ReelReviews #18: Carrie (2013)

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APRIL 18, 2013 SCREENING: CARRIE (2013)

 

The last and perhaps least of three adaptations of Carrie is the recently released 2013 film. The good news is that it’s not a bad movie, but the bad news is that it’s not a good one. Unlike other recent remakes where I’ve watched multiple versions back to back and seen them tell the story in vastly different ways (a good example being the different versions of Fright Night, which I will review soon) you can’t really find anything new or surprising here. I watched this one immediately after I had seen the 1976 and 2002 versions, and its like watching actors audition for the same role. The same scenes, and the same dialogue is shown over and over, so I’m left to compare how the performance is, since I already know how the scene will unfold and how the movie will play out.

Carrie 2013 has one and a half things it does better than its predecessors: the music was by far the best of the three Carries (I wish the creepy music during Carries rampage in this movie had been used in the 1976 movie, which deserved it more), and for once, the high school students actually believably look the part, especially since this is the only Carrie where the actress is the correct age for the role. I give it “half” a point for this because while Chloe Grace Moretz is the lone time where an actual teenager plays a teenager, and she’s believable as a tormented teen, she also suffers from the Sissy Spacek problem of being too cute and charming to convey the idea that this girl is a social outcast. Angela Bettis remains the undisputed champion of getting that vital part of Carrie’s life across on screen, although Chloe Grace Moretz’s acting is good and you genuinely sympathize with what she’s going through. It’s all the more impressive given that the previous two Carries were adult actresses and now you have a much younger actress having to do a range of difficult scenes. Unfortunately for Chloe, she’s already proved herself in some iconic film roles, especially in the modern day horror classic Let Me In, which is probably why she was cast in this movie and was the main selling point. This time around, she’s just in an average, forgettable horror movie.

In many ways, Carrie 2013 was a hybrid of the previous two takes on the story. Chloe Grace Moretz channeled both Sissy Spacek and Angela Bettis at times, and Julianne Moore was virtually a hybrid of Piper Laurie and Patricia Clarkson’s interpretation of the role. She’s quiet and reserved, but also clearly nuts, paranoid, and completely detached from reality. Even the ending seem to merge the climax of the previous two movies – Carrie defeats her mother by both stabbing her to death, and giving her a massive heart attack. Did the filmmakers watch the previous two adaptations back-to-back like I did, and try to combine them? If that wasn’t the intention, it seems to have been the result, but its not good.

The climax here was surprisingly, well, anti-climatic. I think this version had the least build up to the point at the prom where they pour blood on Carrie (I think they used some type of new blood effect too, it didn’t splash all over her like the previous two movies). Carrie, although in shock, is clearly what’s aware of going on, and if they were trying to show she was enraged and on a killing spree, they didn’t convey it very well. Worse, in this version they have Carrie hover in midair and wave her arms around to gesture at objects she’s using her powers on, and it had the exact opposite effect of the 1976 movie: it screamed “Fake Hollywood movie”, rather than convince me a crazed teenage girl is genuinely using telekinesis powers to wreak havoc The final shot in the movie was also the weakest of the three versions (which is really saying something since I thought all three were hokey and underwhelming). It just shows Carrie’s grave followed a fake CGI “crack” which I guess is supposed to scare us.

Carrie 2013 has an R-rating, but it seems to be mostly for language (they drop the F-bomb a lot) since its probably the tamest of the three Carrie’s. I can’t imagine this one having full frontal nudity or extreme violence. The worst part here is that after seeing the 1976 movie, I sincerely felt it was dated and a “modern take” could be interesting. Unfortunately the big budget Hollywood movie didn’t deliver it – the forgotten TV remake from a decade earlier did.

