“Child’s Play” (2019) brief horror movie review

“Hi, I’m Chucky, wanna play?” It’s a fun horror movie, flaws and all. Let’s address the white elephant in the room. This is not as good as the original; however, instead of primarily focussing on what did not do right, I’d like to highlight what it did well. At the end of the day, this is a highly entertaining horror movie that brings Chucky’s origin into the 21st Century. Unlike the trajectory of the Child’s Play franchise after the original sequel that embraced the camp effect, 2019’s Child’s Play attempts to go full-on horror. Unfortunately, it should have gone the camp route, because I feel that would have been received more favorably. There are moments that you question whether or not they are supposed to be funny. And it’s that ambiguity that leaves us uncomfortably in the middle during many moments in the movie. Although each problem can be individually dissected to determine why it didn’t work, the long and short of it can be attributed to a weak screenplay. While the screenplay is responsible for many of the movie’s problems, the idea or premise is solid; it’s a fresh interpretation of the original premise. For the gore fans out there, the movie ups the ante quite a bit! There aren’t many kills, but the ones that we get are creative, painful, and gruesome. Whereas all the human characters are flat, lacking in anything truly redeemable, this movie does provide more time in developing the relationship between Andy and Chucky that allows us to empathize with Andy’s dilemma when confronted with Chucky’s violence. Contrary to the hype going into the anticipated voice acting of Mark Hamill as Chucky, the performance lacks anything memorable. Aubrey Plaza does a very Plaza job as Andy’s mom, and Gabriel Bateman delivers little more than a mediocre performance as Andy. You might be thinking that you could say some of these same things about 80s horror movies; however, 80s slashers were (1) a product of their time and (2) originated so many characters and ideas and (3) were largely built upon the idea of campy horror. Had the new Child’s Play went the camp route or stayed true to a serious, thought-provoking horror movie route, then it could have been received much more favorably. But hey, that marketing campaign inspired by Toy Story 4 was brilliant.

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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Twitter: RLTerry1

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Sinister Summer: “The Birds” Retrospective Review

“You’ll never look at birds the same way again” (Jurassic Park). Although Dr. Grant was referring to velociraptors, you can say the very same thing about Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Hitchcock directed more than fifty feature length films, only two of which are horror (Psycho and The Birds). However, he is widely credited, and rightly so, as the director who ushered in the modern horror film, with Psycho being regarded as the first modern horror film. On the heels of the success of Psycho, a film that revolutionized so much about the movie-going experience from movie start times to “not spoiling the ending” (now where have we recently heard that???), Hitch set out to deliver another horror film at the height of his powers. But what would it be about? He turned to past collaborator Daphne du Maurier, author of Rebecca, Hitch’s first American film. Her best-selling novella The Birds had previously been adapted for radio and stage (I’ve actually seen the stage adaptation, and incidentally I prefer the film), but Hitch decided to adapt it (loosely I might add) for the small screen. That’s right, small screen. He originally intended The Birds to be adapted for his wildly popular and successful series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. But like Jordan Peele did with Us, which I am convinced started out as an idea for his Twilight Zone series, Hitch decided to take the idea from TV to the cinema! So with the decision to adapt du Maurier’s novella into a cinematic experience, Hitch made history. Not only is it one of the most famous films in cinematic history, it sowed the birdseed for all the “when nature attacks” movies to follow including Jaws and Jurassic Park. This film was also influential in John Carpenter’s The Fog and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. With the question of why did the birds attack never being answered, it leaves the events of this movie lingering in our minds as a possible reality.

To hear a conversation with me on the CineMust podcast chatting about the must-see status of The Birds and Jaws, click HERE.

When wealthy well-known socialite Melanie Daniels (Hedron) finds herself to be the brunt of a practical joke played by lawyer Mitch Brenner (Taylor) at a bird shop while searching for a gift, she decides to return the favor by buying a couple of birds and dropping them off at his apartment. Upon finding that he spends the weekends with his younger sister and mother (Jessica Tandy) north of San Francisco in the small community of Bodega Bay, she drives to the remote town in order to deliver the birds. Soon after her unannounced arrival, the birds of the town begin to act incredibly strangely. Following a seagull attacking Melanie, and Mitch’s mother discovering her neighbor dead from an apparent bird attack, the town realizes that the birds are a real threat. Eventually birds, in the thousands are attacking anyone without reason or explanation as to why this is happening. Trapped in the Brenner household, survival becomes the number one priority for not only our central characters but everyone in the town.

