Tagged Hollywood

Bad Day at Black Rock: An Open, American, Hardboiled Wound

Bad Day at Black Rock. 1955. Directed by John Sturges. Screenplay by Millard Kaufman; adapted by Don McGuire & based on a story from Howard Breslin.
Starring Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Anne Francis, Dean Jagger, Walter Brennan, John Ericson, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin, Russell Collins, & Walter Sande.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Not Rated. 81 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Mystery

★★★★★
POSTER John Sturges – a fine specimen of a director. He directed films from the mid 1940s right up into the latter half of the 1970s. I love a writer-director, but something is exciting about some of the older generations of directors, the guys that just went full force at their sole job as director and did a damn good job at that. Sturges is one of those types, whose main concern was the directorial choices necessary for making a picture.
For me, the era of his greatest work begins after this film, Bad Day at Black Rock. This is the story that captured a specific current in the American public which not many movies were ready to tackle. In 1955, with the wounds of World War II, Pearl Harbor and everything in between still fresh, a story like this one couldn’t have been easy to tell, nor would it have been easy to swallow. Also considering the plot is set in later ’45. What’s best is that it isn’t just a heavy handed toss at trying to be interesting. The acting is stellar, beyond that. The screenplay is tight, the at times minimalist dialogue edges just close to exposition before keeping itself wrapped in mystery. And finally Sturges himself adds that one perfect element as director, alongside the work of D.P. William C. Mellor with his eye for gorgeous landscapes and bringing to life the vivid portrait of a tiny town on the edge of a nowhere desert. There’s not enough time to talk about how good this movie is, and believe me, I love to ramble. I love movies from any era. I know not everybody does, that’s fine. However, you’re really doing yourself a disservice as a lover of film, if you call yourself one, by not seeing Bad Day at Black Rock. Right down to the score, this is a flawless bit of cinema that cries out to be experienced.
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Right off the bat you can’t help but keep your eyes glued to Spencer Tracy. He has a charm that is immediate to me. Always, in any film. It’s the mystery of John J. Macreedy which I find intriguing, and from the moment you lay eyes on him there’s a quality that draws the viewer in. He’s so nonchalant, mysterious yet confident. His demeanour is sly, but still open. He almost feels a walking contradiction, though not in any way offensive. So then once the men in Black Rock start hovering around, causing him grief and getting into his business, it’s even more interesting to watch. This seemingly nice, normal guy – aside from having a missing arm, that doesn’t appear to give him much difficulty working around – gets thrown into the mix of a town that has more going on than it looks on the surface. Tracy’s ability to make Macreedy so calm and collected serves the film well, as it isn’t just the mystery of Black Rock but the mystery of him as a character that propels us further, wanting more. OH! When he kicks the shit out of that one guy with his single hand, it is in no way cheesy or forced or Hollywood-ish to the point of ridicule. He makes it genuine and bad ass.
The whole cast is spectacular, it isn’t solely Tracy. You’ve got Ernest Borgnine playing a sassy backwoods-type; not a huge role, but he does it justice with a proper menacing streak. Robert Ryan is wonderful – in parallel to the character of Macreedy, Ryan’s Reno Smith is calm in his own right, just that he’s calm for much different reasons with different things at stake than Macreedy. I love Ryan in general. Here, he gives a nice performance in a devious role. Then filling out the cast is Lee Marvin, always a treat no matter how big or small a role he plays; he’s welcomed addition to the rest of the players. As well as Walter Brennan and Anne Francis, each doing good things with their small parts. Overall, this is a classic cast of familiar faces that all make their characters stick in your mind.
But make no mistake, it’s Tracy who sells the film. Ten times over.
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There’s a great little car chase over a desert ridge that’s lots of fun, even without all the more contemporary flash and any crashes/explosions. What I dig most is the way it’s filmed. You’d almost swear that in the more stunt-like shots Tracy and Borgnine are both actually driving. Although obviously they didn’t, especially considering Tracy’s character has his hand in his pocket the entire time (something they did well on for continuity), this is still an admirably filmed sequence. All around I love the look of the movie, the cinematography is every bit the classic Hollywood style and it is pure, simple beauty. There’s something to be said for shooting on film, as opposed to now where it becomes more expensive for directors to do so, many opting for digital. And not to knock digital, I dig certain filmmakers because they can make it look as good as film. Yet these old movies, the ones shot through the 1940s and into the 1960s, they have such a nostalgic, perfect feel. There is a vibrancy that is so clear, so pristine, it makes movies look like something right out of a memory.
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Bad Day at Black Rock does something I’m a fan of, in terms of its screenplay. Mixing genres is something that, when done well, can be terribly fun. What I enjoy above all other elements is that the story is full-on western while also draped in the trappings of the film noir genre. We have that staple of the western, a lone and mysterious man riding into town, then there’s the setting itself being a small town out in the middle of the mountains, in the midst of desert. Everything screams Wild West, yet we’re set in 1945. On top of that there’s the noir-like plot of Macreedy searching for a man, one we gradually find out more about. The way the story’s structured is very much like an old hardboiled fiction novel, like a slice of Raymond Chandler crossed with John Ford. Truly a treat to watch play out. Best of all, the plot contains some touchy subjects for a film made in ’55. There’s a sensitive piece of American history involved, Pearl Harbor pulled into the story, but it’s well explored in a way that doesn’t feel like the writing stands on a morally high ground, rather one of introspection via mystery-thriller. This film touches at an open American wound that was freshly pulsing at the time. Kudos to Sturges and all involved.
This is a 5 star flick, all the way down the line. From the great performance by Tracy, to a drop of Ryan and Marvin, to every last god damn minute of the film. I can’t recommend it enough. It took me 30 years to see it, and I’ve already watched it a couple times so far this year. Might have to make it a hat trick before I turn 31 in the fall.