 
** out of ****

 

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ReelReviews #17: Carrie (2002)

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APRIL 17, 2013 SCREENING: CARRIE (2002)

 

The 2002 made-for-TV version of “Carrie” is the most obscure of the three, with the least amount of “star power” (relatively unknown actress Angela Bettis plays Carrie, as opposed to Sissy Spacek in the original and Chloe Grace Moretz in the 2013 version). It took me forever to even track down this film on DVD, and I had been advised: “If you didn’t care for the 1976 version because you thought the actors were too old, you’re going to hate the 2002 version”. So, when I watched 2002’s Carrie I received quite a shock: I honestly think this was the best version of the three Carries, and it outperformed its more famous and legendary 1976 predecessor in almost every category: script, direction, acting, tone, set design, makeup, etc. etc.). I have to admit I’ve never read the book, but for me, this was the definitive way to tell that story.

For starters, the 2002 version was really the only version where it was believable why Carrie was mercilessly tormented by both her peers and teachers and teachers at school. Bettis’ Carrie was clearly innocent and undeserving of that ridicule, but she also clearly came across as a homely loner and “weird girl” who was a social outcast and just didn’t fit in at a public school (as compared to the 1976 and 2013 versions, which had no friends and no life when the actresses and their performance suggested Carrie was pretty and charming and should be very popular and have guys lining up to date her) The supporting characters were also far more complex and well-written than the previous film. The movie basically presents the story as a mystery crime thriller in the aftermath of all the students being killed at the prom. Police interview Carrie’s surviving classmates/teachers and a series of flashbacks show what lead up to that point and provides clues as to how it happened. The writing was razor sharp, as illustrated by one scene where the father of a popular girl at school threatens to sue the principal and the school because his daughter was punished for tormenting Carrie, only to have the principle react by recounting what his daughter had done to deserve the punishment, and threatening to counter sue by taking him through the steps he can use to build his case. Naturally, the father backs down. The one teacher that takes pity on Carrie also comes across a more three dimensional character in this version, and had a terrific bonding moment with Carrie at the prom that evoked memories of real life H.S. experiences I’ve had.

Of particular interest to me was the fact that Margaret White – the overly religious mother of Carrie who thinks everything on the planet is a sin – is portrayed the polar opposite way she was depicted in the 1976 film. Here, the mother is quiet, reserved, and has a soft-spoken but firm demeanor. She makes her daughter’s life a living hell, but you can tell she means well and doesn’t realize the harm she is doing to her emotional development. It’s also particularly heartbreaking at the end when the mother snaps and tries to drown Carrie after her daughter had manifested her powers and massacred everyone. This worked for me 10X better than the hysterical deranged witch-hunting 1976 version did. Patricia Clarkson convinced me that I was seeing an over zealous super religious mother on screen. Piper Laurie played a one dimensional caricature of one, and it was more suited for a sketch on Saturday Night Live. The same is true of the two Carries – Sissy Spacek is supposed to be awkward social outcast, but when Carrie is crowned Prom Queen, it looks natural, since Sissy Spacek was prom queen of her high school in real life. When Angela Bettis is crowned prom queen, you have a sinking feeling that something is going to go terribly wrong and this is a set up, since no high school on earth would ever crown this girl as prom queen.

As this film is a virtual polar opposite of its 1976 predecessor, the weakest part of the film for me was the climax after Carrie is covered with pig’s blood. Until that point, the 2002 movie was better than its predecessor in every way. After that moment, the 1976 movie is far more effective. The 2002 version doesn’t even show Carrie in a rage, but rather comes up with some cope out explanation that she basically goes into a “trance” and stands there, blanking out, while everyone else gets vaporized her powers. Apparently the 2002 version was also meant to continue onward as a TV series, since its also the only version where Carrie doesn’t die at the end, but is revealed to have escaped. There are two post-pig’s blood areas of the film that are superior to the 1976 movie, and not surprisingly they’re both times where the ’76 film deviated from the source material. In the 2002 movie, as in the novel, Carrie kills her mother in self-defense by stopping her heart (it was assumed this wouldn’t work on screen in 1976, but the 2002 version cuts away to an image of her mother’s heart being squeezed to death with a cool CGI effect) and in 2002, it shows that Carrie destroys the entire town, rather than just the school. The visual effects here were impressive for a TV movie, unfortunately it lacks any type of “scary” quality as Carrie is in a trance and just walks around quietly.

