Review – A Long Way Off

A Long Way Off is a film that is a modern retelling of the story of the prodigal son. As such it has the foundation, firstly, to be an effective human drama and, second, transition well to a modern secular retelling. However, its successes and ultimate failures are attributable mostly to what is built upon the foundation of one of the most beautiful stories the Bible has to offer.

Aside from a title card at the beginning citing the chapter and verses of Luke wherein the story is disseminated first, the source is never that overt, save for plot points (should you know them) and certain pieces of dialogue (again, should you know them). That title card at the beginning is indicative of one of the issues the film has which is that of lacking in subtlety.

Not to say that this film ever truly hides its nature as faith-based entertainment, but the narrative of a man struggling with his purpose, family, ultimately faith is universal enough such that it should translate to all audiences regardless of their religious or other affiliations.

That’s why in a story of unconditional acceptance of a son by his father, and by extension of the Father for all His children, its an exceptionally curious and tonally incongruous decision to include divisive material that isn’t even veiled but appears in the forms of propaganda, virtual infomercials, politicking and more. One example is Sean Hannity introducing a book that “has converted many liberals to conservatives.” Another is a scene that has narrative purpose: the lost son seeks a gun in self-defense and the salesman is not only a clairvoyant, knowing he never used one, but also a mouthpiece for responsible application of the second amendment.

This isn’t a comment fueled by personal leanings but one that is made noting the lack of narrative necessity of these asides; in the aforementioned gun-buying scene Jake, the prodigal son; didn’t have money anyway, so it was crafted just to make the point that there are responsible gun vendors, etc. These are just a few examples. People who took issue with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty would have an embolism watching this film. Product placement is one thing (and a necessary evil of all levels of filmmaking) but when it starts to feel like you’re not just acknowledging the reality of corporate influence in the world but like you’re leasing airtime to people for infomercials, that comment overtly on the story mind you, it becomes a further issue.

Granted in the modernization of a story there needs to be a sojourn into excess and secularism. However, the perils of leaving home and forsaking ones family cannot be cartoonish if the film is to maximize its full potential. And that’s about the only way to characterize an eye-patch clad gangster with a wise-guy accent. The film still, in spite of itself and due to the strength of the story its basing itself on, has its moving moments.

It seems as if a few things were at work here the film was trying to cram all its ideas in one story whether they truly fit or not, when it really didn’t have to. Despite some stilted scenes and dialogue the core of the film does function, but in an updating it is really about the update that makes or breaks it. A litmus test of a faith-based film is if it’s preaching to the choir. It sounds like a platitude but it’s true, it has to work as a film. This film more often then not seems like it’s not only preaching to the choir but trying to tell us who is welcome in the choir – or maybe just sell us books also.

5/10

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61 Days of Halloween: Devil

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, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

One thing you will not get in this particular review is citations of other reviews and rebuttals in defense of M. Night Shyamalan. While I stand by the opinion ultimately expounded in my review of The Last Airbender, I would’ve altered my approach if I had to do it over again (Thus, it has not been re-posted yet – and may remain so). As for this film, it’s the first of what is being referred to as the Night Chronicles Trilogy. His impact on this film is a story credit alone so mention of him will be minimal, aside from saying that his stamp can definitely be felt on this story regardless of the level of involvement he actually had. This is a thriller which hearkens back to some of his earlier films and oddly one where you’re not necessarily waiting for a twist, but you get it anyway and it does not color the whole film.

The film starts with inverted shots of the Philadelphia skyline. They are shots whose significance is not immediately made known, and not overtly explained. They set the tone for a film where something is slightly amiss throughout.
 The film does well to keep its tale confined to the elevator as much as it possibly can. Granted to investigate and to try to get to the bottom of the mystery it is necessary to go outside on occasion; the fact that so much of the film is contained to that cramped space definitely is a boon to the narrative and aids its effectiveness.

When dealing with a film that is so confined such that its part-absurdist chamber drama it is crucial that your cast be capable of carrying the film and this cast is definitely capable. The core of the cast being: Logan Marshall-Green, Jenny O’Hara, Bokeem Woodbine, Geoffrey Arend and Bojana Novakovic. What is most compelling about not only the story but also their respective portrayals is that at one moment or another they all lead you to believe that they, in fact, are the devil in the elevator car.

