ReelReviews #108: It’s Alive (2009)



It’s Remade! Most people complain about endless Hollywood remakes. The odd thing here is that there’s an entire valid case to made for remaking It’s Alive. The original film is not any sort of beloved classic and while it got a good response, the style of filmmaking doesn’t work in the 21st century and the story could be entirely updated 35 years later. The first thing many modern audiences said about the 1974 movie upon seeing it is “This movie could use a remake”, and they have a valid point. And thus, I can’t bash this movie for being a remake. I can, however, bash how they decided to do the remake.

The biggest change (and a strange choice, IMO) is that the killer baby in this version looks just like a normal human baby (except for some bizarre reveal in the third act where it inexplicably has sharp pointed teeth to make it look “scary”) The “normal” looking baby is still capable of somehow massacring multiple full grown adults with its bare hands, so the result is some very unrealistic looking CGI to create a fake “normal” looking human infant in 99% of the scenes. This turns out to the biggest flaw in the movie, and one that wouldn’t have been an issue if the premise of the movies were reversed (a “normal” looking baby played a real baby in the 1974 movie because the special effects technology was primitive, but a fully mutated deformed monstrosity in the 2009 remake)

Most of the bad reviews of this movie couldn’t get past the obviously-fake CGI “normal” baby, and I believe the film does indeed deserve to be blasted for that problem. However, other aspects of the movie also really hurt the film, with a weak script, and short running time that didn’t allow the story to be fully fleshed out, or effective.

On the other hand, this movie does not deserve the across-the-board “ZERO STARS! IT SUCKS!” scathing reviews that it got. The remake of Its Alive is very flawed, but it does have some good things going for it. Strangely, the best part of the movie was Bijou Philips, the model-turned-actress daughter of singer John Philips (of “The Mamas and the Papas”) fame. Philips is basically the lead in this movie and has to ensure all the emotional gravitas as the mother of the evil baby. The film requires her to slowly realize her baby is murdering people and that she is shocked and horrified by this fact, but tolerates it because of the love she feels for the newborn as its mother. Philips put in an amazing performance here (which surprised me since I didn’t consider her to be a real “actress”) and could have rightfully won a prize for the role if she weren’t in such a weak movie overall. Likewise, the last scene and final moment of the movie deserves to be up there with classic horror films like “Psycho” and “The Shining”. Yes, I’m serious! Without giving it away, I spent the entire movie wondering how they would resolve the story, and the film’s ending is truly heartbreaking and haunting, leaving the viewer feeling anguished at what’s happened. It’s a tragedy this brilliant ending couldn’t be part of an actual GOOD movie. Many horror films resort to one last cheap “scare” to end the movie (usually “he’s not REALLY dead!”) , others come up with more clever twists, but very few manage to “scare” you in a way that truly makes the audience feel unnerved and creeped out by what they’ve just seen. It’s Alive manages to do that, and to top the nicely chilling of the original 1974 movie! Despite being a really lousy movie overall, I’m actually awarding it an extra half a star for the great ending. The only downside is you have to see the rest of this crappy movie for the ending to be effective.

For the record, original It’s Alive producer/writer/director Larry Cohen absolutely loathed the remake of his movie. I don’t loathe it, but I do feel it was a big missed opportunity.

* 1/2 out of ****


ReelReviews #18: 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 ****


ReelReviews #17: 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 ****

RetroReviews #45: City of Angels (1998)




If some overly weepy sentimental romance movie starring Meg Ryan can move a guy like me, it’s pretty darn good. I am definitely not “into” Meg Ryan romance movies, and the very thought that I will have to sit through some chick flick about one of her characters falling in love makes me ill.City of Angels was made at the height of Meg Ryan’s chick film romance movie career (thankfully, those days seem to be over now) and its actually one of the best, in spite of the many flaws of the movie.

In many ways, this film is the exact opposite of the film that inspired it: Wings of Desire. It’s so far removed from the original German film, I don’t think its even fair to call this movie is a remake. Rather, it takes the same basic premise – a guardian angel watching over a city falls in love with a mortal city – and turns it into a mainstream Hollywood movie. In most cases, that would ruin the integrity of the original film by dumbing it down into a generic formula film. In the case of City of Angels, however, its really the only thing that redeems the movie.

Nicholas Cage plays the angel Seth, and he’s thoroughly miscast in the role, in my opinion. I’m not a fan of Nick Cage (especially his post-1995 roles), but I can’t really blame him here. He is faced with the almost impossible task of portraying a totally pure and loving immortal being that watches over mankind. Such an acting role would be extremely difficult to cast, and require an actor that is not only physically attractive but universally seen as warm and loving simply by his presence. When Cage plays the part, his angel comes across as more like a creepy stalker who hang around, dressed all in black, and silently stares at people. What worked in the script definitely doesn’t convey the same idea on screen.

In spite of this big problem with one of the film’s two leads, it still works. I really felt for Meg Ryan’s character (who is a heart surgeon and faces death and dying every day), and the situation she finds herself in really makes it understandable why Seth is drawn to her. One particularly strong and emotional moment is when a very sick hospital patient, played by Dennis Franz, turns out to be an angel himself, but one who “fell” to earth and took human form years ago. What sounds cheesy on paper is quite moving in the film, with Franz still aware that guardian angels are among us, and still being able to sense their presence (remarking to Nick Cage “I can’t see you, but I know you’re there”). Franz is quite despondent over the way the world has become, saying people no longer have faith and would never accept the truth.

Of course, this eventually leads Seth the angel to seek mortality, and the scene where he actually “falls to earth” and becomes a mortal being is really well done and shows a complete change in the way the character sees and interacts with the world around him. Its reminiscent in many ways of when Dorothy discovered Oz for the first time, and the film famously switched from black-and-white to color. Seth is able to be with the mortal woman he loves, but there’s a twist at the end of the film that provided a real tearjerker for the audience.

City of Angels is certainly not my kind of movie, and yet it found a way to make me a fan of it. I’m not even sure how this movie sold me on its world given all the flaws that can be found in the film itself, but the overall results simply worked. City of Angels may be a mainstream Hollywood romance film and a conventional fantasy story, but its far from being light-weight, silly, or filled with dumb jokes. It presents a lot of very interesting ideas and scenarios, and the way it presents them makes it well worth the watch.

*** out of ****