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Some of them I like just because they aren't as widely known. I didn't put them in any order.
I also included a quick sentence describing the defining quality of each that I respect them for.
They generally revolve around a suburban house and family that find themselves the targets of dark forces invading the quiet sanctity of their home.
The films combine low budget, quality filmmaking, and a high scare factor. These three elements are tied into a repeating color scheme of black, white, and red.
For each film I have included the premise, the filmmakers involved (and their past projects), other films they resemble, the budget, and my personal rating.
When in doubt, these movies will keep you up at night.
This list is restricted to actors/actresses whose movies I have seen. It's not meant to be all-inclusive.
Good Straight-Up Horror
Torment may sound like another submission to the growing "torture porn" sub-genre of horror, but don't let the name fool you, this is an old-fashioned scary movie. New family comes home, only to be attacked and tormented by a cult-like psychopathic family. Think "You're Next", only without useless characters begging to be killed off. Also without the ridiculousness.
The movie does a great job creating believability in everything that happens. There's almost no stupid mistakes or decisions, and the killers are just as mortal as anyone. A good deal of time is spent with them looking for the family, not just suddenly appearing behind them wherever they may be. This movie has some real suspense. They even come up with inventive ways to explain old horror movie standbys. Why won't the car start? (Spoiler) Because they took out the battery for tormenting their victims. (End spoiler).
Some may complain about the lack of backstory for the killers. Personally, haven't we heard them all by now? Everything we need to know about these psychos is here, everything else is just decoration. As for the family, which features the always charming Katharine Isabelle as a new step-mom; the early scenes do a great job setting up drama efficiently. It isn't a huge thing, just a personal story that takes a turn for the wicked. Torment is a great Halloween flick.
Absolutely Blew Me Away
I went into this film with low expectations. Low, low, low expectations. I never saw the original Carrie, and I saw little reason to; the story seemed pretty basic and predictable, not to mention unscary. Furthermore, this remake seemed like just another in the never-ending line of crappy horror remakes. I'd seen a couple just that day, the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake and the Prom Night remake. Both were awful, Prom Night in particular failed on every level to be believable, likable, or scary. I'd groaned seeing the ads for Carrie. Still, I was in a bit of a blues mood, and gave the movie a shot (with the intention of seeing others later when it disappointed).
I was wrong. I was completely wrong. Carrie blew me away. This is the best horror remake by a long shot. The writing has flourishes and insights far beyond the usual drivel of horror films. There is thought and effort put into every word.
Furthermore, the actors attach genuine emotional attachment to their lines and performances. These felt like real people with reactions, outbursts, and pride; but also flaws, insecurities, guilt, shame, and even regret. Line by line, scene by scene, they build this movie. A movie populated by real people who illustrate what people like Carrie need to know; the world has bad people, but far more good ones. People who do nice things for strangers, whether it's as small as a tidbit of advice over someone's shoulder or a big sacrifice to give someone one night of acceptance and happiness.
The story only seems to improve with an updated setting. Carrie's old-fashioned home life makes her stand out more than ever, and the addition of certain modern-day elements fit perfectly into the character stories. You'll wonder how the original got by without them. It's so exhilarating and realistic that you start to see the cracks in the source material as you're watching it. You see the beautiful place the characters are going, but then it has to follow the story set in stone for Carrie.
Among a pretty remarkable cast, Chloe Grace-Moretz and Julianne Moore stand out. Chloe was born to play Carrie. She doesn't fit into the usual Hollywood standard of dolled-up beauty, which becomes all the more evident when you see her classmates. Still, there is a pretty young girl in there, she just needs someone to see it. She plays shy and vulnerable better than any other actress I've ever seen. Furthermore, for all the bragging I hear about Sissy Spacek, most people don't mention she was 27 when she played Carrie. Chloe is 16, the isolation and judgement of high school is still fresh in her mind. As for Julianne Moore, she plays Margaret White with a quiet instability that makes it very clear why Carrie is terrified of her getting involved in anything. This is a woman lost in a world no child should have to endure. Still, she and her daughter have some rather touching moments, and it's clear that for better or worse, Carrie loves her mother.
I've been reading a lot of bad reviews for this film, and I just wanted to put my opinion out there, because I went in with serious doubts and instead got a new favorite horror movie. And if I enjoyed it this much without ever seeing the original or reading the book, then I'd say this movie deserves another look.
I love science fiction, I love action, I love comedy, I love comic books, and I even like Ryan Reynolds. Still, his movies just never seem to pan out, and this one is very poorly done. At best the premise belongs in a B-movie with a B-movie budget.