The film also employs a narrator, who acts as storyteller. A technique it seems that is a bit on the rebound in film. However, in this case this narrator does not get into the fray too much but merely fills in a few blanks and acts, essentially as the glue binding this tale together. It is this voice that gives a little reason to the tale. Whereas without this narrator it might just send a chill or two up your spine with the narrator there is a point made and something to reflect upon.

With the combination of the opening montage and the narrator setting the stage the tension level in this film is ratcheted up pretty early and rarely if ever dissipates throughout out. There is a consistent feeling of dread which is pounced upon at opportune times and while there are peaks and valleys the highs are high enough to sustain a significant level of interest.

The only things that can be questioned are very minor points which could’ve been addressed by more judicious editing of the footage and story itself. One concern is that while most believe the elevator is malfunctioning due to possibilities that are terrestrial we follow around a janitor. He vanishes from the story for too long. Pieces of his journey to the roof and basement could’ve been spliced in real quick so he wouldn’t disappear for so long after having been a significant player in the early going. The characters also don’t think to use their cell phones as flashlights during the temporary blackouts for far too long. The introduction of the religious element of the film is a bit clumsy and lastly our protagonist, Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) does a Sherlock Holmes impersonation in deducing the circumstances surrounding a suicide early on that is not only a bit extraneous but also a little hard to swallow.

However, Devil is still a highly effective and well-crafted tale that is an edge-of-your-seat kind of film that is well worth your time.


8/10

Mini-Review Round-Up May 2012

I had quite a review drought to end 2011 so I think the remedy for this kind of post would be to have the post be cumulative monthly. Therefore, after each qualifying film a short write-up will be added to the monthly post. The mini-reviews will be used to discuss Netflix and other home video screenings. Theatrical releases will get full reviews.

For a guide to what scores mean go here.

From Time to Time

Kwayedza Kureya, Alex Etel and Eliza Bennett in From Time to Time (Freestyle Digital Media)

This is a film that I saw a little bit ago and I struggled with whether I’d qualify it for this year’s BAM Awards or just leave it in the Gray Area. Typically, I go by US release date (so long as I had a legitimate chance to see it), should a film have not had a US release date (namely only released overseas, or seen in a festival, etc.) it’s qualified in the year viewed. With regards to From Time to Time, I knew that its actual vintage was a few years old and it was released in the UK some time back, however, it only his US home video very recently. Technically, that is is its US release since it didn’t have a theatrical run, so there you have it.

This is a very interesting ghost drama, which has a few interesting things going in its favor: first, it cuts through time with great facility and creates a British gothic tale with the ease of Magical Realism. This stripping down of the typical pretensions of supernatural tales making the acceptance of these other-worldly facts commonplace allows the film to dwell in a more dramatic and intriguing milieu. Second, as clearly intimated above this film deals in two periods but makes them both intriguing and vital and blends them wonderfully. Lastly, this film features very strong performances most notably by the under-utilized Alex Etel, last seen by me in Sea Horse; Maggie Smith, whom at this point could benefit any and every film in creation and Carice Van Houten, whom viewers of Game of Thrones may recognize.

This is an intriguing film that is worth looking for on Netflix or other home video resources.

8/10

Chronicle

Dane DeHaan in Chronicle (20th Century Fox)

Since I viewed this film on a plane it was easy and not distracting to take notes on an iPhone, but I will try to keep these comments brief as the review is supposed to be “mini.” Having said that, this was a film I heard a lot about and I love the fact that it is divisive. I had a lot of stumbling blocks to overcome in this one, but seeing elements enacted as opposed to just hearing about them are two completely different things.

This being a found footage film there are “cheats,” inasmuch as it’s not always the same source camera providing the footage, but as events escalate you’ll see why it’s possible, you just get no hint as to who put it all together. That’s a minor concern regarding the handling of technique.

In fact, the only other quibble I have has to do with Casey (Ashley Hinshaw) who is a blogger, thus she too obsessively records things. It’s a bit convenient but mostly the film works in the found footage milieu because it remains tremendously reflexive, and it has to. Andrew (Dane DeHaan) feels compelled to record his life due to his abusive father (a wonderfully malignant villain with few parallels), it clearly continues after the mysterious inciting incident.

