Archive for March, 2010

A deceptively engaging comedy, HOT TUB TIME MACHINE broaches the theory that changed events in the past can affect your present life. The premise is simple, three middle aged guys take a dip in a hot tub and travel back in time to 1986 to rediscover their past conquests. But  more than just a typical “buddy movie”, this film is an enjoyable comedy that features witty quips and great character interactions.

Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

Adam (John Cusack), is a sad sack… his wife has just left him, taking most of his belongings. Nick (Craig Robinson) is a veterinary assistant who cleans up after dogs, and Lou (Rob Corddry) passes his time taking recreational drugs and booze.

They were all best buddies back in 1980′s, but in the years since, they’ve drifted apart. It’s not until Lou is hospitalized that they re-unite and start reminiscing about “the good old days”.

Adam suggests that the three return to Kodiak Valley, a ski lodge where the three partied in the ’80′s. With high hopes of reliving their Glory Days, the three buddies, with teenager Jacob (Clark Duke) in tow, pack up and head for a guy’s weekend at the lodge.

Arriving at the lodge, they find it’s a mere shadow of its former self. The building is in a state of disrepair, the “Kodiak Valley” sign hangs askance and cats run freely about the hotel lobby. In a memorable role, Crispin Glover (of George McFly fame) plays a very cranky, one-armed bell hop. He makes many appearances throughout the film, with his Bell Hop character becoming a popular scene stealer.

In their hotel room, the guys find the hot tub of the film’s title. Slipping into the warm water to relax, the three friends reminisce about their great weekend back in 1986. Colorful lights appear from beneath the tub’s water and a vortex starts. Looking directly at the camera, Nick intones “it must be some kinda hot tub time machine” The four are swept back in time to the same ski lodge, but now it’s the colorful 1980′s. 

The transition to the past is quite apparent. The ski lodge is now much newer and populated with hoards of happy, fun loving ’80′s teens. We’re bombarded with sights and images that define 1986;  Walkman’s, polo shirts, poster colored clothing, leg warmers, Jheri curls, and President Reagan on TV. Glancing in the mirror, the guys see themselves as their young 1980’s selves, and everyone who meets them does too! Seeking some sort of proof, Nick asks a passerby “what color’s Michael Jackson?” when she answers ”black”….he screams (apparently this is a sure sign that it’s 1986!) 

In a strange cameo, Chevy Chase appears as the Hot Tub Repairman. When he warns the guys about the dangers of tampering with the time-space continuum, Jacob quickly bemoans “We’re gonna do something to make Hitler president”

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE is one of those fun, up-all-night movies, where none of the characters seem to sleep, and everyone has unlimited energy. Aimed mostly at the Forty-Something crowd, the film’s humor contains enough bawdy comments and raucous moments that most teenagers will be entertained too. It’s a fun comedy with funny references to movies, lots of quick snappy dialog and chuckles throughout. Recommended

Running Time – 100m.

Rated R for strong crude & sexual content, nudity, drug use and pervasive language.

Cast & Credits

Director: Steve Pink

John Cusack … Adam

Clark Duke … Jacob

Craig Robinson … Nick

Rob Corddry … Lou

Crispin Glover … Phil

Chevy Chase … Repair Man

….an amalgam of lighting, music and sound effects create a visual symphony of terror!

Born in Rome, Italy on September 7, 1940, director Dario Argento grew up in a close knit household where family members told folk tales by Hans Christian Andersen, Edgar Allan Poe and the Brothers Grimm. Elements of these frightening bedtime stories would later become fodder for his horror films.

Suspiria 1977 posterWith SUSPIRIA (1977), Argento reaches the acme of his creative works. Combining his stylized use of color, innovative sounds and rapid cutting, SUSPIRIA would go on to become one of the touchstone horror films of the 1970’s. Emphasizing mood, lighting and color, Argento is able to create a nightmarish world filled with angst and duplicitous characters.

As the film opens, American teen Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) is arriving in Germany to join a ballet academy. It’s here that we’re treated to a host of Argento’s techniques. Suzy arrives at the boarding school late at night, amidst a driving rain storm. Vivid blue lighting emphasizes the rain drenched, deserted streets around the ballet school while the frenetic music of Goblin punctuates the soundtrack.

Greeted by the dour school headmistress, Suzy is told “…we don’t teach you to dance here…we presume our students know how to do that!”.  Of course it’s not long before, one by one, strange, grisly murders start occurring. Argento punctuates his well crafted, yet repellant, murder scenes with bright poster colored lighting and the heart pounding percussion music of Goblin.