At the heart of The Birds is relationships. Relationships ranging from romantic to familial and then between an outsider and the natives of a close knit town. Paranoia is a common theme in this film as well. The characters and their relationships between one another are so incredibly strong and well–developed that you can ostensibly remove the birds from the equation and the movie still works. Now, it doesn’t work as a horror film, but it works as a drama. The strength of this screenplay, written by Evan Hunter, lies in the complex characters and simple plot. Although the plot is largely changed from du Maurier’s novella, the setting, character dynamics, and the idea of the home invasion are extrapolated from the source material. Outside of the terrifying element of the attacking birds, the film’s subplot is about an outsider invading a close knit community and a de facto love quadrangle between Mitch, his mother, his sister, and his ex. Essentially, Melanie upsets the normal order of the town much in the same way that the birds upset the pecking order of humans vs nature. The screenplay also delivers some outstanding tonal shifts that are seamlessly woven together. Way before the first bird attacks, The Birds begins as a screwball comedy right out of the 1930s, then changes into a soap opera, then suspense, followed by horror. Lastly, the movie takes one final tonal shift from horror to apocalyptic, complete with dead bodies, foreboding birds, and a lack of resolution. This movie has legitimately inspired the real fear of birds (ornithophobia) in how the scenes were shot and the lingering possibility that this could happen in your own town.

There is a brilliant lack of explanation of why the birds are attacking not is there any real means of escape for the townsfolk of Bodega Bay, all while chaos reigns supreme in this otherwise innocent seaside landscape. Yet, this cinematic work is a permanent resident of our sociological zeitgeist. Even those who have not seen the film are aware of its existence. And it has gone from screen to live experience at the former Universal Studios Florida attraction Alfred Hitchcock: the Art of Making Movies. The reason why we don’t focus on the lack of an explanation for the birds bizarre and violent behavior is for the same reason that we don’t ask why Bruce (Jaws) is attacking people. We accept it because the film is more concerned with its theme than points of origin expositional dumps. We don’t care about why the birds are doing what they are doing–that’s part of the horror. It’s the same reason why it’s important that we don’t know too much about Michael Myers; if we knew too much about him, why he ticks, then he would cease to be the boogeyman. These birds would cease to be terrifying if there was some sort of natural or supernatural explanation. The unknown is frightening. There have been many hypotheses over the years as to what the birds represent. The most popular one is rooted in the red scare or communism. And perhaps that is true, but the real villain (character of opposition) is not the birds but the townsfolk of Bodega Bay. The birds are the personification of the mistreatment of and unwelcoming attitudes of the residents toward Melanie. In a similar fashion, the villain of Jaws is the mayor because he is the personification of the folly of man.

When the true oppositional character in a screenplay is an entity, force, or idea, that component has to be personified in a character(s) because film is a visual storytelling medium, so the outdated, nationalistic attitudes of the locals is personified in the birds. Moreover, the ornithologist in the diner stated that if birds of different species flocked together, then all hope would be lost for humanity as we couldn’t stand a chance against them. That foreboding prediction came to pass as both crows and seagulls (who do not mix together in real life) massed together and terrorized the town and its people. As the birds are the original inhabitants of Bodega Bay, the humans represent the outsiders. This symbolism is also witnessed in how the townsfolk banned together to force Melanie out of the town and in how Mitch’s mother urges him to send Melanie back to San Francisco. All through the movie, there are images and sequences of the way outsiders can be marginalized by the majority of the native inhabitants. Human civilization has long sense been guilty of stigmatizing or marginalizing outsiders. At the root of the symptoms of intolerance is fear. So, Hitchcock took that root cause of unwelcoming attitudes and mistreatment and adapted it into a timeless horror film. It holds up so well because fear is still evident in how certain groups of people treat another in our lives today. Hitchcock used a combination of blue screen and practical effect technologies to bring the terror to life. And of those two approaches, it’s mostly practical-effect driven, all the way down to the real birds that were used during the production (with proper bird trainers/wranglers).