Perhaps what is most brilliant and moving about the film is that it creates a sense of identification immediately and it builds from there. It’s not a case of likability but rather understanding. It gives characters powers, and inherently responsibilities, they’re not necessarily equipped to cope with and shows you what they do.

Yes, there is a slightly Jackass, slight YouTube voyeuristic quality to certain scenes inherent in the found footage approach but things to do come back that seemed as if they didn’t fit, and the seemingly frivolous is sublimated quickly. Through it all it remains a character study. It’s a film that does not get overly-concerned with its technique to the detriment of its plot or personages.

Clearly, the performances need to be really strong for a film of this kind to work. That is the case with Michael B. Jordan as Steve, who convincingly plays the winning, popular, untouchable jock but also conveys some hidden depths when allowed to. However, the true standout is Dane DeHaan who is asked to deal with far more range in a film of this kind than you’d expect and is magnetic and captivating in all facets of his character. The scripting shows a certain amount of restraint in many of his scenes and intonation and expression have to convey a lot and he does.

There’s an air of mystery to the story even after the inciting incident as you learn with the characters but are still not overly-inundated with facts.

The sound mix is rather effective especially as it counterbalances with certain moments of dead silence paired with powerful images. The visual effects aren’t as flashy as some other films but very strong.

I tend to try and avoid things that can be construed as pull quotes but the film did get quick a few visceral, nearly unconscious reactions from me I laughed, I was was on the verge of tears a few times and my jaw literally dropped at least once.

I have the few small reservations mentioned above but many prejudices I had coming in vanished entirely and I came away resoundingly impressed with this film.

9/10

Corpo Celeste

Yle Vianello in Corpo Celeste (Film Movement)

I have previously discussed the benefits of programs like Film Movement. This film is their most recent offering.

What is most interesting about Corpo Celeste is that it comments through its narrative or visuals on any number of topics but always does so in an interesting, thoughtful and compelling way it is never didactic, pedagogic or heavy-handed. This is key with themes such as coming of age, religion, politics, family and nationalism (to name a few) being discussed. Most of the reason the film can do this is that all of these things are discussed personally and visually. They barely need to be elucidated. When dialogue is employed to convey the touched-upon themes it is used sparingly and tightly.

The personal approach keeps a film that might be overly aloof rather cool and connected. One of the more interesting things about it is the approach the film takes in bringing its protagonist to the fore. The first few images, scenes even you rarely see Marta alone, she is in crowd scenes and crowded dinner tables and gatherings. Our knowledge the story is to be about her allows us to get a glimpse of her world and her not really seeing a place in yet, hence she’s coming of age. She soon comes further and further into focus and in some way identification is already established.

The film features a tremendously natural performance by Yle Vianello, which enables you to connect to the film not only through her character but through any facet you see fit. The two major ways to connect to the film are either as a coming-of-age tale or a spiritual journey. Many of us have been through either, if not both, so closely examining these two major journeys in one protagonist makes it quite effective.

This is a really good film that is worth your while. The DVD also features the Academy Award nominated short Raju, which I saw earlier.

8/10

Hick

Chloe Grace Moretz in Hick (Phase 4 Films)

Hick is a resoundingly disappointing experience on a number of levels. One reason this is so is that Derick Martini, the director of this film, crafted a wonderful film a few years back entitled Lymelife. It was one of my favorite films of the year in question, while some of those same motifs and actors that made that film work are back in this film there’s little else that binds the two. Part of the issue with this film is it’s a case of novelist acting as screenwriter backfiring, it can be a wonderful thing, but here it’s a detriment. The film does not move well; the denouement is massive; the amount of coincidence; the lack of clear motivation on the part of certain characters; seemingly extraneous elements, and awkwardly staged situations are some of those reasons. The lead in the film is Chloe Grace Moretz, who as previous honors have indicated is very talented, yet even her excellent performance cannot salvage this film.

