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Escape to Witch Mountain (1995)
Has absolutely nothing to do with the book, and little to do with the original film
As a grade-school child, I had watched (and been impressed by) the original '70s film version of Escape to Witch Mountain. I liked it enough that I went to the library and borrowed the original book by Alexander Key, and then kept checking it out until my parents finally decided that they should buy me my own copy. After several readings I had decided that, cute as the Disney film was, it had missed most of the crucial points of the book and hadn't even bothered to convey any of the depths that existed within it -- and which were well within the abilities of kids to comprehend -- and I started hoping that someone would remake it and "do it right." The 1995 remake emphatically didn't.
For someone who never saw the original film, much less read the book it's all purportedly based on, this might be a charming piece of fluff. But as a big fan of the original book, I was beyond disappointed and well into appalled and disgusted after watching the TV movie. Absolutely nothing remained of the original plot. Nothing. Not even character names had been preserved. Most of the scenes that the film had in common with its predecessor were fluffy add-ons that never even occurred in the book at all, so it was painfully obvious that nobody involved in producing this thing had ever bothered to crack open the book and see what was actually there. So do yourself a favor and just read the book yourself, in favor of trying to find this schlock. You'll get a story that makes actual sense, that way.
Ballet mécanique (1924)
Fascinating study in Dadaism, but one warning.
This is a remarkably groundbreaking film, and an extraordinary work, but before you hunt it up and watch it, there is one thing you should be warned about. If you're migraine-prone, or seizure prone, *don't.* There are a lot of flashing lights and swirling images, and the entire thing reminds me of the sorts of dreams I'd often have, as a child, when I had a high fever. Which isn't *bad,* at all, unless you're like members of my family and even seeing images of that nature can trigger a migraine (or a seizure!) This is just something to bear in mind before you begin watching, because while the film's not *intended* to make you feel comfortable, for some people the discomfort level could actually intrude on their health.
Wrong Answer (2005)
A brilliant journey in to the dark side of the mind
I saw this at the Frankly Film Fest, where it made its big-screen debut, and it blew me away. I'm already a huge fan of Rhiana Griffith (the star of the piece), but I think I'd have BECOME one on the strength of this film, if I hadn't already been. Griffith plays Clare Newell, a young woman who's trying to supplement her meager collegiate income by participating in a psychological study. All she really knows about it, she tells one of the other volunteers (Chris Galletti), is that it has something to do with memory. From the start, though, things go wrong... and keep getting worse. The first hint of trouble surfaces when Professor Farley (Don Halbert), the study's director, emerges with another of the volunteers (Olivia Solomons)... who looks rattled and out of sorts. But Clare starts to get the sense that something's VERY wrong indeed when she meets her partner in the study, Holly (Kristy Wright). From there, Clare's swiftly plunged into an ever-darkening ordeal that she might not have the strength to escape unscathed.
Based upon an actual, real-life psychological study that was both fascinating and controversial, Wrong Answer takes a new look at it by delving into the mind of one of its subjects. Psychology students around the world are familiar with the study, and many have even watched films of its real-life participants, laughing and groaning and asking "why did they DO these things?" This is the answer, at least for some of them: many, like Clare, found themselves trapped in a situation where the authority they'd always trusted and obeyed suddenly turned on them and told them to do dark and terrible things, and they didn't know HOW to resist.
Writer/director J.D. Cohen does a brilliant job conveying the disorienting and frightening world that Clare has been -- and any of us might be -- plunged into, handling the material sensitively and realistically. The cast is wonderful. Halbert is chilling as the study director who may hold Clare's future in his hands, Wright is brilliant as Clare's vulnerable lab partner, and Griffith's nuanced powerful performance, as she struggles in the grip of a situation spiraling dangerously out of control, is mind-blowing. She's an actress who is MADE for the big screen, and hopefully will be there again soon -- Wrong Answer is, in fact, a prologue to a feature film currently in preproduction. With its sweeping win at the Frankly Film Fest, taking home three top honors including Best Of Fest, hopefully we won't have long to wait.
Sum of Existence (2005)
The perils of hypnosis
Sum of Existence is an extraordinary film that breaks with one of the most cliché'd traditions of psychological thrillers -- the idea that hypnosis is a panacea that can be used to solve problems. In fact, the story centers around the way that the use of hypnosis takes a girl who has already been brutally wounded and unbalances her in ways that almost get her -- and others -- killed.
Liz Murphy is a normal, vivacious teen, who was brutally assaulted by a stranger and left to die. Months after the attack, she lives in a strange sea of denial and confusion. Attempting to go about her normal life, she doesn't understand why so many people treat her differently, even her best friend and her parents, nor why she's periodically haunted by strange, frightening flashes of... something...
What Liz doesn't know is that, in the aftermath of her attack, she broke down so completely that, as a last resort, her parents turned to a psychiatrist who used hypnosis to block her memories. In the short term, it helped her to recover. But it's left her behaving in ways that her friends and family find disturbingly out of character, and THEY are still dealing with the fallout of what happened to her, even if she no longer is. Worst of all, her assailant is furious that she's forgotten him, and is determined to make her remember.
Although a lot of the conventions of the traditional thriller are in place, including the cat-and-mouse game that soon develops between Liz and her stalker, what truly distinguishes this film is the way it delves into the minds of its characters. It explores Liz's fragile state, and the way simply burying a trauma such as hers only worsens its impact. It explores the mind of her psychiatrist, a woman who becomes far too attached to her patients and can't always discern (because she's lost her objectivity) what is truly best for them. And it explores the mind of the twisted psychopath who has become obsessed with Liz's destruction.
Brooke Anderson is a luminous actress, definitely one to watch. She makes Liz's plight very real, and yet manages, even when Liz is at her worst, to imbue the character with a quiet strength that comes to the fore. Liz is nobody's victim, and her mind is nobody's playground, and watching her take back her life and her sanity is a very triumphant experience.
Into Pitch Black (2000)
A misguided tie-in that misdirects movie-goers
The sad thing about "Into Pitch Black" was that it could have been brilliant. Someone spent a great deal of time and thought on it. Unfortunately, one of the things that plagued the entire "Pitch Black" marketing campaign was its disconnectedness from itself. None of the tie-ins -- this, the novelization, or the official website -- agreed on who and what the characters were, or how to portray them.
In this tie-in, the starring characters aren't anyone from the movie, but rather a female mercenary and a futuristic insurance adjuster who are trying to locate the remains of the spaceship "Hunter-Gratzner," that crashed with Riddick (and more importantly, it turns out, a priceless collection of stolen artifacts) on a desert planet. The two begin to piece together what happened on the ship and on the planet, throwing in a little bit of back-story on the people who crashed there, including Riddick.
Although Diesel gets top billing, it's unclear whether he was actually involved at all. Riddick is never clearly seen (so it could be a stunt double) and all of his lines are taken from Pitch Black. And although there's finally a hint in the tie-in about what might REALLY have happened to the survivors of the crash, most of the build-up portrays the movie as something very different than it is, more of a "Friday the 13th In Space" than anything else, with Riddick possibly hunting down and axe-murdering the other survivors. People who chose to see (or NOT see) the film on the basis of that were completely misled. People who based their expectations of future Riddick films around the back-story he was given in this, sadly, were ALSO misled; virtually every detail has since been discarded for the overinflated universe of "The Chronicles of Riddick."
Technically, the tie-in is atmospheric and interesting. It's completely irrelevant, however, and an opportunity to make something with actual relevance was, sadly, squandered.