A Boston Cop (who couldn't convince any Bostonian) dies and is drafted into the Rest in Peace Department to hunt down "Deados", spirits that decide not to face their fate and stubbornly stay on earth. How do they defy Death and Judgement? They just refuse to go. "150,000 people die every day, the system can't catch all of them", and by system, I mean time stops and you suddenly find yourself flying into the sky without warning. Clearly something that can be resisted by someone saying "I don't wanna go!". These Deados look like ordinary people, but once they are exposed to Indian food they reveal their true disgusting forms. The RIPD's job is to track them down and send them to Judgement with their magic magnum pistols.
Apparently Deados are supposed to be a secret no one knows about. Except they do a horrible job at staying secret or being in any way discreet or subtle. At least in Men in Black the secret organization tried to cover up what happens. No, the RIPD just curse under their breath and move on to the next case, and maybe they get scolded by some doodles on a golden scroll.
The plot is dull and lifeless, much like the characters. No one seems to take anything as seriously as they should if it was as important as they say. The only elements of the film worth seeing are Jeff Bridges and Kevin Bacon. Bridges is in full Rooster Cogburn gunslinging form, and is somewhat a combination of the smart-talking Agent J and the surly Agent K in one man. He's cool. As for Kevin Bacon, no matter how stupid a scene he's in he never shows an instant of doubt or weakness. Just goes to show that even in a bad movie Kevin Bacon is untouchably cool.
Whose Line Is It Anyway? (2013)
Whose Line: Resurrection
Everyone who has ever seen a rerun of Whose Line has fond memories of the show. Oddly, I think it was more popular *after* it ended, once they started showing reruns all the time. That was when I got into it, and boy did it get me. More than any other program I've ever watched, Whose Line put me on the floor in fits of laughter. Ryan and Colin are two highly underrated geniuses of comedy, Wayne adds style and energy (not to mention hilarious musical comedy) where Ryan and Colin cannot, and who isn't a fan of the wonderful Laura Hall and her improvisational music? Drew Carey's biggest contribution was making the show happen, and trying to keep it going with Drew Carey's Improv-A-Ganza. He knew how many people loved Whose Line, and he did everything in his power to give it to us. So how well does this new show stack up against one of the funniest TV programs in American history?
The new show is everything we ever asked for. It's unbelievable to think that the original Whose Line started 15 years ago; aside from Colin's white hair(?), it feels just like the old show. The main difference is a new (nicer) stage, some new games like the Sideways Floor Scene, and a new host, Miss Aisha West. But the comedy is every bit as gut-busting as it was in its glory days. I made the mistake of trying to eat while watching the first two episodes. I came very close to having chicken breast come out my nose. Ryan and Colin are still in top form, Wayne hasn't lost a step, and with the cult status of Whose Line, they're getting some interesting guest stars.
Fans of Whose Line, our prayers have been answered.
Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
Terrible Adaptation, Classic Horror Film
My senior year of high school we were discussing Poe and read "The Pit and the Pendulum", which is some pretty dark stuff (I recommend it for any and all horror lovers). Then we were shown this film version of it. There were two things our entire class agreed on; it was a truly terrible adaptation, but it was a fantastic horror film on its own.
The original story took place almost entirely in a dark prison over an indeterminable period of time. You felt the endlessness of waiting for tormentors to finally end the waiting and just kill you, or at least get on with the torture. The waiting, the sense of all the time you were in this pit was the source of terror. The pendulum was the ticking clock counting away every second of your life; and it was slow. Slow as in it took hours to even get close enough to start causing you any harm. That was the worst part.
In the film, there is no pit, and the pendulum doesn't factor in until the very end. That upset us. Still, the film itself is quite engaging and interesting, the characters are well-acted and the plot keeps you hooked. By all accounts, an excellent addition to anyone's horror movie collection. Vincent Price in particular is exhilarating to watch (but then isn't he always?).
Bridge to Terabithia (2007)
I went into this movie expecting something somewhere along the lines of Narnia, Spiderwick, or Harry Potter. Young kids discover a world of their own, and have adventures there. I was right and I was totally wrong. The magical world is not the center here, it's the characters. This is an incredibly enjoyable and emotional movie that treats all its characters like real people dealing with real problems, particularly treating its kids like real kids with real problems and solutions, or lack thereof.
Jesse (Josh Hutcherson) lives on a farm with his Dad, four older sisters and one younger sister. They often encounter financial difficulties, meaning Jesse is commonly making do with his sisters' hand-me-downs and the stigma of being a "farmboy" at school. He really doesn't have any friends at school, so he settles for being the fastest kid there. He draws in his spare time. One day, a new girl comes to the school, Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb). Her parents are writers and they don't watch TV, and she doesn't hide any of this. Furthermore, she can outrun Jesse.