What it reminded me of was Leolo gone wrong. You have a very strange home life and an adolescent seeking to escape. The world isn’t very firmly established neither is the protagonist’s desire, not at first. She clearly is haunted by the loss of a sibling but that’s not clear imemdiately. She has a goal but it quickly becomes clear she’ll need a new one, and how she finds it and why is underdeveloped and is a tremendous example of deus ex machina. The pace of the film is also off and it feels a lot longer than it is. Hick is one worth avoiding.

4/10

First Position

Gaya Bommer Yemini and Aran Bell in First Position (Sundance Selects)

I can’t claim to be an aficionado but I am a fan of dance. Through my production company I sponsor a dance competition, so while not an insider I do know my fair share about the world this film describes. What I was somewhat fearful of was that this film would serve as a glorified infomercial for YAGP (Youth America Grand Prix), which is the world’s largest youth dance competition.

All those fears are soon allayed. The necessary information is divulged such that the layman understands the enormity and the gravity of the competition and the controversy regarding any competition is vaguely hinted at, but mostly the film is an introduction to just how competitive the world of dance is, and also a glimpse into how dedicated these artists must be from a very young age.

Yet any film can only get so far on the facts alone. Where First Position succeeds is that it profiles dancers from diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds and also with varying aesthetic philosophies. The film is structured very dramatically such that the performances with the highest stakes appear latest in the cut and the flow from performer to performer is just right and well-ordered.

What starts as an informative, introductory doc soon turns quite the emotional experience that gets you very invested in the outcome. It’s a great film sure to please fans of film and dance alike.

10/10

Citizen Gangster

Scott Speedman in Citizen Gangster (IFC Films)

This an interesting story about a man, Eddie Boyd (Scott Speedman), in post-WW II Canada who frustrated with his job and trying to get by embarks on a career as a bank robber. The film interestingly has a quick and effective genesis. The pathology and inspiration is properly established in a short time such that through the course of the film you follow the protagonist further and further past the point of no return. It’s the case of an anti-hero plot in as much as it does at least create a sense of identification if not sympathy.

The film also has a tremendous amount of technical prowess that helps create the world of the story. The cinematography offers a tremendous balance between stark, pale sunlit exteriors and blown-out interiors. When you combine this with the production design which was very concerted on white interiors with one accent to break up the monotony.

When you consider some of the scoring and performances there is quite a lot working for this film. The only thing that really holds it back in anyway is that from about the mid-point on the pace does become very stilted, which is especially noticeable towards the climax and denouement. Having said all that, this is a film that should be getting more notice and I’m glad to have seen it. As indicated above, it’s especially strong in compartmental areas but is intriguing enough in its narrative, especially for those unfamiliar with the details of the story upon which it is based, to sustain interest.

7/10

Hospitalité

Kanji Furutachi, Bryerly Long, Kenji Yamauchi, Kiki Sugino, Kumi Hirodo and Eriko Ono in Hospitalité (Film Movement)

Comedy just may be the most culturally specific genre of them all. In my experience, each culture has their own precepts it brings to comedy. Granted there are some things that are universally embraced as funny, but cinematic aesthetics, narrative constructs and indigenous commonalities often color how these tropes are conveyed. Which is a very roundabout way of saying that certain films purported to be comedies have struck me with confusion, surprise, and consternation on occasion. American comedy being typically rather broad is rather accessible; British comedy being somewhat dry and witty I’ve always been drawn too and being Brazilian I have a grounding there in where the jokes are coming from.

Hospitalité is a Japanese film, which is quite funny at times simply because it relies almost wholly on situations, characters and the element of surprise to deliver its humor. Where it loses a bit of its steam is that it could use a bit of tightening up in length and towards the end. The power plays exhibited are necessary but perhaps a bit drawn out there too. In essence, the dramatic elements of the narrative are overplayed as there isn’t a lot of follow through.

You may find it more funny than I did, and to be fair there are effective dramatic elements and pieces of commentary being made, but as it is a situation that is seemingly simple and does follow the house-guest-from-hell mold rather there’s just a certain deliberateness and gravitas to it all that drains it a bit.