Barton Fink: Head in the Clouds, Feet in the Sand

Barton Fink. 1991. Directed by Joel Coen. Screenplay by Joel & Ethan Coen.
Starring John Turturro, John Goodman, Judy Davis, Michael Lerner, John Mahoney, Jon Polito, Tony Shalhoub, Steve Buscemi, Richard Portnow, & Christopher Murney. 20th Century Fox/Circle Films/Working Title Films.
Rated R. 116 minutes.
Comedy/Drama

★★★★★OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Coen Brothers are impressive for many reasons. Particularly for the fact they make these elaborate pictures, one might even call them extravagant, yet still they retain their uniquely creative independent spirit. Even in their more recent films in the past decade from No Country for Old Men to their latest Hail, Caesar! they somehow manage to keep their weird little hearts alive, no matter what the material. Then there’s the fact they’re usually tackling stories many others wouldn’t go near. Not for any controversy, nothing like that. Rather the Coens have a certain way of looking at the world, and so it’s only natural this bleeds into their work. I mean, who else would’ve done stories like The Big Lebowski or Fargo before these guys came along? Or told the stories of of movies such as Blood Simple.Raising ArizonaMiller’s Crossing?
That’s right. Nobody else.
So here we are at Barton Fink. An immediate aspect I love about this movie is the fact these writers (and good directors as this pair are they are most amazing in their abilities as writers) wrote a story about a writer. I’m always a sucker for literature or film about the art of writing, about the people that write the stories, so on. Ultimately, this movie concerns the life of a writer, and through a journey of magnificent hyperbole the eponymous Mr. Fink (John Turturro) we experience his combative writer’s block from one scene to the next, as Hollywood nearly eats him alive. Doesn’t hurt there are plenty of references to real life figures that serve as inspiration for Fink and others, including famous Southerner William Faulkner (my favourite author) and playwright Clifford Odets. Sure, this movie didn’t do well at the box office, but when has that ever mattered? Money isn’t quality. And perhaps part of that speaks to certain elements within the film itself. Nevertheless, this is an underrated film in general, as well as in the Coen Brothers’ overall filmography.
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Reality v. Fiction is a prominent part of the entire film. Mainly, the Coens place us in the headspace of Barton, in the realm of “the life of the mind” as Charlie (John Goodman) calls it. His major personal crisis has to do with that perceived need, or at least his want, to be in the realm of the common man. However, what Barton doesn’t face is the fact that, no matter how real your fiction gets it is always fiction. No matter how close to the common you get, soon as words hit the page and they’re only a representation of life then you’re always creating something, fictionalizing, you’re moving away from the truth. Just as Plato saw art as an imitation already twice removed, Barton will never be able to just get into that perspective of the common man. He is not a common man, definitely not after accepting a job in Hollywood writing motion pictures; it’s almost ironic then how he’s living in a shitty hotel, slumming it and trying to find that perspective when just working for a studio has already ensured he’s no longer common. Moving from Broadway to Hollywood is essentially going bigger, rather than smaller. So part of Barton’s entire journey is almost futile, or existentially frustrating, as it’s doomed from the start.
There are a few really great moments where satire is all but bursting right through the screen. One of my favourite scenes comes when Barton goes to see Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner) at his sprawling mansion – Lou Breeze (Jon Polito) tries to pressure Barton into giving Mr. Lipnick information, lest he find himself out of work. Breeze tells Fink: “Right now the contents of your head are the property of Capitol Pictures.” That’s such a perfect line in regards to how writers are treated, like a mill pumping out tangible product into the boss’ hands. Afterwards, this prompts Lipnick to send Breeze packing, then he gets down on his knees and literally kisses Barton’s foot, as a gesture of gratitude and an apology. It’s hilarious, and also poignant. This one scene alone displays the fake reverence and at once the very real disrespect many writers encounter while trying to practise their craft. There are many great scenes in a similar vein, this is just my favourite one and probably the most on-the-nose.
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Along the way, reality and fiction clash. All of a sudden, there’s a surreal quality to the film and Fink himself feels plunged inside a dream. There are echoes of themes to do with fascism and World War II, becoming even more clear later when we meet two detectives (they respectively have Italian and German surnames) and Charlie says a strange line directly related to WWII. So the surreal elements almost challenge you to look at the film either as a story about a writer and writing on the surface, or as a story with symbolism and thematic material lurking around every corner. Personally, I don’t feel the Coens intended this as a totally symbolic, metaphorical piece of cinema. Most of all, the themes tackled here have much to do with the distinctions between writers in the realm of Broadway and literary fiction and those that write for the movies. And not in any way are they trying to be negative, as the Coens themselves are indeed screenwriters. What they do successfully is examine the often fine line we as society demarcate between high and low culture. So, if we want to apply the concepts of literature to Barton Fink, I would suggest this as a post-modern story. Many aspects which define post-modern literature are the inclusion of both high and low culture, the looming spectre of WWII and more specifically the Holocaust, a shifting perspective or concept of identity, and more. All of which you’ll find throughout this amazing, dark comedic drama.
If you want, you could look at the entire film as symbolic. Or at least the latter half. Are Charlie and Barton the same person? In his quest to find the common man, did Barton create an entirely other self, one whom he could live through vicariously in order to create a story worthy of 1940s Hollywood? Who knows. Is Barton literally chained to a bed in a burning motel? Is he figuratively chained, stuck inside the burning house of his dilemma as a writer waiting to either escape or perish? “Sometimes it gets so hot I wanna crawl right out of my skin,” Charlie tells Barton. Much of this imagery, and Barton’s relationship with Charlie, has to do with the shifting identity Fink fights against. He is not sure who he is any more – a Broadway playwright or a big time Hollywood film writer. His personality has fractured, we see this early on even before the fire, as the wallpaper’s already begun to peel and curl up. These elements only intensify towards the end.
