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Take Down (1979)
Spoiler:The ol' formula film
TAKE DOWN is one of those formulaic films where there is no question at any time where the film is going to go. It follows the direction of so many "struggling underdog" films from the past, without some of the mean- spiritedness that that appears in more recent films of its ilk.
I first saw this film in 1978 or 1979 at a drive-in as the double bill to the fantastic original version of "Freaky Friday". TAKE DOWN is a sweet little film with some mild humor and extremely mild violence, so it's absolutely fine for family viewing. It's messages of camaraderie, supporting each other, and striving for improvement, no matter what one's social stature may be, are admirable traits.
Edward Herman, always a fine actor, brings the same awkward lightness to his character that he would also display in Disney's "The North Avenue Irregulars" about a year later. In fact, it's almost like his wrestling coach from this film moved on to be a Priest in the latter film. Kathleen Lloyd, as Herman's ever supportive wife, displays the same sensitive solid performance she always does, making one wonder why this woman never had a more successful career.
The story, basically a wrestling team version of "The Little Engine That Could" tries it's best to add side stories about poverty, pregnancy, and early death to make it appear a bit more fleshed out, but some of that, to a modern audience, may bring laughter or eye rolling. But when the film was released, it all made for a sweet, fun time. For those less jaded, and for those who yearn for the days when sweet films could still be aimed at adults,(something that disapeared in 1980 just after the release of the sweet film "Xanadu") TAKE DOWN will hit the spot. Too bad the film came out on Unicorn Video and then promptly disappeared. Doubtful it will ever see the light of DVD or Bluray. The director, Lamas and Lloyd are all still alive- can you imagine a nice commentary track by the three on this forgotten film?
You will find nothing new in TAKE DOWN, but it's like and old dress with a new hem or frill: very familiar and comfortable, with a few small changes.
Finally a GOOD HORROR FILM. Good film period.
Finally, a horror film about adults. Adults with complex issues and children that act like children and not hyper precocious sex models. The reason to see this film isn't to find out the over advertised " Esther's secret" of the film (a MAJOR misstep in marketing. Too many people now enter the film trying to figure out the "secret" before they normally would have been surprised), but rather to see a well-acted (extremely well acted by Vera F.)slow-building suspense story with excellent direction and cinematography. John Ottman's score also serves the film well, without becoming overpowering in signaling this is a "creepy" film. The actress who plays Esther shows a skill in performance that makes one think we may actually have another Jodie Foster to keep an eye on. This film works because we LIKE the characters (Rob Zombie please take note!) and fear for them and their survival. Dark Castle's best film, and it gives one hope that the horror/suspense genre still can be presented with intelligence and depth. Hollywood take note: we don't want a xerox of this film, but we do want more films that share this films strenghts: good script, likable real characters, excellent acting and nice, tension building direction.
Funny Games (2007)
Just about as god as the original
I was fortunate to see this remake with the director present at a showing at Harvard University, which one would believe would have an intelligent smart audience attending. Instead, after the film finished, the director stood up and fielded questions about the film that for the most part pointed out that the "inteligentsia" of Harvard seem to be about one step up the brain ladder from trailer park residents for appreciating a smart thriller like this one. and then there were women in the audience who just hate horror films and had an agenda about "female exploitation" which was so inappropriate to this film, it will be a miracle if the director doesn't leave for his homeland thinking "Americans are morons".
The sad thing is, even though this film has been remade in the attempts to capture the mainstream Amercan audience who would run in fright about the "foreign" subtitles of the excellent original, it still won't succeed, even in our own language. Here in Massachusetts the film is being dumped into small art houses and being cast out of the multiplexes, which is too bad, because its been such a long time since we've seen a truly scary, well acted film film on our shores. The first film since perhaps the once-notorious "Last house On The Left" to suck the "entertainment" value out of violence, stating to the audience "you REALLY want to see horror? REAL horror? The way it would actually happen when not Hollywoodized and toned down for the audience who wants to not really be scared? Well here it is!"
The film has a nice slow build, the tension mounting to a truly nail-shredding state without any of the "comic relief" so often injected into American horror films. The only aspect of this film lacking from the original is an extremely unnerving emotional moment, which in the original lasts a longer and more discomforting amount of time. This is powerful, smart film-making. Excellent on every level.
The Invasion (2007)
Not as awful as they say
I'm not sure why this film is being as maligned by critics as it is.
It's biggest failing is the fact that it cannot possibly stand on its own. If someone sees this film who has never heard of the concept of the original Jack Finney book or the original film and it's sequels, they would be totally lost and have no idea what the heck is going on.
But for those of us steeped in the lore of the pod people (sadly no pods are used in this film) it's just another fun retelling, this time with slightly more aggressive (and seemingly evil) pod people. The threat of true violence from the pod people is greater in this film than any of the others, and the paranoia and sense of inescapable menace may not be as strong as previous sequels, but it is here.