Jesse and Leslie grow together as outcasts, and Leslie's imagination leads him to go along with her and create an imaginary world to escape life's problems in the woods near his house. This world is somewhat Calvin&Hobbbesian by nature, in that it's only real to them, but as we see it from their perspective it becomes real for us as well. This world of Terabithia is limited only by your imagination.
The story develops from there, I won't say much more. I will note that serious events take place, the world is not perfect. But before parents start thinking this is not the movie for their children, allow me to say something more. This is a movie about growing up and finding your way in the world. It does not leave you sad, but tells you to keep moving, even after the unthinkable.
Above all else, this is a movie for anyone and everyone who can still remember what it felt like to be a kid and escape into a world of your own creation. I give this movie a full 10 stars for bringing me back to that.
It Ain't The Best, But It's a Lot Of Fun
What's there to say about director Joe Johnston? He's one of my favorite directors, but I know and respect the fact that he is not (nor will he probably ever be) a great director. Why? Because the movies he makes are too much fun. When Joe Johnston goes into a film, he gives most of his focus to the experience of the film, the feel of it. He makes films he wants us to enjoy for exactly what they are. This is the guy who was a visual director for Raiders of the Lost Ark, and a lot of his films definitely strive to emulate the kind of old-school swashbuckling fun that movie had. At the same time, he is also a director of little guys and little details; all of his films have little scenes or moments that pack more emotional power than you expect, and those moments stay with you.
As far as Captain America goes, he's the perfect director to tell us the story of a little guy getting the chance to do something big. Steve Rogers was born a scrawny kid from Brooklyn. His one goal in life was to serve his country the way his parents (an army nurse and soldier) did. His main problem? He's a toothpick. He has the heart figuratively speaking, but not literally speaking. All that changes when he is drafted into an experimental super-soldier program that transforms him into (duh duh duh duh...) Captain America! Fighter for Freedom, Justice and the American Way! Go ahead, laugh, most of the army does when they see him. Captain America is a superhuman, but not truly a superhero. He bruises, he bleeds, he can't breathe underwater, a car can still outrun him with a good enough headstart, any standard- issue bullet can kill him. But at the same time, he is the ultimate realization of a man; as strong, smart, and able as one could ever become without superpowers. But what attracts us most to the character is the person within. Take away the mask and the shield and the muscles, and he is still the same scrawny Steve Rogers underneath; a kid from Brooklyn who doesn't like bullies and just wants to do a good job. Steve Rogers deserves a lot of credit for putting aside his ego and letting us see that weakness and mortality throughout the film.
As far as the rest of the film goes, it's a modern-day action-comic-book-explosion movie dialed back to WWII. I can't describe how wonderful it feels to see CGI not for the sake of showing off, but to show us an old-school comic book movie with access to today's computer-graphic technology. The enemies are the Nazis, and they are (I kid you not) firing ray guns that shoot blue bolts of energy which vaporize whatever they hit. The kind of blue energy beams that will never hit their target, but look fantastic when you see a hero dodging passed them and chucking a shield around like a boomerang to knock out the shooter. At the same time, we also see a lot of practical effects; real explosions, dirt flying everywhere, and a good old-fashioned haymaker that would put any Nazi on his back wondering what just hit him.
This is a predominantly fun film. If you have issues with this, I'm afraid I can't help you.
The Five-Year Engagement (2012)
For Those of Us Who Miss Going to the Movies for Fun
The Five-Year Engagement is the kind of film that doesn't get made very often anymore. Or at least not the kind to see a wide release. It's an honest, sweet, kind, occasionally crude romance about two people as natural to us as Tom and Sue who live down the lane.
Tom Solomon (Jason Segel) and Violet Barnes (Emily Blunt) are in love. Not that kind of invasive love where we're always watching them get way too personal just to draw out time, but the kind of love where there are no other options, it's either each other or die alone. They love the awkward and stupid details of each other that would annoy everyone else. And a year after they first meet, Tom proposes to Violet, on New Year's Eve. From there it's straight to the wedding and the kids, right? Wrong. Life doesn't always go so easily, and Violet and Tom find their wedding getting delayed again and again.
"Life is what happens when you're making other plans", that's the best way to describe the underlying idea for this film. You meet a girl, you get to know her, you propose, every place is busy, you delay for a little while, she gets a psychology gig in Michigan, you temporarily leave your successful job to be with her for a couple years, you find another job, you make new friends, she makes new friends, a couple of years becomes another couple of years, you take up hunting, you decorate the house with the spoils of your hunting trips, you grow a bizarre beard, you spiral into discontent, she tries to help, you decide to get married no matter what, you settle on anything if it means you two will be married sooner, you find out she kissed her boss, you chase her boss down, turns out he knows parkour, you get your throat punched, you find a co-worker and she gets freaky on you, you wander drunk into the woods with no clothes on, you wake up the next morning with frostbite on your toe, she still cares about you, you care about her, she wants to stay, you can't stand it another minute, you argue, she argues, you go your separate ways.