When Charlie bends the bars of the bed to free barton, this is the best indication of their being two parts of one personality. One side of Barton’s mind has freed the other, allowing it to continue on as it instead walks off into the fire. Better yet, more evidence to suggest Charlie isn’t altogether real is the box: before walking away he tells Barton he lied, the box does not belong to him. Therefore, the box has no rightful owner, at least not of which we’re aware. We can only assume the box is representative of an unknown possibility, almost like Schrödinger’s cat, very literally, but for the audience: there is either confirmation of Charlie’s character as real in that a head is in the box (highly unlikely to me as it would probably stink terribly with Barton lugging it around in that L.A. heat), or there is nothing significant in it and the box is a red herring, a confirmation that ultimately Charlie is a figment of ours and Barton’s imagination.
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Charlie: “I will show you the life of the mind
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John Turturro is one of the most slept on actors in the history of cinema. I’ll always stand by that fact. He is a man of many faces, often remembered for his funnier roles. And while Barton Fink is a comedic character in his own right, the meat of this role has to do with Turturro’s ability to portray a man whose life is falling apart. The meaning of his life – writing – is suddenly pulled into question, so every last element of what he sees as reality starts to sort of come loose. The very fabric of his being separates and gradually we fall down the rabbit hole right next to him. It isn’t easy for an actor to make psychological breakdowns feel and look entertaining. Turturro digs deep and brings his experiences as an actor to the part, as all artists know what it’s like to feel disconnected, worn out, blocked up. In the end, Barton is a complex character and we’ve never completely able to know if he’s a man with his head permanently in the clouds. Perhaps as he sits on the beach, admiring a woman uncannily similar to the picture hanging in his hotel room with his feet in the sand, Barton has come to realize – at the very least – that it’s all about perspective.
On the opposite side is John Goodman, a wonderful actor, too. He plays Charlie Meadows to perfection, giving him lots of likeable qualities and also making us aware that there’s something quirk about the man; we don’t find out exactly how much so until the end, when you can definitely start substituting crazy for quirky. There’s a danger to the character from minute one, but Goodman helps to keep us guessing. Roger Ebert made  good points about the theme of fascism against the backdrop of WWII and the Nazis, and that Charlie represents how easy it is for the common man to fall into madness, or almost worse into extremism – in this light, Goodman gives Charlie even creepier qualities. There’s no immediate sense of any extremism, though further we move through the plot it becomes clear Charlie is not whom he pretends to be, and this brings to mind the old sheep in wolves clothing adage. No matter how you interpret the film or the character, Goodman does well with Charlie as the sort of parallel extreme to Barton as a much more cautious, quiet type.
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This may be my personal favourite film from the Coen Brothers. It’s always hard to choose when filmmakers have such rich, diverse movies amongst their catalogue. Even with their signature and unmistakable style, the Coens always manage to create something new and intriguing each time out of the gate. Barton Fink is an enigma. Just as the film itself defies genre categorization (film noir/comedy/drama/surrealism/et cetera), the story defies one concrete explanation. I didn’t even bother getting into certain portions of the varying themes, as I’ve already run a long review. But there are so many elements at play throughout the film that you can’t definitively point to one thing and say WE FOUND IT. There are many things to enjoy and so many things to mull over, to ponder long after the credits roll and the experience is over. Whether you see this as symbolic film is not the point. The point is it gets you thinking and offers not just one idea, it allows us as an audience plenty of room to flesh out our individual experiences with the film and makes sure Barton Fink doesn’t only captivate you while the movie plays. No matter how you feel about this movie you’re bound to find something worth debating. And above all else, this is one of art’s main objectives.

American Horror Story – Freak Show, Episode 13: “Curtain Call”

FX’s American Horror Story
Season 4, Episode 13: “Curtain Call”
Directed by Bradley Buecker
Written by John J. Gray

* For a review of the previous episode, “Show Stoppers” – click here
screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-3-30-54-pmThe finale of American Horror Story‘s Freak Show, “Curtain Call”, is here. And it’s surely about to get nasty before the curtain closes for the last time.
Dandy Mott (Finn Wittrock) is about to make his debut at the show, crooning show tunes. Paul (Mat Fraser), the newest freak Penny (Grace Gummer), Amazon Eve (Erika Ervin) and Ima Wiggles (Chrissy Metz) are none too happy. Though, Paul thinks they ought to squeeze all they can out of the rich idiot whilst they still can. Dandy doesn’t know anything about the business yet and treats the freaks like garbage, blaming them for no tickets sold as of yet. “Audiences want a new type of freak; something different,” he claims. The whole confrontation ends with Eve punching Dandy out, and the crew taking him over, Paul leading the attack calling him “rubbish” and worst of all “boring.” Not just that: they quit. Dandy is left to run the place on his own, with a skeleton crew left, having proved he is far more a freak than any of them ever could be.
Ominous beginnings for the finale. I’m sad to see this season end because it’s at the top of my list; I love them all, but honestly I think, for me, Freak Show and Asylum are tied for numero uno. EditMy Roanoke Nightmare is also tied now after Season 6, loved it personally.