Three scenes that I want to highlight are the birthday party, downtown attack scene, and the upstairs room at the showdown. Nowadays, these scenes would be full of CGI and other post-production work. The actors would be acting with no birds on set, or very few anyway. For authenticity, puppets, mechanical, and real birds were used for these scenes to increase the realness and give the actors something to truly be afraid of. In fact, so many real birds were used that there were multiple large bird enclosures on the set that used as the temporary home of the stars of the film. In addition to bird wranglers, the American Humane Society was on set every day to monitor the treatment of the birds. The birthday party scene was composed of rotoscoping birds, blue screen shots of birds, papier-mache birds, and birds that were tied to actors and even more birds that were freely flying within the enclosure built around the set. Although most of the birds remained in the aviary, a few got out. And to this day, there are decedents of those birds living in the rafters of that sound stage on the Universal lot. In much the same way, the students fleeing the schoolhouse and down the hill to the town center–that scene–was accomplished in very much the same way. However, with this one, the added pyrotechnics were incorporated. The iconic phonebooth was covered in birdseed and shrimp to get the birds to go completely crazy. The upstairs bedroom scene at the end of the movie was completely constructed inside a giant aviary with hundreds of birds. In addition to the birdseed and shrimp that was strewn about the room, real birds were thrown at Hedron. The terror in her eyes that you see in the scene is all too real. No amount of acting can replicate that authentic fear. Despite the very real attack of the birds, Hedron is eternally grateful to have been a part of cinematic history.

The single scene that find is the most fascinating and shows the power of Hitchcock’s innate ability to create suspense with a camera is the scene immediately preceding the schoolhouse evacuation–the scene with Melanie sitting on the park bench with the jungle gym int he background.

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

Follow him!

Twitter: RLTerry1

Instagram: RL_Terry

“Rocketman” Movie Musical Review

Well, it’s better than BoRhap, but I should’ve rocketed passed this one. Before you throw tomatoes at me, as my opinion is clearly in the minority on this one, let me start out by stating that I do not care for rock n roll fever dream musicals. If you are unfamiliar with that subgenre of movie musicals, they are best described as those musicals that are surreal, nonlinear, and ultimately driven by emotion and image versus action or plot. Think of a poem versus prose. If you’re looking for an example of this type of movie, then look to Across the Universe. If you enjoyed Across the Universe or are simply a fan of Elton John’s music, then you will definitely enjoy Rocketman. If you are like me and do not care for the modern approach to a musical or unfamiliar with Elton John’s music beyond Step into ChristmasRocketman, or The Lion King, much like me, then you may want to consider blasting past this one. As outstanding as Taron Egerton’s impersonation of Elton John is, I am not ready to give him an Oscar nod. Personally, I do not consider excellent impersonations on par with acting. Impersonation and acting do not weigh the same, in my opinion. However, his performance appears to be highly committed and accurate to Elton John, which adds immense support to the tagline Taron Egerton is Elton John. Furthermore, this performance provides demonstrable evidence that Egerton is capable of a wide range of future roles. Where I do hope the film sees Oscar-nominations is in the spectacular costuming and mesmerizing production design. Those costumes were absolutely mind-blowing! For fans of Elton John’s music or simply the modern approach to the movie musical, then this will certainly be one to catch in the cinema on the big screen.

Rocketman is a modern movie musical that takes audiences on a fever dream journey through the highs and lows of Sir Elton John’s career from his breakout years to headlining Madison Square Garden to addict recovery and his resurgence in the 1980s.

Even before I told my friend that I did not care for the movie, she already knew. Why? Because she knew that I didn’t care for modern musicals; therefore, she extrapolated a hypothesis that I did not like Across the Universe. She knows me very well. Now, before you think that I only like classic musicals, let me elaborate. When I say modern, I am referring to a modern approach to the narrative structure and execution of the musical numbers. For instance, I absolutely loved La La Land and greatly enjoyed The Greatest Showman. However, both of those are classical in their respective approaches to the movie musical. In terms of Broadway, I love Sunset Boulevard and Mamma Mia, both of which are chronologically modern, but the former is still a classically structured musical and the latter’s worldwide success is attributed to the timeless music of ABBA, with which I am very familiar. If I use Mamma Mia or Mamma Mia Here We Go Again as modern movie musicals, that I liked, to which I compare Rocketman, then I assess that if I was more familiar with Elton John’s music, then I would have probably enjoyed the movie a lot more. After all, I went into it with the certainty that I was going to enjoy it. As there are no real shortcomings in the movie (except for some of the clunky dialogue), I am left with the evaluation that I simply do not care for this type of storytelling, so that is why I did not care for the movie.