The 2002 Carrie only suffers because is not really a horror film, but a crime drama with supernatural elements. Still, when it comes to telling that kind of story, its extremely effective.

 

 

*** out of ****

ReelReviews #16: Carrie (1976)

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APRIL 16, 2013 SCREENING: CARRIE (1976)

 

Stephen King novels have always been hit or miss for me, and adaptations of his novels usually end up the same way. Some movies based on Stephen King stories are masterpieces, while others are total garbage. As Stephen King is perhaps the most successful horror writer in history, this gives me a kind of love-hate relationship with his work. My experience with King is a bit unusual because I adore the 1986 adaptation of Firestarter, which King himself considered to be one of his weaker novels. Yet for years, I had never read the “classic” King novel that handled a similar subject matter: Carrie, which was the author’s first published novel. Nor had I ever seen the original 1976 movie it was based on, despite the fact it is now considered a bonafide classic that is legendary for being the first in a long line of King novels turned into movies. With the 2013 remake recently arriving on DVD, I decided to bring myself up to speed with a marathon of all three versions of Stephen King’s Carrie. The results were quite surprising.

For starters, I usually object to remakes because the original is still effective with modern audiences, and this one of the reasons I reacted negatively when I found out they were remaking the 1976 movie. The 70s were very much an era where horror films as we know them today came into existence, and surely the original Carrie is a timeless classic up there with Halloween or The Exorcist, right? Wrong. Much of the 1976’s Carrie screamed dated 70s cheese for me, and I actually felt while watching it for the first time that the movie just wouldn’t work for today’s audiences.

Carrie is directed by Brian de Palma and it has some genuinely good moments of suspense, usually involving foreshadowing of what will occur later on. The opening credits sequence is shocking for the wrong reasons – it contains some casual full-frontal nudity of “teenage” girls (obviously actresses in their 20s and 30s, by the way) in a shower room, and its done in slow motion with some soft dreamy music track and all the ladies don’t seem to shave much when it comes to body hair. This definitely screamed 1970s for me, but it seemed more like a softcore porno than a horror movie, and its certainly one element that would be left out of the remakes and not shown to audiences today.

Many of the problems I had with Carrie is the “comic relief” used to break up the tension simply isn’t funny (although one sequence – where a group of teenage girls that tormented Carrie are forced to do outdoor exercises – is brilliantly realized). Conversely, many parts of the film that are supposed to be deadly serious and creepy just come across as silly and over the top. A particularly weak point for me was Piper Laurie as Carrie’s zealously religious and overprotective mother who snaps by the end of the movie. She’s supposed to be frightening and unpredictable, but Laurie overacts to the point of absurdity and presents her as a batshit crazy one-dimensional caricature of “religious zealot” from the start. It’s very much in the vein of Faye Dunaway’s later performance as Joan Crawford in 1981’s Mommie Dearest. Yet for some bizarre reason, Dunaway’s performance gets ridiculed while Laurie’s gets praised. As for me, I just found myself snickering during moments that were supposed to be chilling, especially one scene where a wide-eyed Laurie mumbles “Thou shall not suffer a witch!!” in hysteria over her daughter’s telekinetic powers.

What really worked for me was the climax of the film. The payoff was absolutely worth it, and I believe its the reason why the movie is so fondly remembered today. Everything leading up the famous “prom scene” where Carrie is covered in pig’s blood and unleashes her vengeance wasn’t working for me. But the climax was strangely “realistic” for me, and I totally bought the idea that the character of Carrie had genuinely gone into a rage and was extracting her revenge with supernatural powers. Sissy Spacek was too old for Carrie and fairly bland and whiny through most of the movie, but when she turned into hate-filled vengeful bitch on a rampage at the end of the movie, it was genuinely disturbing and unnerving – particularly the way she just stood there and glared at people in anger, while things would happened around them like water pipes bursting and doors slamming shut. The practical effects of the 70s worked far superior than the typical fake CGI we see in today’s horror films.