 


Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange) is out trying to take meetings. Except the people at WBN don’t seem too eager to receive her at first. She waits and waits, smoking cigarette after cigarette, sitting in the lobby. It’s clear she isn’t exactly a priority. Watching yet another person stroll by, and the receptionist shut down her desk, Elsa is thrown by the nonsense of Hollywood, the heartlessness of those involved. She ends up slapping the receptionist across the face, then an executive appears, breaking things apart.
Meanwhile, Dandy gets ready for showtime at his newly acquired Cabinet of Curiosities. He struts across the campground in a fresh white suit, red vest underneath and red handkerchief with polka dots around his neck. Turns out showtime isn’t any act. He starts first by blowing Paul’s brains out. Afterwards, Penny gets the same treatment while hiding behind sheets she hung out to dry; blood splatter everywhere. Legless Suzi (Rose Siggins) and others get a bullet for their troubles, too. Desiree Dupree (Angela Bassett) and Eve each scramble to protect themselves while Dandy continues nonchalantly murdering everyone in sight.
But while Desiree hides cowering in the closet of her trailer and Dandy gets crazier by the second, Eve sneaks in and cracks him a good one with a pot. They fight for a little and Eve eventually gets shot to death. Although, Desiree managed to slip free, escaping the wrath of the spoiled Mott boy.
Scariest of all, Dandy has the Tattler Twins, Bette and Dot (Sarah Paulson), tied to a post in one tent. He’s certainly planning something nefarious for these two. What could it be?
In the evening, Jimmy Darling (Evan Peters) shows up, new hands and all. He looks desperate, hungry. Wandering into the campsite, he finds nobody, only a few pieces of bread, some broken bottles. He calls for Elsa, to no response, and finds all her things packed, gone; except for the furniture. With the lights on and literally no one home, Jimmy stumbles across his dead friends: Paul, Penny, Legless Suzi, Ima, Eve, and others, all their corpses piled in the big tent. A horrific sight. Especially considering Jimmy will take it on himself, blaming himself for not being there and so on.
From nowhere, Desiree shows up weeping in Jimmy’s arms. They’re both left with all their friends murdered. How will they avenge them?

 


Cut to a beautiful scene where a harp is playing, the Tattler Twins walking down a makeshift aisle in Dandy’s large room. They’re having a wedding. The witnesses are all stuffed tigers and lions and giraffes. Bette looks happy, somehow. Dot, not so much. The groom kisses his bride Bette, as Dot looks on in forced pleasure: “a third wheel,” Dandy says. Have the twins given up because of all the dead freaks? Or are they planning some type of vengeance upon him? I’d like to think the latter.
The twins say they’ve hired a French housemaid. At dinner, it turns out Desiree is there helping. Dandy’s been given drugged up liquor. Uh oh – just as I suspected! So glad the Tattlers didn’t fall prey to this disgusting savage of a spoiled, rich maggot. Dandy is a great character, but a hateful one. Excited to see what these wonderful freaks will do to show Dandy the wrath of their kind.
Plus, we get a nice little brief cut to an explanation of how the twins communicated with Desiree, as well as Jimmy Darling who appears as a butler for Dandy and the ladies. Love this sequence!
Dandy (to Desiree): “You put something in my bubbly
Waking up, Dandy finds himself a little wet. He’s chained. Even further, he’s in a large sealed tank. Outside, Jimmy is hooking up a hose to start filling the tank with water. “Were carny folk. Its gotta be theatrical,” Jimmy tells Desiree re: Dandy’s death. While Jimmy, Desiree, Bette and Dot watch on before the act begins, Dandy starts to lose it. He knows what’s coming. After the freaks tell him why he deserves to die, Desiree also gives a wonderful speech to Dandy and tells him: “You are the biggest freak of them all.” This is such a fitting end to Dandy. Jimmy talks about why the freaks will always win, and why “the freaks shall inherit the earth.” There is strength in numbers, which is how the freaks will prevail. Jimmy sentences Dandy and his “whole rotten kind” to death, as they leave him to drown mercilessly in the tank, and the freaks all take a front row seat to watch the show. Their smiles are macabre and morbid, yet so amazingly right for the moment.

