61 Days of Halloween- Halloween (2007)

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Halloween (2007)

Daeg Faerch in Halloween (Dimension)

Rob Zombie’s Halloween is one of the most confoundingly schizophrenic horror films in the history for the genre. Rarely, if ever do you see unabashed greatness and miscalculation fight so mightily with each other for screen time.

You have here such juxtaposition such that I’ve revisited the film several times. A great film is rarely as compelling and fascinating as one that squanders greatness somewhere along the way and this film does that perhaps in more spectacular fashion than almost any film.

The film follows Young Michael for 35 minutes. Most of those minutes are riveting, even when there are shortcomings it is still engaging because it is brand new material. The mistake in this film was to ever age Michael.

I am not arguing that Zombie needed to be beholden to the continuity of the original series. It would just have been a much more effective tale had you examined Michael further and left him right on the brink of what he was about to do on Halloween. There was a room for it. You could’ve witnessed the trial shown more of him being responsive to Loomis before he shuts down. He could create more havoc in the institution.

And conversely the sequel could be a condensed version of all that he and Laurie go through with a lot of the fat trimmed out. However, for what the film does decide to do there are still areas where execution could’ve been better.

The first 35 minutes of the film are the epitome of horror and here’s why it gets under your skin and makes you so terribly uncomfortable: A case in point would be Michael’s first kill. You sympathize completely with Michael due to the bullying Wesley subjects him to. However, when Michael gets his revenge his assault is so brutal it’s stomach-turning. So you’re left with this unease and ambivalence that is just jaw-droppingly horrific. The same can be said for his disposal of his family. It’s not necessarily that there is even sympathy for the victims so much that his killing is so brutally assured that it’s bone-chilling.

A lot of that is conveyed through the iconic performance by Daeg Faerch. Sadly, I’m sure it wouldn’t have happened this way but I am quite certain that if Faerch hadn’t been around, this film ought not to have been made at all. Much like is Spielberg hadn’t seen Haley Joel Osment he would’ve delayed A.I. indefinitely. It’s that kind of performance a coupling of character and actor that works so well it’s rare and truly a sight to see. Think of the great antagonist horror performances of the last 25 years and this one is on par with if not better than they are.

Look at it this way, Michael is being given a face and voice in this film after nearly 30 years of silence. That is a massive undertaking for an actor. A hard role to live up to and much less excel in.

Now for me to say the wheels come off simply because the original started being rehashed would be unfair, it is a remake after all. It is how the rehash is executed that makes it not work.

Laurie Strode and her friends need a different tone. They didn’t talk and act all that much different than the Myers family. Half of which Michael killed and we wanted him too. There needs to be some added virtues to Laurie that make us want to root for her.

This is the alternate universe of a horror film where our baser instincts come to the surface. Michael is who we are most familiar with. He is the star, he will not die. There has to something special about a character to make us really want them to escape his clutches. If you’re just a foul-mouthed skank no different than the sister he killed except that you never met him why should I care?

Look at Laurie Strode in the original, yes, her friends talked frankly about sex and drug usage and things of that ilk but Laurie was honestly embarrassed by some of the talk. She kind of went along with her friends but she was not the fornicating-when-she-should-be-baysitting type. That’s why we identify with her. Not only is she an innocent but we like her better than her friends and if we want the friends to live it’s only for Laurie’s sake.

So the type of characters Laurie and her friends are is a problem. Unfortunately, so are the actors playing the parts. There is such a wild inconsistency in the quality of performance in this film that it makes it nearly impossible for it to succeed. You run the gamut from Daeg Faerch and Malcolm McDowell to Sheri Moon Zombie and Scout Taylor-Compton.

You also get small and at times distracting appearances by many actors who have made a splash in the history of horror films. Had this been a completely original tale that may have been less of an issue. Dealing with an iconic character and story it’s unwelcome.

Poor acting is forgivable to an extent in a horror film if the situation remains scary and interesting enough but quite frankly the film gets long in the tooth. It’s not necessarily that in a series you can really get pre-conditioned to a running time but frankly the Halloween films typically clock in a just over 90 minutes for a reason: that’s all you need. Whether the theatrical cut (109 minutes) or unrated (121) it’s too long, for the given story. It really makes me wonder what the edited Brazilian cut (83) plays like.