Apparently the final image of the movie – SPOILERS! – where Carrie’s hand reaches up from the grave – was a landmark moment in film as it had never been done before and shocked audiences in 1976. Sadly, it doesn’t work at all in 2013, precisely because its predictable and has been used over and over again in other horror movies over the years. Carrie has some good stuff scattered throughout and an iconic scene in the school’s gym towards the end, but I simply wouldn’t rank this movie up there with other Stephen King movies that were great from start to finish like The Shining, Misery, Stand By Me, etc., etc. Carrie is an interesting film, but now a curiosity piece of 70s cheese. I simply wouldn’t consider it a horror classic.

 

** ½ out of ****

ReelReviews #15: Grindhouse (2007)

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APRIL 7-11, 2013 SCREENING: “GRINDHOUSE” MOVIES (2007-Present)
I watched a series of five films over two weeks ago, and then spent another week mulling over how the heck I would review five different films that are meant to be seen as a package deal. I’ve put it off until I reached a solution: write one review that its own five segment mini-reviews, just the movies its analyzing. You see, the basic concept from directors Robert Rodriquez and Quintin Tarantino was that they would each do a cheesy, low-budget, trashy movie that resembled the type of schlock you’d get in the ’60s and ’70s, and package the movies together as a “double feature” to watch back-to-back in a theater, complete with fake trailers and commercials between movies, and intentionally grainy, scratchy film to replicate stuff that was thrown together. After the double feature came out, it inspired three movie silly “grindhouse” type movie spinoffs. Did they succeed in this strange little parody/homage? Well, yes and no.

 

PLANET TERROR (2007)
Planet Terror is basically a “zombie movie”. I use the term in quotes because its made to look like a movie from an era where they probably wouldn’t call it a zombie movie (as the George H. Romero variety hadn’t become the definitive image of a zombie yet) and what’s more, the movie is actually about some kind of extremely grotesque mutated humans, rather than undead corpses eating human flesh. They do eat people, though, and it’s a heck a lot of more fun than people find in a lot of “modern” zombie movies like World War Z. The poster image of the girl with a machine gun for a leg is certainly exploited for all its worth in this movie, and even though they use modern CGI, the concept and execution definitely mimics the feel of a old low-budget garbage movie. There’s lot of extreme over-the-top violence as well, and this film certainly brought a smile to my face because it made me think back to the stupidest set of 70s horror movies I watched, like Laserblast (1978), along with some terrible blaxplotation movies of the same era. Where I think the film fell short were two elements where it simply ignored its own premise: 1) The movie was too long for a “Grindhouse” movie, and certainly as one half of a double feature that you’re supposed to watch back-to-back in one sitting. It should have been between 75-85 mins., tops. Second, although intentionally made it to look like it was shot in the 70s, the movie takes place in “modern times” and uses modern technology and so forth. I found that distracting. They went through so much trouble to give us scratchy looking 16mm film, why the cell phones that reminded us that this movie was not made in the era it pretends to be?
**1/2 out of ****

 