Heck of a show
That boy is a star

screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-3-37-22-pmThe finale sees Hollywood in 1960 through a few black-and-white clips. Elsa Mars is the Queen of Friday Night on television with her variety hour show, and she also has a nice music career in her native Germany, as well as the world over. We get an awesome look at Elsa’s television set. There’s also Neil Patrick Harris’ husband David Burtka playing Michael Beck, Elsa’s saviour and now also husband: they’ve got a bit of a BDSM relationship going on at home, taking her back to those Berlin days before WWII. There’s a great take on commercials and advertisement with Elsa having to hawk coffee; she isn’t pleased with being “wrangled” by her husband in the commercial, not wanting to be dominated by the patriarchy. Dig it. Someone shows up to talk about Elsa’s Halloween special, though, she isn’t too impressed with this plan: she will not perform on Halloween. And why not? Edward Mordrake (Wes Bentley), that’s why. She hasn’t forgotten her roots. Even further, she hasn’t forgotten about Massimo Dolcefino (Danny Huston) who shows up to see her and talks about where he’s been since Jupiter, Florida; funny enough, he did work for the army building whole towns to be vaporized by the government in the desert, for the nuclear tests. Nice inclusion of history, as I always expect with the show.
The terrifying videos of which Elsa was a part in Germany come to light. The studio head Henry Gable (Richard Holden) comes to visit Elsa, to tell her all about it. There’s no denying, obviously, it is her in those videos. How can they blame her for such hideousness? Sure, she was involved in awful business before that video, but surely having her legs sawed off is not her own fault? More of the victim blaming inherent in the world of law and order. Worse, Gable had Elsa tracked and they figured out she once ran a freak show: he tells them, her people back at the show, “theyre all dead.” All of this goes against the Morals Clause in Elsa’s contract, so off she goes. Though, she agrees to perform on Halloween now. A last goodbye, of sorts. “Why not? Might as well go out with a bang,” she says. Or go back to the other side, she means; with Mordrake. This is certainly her plan.
screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-3-38-17-pmAmazing part of the “Elsa Mars Hour” begins with her doing another Bowie cover, “Heroes” this time. Love her take on Bowie, especially with that German accent she puts on. Such an interesting part of the show overall this season, the musical choices.
This leads in to Elsa’s big sendoff. First, though, we watch Desiree with Angus T. Jefferson (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) in their newly wedded life, kids and all. Jimmy and the Tattlers now at home, their home, together as husband and wives – and buns in the oven. All of them watching Elsa on television somewhere or another. I love the morbidity and macabre nature of American Horror Story, but the happy endings mixed in for some characters is usually a great way to top off a season. Among the murder and loss, some of the characters here get a happy end, while Elsa’s is sort of a bittersweet release. Mordrake comes back, along with Twisty (John Carroll Lynch) and other dead freaks, to take Elsa away in front of her television audience.
Only he doesn’t take her. Elsa returns to a different afterlife than that of Mordrake’s little cabinet of souls. She is back at the freak show, Ma Petite still running around, Paul and Legless Suzi and Penny alive once more. Everything is as it once was, before all the tragedy and the blood and death. Even Ethel (Kathy Bates) is there running the ship for Elsa, happy to see her again. Ethel tells her: “The sins of the livindont add up to much around here. In life, we play the parts were cast in.” A wonderful, weird, and intriguing end. One of my favourites to any season.

 


Glad those who’ve showed up are still coming back. If you want to check out more, just head up to the top of the page and click on American Horror Story for all my reviews.