Then of course you have the ending. The open ending that isn’t quite open and has about five too many screams in the mix. It may be the greatest anti-climax of an ending that any film in the series has. Even the follow up has a better, more coherent and effective capper than this despite the fact that its even worse. After nearly two hours a screaming close-up is really not the taste I want left in my mouth. It literally could’ve been almost anything else and it would’ve been better.

5/10

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61 Days of Halloween: Friday the 13th: A New Beginning

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning

As per usual this installment started with scenes of the previous films spliced in, here however they finally get creative with it and have it be more montage style and less blatant exposition as it also shows several memorable kills right off the bat to get the audience’s appetite whetted for what’s to come.

The film also picks up immediately with the paramedics and police clearing the scene of the latest massacre. In a very nice touch the film actually takes a breath once the camp is empty anew and lets us realize that this was just the scene of chaos and now it’s as if nothing happened, all we hear are the crickets. It’s perhaps the best of the few masterful strokes this film has. It’s a film that eventually trips itself but that was a great moment.

The dialogue throughout most of the film is nothing short of a train wreck. Couple that with much overacting and it’s difficult to have sympathy for many of the characters who Jason is about to slay.

There are too many characters in the equation in this film, especially considering how it ends. You meet the Jarvis family, then a group of teens going to a cabin in the woods (cue the score from Evil Dead: The Musical) and the twins they meet and then a Jason hunter. Now I am well aware that this is a body count franchise but the time could’ve been alloted differently. Shorter teen & twins intro, shorter canoodling sequence, get them killed build the Jarvis family and the “Jason hunter” who will factor greatly in the film.

There are, in the end, too many balls in the air that don’t really have any bearing on the end of the film or the main thrust of the film. Again these things can still happen but they were either too long or repetitive. There is some bad random 80s dancing, randomly found silent porn which is watched for too long, a lot of cattiness both of the male and the female variety that can all be avoided.

While the end with Jason being fooled by Tommy and Tommy’s turn are wonderful truly masterful strokes there is prior stupidity that undercuts its effectiveness. The main sticking point is this: Trish is frantic when she finds out Jason’s loose and has to get home to protect Tommy. She returns home in a panic to confirm he’s fine. She is informed their mom is missing. Even though “The Hunter” insists she stays home while he finds her and Jason she insists on going…which leaves Tommy, who she was just so panicked about, alone again…come on man! It’s the simplest fix in the world and it wasn’t fixed and just took me out of the moment. Suspension of disbelief, gone.

The end does manage to be effective. If you like the series and are a completist definitely view it but it was hanging on by thread to liking it but that lapse in logic lost me.

4/10

Review- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (Warner Bros.)

It’s not easy to see a series you love come to a close. It becomes more difficult when you happen to be traveling when that final chapter receives its worldwide release. The difficulties I encountered trying to obtain tickets to a Harry Potter screening in Brazil may make an apropos footnote in another post but here they serve the purpose of stating that: it was hard to say goodbye and therefore it seemed almost fitting that it was difficult for me to make it to my first screening of the film.

While I stand by what I wrote in my series of articles entitled Keys to a Better Life as a Fanboy, hindsight has been beneficial in my viewing of the Harry Potter series; some have aged better than others but I believe, more so with this series than others, that the whole is truly greater than the sum the parts. Only now having seen it all can I truly see the enormity of the series. Whereas in each individual installment there was nitpicking to be done, or ignored, and the franchise became the Susan Lucci of my personal awards, The BAMs, now that it’s at its conclusion I can say it’s the greatest film franchise I’ve beheld.

Now what of this installment, you ask?

Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (Warner Bros.)

Firstly, the issue of cinematic bifurcation needs to be addressed. When Harry Potter announced they split the seventh book of the series into two films it became the thing to do. Twilight followed suit and it seems The Hunger Games will likely do the same and perhaps some others that I’m forgetting. Now I’m not naive enough to believe that the main motivation to do such a thing isn’t financial, however, there exists in this decision artistic possibilities and responsibilities: the possibilities being to cinematically craft as much of the adapted work as possible and the responsibility to make it vital. I also want to clarify that while there might not be the Shakespearean foresight to make a multi-part work such as Henry IV or Henry VI it also was not a decision made retroactively in the editing room so some jets need to be cooled regarding the split-finale phenomenon.