DEATH PROOF (2007)
Death Proof is the second half of the original “Grindhouse” experience, and considered the much weaker film of the two. Some people have even gone as far as to say its Tarantino’s weakest movie. But in many ways, I actually enjoyed it more than the first film. Like Planet Terror, the grainy film and ridiculous opening credits immediately make it look like you’re watching some piece of crap made around 1972 or so, but instead of just being an over-the-top splatter film, this one has something completely lacking in the first: atmosphere Apparently the “in-joke” is that it’s supposed to look like two different movies spliced together (which they actually did for really bad MST3k fodder like “They Saved Hitler’s Brain”), but the fact its obviously Kurt Russell in both halves of the movie – playing the same role – ruins this effect. As for me, I loved the first half the movie (where had a very good, creepy “70s stalker movie” vibe like I was watching The Last House on the Left or something), and I was indifferent/bored by the second half, which had a “70s stunt race car movie” feel. To convey that its “Two different movies” the second half was almost grain-free, and that didn’t work for me at all because you could tell it was shot on modern film equipment. Again, the same flaws from the first film were present, and even more apparent: the running time was too long, and it was obvious taking place in 2007. Nevertheless, I consider this film to be its own little modern cult classic, and the lap-dance scene in the movie’s first half is unforgettable
*** out of ****

 
HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (2011)
Machete is by far the better known and more popular of the Grindhouse spinoffs, but for me there was only one true heir to the original project, and that’s Hobo with a Shotgun. It was based off one of the “fake trailers” from the original 2007 double-feature, and expanded into its own feature length movie. Ironically, its got a completely different director (the little known Jason Eisener) and a different actor from the 2007 fake trailer (in this case, the far better known Rutgar Hauer), but I felt it was the most faithful to the whole grindhouse experience: It looks incredibly low-budget, trashy, over-the-top, gory, and tongue-in-cheek hilarious In many ways, this was actually more faithful to the concept, and really nailed the feel of a movie from another era. For example, the music soundtrack sounds exactly like some MIDI synthesizer score from the early 80s, making it seem like you’re watching a lost John Carpenter movie. I’d say the only jarring part of the this is because the earlier Grindhouse movies looked like they were attempting to copy films from the late 60s/early 70s, whereas Hobo definitely looks and feels like a mid 80s movie. Despite having no sci-fi elements and having a storyline more along the lines of Death Wish, Hobo With a Shotgun is pretty much the spiritual successor of 1987’s Robocop. If you liked Robocop, you’ll love with (complete with the excessive violence and biting satire). In fact, forget about watching the remake of Robocop and watch this instead, as its far more true to what the original Robocop was aiming for. This may be the best of the “Grindhouse” movies. Be prepared to be grossed out, offended, annoyed, and mesmerized by it all.
*** out of ****

 
MACHETE (2010)
I think Machete is probably the most financially successful of the five Grindhouse movies, but it was one of the least creative, in my opinion. I still liked it, but I had a blast with the first three movies and I felt that was missing here. Despite this being directed by Robert Rodriquez, it is not a Grindhouse movie. It based on one of the fake trailers from one of his Grindhouse movies, and the opening credits even continue the same style, but it quickly becomes a very modern Hollywood movie. The only difference between this and a typical action comedy is that the script here is still obviously a satire of the whole genre. The actors play it straight, but Lindsay Lohan is here for one reason and its not to display her acting talent (ironically, she finally gets naked in the movie but you can’t see anything). Robert de Niro even shows up here, playing a buffoonish right-wing politician. There has been much talk about the movie having a liberal agenda, and I would agree that political conservatives will probably not like the film’s storyline or message, but the film is just too silly and frivolous for me to take offense as any kind of preachy liberal sneer It has some genuinely funny laughs, and its quick paced and quick witted, but nowhere near on the level of the three real Grindhouse movies. The “fake” trailer for Machete is better than the real one, because the real one is just another typical Robert Rodriquez movie like Once Upon a Time in Mexico, or Spy Kids. The best scene may be Lindsay Lohan’s slutty character disguising herself as a nun. Oddly enough, it disgusted me, intrigued me, and had me cracking up at the same time.
** out of ****

 