Its definitely the worst of the sequels, but for those who love this story idea, its almost just another chapter or another story in the same book. The ending is a dud and half, but i still was entertained. And trotting out Veronica Cartwright was a brilliant idea. As was the casting of Nicole Kidman: her plastic perfect looking expressionless face and acting style makes it almost impossible to tell when she's a pod person and when she's not. Daniel Craig's naturalistic acting (especially when he prepares her breakfast) throws this into even greater relief.
By now, these films are not taken seriously, and "pod people" are as much a piece of popular culture as "Damien". Like the recent remake of "The Omen", most peole laughed during the screening I was in whenever the familiar "you'll feel better" statements came out of a pod person's mouth. Not because it was bad, but as an acknowledgment of fun familiarity. I heard this film changed directors part way through- I'd love to see the original cut.
Moustapha must be rolling in his grave.
How sad that a classic, seminal horror film could be this maligned in a remake. Zombie is living proof that just because someone is a "fan" of a certain type of film it doesn't mean that they should MAKE that type of film.
Zonbie proves with this film he is a one note director: vulgarity, nudity, violence and profanity are his subject matter, while likable characters, character development and any amount of suspense are jettisoned so he can move on to the next expletive, breast, or bloody body as quickly as possible. There isn't a character in the film who doesn't make sexual references or swear. Even Tommy, (the little boy who the Laurie Stode character babysits) mentions that Lyndsey, his schoolfriend, "smells like her". Who wants to sit through two hours of such sad repellent characters?
Carpenter's original, a simple, straight-ahead suspense film had little blood and intense suspense driven partly by the fact that the Boogeyman of the film WASN'T jumping out of the shadows every two seconds. In fact, part of what made the original so scary was the fact that Michael often did NOT appear at times when one was sure he would jump out. In this version, one could set one's watch by how often Michael comes creeping out of the darkness, usually in the exact same set up for every kill: victim in the foreground and Michael walking up in the background. Again and again. Repetitive and dull.
Zonbie could have made a depressing study of a troubled little boy and his psychiatrist and never called it "Halloween" and come out of this debacle with reputation more intact. But when the focus suddenly and awkwardly shifts to the Strode character and we see the events of the original condensed into about 30 minutes, its impossible not to judge the film by the impressive merits of the original. That's when one realizes Zombie has no true focus or thrust for a storyline and that his "reimagining" of a classic is an immense failure.
Don't look to this detestable film for even a modicum of suspense and maybe you won't be disappointed. The biggest "BOO!" in this film should come from the audience.
Better stirred than shaken?
Sort of a shake and sun-bake of elements from "The Black Hole", "Alien", and even "Event Horizon". Excellent special effects, with a story that has a definite "been there done that" feel to it. Sadly, despite some good acting, the film never pays enough homage to the films it steals from, nor does it fly off into new fresh angles. The horror scenes that enter late in the film, are shot in a pretentiously "artsy" manner, (perhaps to conceal the fact that this basically is just a well-mounted, if extremely slow, horror film) which just serves to obscure exactly what fate is befalling some of the characters. People either forget or don't notice that in "28 Days Later" Boyle stole elements from "Day Of The Dead". Theft continues here, both in script and visuals, but its super serious tone allows no fun to be had with moments such as the one where the ship computer acknowledges there is an extra person on board. And by that point, the film has been so incredibly slow, any suspense that would normally be derived from such a revelation is non-existent. Boyle's knows how to put a film together and has a lot of talent. I just wish he'd stop trying to be "important" and "artful" and let out his fun side. But maybe, like the suspense in this heavy time taker, it doesn't exist.
See it for the dance
The film starts out wonderfully energetic and funny (Water's cameo is perfect), the opening television dance sequences soaring it to a level of fun that many people still laude on the film "Grease". Unfortunately, when the film decides to konk the audience over the head with its "message" in an unbelievably heavy manner, bereft of all humor, the film takes a misstep. Which is too bad, as there is a lot of talent on display here. Travolta, (the reason many audiences who wouldn't normally rush to a John Water's-inspired film are seeing this) surprisingly doesn't have as much fun with the role as one might expect (did that photog'd male to male airplane kiss make him scared to go too far?) But he's entertaining, though not nearly the centerpiece I think many thought he would be in this film. And frankly, his skills aren't as strong as his "Pulp Fiction" fans may think: his character voice isn't maintained 100% throughout the film, and there are moments where he sounds more like...well...like Travolta. It would have been a coup to have Olivia Newton-John playing against type too as the monster bitch portrayed by Pfeifer (I wonder if that occurred to them) who per usual, though camping it up with vicious stares and grins, is still believable and strong. But it's really the younger cast who takes the film, and inspired moments like a singing photo performing a duet. And the dance is great, though I would have liked more. Cutting away from it too much is a disservice to the film.
The Simpsons Movie (2007)
How sad to see what was once a witty, exceptionally creative well run so horribly dry. There are some chuckles, but almost any earlier Simpsons' TV episode (the latter seasons continue a fairly steady nosedive)would blow this insult to fans off the planet. The animation has more angles and camera moves but the wry wit is long gone. Having the Simpson's swear or give the finger just dumbs it all down even more. A pity. What could have been a well crafted gift to the long standing fans arrives like a used knick knack from a dollar store. It's already performing incredibly at the box office so a sequel is perhaps a definite. But lets hope they bring back the original writers. Or make a two hour "Tree House Of Horror" episode (though even those have lost their spark in recent seasons), which couldn't possibly be as bland as this film. Let's hope.