6/10

Michael

Michael Fuith in Michael (Films du Losange)

I generally remain vague about plot descriptions in my reviews. Philosophically I believe that if you happened upon my review you know enough about the film and you’re just looking for some further information. With a film such as Michael one does need to be forewarned: while not sensationalistic or exploitative this film does chronicle about five months in the life of a pedophile. You will be disturbed and affected by it: I guarantee it. What is most effective is that the film does so almost exclusively through implication.

The film edit of the film is tremendous and much of the dialogue on reflection implies so much more than is said. One example of how the film communicates horrible consequences while doing little is a simple visual: Michael and Wolfgang, the child he has captive, are setting up a bunk bed in his room. That scene has made its point and hits you in the gut.

What makes the film most harrowing is the humanistic portrait painted of Michael. With an act as awful as child abuse, whether of a physical or sexual nature, some films overplay their hands. Meaning they feel the need to make the antagonist over-the-top and borderline cartoony as if to re-emphasize the inherent villainy and cruelty of their actions. Yet more often than not that kind of writing takes a viewer out of the moment. This film takes things as mundane as decorating a Christmas tree, talking to a neighbor or a haircut and tinges them with malignancy and implications that belie the simplicity of the line spoken or the action taken.

You also have in this film two performances that make this film work and they are those of Michael Fuith, who used his awkwardness to endearing effect in Rammbock, but here is intimidating, frightening, awkward and charming as needed. Then there’s also David Rauchenberger, who while not in the film a tremendous lot, has the unenviable task of playing the victim who as times dour, at times detached, at times a child and also rebellious.

The craftsmanship of the film is what truly makes it work. There’s one scene that really doesn’t jibe with the restraint, and the ending is one I stewed on but decided it is earned, as a whole other film would start had it continued.

8/10

Thankful for World Cinema- The Annunciation

When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.

The Annunciation

Péter Bocsor and Júlia Mérö in The Annunciation (Hungarofilm)

If you’re ready for a mind-bending account that is likely to be one of the most bizarre film-watching experiences you’ve ever had then The Annunciation is for you. One thing that shows you almost off the bat that this is a challenging film is that as the story changes location the subtitles include location cards, which are not dictated by the film itself.

However, owing that the shift in locations and time period are due to the fact that it is a dream should make it an easier watch. This existential tale of Adam and Eve is still ripe with multiple meanings and answers that can be gleaned from the text of it.

Another thing that should be noted that all the characters, save for circus performers near the end, are played by children. If you have a problem with child actors I feel sorry for you but I also then do not recommend this film to you because they are dealing with very real material, extraordinarily challenging material that they dive headlong into and perform spectacularly.

The things that can be observed as Lucifer sends Adam and Eve through time in similarly dystopian plots are truly fascinating. However, though the film may seem like it’s hellbent on nihilism it ends on a wondrous of hope and sardonic comedy.

It’s a classic of absurdism and dreamlike cinema, cinema in general, which deserves a wider audience.

10/10

Thankful for World Cinema- The Passion of Joan of Arc

When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.

The Passion of Joan of Arc

Maria Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc (Gaumont)

The first thing that needs to be said about The Passion of Joan of Arc in the state it currently exists is that it’s a miracle we have it at all. Several cuts vanished through the years and this one suddenly surfaces in a Norwegian mental hospital 25 years ago. Truly, the salvaging of some of these older films is at times miraculous and lends even more credence to the importance of film preservation. These works of art shouldn’t be lost and we can’t leave it to chance to find wonderful cuts such as these.

Second, is if you’re watching the Criterion collection version of this film opt for the Voices of Light soundtrack. Again an interesting note is that even though music clearly, according to all the records, was played when this film was screened Dreyer has nothing in his notes to indicate what that music should be, which is odd if you see his other work you know how exacting and precise he could be. So this is as close to an “official” score as you get and it is truly wonderfully done and moving and while it claims not to be a score it syncs beautifully with the images and story.

This film should be viewed for the performance of Maria Falconetti alone. It is often cited as one of the greatest in the history of film a fact which is also unique to this film considering how infrequently Falconetti acted on camera, however, this is no rote repetition of consensus. She is marvelous. It can truly be said this performance is well ahead of its time and reads like one of the greats of the 40s who had the benefit of sound. Falconetti needed no sound, no words and carries this film single-handedly in the rare performance that can be called a tour-de-force.

