. Other than that, when you compare it to the movies of today and what they can do with CGI animation and the style of juvenile writing, its nice to have something different after all. The slapstick works once in a while and Altman pays great attention to what viewers see on the screen (even though I wish there were close-up shots for impact). On the whole, its tough to the finish and needs to be rediscovered.

Rental Corner: “Pussycats” fun but lack much bite

It could have been worse...

It could have been worse…

“Josie and the Pussycats” are a popular rock group that originated from the Archie comic’s hometown Riverdale but people probably remember them best for the Hannah Barbera TV show. I do recall seeing some episodes as a kid but my memory is very faint. I do recall the significance of the band was how they were dressed up like cats complete with ears and tails. Joining them at the aid were two managers that were shifty and acted more villainous than heroic which struck me odd as a kid. What I do remember is seeing promos for the 2001 live action film and thinking how could they take another childhood property and make it for the adults. Now that I’m older and finally got around to seeing it, I wonder more why this wasn’t given the wider appeal for kids and adults because its light nature could be perfect for family viewing. And yet, fun as it can be, it has problems.

Rachael Leigh Cook, Tara Reid and Rosario Dawson do a great job bringing the band to life as the Pussycats are depicted as less of a 1970’s disco act and more of a modern rock band with a tablespoon of punk. At times, they can be be fun to watch with how their different personalities play off of each other (with the exception of Tara’s bubbly performance of Melody getting split laughs and groans) but it teeters too close to a Spice Girls parody and feeling like a Spice Girls clone at the same time. Its the standard group with different character traits that play off each other but its handled fine.

Alan Cumming plays a sneaky promoter named Wyatt Frame from MegaRecords who recruits the band in becoming their manager in hopes of getting a big hit for the company after his last band goes down in a plane. But as it turns out, there’s a great conspiracy at MegaRecords as its owner (Parker Prosy) wants to use music to send out subliminal messages so listeners (mostly teenagers, obviously) to manipulate their spending habits and lifestyle ranging from what coffee they should drink to even the style of clothing. Even Josie and the gang gets subjected to the brainwash as their band becomes number one within a week and slowly the group starts to wonder just what is behind those platinum selling CDs that are being produced.

In some ways, this is a good concept on satirizing big corporations and their motive on what they sell to young minds advertises their identity, but it doesn’t feel completely there. Some scenes lead to great comedic moments with teens rushing for the next “big thing” they should have and moments of demonstration do get a decent chuckle. But what contradicts it has to be the never ending line of product placement that is every single frame of the movie from beginning to end. This helps it as well as harming it to the point midway we either get the message and wish it would stop or just cut to the point and stop littering the screen with Coca Cola products or the logo for Target.

I fell like this is a much lighter take on John Carpenter’s They Live where aliens are trying to convert humans into consuming machines with billboards that read “Consume and Marry” or money that says “This is your god.” But the tone of the film is more incline with The Incredible Shrinking Woman and Wayne’s World (actually more Wayne’s World) and they didn’t resort to the point where the aspect of product placement was literally hitting you over the head with it. It all builds up to a big joke in the end but it doesn’t feel like a satisfying payoff. The acting complements this with Alan Cumming going hilariously over the top when needed while everyone is aware of the ridiculous nature of the movie without sending too many “winks to the camera.”

In fact, the whole tone of “Josie and the Pussycats” is rather cartoony and over the top to the point it can’t be taken seriously. Its a tour de force comedy that is trying out satire rather than throwing something at the screen and seeing it sticks. Most of the satire does work but some of the jokes don’t get too many laughs. As said, the character Melody is so bubble-headed that you wonder if she was experimented on by scientists before being let out into the real wold with her absent minded personality. Even the villain’s motive is so stupid that you can’t help but laugh at how so much effort went into an evil plan for such a silly reason.

I don’t think this movie is that bad as many make it out to be but it falls flat of being anything perfect. At times it can be smart and clever and at times it feels more like a Wayne’s World clone with the idea of an underground talent being manipulated for sponsorship or in this case controlling the mind of America’s youth and pop culture. But there really isn’t that much risk going on here. When something bad happened in the universe of Wayne’s World, it felt like the whole world was in peril. In the universe of Josie and the Pussycats (at least the movie), if something bad happens, there really is no feel of endangering our characters because when someone gets hurt, they come back in a cast or with minor scratches. Again, I know “Josie” is meant to be light-hearted but with a movie taking on themes of subliminal messages and consumerism, you wish it took more risks. But as it stands, its a harmless flick I’m sure you’ll be safe watching. I can’t remember any bad morals it was saying or anything completely offensive about it (well, maybe the Valerie character getting the shaft at times which is questionable). Its just goofy fun that I’m sure won’t rot your brain. And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to pre-order Guardians of the Galaxy and the new Turtles movie while purchasing a furry suit and hoping my grocery store has plenty of Cherry 7 Up in stock….wait, what?