The Woods (2006)
Mr. Mckee's artful film
I checked the "Spoiler" box just in case, but I plan to stay far away from any major plot points that aren't readily discernible from the trailer. "The Woods" is a fairly simple film, but beautifully executed. Scriptwise, it's parts "Suspiria" (Girl's boarding school run by possibly evil women), "Carrie" (Bruckner's "powers")"Heavenly Creatures"(some of its exceptionally beautiful execution is very reminiscent in tone to the Jackson film) and even "A Watcher in The Woods" (well..there's these woods, see and...), all kind of shaken together, the pieces often landing with a refreshing newness, and other parts in the "been there, seen that before camp" The performances, across the board, are excellent, only the stereotypical blonde "bad girl" constantly swimming upstream against cliché. But even with this typical "bully" of the school character, it has a delightful spin put on it simply in the fact that these are young women, not thuggee high-school boys, being physically violent towards one another. Not often seen in today's cinema, and if only for this fact it is immediately more interesting. Mckee's sure hand in focusing on a human element is what makes his horror films stand out, and this film shines because of this feat. The girls and teachers push beyond being discernible "types" and bring twitchy little nuances to their characters. There is a respect for the script, no one ever "playing down" because of the "Horror" element. And Mckee even makes Patricia Clarkson's "I'm so serious I could be an unfeeling Robot" performance that she gives in every one of her films work beautifully here. In fact, I've never seen a character more suited to Clarkson's heavy delivery of every line. It works beautifully, and Mckee and his casting director deserve immense applause. The script is nothing terrifically new, but the characters are well written, and the lack of violence through most of the film makes it all the more powerful when it does appear. Another plus is that the small amount of humor contained in the film is genuine, as it comes directly from the situations or flaws/idiosyncrasies of the characters themselves. So nice to see in this age of non-scary horror films. I did not find the film scary, but there's a richness in visual style that makes it more than worth seeing. Mckee takes a girl meets girl moment and turns it into a beautiful visual and audio montage, overlaying the old Gore song "You Don't Own Me" with a choral rehearsal that is one of the most thrilling segments of film I've seen in the theater this year. Again, there's something very human about the way Mckee presents his character's encounters. In "May" he had a moment where Angela Bettis touches another characters hand- a simple, beautiful, awkward moment, perhaps one of the best in that film. It is that type of realness that Mckee captures wonderfully, even in "The Woods". I've briefly met Mr. Mckee twice and heard him speak to eager listeners, and the most striking thing about him is his humbleness and his own humaneness. Its as if Hollywood hasn't quite yet squelched it out of him yet, and its reflected in his art. Hopefully he will hang on to that as he continues his career, as I think it is one of the things that sets his films apart. One more thing about the script, the absence of humor and its darkness are nice, but it lacks a defining of the "powers" that occur within the film. Bruckner's full abilities (or other characters')are never clearly defined, and at times it appears they may be milky enhanced from without, rather than from within, which leaves one with a slightly fuzzy idea of exactly what is really going on (another "Suspiria" nod), power-wise. But that's a small gripe in what is perhaps one of the more intelligent artistic horror films to come out in years. If only it WOULD come out. I was one of many who caught the Screening at Fantasia, with an extremely appreciative audience. When dreck like "See No Evil" can make it to the Cineplex, its insulting to think that a stylish little film experience like this can be allowed to languish as a "coming soon" trailer on horror DVD releases. An awful trailer by the way- this film is much better than the trailer makes it appear. My prediction: this will be one of those critically rewarded and eventually classified as a "gem" films, like "The Stepfather" was years ago. I look forward to Mckee's next picture with anticipation, as his stylish skill seems to improve tenfold with each film. See "The Woods" if it ever makes it into your neck of the forest- let the studios know there is support for intelligent, well made, non-franchise horror. Please!
The Amityville Horror (2005)
Alas, another remake gone so horribly wrong. If only they'd taken the time to go back to what made the original novel frightening instead of the bloody effects shots slammed into frames in order to try to elicit some scares. Subtlety is unfortunately not on display at all in this guided tour of some of the events from the book. If only they'd attempted eeriness instead of heavy handed horror. The first rooftop scene in the film is actually quite well done and perhaps the best scene in the film. other than that, a bathroom scene with the youngest son manages to deliver some suspense, but otherwise this movie is a "don't bother" in my book. The actress who plays the wife is excellent, making me believe she actual cared for her children and delivering the only worthwhile performance in the film. She deserves better. And Ryan Reynolds seems to have watched jack Michelson in "The Shining" way too much. I know this review is not particularly well written, but frankly, to spend much time on a film like this would be pointless. Final words: "For God's Sake-STAY AWAY!!!"