My favorite moments in the movie are the ones between Elton and Bernie, specifically the one just before a concert in which Bernie urges Elton to reconnect with his child-self to remember why he loved music to begin with. Elton refuses to acknowledge his life before his Elton John persona, and snaps at Bernie. Two seconds later, he reaches out his hand to grab Bernie’s and apologizes. This shows the complexities of their longstanding platonic friendship, and therefore visually communicates the strength and depth of their relationship. At the core of this movie, it is about the rise, fall, and rise of the central character that is guided by an unreliable narrator. The nonlinear narrative begins in the present day, then flashes back to the past. And this goes back and forth until the showdown wherein we move past the moment that we opened with to jump forward to Elton’s recovery and end BEFORE The Lion King. I know. I was hoping that we were going to get a reference to The Lion King and then end the movie. Because this is a rock n roll fever dream musical, it was important to establish Elton John as an unreliable narrator because we then interpret what we are about to watch through a highly subjective lens. Subjectivity is important in the interpretation of a dream, and this story is very dream-like. Since the movie begins with an addict Elton John and ends with a recovered Elton, this unreliability allows for a greater character growth arc that is emotionally driven. Emotion is of vital importance because this story has far more in common with a poem than prose.

Perhaps the narrative execution is not to my liking, but the musical numbers are highly engaging and lots of fun to watch. If you love the music of Elton John then these musical numbers will tug at your heartstrings or make you jump to your feet and dance along with the movie. The first act is quite strong, and the second act is moderately strong, but the third act is a little clunky. Still, every moment of this movie was more enjoyable than BoRhap. The movie would have played stronger for me had it not been filled with one-dimensional characters wrapped up in a lackluster plot. But hey the music and costumes are great! If you want the full experience of Rocketman, then I feel that you want to watch it in a Dolby Cinema auditorium for the exquisite audio and picture quality. Whereas BoRhap was mostly about the music, this one is all about the imagery followed by the music.

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

Follow him!

Twitter: RLTerry1

Instagram: RL_Terry

“Office Killer” Throwback Thursday movie review

Ever see one of those indie horror-comedies that was panned by the critics when it came out a couple decades ago just to realize that if it was released today that it would be the talk of the horror community? Well, that is 1997’s Office Killer starring Carol Kane (When a Stranger Calls), Molly Ringwald, and directed by famed photographer Cindy Sherman. Kane delivers an outstandingly bananas performance that is a combination of Norman Bates and Patrick Bateman. Sherman certainly displays her adoration for the cinematography of Hitchcock’s films in many of the scenes in how the shots are framed and blocked. You’re hard-pressed to find many reviews of this horror-comedy even on LetterBoxd. It’s baffling to me why this movie hasn’t received more attention from the horror community on Twitter, blogs, and podcasts. Perhaps it’s because it is no incredibly obscure that you have a hard time even finding it on DVD, let alone streaming. A friend of mine had to order his copy of the movie from Spain. That is how difficult it is to find this movie. Even the few reviews I found were not flattering–except a couple that write about what I witness in this movie. The title works in two ways (1) it’s a description of how even in the 90s there was a fear that computers would kill the traditional office environment and (2) the literal description of a slasher in the office. Furthermore, there are plenty of moments and kills that serve as a freudian commentary on the American workplace. So I suppose it’s up to me to direct attention to this horror gem!

From the beginning, I had a feeling that I was in store for a highly artistic indie darling of a movie as soon as I saw the fantastically creative opening credits accompanied by a creepy score. Following the opening credits, there was a very Hitchcock shot that intrigued me and tipped its hat to Sherman channeling her award-winning photography into the moving images on the screen. Typically, horror movies don’t have narration but we begin with a narration. Not knowing anything about this movie, I was completely unsure of what to expect. Even the first kill didn’t tell me that I was about to watch a slasher. But as I learned more about Dorine (Kane), the more I was sucked into her world and completely intrigued by her choices and lack of social awareness. Playing opposite Kane is the indelible Molly Ringwald as the bitchy, judgy coworker Kim. Her performance is great! Not great in that it’s a phenomenal performance, but great in that she showed that she can play a character that is in stark contrast to most of the characters she has played throughout her longstanding career. Most of the performances are caricatures of various people found in a typical office. In fact, I’m curious if The Office ever parodied Office Killer because it seems like a missed opportunity if not. If you are aware of an episode that pays homage to Office Killer, let me know!

Perhaps the strength of this movie is not the acting (albeit, Kane is fantastic), but the strength is in the production design, costuming, plot, and Freudian themes. On the plot. Yes, the plot. You may be scratching your head because most reviews have slammed the plot. But I feel that 1997 critics and even those who come across this film today largely missed the point of the plot. It’s not supposed to be a compelling story with thought provoking imagery and characters, it’s supposed to be a 70/80s horror movie that is darkly funny! It’s just happens to be taking place in the mid 1990s. Perhaps this movie came out too close to the 70s/80s and thus felt old and cheesy. I posit that if this movie came out today, that it would be praised for its embrace of what we love about 70s/80s slasher movies! We don’t watch and rewatch these movies because they have incredible plots. We watch them because they are lots of fun! And Office Killer is incredibly fun to watch. While we may not know precisely why Dorine’s switch flipped and she went full–what I’ll call–Norman Bateman, we are given indicators of her unstable psyche through her flashbacks to her sexually abusive father and complacent mother, and of course the present story of most of her coworkers bullying her. Those three elements, plus the opportunity, work together to set her up to be a total psycho. Her actual kills may not be creative–that is, the method by which she kills–but the creativity comes into play afterwards with the corpses piling up in her house. She talks to them, plays with them, articulates them in such a manner that they become her action figures so to speak. It’s incredibly creepy but in a comedic way.