That's about all I'll say (I'll leave some for people to see), but you get the general idea. This is a movie that's genuinely heartwarming and realistic for anyone who knows the ups and downs of love. They do throw a few bits of comedy in every once in a while, but never anything too unrealistic to take you out of things.
One thing I must note is that I watch a lot of movies, but I knew none of the actors in this movie outside of Segel and Blunt. They have a very diverse and fun group of characters, and it really helps make everything feel more like the real world.
This is a movie for people who like going to see movies because they think they might just find something they can relate to.
The Middle (2009)
Feels Like a Family
I checked this show out on the second episode with my mother and my grandmother. I'd heard nothing about it before, but the characters just seemed so fun, particularly Sue. It is a fantastic show, and I hope the creators and cast can keep it up for a while.
Our characters are Frances "Frankie" Heck, played with desperate but warm affection by Patricia Heaton. Every member of her family deserves to have their heads looked at, but somehow she manages it on her own.
Mike, played by Neil Flynn of Scrubs fame, is the kind of Dad who is sure everything will work out. He may not get overly involved in things, but he has a kind of horse wisdom that gets him farther than you'd think.
Axl, 16, is the teenage son who makes you question whether raising kids is really worth it all. A brain-damaged athlete who spends most of his time around the house in his boxers, he nonetheless has redeeming qualities, and he will surprise you with them.
Sue, 14, the middle child, is adorable. Perky, bubbly, always optimistic; most people don't know she exists. Quite literally the entire universe is working against her. Her formidable endurance never fails to bring a smile to my face.
Last but not least is 9-year old Brick, who whispers to himself and loves to read. Unfortunately, he loves to read to the point where he forgets to do most of his schoolwork. He has trouble making friends but is a very bright kid, if absent-minded.
That's the main appeal, watching this family go through so much but never lose hope. By the end of each episode, more has gone wrong for the Hecks than right, but those little things that do turn out all right make everything else worthwhile. Anyone with a family will find a lot to love.
The Thing (2011)
Some introduction: I saw John Carpenter's The Thing approximately a year ago when a film buff friend of mine showed it to me, I loved all of it. The mystery, the amazing special effects, the brilliant way it kept you guessing, everything was perfect. I even talked with him when he said the crew had fought tooth and nail to ensure a sequel was never made, I agreed that such a film couldn't be made. Later that year, I analyzed the original screenplay for The Thing for 7 hours for my writing class, writing down every possibility for everything (it was exhausting).
When I heard of this prequel, I cringed. When I heard it was a prequel, I sort of half-cringed (part of me was interested to see a cast that would by necessity be at least half-Norwegian). When I heard Mary Elizabeth Winstead would star, I cringed (no offense to her, but I didn't think she could ever compare to Kurt Russell). And with Stan Winston's passing, more of my hopes died for this film.
I have never been so happy to be so wrong. This film was perfect. Absolutely perfect. Beautiful, breathtaking, disturbing, terrifying, amazing.
Everything that the film needed to match up with John Carpenter's movie was there, and done magnificently. You can tell how much work and effort they put into everything. The locations. Beautiful icy wastelands, not sets. The establishing shots are stunning to look at.
The characters. Yes, more than half the cast is Norwegian, and they all do a great job. There are Americans characters as well, and most of the Norwegians speak English (with one important exception), there are more characters than in the first one, but that's one of the best parts of this film.
It takes great efforts to replicate John Carpenter's The Thing, but also to be its own version of the story. Many scenes are replicated here, but they are done their own way. They don't simply re-hash every scene from the original, they add in new scenes and new territory to be explored.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead is still not MacReady, but she doesn't try to be. She's more like Ripley from Alien, but with a flamethrower this time.
The screenplay and suspense. Half of the greatness of The Thing was how impossible it was to tell who was human and who wasn't at any given moment. That continues here as well. They encounter some of the same obstacles and even come up with some of their own solutions to determining who is who and who is what.
The Thing itself. While they use computer-generated monster effects this time, they still use a lot of animatronics and freaky costumes to ensure the Thing remains as disturbingly terrifying as ever. This time, we actually get to see some of it moving around and stalking prey, not just hiding in a human meat suit and waiting until you're alone. Some familiar moments and forms are present, but they also do a whole lot of new transformations which are excellent to watch.
The continuity. Does everything match up with what we knew from the original? Yes. Everything. Down to the half-formed two-headed Thing frozen in the ice and the red axe buried in the wall and left there. All in all, it was perfection. A superior remake and a superior prequel. 10 stars.