MACHETE KILLS (2013)
The latest, last, and least of the films spawned by the whole Grindhouse concept. Naturally, it’s a sequel to Machete, but the best part of this movie was yet another “Fake trailer” for what eventually could become the real third movie: “Machete Kills Again… In Space” It cracked me up and every scene in the “trailer” was better than the real scenes in this movie, and made me wish that the still unconfirmed third film was the sequel instead of this movie. The actual film has plenty of action and a brisk pace, but goes nowhere and just isn’t very funny or interesting. Instead of de Niro like the first movie, this time we have Mel Gibson showing up in a “major role”, and it actually made me feel kind of sorry for him because his career has been reduced to doing this pathetic movie. Machete Kills is the opposite of the original intent of Grindhouse: rather than be made to intentionally parody the look of low-budget, crappy films, It’s a big budget, slick film that unintentionally looks very crappy. The best part of the movie may be former child actress Alexa Vega now appearing as a smoking hot, bikini-clad voluptuous adult character, but I got so bored with the movie I think I missed that part. I give it points for trying, but its just throwing a lot of crap at me, and thankfully, nothing is sticking.
* 1/2 out of ****

ReelReviews #14: Hugo (2011)

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APRIL 5, 2013 SCREENING: HUGO (2011)

 

I don’t even think it was intentional, but my screening of Hugo” (2011) marked the third of three films in a row where child stars started making the transition to older roles. Hugo is last – but certainly not least – of the three films. Indeed, I would argue that Hugo is the best of the three, but given that the other two were disappointments, that’s not saying much. Hugo is a really well made and innovative film, but I don’t think its deserves much of the critically acclaimed “masterpiece” labeling that it got when it came out. Good film, yes. Classic, no.

Let’s first take a look at what the film did right. Without question, the art direction of the film is its strongest element. This film blew me away with its cinematography and set design. It’s perfectly done – you could randomly freeze frame “Hugo” at at any random moment and you’d have a beautifully rendered still image that you could mount on the wall like a scenic painting. Supposedly Hugo is one of those movies where you “must” watch it in 3D. Well, I didn’t do so – I watched the move in nice old fashioned 2D on a plain, small. flat screen TV – and it was still gorgeous. I don’t know what film won for Best Art Direction at the Oscars that year, or even what other movies were nominated, but in my mind Hugo was the only contender. I haven’t seen a movie in years that looked so beautiful.

Hugo is also a refreshing change of pace for director Martin Scorsese. Although an iconic director, most of Scorsese’s films are about as R-rated as you can get, and filled with extreme violence and adult situations (mob movies are a specialty of his). Lately, Scorsese has also gotten strangely attached to Leonardo DiCaprio as Tim Burton has with Johnny Depp, and it’s really starting to overstay its welcome. Hugo, on the other hand, seemed to be marketed at kids – or at least it clearly falls into the category of “Family Film” – and best of all, Leonardo DiCaprio sat this one out. Instead, the cast includes Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, and child actors Asa Butterfield and Chloë Grace Moretz. Butterfield went on to Ender’s Game, so this apparently marked his final child role, and he went out with a bang. Incredibly, Moretz did this glossy high budget film the same year she did the last movie I reviewed, Hick. In the latter, she played a fowl-mouthed, flirty southern girl who dressed too sexy for her age. Here, she’s a sweet and charming polite french child. The contrast between the two roles could not be more striking. Kudos to the actors for such a strong performance.

What I found lacking was the rest of the movie. It seems to be marketed as some kind of grand adventure film or fantasy story about clocks, set against the backdrop of the 1930s Paris. Instead, it turns to be some quiet drama that turns into a preachy lesson about film preservation The film ultimately reveals that the main character’s grandfather is forgotten silent film director Georges Méliès of “A Trip to the Moon”  (1902) fame, and ends with some fictional (as in, this didn’t happen in real life) emotional farewell where his films are restored and he receives a standing ovation for his work.