One of the most chilling murders involves a character, who, while running from The Killer, stumbles into a room filled with coils and coils of sharp razor wire (the type they run around prison walls). The visual experience is so captivating (and disturbing) that we have little time to consider why someone would store miles of razor wire in a room at a ballet academy. Rather, we just bask in the terror of this contrived situation, empathizing with the character, who is trapped like a fly in a spider’s web.

Another gripping sequence involves a blind man and his Seeing Eye dog, alone at night in a deserted city center square. His dog barks at something (or someone) unseen, while all around him stark shadows give  sinister life to the walls of the buildings. Wonderful cutting and relentless music combine with haunting “sighs” and “whispers” to make this a compelling scene.

SUSPIRIA earned an R rating when it was released in the U.S. in 1977, and there’s lots of grisly violence, including the use of sharp knives, broken glass and other items that will make your skin crawl. Argento directs these scenes with flair, as an artist paints his canvas. The colors, the framing and the music lift this film from its roots as a mundane horror film into the realm of something much more special.

Throughout SUSPIRIA, the action and mood is supported by the frenetic and haunting music of Goblin, an Italian progressive rock band best known for their work on many Argento soundtracks. Creepy “sighs”, “whispers” and other unsettling sounds permeate the soundtrack adding to the feeling of uneasiness.

The set design on SUSPIRIA compliments the mood of the film. Many scenes are decorated with vivid, velvety red walls and flowing sanguine drapes. Filmed in widescreen, you’ll want to view SUSPIRIA in DVD letterbox format. Directors usually have trouble composing for the wide 1:2.35 ratio, but Argento handless it flawlessly. Slow camera movements down long, bright red, narrow hallways, add to the unusual claustrophobic feeling that this widescreen film is able to achieve. Characters are carefully framed, benefitting their onscreen movements. Arms gracefully stretch the width of the screen, and action is well contained during the murder scenes. Of special note is the swimming pool sequence, which reminds us of a similar scene in Lewton’s CAT PEOPLE (1942). The camera floats in front of the two girls, carefully following them as they swim around the darkly lit indoor pool. The camera movements alone would make for a very scary sequence, but the amalgam of lighting, music and sound effects create a visual symphony of terror.

At the end of the film, we’re never really sure if the events really happened, or if they were part of Suzy Bannion’s dreams. It’s a moot point because this movie succeeds not as a story, but as a series of vivid, well crafted images….images that you’ll revisit in your nightmares! A modernistic classic, SUSPIRIA is available on DVD and should be viewed by all aficionados of the horror-gore genre.
Highly recommended.

Director: Dario Argento

Country: Italy (available dubbed in English, or Italian language with subtitles)

Jessica Harper … Suzy Bannion
Stefania Casini … Sara
Flavio Bucci … Daniel
Miguel Bosé … Mark

“I’m not right, am I?”  – Russell Clank

Resurrected from a 1973 George Romero film of the same name, “The Crazies” attempts to bring zombies and biological warfare together in one film.

The Crazies (2010)Opening with images of flames and a burning town, the film fades out to “two days earlier”. It’s the sleepy town of Ogden Marsh, a rural Midwestern town where people enjoy life at their own pace, kids play baseball and folks call the town sheriff by his first name.

But strange things are happening in Ogden Marsh. At a baseball game, the town drunk wanders listlessly onto the ball field brandishing a rifle. Meanwhile, the town doctor is getting an alarming number of patients who exhibit schizophrenic symptoms. These elements should combine to make the essence of a strong sci-fi horror film the likes of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956), but instead the film takes a wrong turn.

It’s no secret to say that the townspeople are mysteriously dying and returning as zombies. Zombies, incidentally, are a time-tested-and-true plot device, allowing for lots of muffed gory attempts at killing them before you get it just right. Unfortunately, there’s just not enough “colorful” zombie deaths in this film to satisfy even the most desperate of zombie fans. To be sure there’s gratuitous violence, but not the cinematically choreographed carnage of the type Tom Savini gave us in 1978’s “Dawn of the Dead”

But more than a zombie film, “The Crazies” is a film about government interference and incompetence handling a chemical bio-agent catastrophe, which brings to mind “The Blob” (1988). The government rushes in, gas masks & hazmat suits in hand, rounding up the “usual suspects”, which in this case turns out to be the unsuspecting inhabitants of Ogden Marsh.

There’s a few moments that come close to what the whole film could have been. The discovery of a submerged plane, much like the discovery of the saucer under the ice in “The Thing” (1954), is a plot point that could have been savored for its mystery. Yet the whole subject is dismissed very quickly. Not enough blood, I’m guessing. And the unattended combine, running at night inside the barn gave the promise of something creepy and surreal, but the promise is never fulfilled.