Michael Gambon and Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Warner Bros.)

All series of films have their own inherent logic and language and thus they develop their own shorthand and therefore the bifurcation becomes much less of an issue. This, of course, does not mean that you could walk in cold to Deathly Hallows, Part 2 and get absolutely everything (an example would be how quick and dirty the Polyjuice potion usage is in this film) but conversely I don’t want to be able to walk into the end of a series cold and be able to watch it without wondering what’s happening at some point because it usually means that at some point the integrity of the series has been compromised.

So yes, this film does stand tall on its own as a self-contained piece of art with the above caveats noted. As the trend progresses other films will have this as a barometer as how to handle this adaptation phenomena. My feeling is that works which have distinct tonal differences in the beginning and the end, as this does, (going from foreboding progressing to all out chaos) will be more successful in pulling off this trick.

What this film ultimately does is deliver the desired conclusion to this mammoth story in the desired fashion. The pace of the film can best be described as a slow but steady depression of an accelerator and a very slow release at the end, which for the narrative being conveyed is just about perfect. Mark Day, the editor who has been the unsung hero of the tail end of this franchise, does his best work in this film. He creates the best montage I’ve seen since Up and perhaps surpassed it.

Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Warner Bros.)

Much like the pace of the film the tone is also established immediately. In a fashion not dissimilar to the recent X-Men film the film opens with a series of tense, brilliantly acted interrogatory scenes. The heroic triad is immediately gathering information and plotting their next move.

These scenes are also brilliantly and dramatically lit and also establishes the visual motif of camera movement which is not altogether foreign to Eduardo Serra and it just adds that much more tension and gravitas to all the proceedings.

I try and avoid departmental punchlists replete with commentary but the production and crafting of this film make it such that it’s nearly impossible to avoid. Alexandre Desplat has quickly catapulted to the A-List amongst film composers and his work in this film is absolutely sublime, it’s omnipresent but not overpowering and over-accentuating the film, it’s there for the taking if you want it and if you listen to it in isolation it’s amazing but in conjunction with the imagery sheer brilliance.

Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Warner Bros.)

The Harry Potter films have also been through the years a bastion for lovers of ensemble acting, what’s most enjoyable about this film is that there are a number of paired scenes wherein the supporting players really get a chance to shine and have their moment and each one is more staggeringly great than the last. While I’d definitely contend that the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 was the showcase for Radcliffe, Watson and Grint, however, it should be noted that it is usually they who paired off with these supporting characters like John Hurt as Ollivander who here is pitch perfect and has more screentime than in the rest of the series combined. There’s also Ciarán Hinds who plays Aberforth. Warwick Davis, who does double duty as Griphook and Professor Flitwick, has a very tense scene as the former and is incredibly versatile. Then you also have among the supporting cast the incomparable Alan Rickman who over the course of eight films has steered his character unerringly along a very subtle and incredible arc.

Alan Rickman in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Warner Bros.)

Perhaps what sticks with you most about the film though is the beautiful chaos of it all. The film does not bow down to the artifice of its artform and focus too singularly on any one tragic occurrence and just takes it all in as quick as one might in that moment. Some things just happen and you learn about it when characters do and you don’t know the how and the where just the result.

It almost goes without saying that the effects are outstanding and are the best and most blended of the series. As for the 3D I have not seen it as such but I do want to and have heard that for a conversion it’s a job well done for a detailed summation of that aspect I’d point you towards CinemaBlend who does a great series about the 3D or not 3D conundrum.

Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Warner Bros.)

One of the barometers for the Harry Potter films, and for films in general, that I like to use is how is the ending handled. Now not that it’s a make or break but you do want the film’s last moment to leave a good, lasting impression. For example, I think that The Prisoner of Azkaban really dropped the ball with an ending that was tonally discordant when the darker chapters had just begun and a bit more restraint was needed. This film, however, ends perfectly and as I’d expected the epilogue was more effective on the big screen than it was in the book as it seemed to be created for the big screen.

It is my assessment that Harry Potter is the greatest franchise I’ve beheld and it is to my delight and relief that it has concluded with the greatest cinematic chapter it has yet told.

10/10

Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Warner Bros.)