I’m not sure what the audience for this film is. If it’s a kids movie, I doubt kids will care about the storyline or be engaged in the movie at all. For someone like me – who is a big fan of the actors, loves cool special effects, and is actually interested in the niche art-house subject of silent film preservation – Scorsese might have the ideal targeted viewer. But my reaction was lukewarm at best. Sacha Baron Cohen is apparently there as “comic relief” playing a french police officer, but I didn’t laugh once, despite his strong performance. The Georges Méliès revelation didn’t move me either – and I found myself more fascinated by how awesome his 100 year old movies looked when they were fully colorized and restored for brief exerts in this movie, than the surrounding story about the director himself. Perhaps the most distracting element is the fact this is a big budget Hollywood film. Like Les Miserables and many others, the audience is supposed to be escape to the world of historic France, but its difficult to imagine France when every character in the movie speaks with a heavily British accent for the benefit of the English-speaking audience. As an experiment, I actually got tired of hearing the fake British accents and switched the French language dubbing halfway through the movie. I kept it on for the next hour and it actually improved the movie – now Hugo seemed like a charming foreign film instead of a Scorsese movie, and even Cohen’s police office character seemed more believable instead of like Borat wandered unto a new film set.

Overall, Hugo is a well made and incredibly polished film. But who’s film is it? It’s not mine, and I doubt its yours, either.

 

** ½ out of ****

ReelReviews #13: Hick (2011)

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APRIL 4, 2013 SCREENING: HICK (2011)

 

Like the previous film I reviewed, Hick takes another rising young child star (in this case, Chloe Grace Moretz) and gives her the first role of her career where she transition from child star to adult star. She gets to do a lot in the movie that quite frankly shocked a lot of critics, particularly because they were used to her playing innocent characters and here she uses some pretty colorful language and has some pretty risque scenes for a 13 year old. Moretz’s performance is good, and demonstrates the versatility of her acting abilities However, in other respects, its the opposite of the last film I reviewed. Push (2009) was at heart a good movie that inexplicably turned out to be bad in spite of everything it had going for it. On the other hand, Hick is a bad movie, seemingly made up of bits and pieces of good movies.

Yes, Hick is a mediocre movie at best, and none of its characters or situations will leave much impact on you, or any lasting legacy on film. There is an interesting side effect to watching the movie though, and its that Hick will evoke numerous scenes from other, better movies. I must have thought “Gee, this reminds me of so-and-so” over a half dozen times while watching Hick. I doubt this is an intentional effort from the filmmakers to “rip off” earlier movies, it just seems they had a number of good ideas that had been done before, and might have worked here, except they were done poorly. At various times, memories of Lawn Dogs (1997), The Professional (1994), Tideland (2005), Hound dog (2007), Lolita (both the 1962 and 1997 versions!), Black Snake Moan (2006), The Ice Storm (1997), and Badlands (1973) came to mind. There are even more examples that escape me at the moment. It was like someone took me on a tour of “greatest hits” from those movies and tried to re-enact several iconic scenes with new actors and dialogue, producing a far inferior version.

What most of the above films have in common is a basic premise of “underage girl behaving scandalously”, which is perhaps why many of the critics have said that “pedophiles” would enjoy the film Hick. I honestly don’t think anyone will enjoy the film Hick, because while there is the element of Chloe Grace Moretz dressing seductively and acting provocatively for some weird perverts, its not really aimed at the viewer, and the difference between this movie and a film like Lolita or Tideland is that she has zero chemistry with her adult co-star. In this case, its some cowboy hat wearing creep in a pickup that keeps showing up in her over and over again (and again makes me think of similar characters in good movies like Lolita, Pretty Baby, Taxi Driver, etc.), but here the situation goes nowhere and you’ll be hard pressed to remember anything the two characters discussed in the movie. There’s also a “graphic rape scene”, perhaps apeing what happened earlier in Dakota Fanning’s own heavily criticized “Hound dog” (where her 12 year old character is brutally raped), but the “rape scene” here occurs completely off camera, and a far more dramatic scene occurs earlier when Moretz’s character is nearly raped in a bathroom stall. In either case, neither scene seems to have any consequences for later in the movie, or the overall storyline.