The Gallows: Wasted Opportunity & Wasted Youth

The Gallows. 2015. Directed & Written by Travis Cluff/Chris Lofing.
Starring Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford, Travis Cluff, Price T. Morgan, Theo Burkhardt, David Herrera, Gannon Del Fierro, Mackie Burt, and Adrian Salas. Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 81 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★
the-gallows-posterFound footage is a sub-genre I do enjoy, honestly. That being said, there is still a fine line between what I enjoy and what I find crap. Some people say it’s all crap; that’s just dismissive, to me. I’m a fan of Cannibal Holocaust, unapologetically I love The Blair Witch Project, and then there’s newer stuff I’ve enjoyed like the V/H/S trilogy (I got a ton of online shit on an IMDB message board for my love of all three especially the third), Lovely Molly, and the terrifyingly unsettling Home Movie. There are other titles, I just don’t want to go on. You get the picture: if something is done right using found footage, I believe there’s no reason it can’t be enjoyable. Certain people seem to think the whole sub-genre is useless, but again, I say that’s nonsense. Found footage needs to be used effectively, otherwise it’s simply another gimmick. To say there’s no good found footage is ignorant.
The Gallows has a fun premise and I haven’t seen any found footage so far to use this setting. The majority of what I enjoyed about this movie is the atmosphere, most of which came from the location of the school’s auditorium/theatre. Otherwise, I found almost all the characters to be stiff; the high school dramatics felt real, I did think Reese Mishler and Cassidy Gifford were pretty decent throughout the movie, but overall the cast wasn’t very solid. With only a little to enjoy, The Gallows feels more like a wasted opportunity than an absolutely useless horror.
1280x720-bgLStarting with a recorded home video from 1993, we see a boy named Charlie Grimille accidentally hang to death during a high school play. Worst of all, it happens in front of an audience who watch on in absolute fear and horror.
The present day in The Gallows sees a new production of the play being put off. In one of the main roles, a jock named Reese Houser (Reese Mishler) tries his best to play his part opposite a girl he has a crush on named Pfeifer Ross (Pfeifer Brown). At the same time, Reese’s jock budy Ryan Shoos (that’s also his real name) films everything behind the scenes, supposedly helping but doing nothing except make a mockery of the production while others work hard and passionately to make it the best they can.
In an effort to supposedly save his buddy Reese the shame and failure of going onstage, Ryan suggests breaking into the school’s theatre at night and trashing the set. That way the production would be halted and Reese could ‘comfort’ Pfeifer. Misguided and foolish, Ryan, Reese, and Ryan’s girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) head into the school through a door said to never be locked, due to it being broken for years.
However, once they run into Pfeifer inside – who wonders why they’re even there in the first place, as they wonder the same about her – they discover the door is now locked, out of the blue. What follows is a horrifying night for the group of friends while they begin to figure out all about what happened 20 years ago to Charlie Grimille, and why he’s still lurking in the shadows of the school.
the-gallows-movie-image-1There’s certainly an innovative aspect to The Gallows in its premise. I think beyond that, there’s not much to distinguish it from other found footage horror movies. However, the whole concept is pretty fun. Theatres in general all have their own spooky nature; there’s something eerie about a theatre, all the history and the many people who’ve graced both the stage and the seats. Add in a school and it’s even creepier, as old schools all have their own history, many lives passing through its halls and corridors, as well.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the filmmakers used this premise enough to their advantage. As I said, most of The Gallows sticks to the bargain basement techniques of Found Footage 101. For instance, there’s an early and needless jump scare – that you can’t even fully call a proper jump scare – which involves Ryan (Shoos) just popping up in front of his camera in his bedroom; not even horror, simply him trying to pull a gag. Stupid, and also gets your heart pumping for no good reason. A jump scare is effective if there’s a reason, if there is purpose to it, however, if you simply make people jump without any substance whatsoever then it’s a piss off. For me, anyways. There’s always the “trick jump scare” in horror movies, but this is not one of those at all. It’s just a dumb addition; in fact, the scene in which it’s involved serves no purpose itself, so the whole 1 minute or so could’ve easily been trimmed out of the film.
Horror-2015-The-Gallows-MovieEven though the movie uses so much of the shaky cam style, there’s still a decent atmosphere all the same. As someone who acted a great deal from a young age up until my early twenties, I spent a massive amount of time in theatres; specifically the big one at the Gordon Pinsent Centre for the Arts back in my hometown, which partly resembles the auditorium of the school in this film. There’s something inherently spooky about the cold, sterile like hallways in the basement, the darkness of the theatre behind the stage, which immediately makes things unsettling.
If this were done in straight style, using some more steady handheld work even, I think it would’ve benefited greatly. Now I know, Blumhouse most likely wanted to try another lower budget found footage effort and try to make big bucks; the estimated budget is only$100K, which by industry standards in Hollywood is a minuscule production. But still, this is where the concept of the entire film becomes wasted. I’m confident had the filmmakers chosen to do this without found footage, a ton more emotion would’ve come through, the backstory might’ve benefitted – as well as the ghostly presence of Charlie – and the scares could’ve been ten times more effective.
Sadly, The Gallows comes out much like so many of the low budget indie efforts in the found footage genre – the ones unable to rise up to the weight of their premise.
maxresdefaultOne particular scene I did find effectively creepy, regardless of the found footage style (mostly because the phone camera being stationary for the shots), was when SPOILER ALERT Cassidy (Gifford) is in the red lighted hallway; behind her in the dark creeps the figure, hooded like the Hangman from the play. What I find most scary here is how there’s a moment where you don’t see anything, then all of a sudden – as if magic – the noose is around her neck. An unseen force drags her away through a door in the background of the shot, and it slams shut behind her. Very good and creepy scene, I found it wasn’t jumpy it was simply a nice shock to the system. A solid scare.
Furthermore, there’s a scene where Reese (Houser) and Pfeifer (Brown) are running from the ghostly presence of Charlie, clad in the suit of the Hangman, and they’re climbing up a ladder – we get an excellent, terrifying look at the Hangman mask/suit up-close. It’s again not a jump scare, so much as it’s one brief look that gives you enough to make you go WHOA. I’d almost love to see a slasher now set in medieval times, or before, with a hangman as the slasher – it’s just the first thing that popped in my mind when I saw the mask. Awesome little shot, not too long and not too short.
1280x720-uqwA part of the plot I did like was when everything returned in a circular fashion to the stage, as Reese and Pfeifer act out their scene together, and the camera turns on. The lights go up  as well and the stage is set.
However, after that sequence I found things started to fall off. What I don’t like is how Blumhouse is basically setting things up right at the end for another movie. That’s essentially what happens, can anyone disagree? It’s like a mash of things happening right at the end. There’s simply too many reaching connections. So SPOILER ALERT AGAIN we’re meant to believe that Charlie’s girlfriend – the woman who continued to sit in the same seat and watch the practices, waiting for another performance of the play which killed her boyfriend 20 years ago – is also Pfeifer’s mom? I’m pretty slick most of the time, so I apologize if I’ve misunderstood. But the finale is pretty much tell us all that. I found it very mixed and matched, like puzzle pieces not intended to fit together which were simply mashed into a pile for the sake of trying to turn The Gallows – and Charlie – into an iconic style horror movie.