Now for those Freudian elements. This is what I find most fascinating about the movie; and what should provoke conversations amongst cinephiles and horror enthusiasts. One of the earliest shots in the movie is an extreme closeup (or ECU) of a staff member’s mouth as she is on the phone. Her red lipstick accentuates her mouth and points to the Freudian oral fixation. The scenes that follow depict female office staff members in a variety of different capacities and situations. It appears as though Sherman was painting a portrait of the male gaze over the female body. Moreover, what this movie appears to comment on and depict is Freud’s study on Fetishism. According to Freud’s study, and not to over simplify, fetishism is a fixation on an object or physiological practice of a substitution for intercourse following a sexual desire awakening in the body and mind. In more contemporary terms, the definition of fetish has evolved beyond just sexuality, but is generally still associated with sexual practices. Since likely paternal sexual abuse happened to and her mother turned her head to the allegations, in an effort to deal with the trauma, Dorine substituted what she wanted to do to her parents and others who abuse or bully her by engaging in slasher-style killings.

Each of the kills is a warped poetic justice based upon what Dorine saw as wrong with the victim. A great example of this is the attempted strangling of Kim. Since Kim ran her mouth constantly, Dorine sought to silence her voice. This same idea can be applied to the other kills too, and even in how the corpses are treated in Dorine’s basement. There is a playful nature in Dorine’s approach to the kills and even more so with her interactions with them afterwards. The depths of her psychosis are revealed one layer at a time. Even when you think that Dorine is about to get caught, she gets away with it; she alludes her would-be captors by searching the want ads and heading for another job in an office–perhaps your office! With each kill, Dorine integrated an element of that victim into her own life. She goes from mousy, frumpy to stylish and seductive. Her office underwent a transition and so did she. Dorine killed her former self to become the self that she wants to be. There is so much to enjoy about this horror comedy, and it baffles me that more horror fans and cinephiles have not talked about this movie. If you can somehow get ahold of a copy, then I highly recommend it if you enjoy slasher movies with a tough of style and laughter.

 

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

Follow him!

Twitter: RLTerry1

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Detective Pikachu movie review

Gonna catch an uplifting time at the cinema with Detective Pikachu! Whether you are first generation Pokemon fans (mid 20s-mid 30s) or the more recent generation of fans, you are sure to have a great time at this movie. That being said, you definitely need to be familiar with Pokemon if you are going to get the full enjoyment out of this live-action animated story. I describe the movie in this way because the plot and characters are right out of a typical animated movie. Do you need to have reached high levels in Pokemon GO or have books of trading cards to enjoy this movie? Certainly not. Even with a little knowledge, you will wax nostalgic and “feel it in your jellies.” At the root of this movie is the theme of reconciling father-son relationships. That being the case, it would have made far more sense to have opened on Fathers Day weekend as opposed to Mothers Day weekend. There are lots and lots of movies about mothers and daughters/sons, but far fewer about fathers and their kids. Therefore, releasing this movie on Fathers Day weekend would have made more sense.

A major challenge for the screenwriters was to write a movie that was entertaining for both 20/30s and kids. Would I love to see a Deadpool version of Pikachu? Sure! But that would have excluded the kids, so the fact it was entertaining for me and appropriate for kids and entire families was an accomplishment! After that abominable Sonic trailer, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect in this movie, even though the clips from the trailer looked good. Suffice it to say, the CGI design of the Pokemon and the production design of the setting worked together very well! All the practical and digital elements complimented one another. Although the plot was developed well enough for this movie, the dialogue suffered majorly. Most of the lines are uninspired, unimaginative, and vapid. However, there is a moment that a certain theme song is kind of sung, and it is brilliantly delivered! Well, that’s pretty much it for this review. To be honest, there isn’t much here to dissect. So do yourself a favor, and catch this movie in theatres this weekend.

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

Follow him!

Twitter: RLTerry1

Instagram: RL_Terry