Lastly, there is the story itself and how it unfolds. I think it is likely one that transcends religion. Whether you’re inclined to believe Joan or Arc’s claims or not you see someone being horribly mistreated, you see one of the judges hurting because he believes her and you witness the tragic outcome of the tale.

This film is a masterpiece of silent film. You’ll note as you watch very few titles are actually needed. It manages through it’s unique visual style to communicate its tale very effectively. It is a must see.

10/10

61 Days of Halloween- Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror

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.

Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror

David Carradine in Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (Dimension)

Here we are again in Gatlin, mind you that’s not a complaint. As you have seen and will see later on in the series keeping the geographical ties in this tale are quite difficult. The fact that Urban Harvest works so well in Chicago is nothing short of astonishing. No, this series didn’t have the affinity for Gatlin, Nebraska that Friday the 13th had for Camp Crystal Lake but both those series had a successful airing outs. Here though despite the many possibilities that still existed the returns to nearby towns and Gatlin itself almost always have a bit of staleness to them.

Perhaps no film in this series does more to distance you at the beginning of the film than this one does with the intro it has. Not only do you have the stereotypical college kids on a road trip but to not put too fine a point on it they’re douche college kids. Fantastic. And these are the people I’m supposed to want to see escape the grasp of smarter, more organized albeit crazed zealot children, to quote the great philosopher Ed from Good Burger “Uh, no?”

As if their intro with blow-up doll road markers and typical over-the-top fratboy-jerk-loserness isn’t bad enough we’re supposed to then think that these broad, over-the-top types have dimensions, heart and a conscience and want to save some of the of the children of Gatlin from the fate that’s befallen them. Even if the performances to this point had ridiculously exceeded what was on the written page, the script had already doomed the notion would pass the suspension of disbelief test.

It’s a ludicrous notion to want to save the children because the one thing that has always been somewhat a strength and a detriment to this series, depending on how it’s handled, is that the kids aren’t subtle. Basically, because kids just aren’t usually. They hate b.s. and subterfuge. So in an insular setting with a mob rule/cult mentality they’ll yell “Outlander!” at you and chase you with a scythe no problem. This film is not that different. The children don’t waste a lot of their time telling the students they’re trespassing on private property and that they best be on their way. They proceed to get lost and then trapped there by the children yet there’s still some trust there, some you’re willing to try and save?

Now as mentioned the acting here again is not stellar which you could almost come to expect but what makes it more difficult to take is that there were some weird casting choices. One of the students is played by Ahmet Zappa, now I can’t argue he doesn’t fit the type of character he plays but why Ahmet Zappa would be cast in anything is beyond me.

A bit more unfortunate I feel is the casting of Adam Wylie in the role of the preacher boy, Ezeekial, now I stress that it’s the casting I question here. Adam Wylie in this era was a child actor who’d pop-up in almost anything you can think of, rather akin to Nathan Gamble in as much as you saw him in many things but just likely never placed a name to the face and minus a breakout role now but talented nontheless. Wylie in the realm of a horror film was suited more to be the scared kid you’d be rooting for rather than the flip the switch type: seeming all sweet and innocent until you get on his bad side. A polar opposite of Daniel Cerny in III film.

This film also has a stellar bit of casting that sadly does little to nothing to help the film at all. David Carradine plays the role of an elder guide here. Despite the fact that he gets some decent dialogue that he’s allowed to work brilliantly with his susurrous delivery it adds a weird wrinkle to the story. In the original run of the series The Age of Reason, meaning the age at which children reach adulthood and must sacrifice themselves to He Who Walks Behind the Rows, changes clumsily. In the short story and remake it’s clear why, however, never is it adequately explained why a group with such a rigid dogma would not just allow this man to live among them but act as counselor.

This is one of the cases in this series where the film lost their religion. At certain points it seemed to vanish entirely other times fundamental precepts were change regardless of consequence or lack of sensibility. Clearly installments of this nature suffer more than most.

This film also changes the ritual of sacrifice, which is one that I can forgive so long as one character is the interpreter of the will of He Who Walks Behind the Rows things like that may shift. However, on top of everything else in this film there was a lack of explication.