The one positive here is that although the movie is called “Hick”, its not about exploiting backwoods country bumpkins for laughs, and although none of the characters are likeable or interesting, they”re all tolerable and believable enough. There’s even one actor I can’t stand (namely, Alec Baldwin) who makes a decent appearance towards the end of the movie. Like all the other scenes, its of little consequence, but Baldwin’s brief scenes are basically a glorified cameo and kept my interest long enough. I’ll rate that as a positive for this film – since I usually want to break my TV whenever Baldwin comes on screen, regardless of what role he’s playing.
Moretz really showed off a dramatically different side to her in this movie. Too bad she was stuck with a worthless script, and a movie that does nothing and goes nowhere. If you want to reminisce about earlier, better movies, then Hick is an interesting experiment to jog your memories. If not, you’ll be wasting two hours of your life.
* ½ out of ****

ReelReviews #12: Push (2009)

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APRIL 3, 2013 SCREENING: PUSH (2009)

 

I’m not really sure what to make of Push (2009). The film marked Dakota Fanning’s first transitional role from child to adult actor, and did so with a bang. Everything about Push seems to make the film compelling. As Fanning explains in the opening narration, the film is basically an X-Men like setup about a future society where a group of people born with superhuman abilities are being persecuted by the government. They are classified by what type of ability they have: “Movers” have telekinetic abilities to move objects, “Pushers” have psychic abilities to manipulate people’s minds and push thoughts into head, “Watchers” – which is what Fanning’s character is – have the ability to foresee the future, and so on. She goes on to cite other types of mutants, for example, “Bleeders”, etc. I was instantly hooked on the movie, and looking forward to finding out what the heck those “bleeders” did, at least.

Fanning is a bit older than her character, a rebellious 13 year old runaway who sets up the story when she approaches an adult “mover” (played by Chris Evans) to try and get his help in uncovering answers about her past. There’s some great character interaction between the two, and he abruptly leaves, having no interest in helping her. She is determined to go after him, and then… I don’t know what happens, because as much as I wanted to watch, I kept getting distracted.

The really weird part is that this movie has an interesting setup, some great character acting, cool special effects, and a very cool tone and theme that set it apart from the typical superhero movie that it seems inspired by. The film is really its own genre, and tells its story through a combination of mystery and thriller, rather than the typical superhero adventure. The question is thus why I can’t connect with this film? I’m been trying to put my finger on it and I really can’t explain it. I really was interested in Push and tried 3 or 4 times to connect with this movie, but I kept losing interest and my mind went elsewhere. It’s as if the movie itself has the superhero abilities of its characters, and is able to manipulate the audience into paying attention to something else.

The good news here is I’m apparently not alone in feeling this way. A quick scan on IMDB.com for the film’s message boards, and I found others had experienced the same phenomena while watching the movie. Dakota Fanning might be a “Watcher”, but Push is a “Snoozer”. Other comments on IMDB.com noted: “I am crazy about Dakota and I liked the film. However, for some strange reason I almost fell asleep as well. Perhaps there was some hidden hypnotic spell in the film that caused us to be sleepy?” and “It actually took me 3 attempts to finally see the whole movie… The first two i felt asleep… I never fell asleep while watching a movie, even if its a boring one.” and finally “Glad I’m not the only one, seemed like it’d be really good but I dozed off quite a bit during the second half. I believe there was a lot of potential for this film to be great, a cult classic even.”

Individual scenes is this movie are really wonderful, and Dakota Fanning’s lunch conversation with Chris Evans, as well as the first scene where she comes home drunk, are classic stuff. But overall, Push just pushed me away. I refuse to give it less than two stars because this movie was truly a great concept and it looked and sounded great. Too bad it has some magical spell that makes it a Snoozer.

 

** out of ****