But this is another problem I have, I feel like Charlie is made out to be this slasher type killer. Instead he’s a ghost with a noose. That’s fine. At the same time, the movie is being marketed in a sense that Charlie’s supposed to be aimed toward becoming the next Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. I think not. First of all, the movie itself is nowhere near good enough to become anything like either John Carpenter’s Halloween or Friday the 13th. Second, Charlie just doesn’t come across in that way. There are most certainly a couple creepy scenes, there’s not enough viciousness for me to say Charlie is a bonafide slasher. Maybe had he really done a psychotic job on one of the high school kids, I could give in and say there are elements about the character which fit the bill. I can’t say that at all because most of what happens is ghostly creeping in the background, supernatural deaths, and nothing in the way of any blood. It’ all about the noose. Certainly no gore anywhere to be found. Is there really any way we can call Charlie a SLASHER if he did no slashing? Something to think about. I guess that’s partly the marketing’s problem. Still, I feel as if the filmmakers were also pushing towards that, particularly with the ending. There’s just no way I can get with that.
qjtA9NJI can give The Gallows a 2 out of 5 star rating and feel okay with that. Some people say this is utterly trash. That’s fine, I respect anyone’s opinion as long as they’re not trying to force it on me as if I should feel the same way. However, I don’t think every last piece of this movie is bad. There are spots I thought were incredibly unsettling – one scene where Ryan slowly discovers there’s a body hanging up in between the walls in this tight crawlspace-like room I found to be VERY CREEPY. Ultimately though what makes The Gallows fall short is a reliance on horror cliches and tropes to the point of retreading too deeply through the footsteps of so many other found footage horror efforts, as well as the fact I found much of the acting (aside from Cassidy Gifford and Reese Mishler) extremely wooden. Not to mention I found the ending poor, beyond rushed, and it felt as they were forcing everything down our throats. While I did find parts of it scary, that finale did nothing for film overall and only served to make me actually say aloud once the lights came up: “Oh wow – that end was rough”.
Like I’d mentioned before, I think The Gallows would’ve made a better film if it went without found footage. Alas, Blumhouse – while doing exciting things on other ends – loves to go for the low budget shots in the dark like this after their huge success with bleeding dry the premise of Paranormal Activity. So it’s no wonder they went for a found footage style here instead of filming it regularly. Maybe more money would’ve been pumped in, but it still could’ve told the story more effectively, creeped people out in a much more visceral way than they accomplished here, and perhaps the performances might’ve also benefited from having a solid style. I can’t recommend this much, however, it isn’t as terrible as some critics and people online are making it out to be.
See it if you want to judge for yourself, and I urge you to do so – I’m no one to be listening to, really. Just don’t believe all the trashing, while at the same time you need to remember you won’t find anything more than a generic found footage horror. There are tons of better found footage movies out there to get you creeped out.

The Amityville Horror Remake is Half Good & Half Sexified Trash

The Amityville Horror. 2005. Directed by Andrew Douglas. Screenplay by Scott Kosar; based on the earlier screenplay by Sandor Stern/the novel by Jay Anson.
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George, Jesse James, Jimmy Bennett, Chloë Grace Moretz, Rachel Nichols, Philip Baker Hall, Isabel Conner, and Brendan Donaldson. Platinum Dunes. 18A. 90 minutes. Drama/Horror/Mystery.

3.5 out of 5 stars
3_44045_amity_onesht.DPI’m not someone who gets overly upset about remakes. Though I’m not necessarily always a fan of what comes out the other end of the Hollywood meat machine, there are benefits to remakes. I mean, some film fans act as if it’s a big deal somebody discovers an older movie because of its remake. Remakes have been going on since the 1950s, maybe even a little earlier, so get off the high horse first of all. Second of all, why do certain snobbish film fans expect other people to be researching the history of a movie? So what if somebody sees a movie and then realizes it’s a remake? A lot of times people will end up seeing the original and then saying “Wow that’s way better”. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people say similar things, glad to have seen the original film.
Not to say The Amityville Horror remake is amazing. It’s not. I would say it’s better than just mediocre, but still not great. I think what I like about this one particularly is that Ryan Reynolds plays George Lutz pretty well, as well as the fact not everything looks like a commercial – such is the Platinum Dunes tradition of making horror look all glossy, with sexy people showing off their sexiness. There is a little of this, honestly, throughout the movie. Far less than any of the other Platinum Dunes remakes – think The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th, both equally abysmal and sexualized bits of horror blasphemy.
This is a decent remake, though, certainly not better than the original. Not for me, anyways. What I do like about this one is that they dive a bit further into the backstory about the Lutz house. Again as I’ve said before in my review of the original film, I don’t believe the supposed hogwash “true story” behind the whole Amityville ordeal. That being said, I still enjoy the fictionalized telling of the hoax on film. Good haunted house type of stuff, even some nastiness here and there to drive home that horror.
amityvillehorror-005I won’t bore anyone with describing the plot. If you’ve not yet discovered the original, or haven’t otherwise read about the story, check it out online. Plenty of stuff out there. Aside from that, we’re going to go at it right away.
One thing I do enjoy here is the cinematography. There’s a nice atmosphere, which is my favourite thing in horror. If a director and cinematographer together can set the tone of a film off the bat, things pan out so much better from there on out, as long as the tone is upheld.
Peter Lyons Collister is the cinematographer for this film. Until I actually went and checked, I didn’t know that he was also cinematographer on Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers; I’m actually a big fan of that one, personally. He was also director of photography on John Singleton’s excellent film Higher Learning. What Collister does here is keep things darkened through almost every single frame of the film. Even when we’re outdoors in the light, or walking with a character through a hallway of the house where sun is shining through the windows, there’s a dim quality to everything I find keeps things eerie. Not to say it’s all drenched in darkness. There are so many scenes, though, almost every one, where Collister keeps things shadowy. Something of which I’m a huge fan. Gave the film that atmosphere I enjoy.
amityville_horror_16Something I enjoyed about this Amityville Horror is that even quicker and more immediately than the original, the plot of this film kicks in with intensity almost the minute they move into the house. The tension between George (Ryan Reynolds) and Kathy (Melissa George) Lutz goes up ten notches under the house’s influences. Otherwise, there is barely any real tension. Even the kids – George’s stepchildren – become more irritating to him than they ever were before. You can tell when they first get there, after a scene or two with him and the kids, there’s a tiny bit of awkwardness still left, as the kids do miss their father; obviously. But so quickly, the house exerts its grip on George, and it begins to affect everything and everyone around him.
Another thing is that I enjoyed the way the children were so affected by the house, as well. In the original they experienced quite a bit in their own right, but the majority was heaped all on George. It’s still mostly like that, however, we see the kids all get terrorized a for nice while. The youngest boy sees a ghastly image next to him in the bathroom mirror while he washes his hands in the middle of the night – a solid jump scare. Worst of all, little Chelsea Lutz (Chloë Grace Moretz) seems to be entranced by the invisible friend she calls Jodie – who is actually Jodie DeFeo (Isabel Conner), murdered by her older brother as he killed their entire family a year before the Lutz’s arrival in 1975. This goes to great lengths, as Chelsea and Jodie get closer and closer.