The very least I can say for the film is that they did create other avenues for leaving town once a car is taken out of the equation but it very predictably goes wrong. However, it does beg the question why is a bus stopping in a ghost town? Other locals may have a handshake agreement to leave the children alone and keep their lives but a bus? Why?

Everywhere you look in Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror there are head-scratching decisions. Such that my initial reaction was after this installment no wonder they felt it necessary to re-hash Isaac for the next one.

2/10

61 Days of Halloween- Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest

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.

Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest

Daniel Cerny in Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (Dimension)

After having watched Children of the Corn II:The Final Sacrifice I was considering devising a system wherein I gauged the painfulness of these films by which body part I’d rather punch repeatedly for 90 minutes than having sat through that film. Thankfully, I never got around to hatching those plans because along came Children of the Corn 3: Urban Harvest.

One thing I will say right off the bat is that this film unquestionably wins the award for the worst subtitle of any of the Children of the Corn sequels, while it is accurate it is also terrible and makes you think this film will be a lot worse than it is.

The fact of the matter is I love this film. I might even go so far as to use the annoying variant “lurve” if I could distinguish the difference in usage. Anyway, that is not to say that this one is perfect or better than the first but there’s a spark of creativity here, a flair and embracing of the concept in this one you don’t get in other films in the series. It’s also a little out there and in that way it is to an extent the Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (Yes, that review will be re-posted here) equivalent in this series.

The connection to the original film is really a chronological one, a narrative one. This film uses the same scenario as two; orphaned children in need of care and handles it so much better than the previous film it’s not even funny. Here you get a focused situation: Eli (Daniel Cerny) and his brother Joshua (Ron Melendez) come to the big city from Gatlin. The religion and the cult are on the road in a big city and are about to get a big foothold.

What also sets this sequel apart is that it features its antagonist prominently makes him someone you can understand when you hear him preach and speak but also makes him vile enough that you aren’t upset if he’s defeated. Stories from the Bible and quoting of scripture is used very effectively in the film through Eli making the cult seem like something that makes sense. If the children seem justified in their ritual of killing adults and sacrificing themselves it makes them that much more frightening. Understanding a killer’s mind can be a terrifying thing. If a horror film makes you understand that it’s a winner.

The conveyor of the message in this tale, that is more religious than most, is equally important. Daniel Cerny may not have had the longest or most prolific career as a child actor but he did find two roles he was very well suited for that are quite memorable: Eli and the Demon in Demonic Toys (Which I also want to write about). There’s something intangible about his performance. He’s just scary. He doesn’t have the widest range or convey them all emotions equally well, however, at least he can handle dialogue and he can get angry and headstrong. It’s the kind of performance that might best be labeled as great yet inconsistent.

Kills are not something you’ll hear me discuss too much in this series. The Children of the Corn series as a whole isn’t filled with creative deaths it doesn’t really fit the slasher mold. Not only does this film have some jaw-droppingly effective and creative kills but quite a few of them. Which leads to another element of a successful horror film: no one seems safe.

The tone is set early on in the teaser scene. It reveals how they were orphaned and Eli’s true nature and we know it all along and his brother doesn’t. The film carries that secret for a while but then it also is keeping from us, which it spills later on.

Another way in which this film kind of reminded me of the 3rd Halloween film is in the handling of the corn itself. Now the subplot of the corn being somewhat supernatural and malevolent. It seemingly selectively can take down the infidels. The visuals of those deaths paired with the tag at the end make it very similar but it’s also the best handling of this development in the story. After the next film this notion vanishes entirely.

In short, this is the one direct sequel (as opposed to the remake), that as soon as I was done watching it I could see myself gladly viewing again. It also proves how bad a place to watch a film basic cable is because I’ve seen parts of many of these films and the Halloweeen films there before getting the DVDs and they make the experience so much worse. This sequel truly is one worthy of its predecessor and is a blast to watch.

8/10

61 Days of Halloween- Children of the Corn (1984)

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.

Children of the Corn (1984)

John Franklin in Children of the Corn (New World Pictures)

In my opinion this is a great film and here’s why: Even before we see anything we feel that the score will be of great importance in this film. Aside from a slightly electronic new wave 80s score provided by Jonathan Elias the film is also scored by a children’s choir appropriate and both chilling in tandem with the events that occur onscreen and with the theme of the film.

Like in many horror films we begin in flashback to prior event that led to current unusual circumstances with voice over narration of Job (Robbie Kiger) who is the older brother of Sarah (AnneMarie McAoy). Throughout the film these two are involved in simple activities which are banned under the rules but because of Sarah’s gift they generally are allowed to do what they wish.

What separates this film from most in the 80s is that it’s not necessarily into gore. We get dead bodies and the after-affect of the massacres. The obsession of needing to see the blade or bullet, whatever it may be, pierce the skin is absolutely eliminated and the result is even more frightening.

Joseph (Jonas Marlowe), a child displeased with the ways Isaac has placed upon the town of Gatlin, tries to escape but he is caught. All we see when he dies is a few drops of blood falling on a suitcase he was going to take with him on the road.

Film is a medium that is at times binding to the imagination. When any director, Fritz Kiersch, in this instance allows the audience to imagine what may have been done to these people it deserves notice. Another example of this being the massacre three years prior that kicks off the film we hear a mother’s death over the phone and see a father’s blood splatter over a son’s face. A lot of what makes this film great is the mounting tension that is created when we see these two trying to get around this seemingly abandoned town.

One of the most effective techniques Kiersch uses to heighten tension while the film was progressing is the use of shots from an anonymous yet subjective POV after we know the children were already out to get them. There’s a shot through broken glass that’s been stained brown, a shot of someone peering over a garbage can, low-angle shots of the corn when Joseph’s being chased. He also employs time to his advantage because the young couple does not enter the town of Gatlin where all the horrors will occur until the 39th minute of the film and even when there things creep along slowly.

There is a great use of wide-angle shots throughout to demonstrate the emptiness of the town. The audio and visual effects of this film are absolutely breathtaking, except maybe for one notable one at the very end (You know which I mean). There’s a great use of what appears to be time lapse footage coupled with the audio effect of gushing wind to signify the wrath of God. Near the conclusion of the film we hear the greatest demonic voices in the history of film (In my humble opinion). They’re deep, raspy and frightening without going overboard. And just when we think the most psychotic of all the town’s children is going to walk away from this Isaac speaks to him in that voice and delivers a line that helps make that voice: “He wants you too, Malachai. He wants you too.” The escalating horror of the climax continues when there is a gorgeous fiery apparition in the sky and later an obviously processed flame beneath it which we assume is supernatural but to say more would be giving it away.

The end of Children of the Corn is wonderful the very last scene gives you a fright which is conceivable and doesn’t seem fake at all due to some crafty editing. It takes away that artificial happy ending feeling. The happy ending in any horror movie is absolutely false because we know the characters usually have been through a harrowing experience and it’ll be hard for them to walk away smiling. Watch for the sound of the crickets and the return of a choir, this ending will run a chill through you all over again!

This film is also steeped in religious commentary. First, there is Horton and Hamilton in the car listening to a televangelist and mocking him and showing very good comedic interplay. They find a cross made of corn and Horton says in an offhand and stunned way “Jesus Christ” to which Hamilton responds “Not in my book.”

We witness a mass of those who worship He Who Walks Behind the Rows and see the irony of their words screaming at us. All the names of the children in this town Isaac, Malachai (Though spelled differently in the story), Job and Sarah are biblical figures. These are the children of God-fearing people who have twisted the scripture to suit the needs of a few sick souls who are power hungry those who stand against the clan generally have no chance. Vicky is kidnapped and hung from a cross made of corn, biblical passages are written in blood on church walls the same church where a desecrated portrait of Jesus hangs.

There is but one point where the film climbs towards the didactic and even so it’s but a moment and almost necessary because it shows how insane Malachai’s followers have gone. One other thing that make this film is unique is that we get inside the cult and see the way Isaac and Malachi differ. In what makes horror films fun we get to side with one of them over the other because if we were involved with them in any way he’s the one we’d prefer. There is much infighting with these two and it adds to the tension and adds a wallop to the climax.

9/10