The downfall of The Amityville Horror remake, why it can’t surpass the original for me, is mostly because it gets that modern day Platinum Dunes treatment, as I mentioned before – the one suffered by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th remakes alike.
Rachel-in-The-Amityville-Horror-rachel-nichols-6965532-2560-1706First of all, there’s the part with the babysitter. I mean – there was just no need to sexualize that character so much. It’s fine to have a wild babysitter, that would’ve been different than the first film, but why make her a young girl all dolled up wearing the tiniest top, low-cut jeans, showing off her ribs and her stomach? It’s just another obvious idiotic marketing film executive thinking “Hmmm how do we get more young men watching horror? Let’s add sex”. But then there’s the further idiotic idea that, because she’s an obviously sexual young woman, an even younger boy drooling all over her, and because she smokes pot in the bathroom, then OF COURSE SHE MUST BE TERRORIZED IN THE CLOSET! Sure, put her in the closet – why does it need to feel like she’s being set up to be punished, though? Make her sexy then make her pay? Dumb Platinum Dunes style crap.
I felt truly weird about the whole scene where she was laying on the bed with this kid talking to her. Such an awkward scene.
maxresdefaultThen we can’t ignore Ryan Reynolds showing off his abs – seemingly always greased and glistening – which is just downright silly. It was like at certain times someone said “WHIP OFF THAT SHIRT, RYAN. SOMEBODY: GREASE HIM UP!” I mean, I get that sometimes people don’t have shirts on, but it’s like there’s such an intense need for Platinum Dunes remakes to try and focus on wet, slick bodies, as if that draws people somehow to the movie.
This is the sort of stuff which really tears me out of a film, regardless if it’s horror or not. Another reason for people to hate remakes, so it irks me when I see this kind of stuff. Does not help the genre whatsoever.

George Lutz: “There’s no bad houses there’s just bad people

So, as I said before, I do like the backstory they put into the remake. I have no time for the supposedly “true story”, because it’s not true. Though I really enjoy the fictionalized telling of the story. Here, we get disturbing and weird stuff as George Lutz descends from a fairly regular, everyday man towards a pit of madness into which he gets sucked by the evil in that house. He looks tired all the time, he’s getting angrier by the minute, and his paranoia begins to pulse almost as noticeable as the blood in his veins, the beat in his heart. All due to the house and the demons living in the very foundation.
This is the best stuff. As George starts to see and hear so many things throughout the house, we’re treated to a lot of macabre and unsettling imagery. They’re not all jumpy NOISE TO SCARE YOU type shots either. A couple come up, no doubt, but they’re not relied on solely for Andrew Douglas to scare us. We get enough to be able to enjoy; I find when too many jump scares happen, I’m just desensitized and not scared any longer. With only a handful, this helps to creep me out. Most of all, it’s the weird story of the preacher, the things he did to the Indians and all that which freaks me out most. Great work on that part because it was intense and freaky.
george-lutz-ryan-reynolds-amityville-horrorIn the end, I really enjoy Ryan Reynolds in this film as George Lutz. Not to say I put him or James Brolin over one or the other, but what I truly liked is how much of George going crazy is fit into the script for this remake. There is a lot more to him stalking around the house, digging around in the basement, in the walls, watching videos, waking up to the clock at 3:15 AM. So I think that’s something, plus the creepy as hell backstory of the house with the preacher and all that, which made me enjoy this almost as much as the original. Not quite as much, close though.
This is about a 3.5 out of 5 film. That whole bit with the babysitter, the sexualization – really takes things down a notch, and I wish Platinum Dunes would keep the needless stuff out of their remakes. It would help them if they want to appeal to true genre fans. We don’t need that sort of crap just thrown into scenes, especially if it makes no sense and serves no purpose whatsoever.
If you really want the best, go for the original. That being said, there are a lot of worse remakes than this one, and at least Andrew Douglas tried to craft a genuine atmosphere of suspense and fear instead of relying totally on shock horror or jump scares to get the response for which he was looking.