“The Crazies” dips into the well of over used clichés one time too many: the sudden hand on the shoulder; the person about to be killed, saved at the last moment by a friend; an eye suddenly peering back at you through a keyhole; and of course, the much anticipated business with the pitchfork (shown in the movie poster). It’s all grizzle and gore, with surprises that will no doubt please the teenaged date crowd, but cinematically this film is a disappointment. “The Crazies” is a formula film that gets it’s ingredients all wrong.

Cast & Crew:

Director:  Breck Eisner

Timothy Olyphant  … David Dutton

Radha Mitchell  …  Judy Dutton

Joe Anderson …  Russell Clank

Danielle Panabaker … Becca Darling

Running Time: 101 min       Rated “R” for bloody violence & language

“Which would be worse, to live as a monster or to die as a good man?” – Teddy Daniels

“Shutter Island” is a much anticipated film from veteran director Martin Scorsese, starring Leonard DeCaprio and Ben Kingsley.

The film opens with ominous music and a view of a ferry heading towards a foreboding island. Much like the approach to Kong’s Island, it’s a remote, fog laden place, surrounded by craggy rocks and lashing seas.

Shutter Island posterIt’s 1954 and Deputy Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DeCaprio) and his assistant Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) have been sent to investigate a woman’s escape from the island’s prison for the mentally insane. Arriving at the island they’re met by a prison guard who tells them “we take only the most dangerous and damaged patients”. The prison buildings loom menacingly above the dock while the rainy, windswept terrain adds to the already growing feeling of angst.

Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), the prison’s medical director, is a mysterious and evasive character, who seems to relish running the asylum. As the plot unfolds, we find that Daniels is a complicated character who has many flashbacks. In one such flashback we see him as one of the first US soldiers to liberate the Dachau Nazi concentration camp. Other flashbacks are equally unsettling, and convey multiple messages.

“Shutter Island” is an atmospheric, windswept, brooding film, that coveys a feeling of angst from beginning to end. Director Scorsese, a master of film history, often alludes to past classic movie scenes. His shots atop the craggy cliffs overlooking the light house remind us of Hitchcock’s “Suspicion”, while DeCaprio negotiating the dark prison tunnels with only a match to light the way is reminiscent of “The Old Dark House”. Even the lightning storm sequence, with it’s brief canted angles gives nod to “The Bride of Frankenstein”, and there’s the disturbing, yet somehow beautiful, flashback sequences with ashes floating through the air like snow. These are all wonderful images and they give credit to the skill and artistic direction of Scorsese.

Leonard DeCaprio creates an intense, brooding and multi-layered character. Ben Kingsley is perfect as the medical director who seems to know more than he’s telling.

“Shutter Island” is a high-tension mystery thriller of the first order, that reveals a deadly secret as the film unfolds. Highly Recommended.

Cast & Crew

Director … Martin Scorsese

Leonardo DiCaprio … Teddy Daniels

Mark Ruffalo … Chuck Aule

Ben Kingsley … Dr. Cawley

Max von Sydow … Dr. Naehring

Running time 138m. Rated “R”

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“I believe six impossible things before breakfast” – AliceJohn Tenniel illustration Wikipedia

Alice in Wonderland has been in my consciousness since my earliest encounters with the Lewis Carroll stories. Alice in Wonderland 1951 Sawyer ViewmasterTheir accompanying John Tenniel illustrations both fascinated and troubled me. The 1952 Viewmaster version, and the 1951 Disney Animated film collaborated to produce images in my mind that would become the fodder of nightmares.

Now Tim Burton brings “Alice in Wonderland” to the theater screen. However, this time the nightmarish world of Wonderland is skillfully crafted and realized by experts who helped create the world of “Avatar”.

Alice, now a teenager, is starting to feel the pressures of grown up life. She’s able to escape reality when she follows a mysteriously dressed rabbit to his burrow. As she falls down down the rabbit hole there’s a wonderful transition between the real world above and the fantasy world that awaits below.copyright Disney 2010

Sampling both the “drink me” bottle and the “eat me” cake, Alice gets to change sizes several times, and to our delight it’s all handled quite realistically. In a scene not unlike that in the “Wizard of Oz”, Alice opens the tiny door to enter the fantastic world of Wonderland. Here we get to see the lush detailing and conceptualization of this fantasy world and it’s bizarre inhabitants.

The characters she meets are wonderful and highly detailed. They’ve all met Alice before, but she’s unable to remember the encounter. The Blue Caterpillar (voiced by Alan Rickman) is suitably mysterious, puffing continually on a hookah and the Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry) is both creepy and vaporous.

Special CGI effects give nightmarish qualities to the characters. Johnny Depp’s large eyes and the Red Queen’s bulbous head are but a few of the graphic treats that the movie holds in store. The highly detailed army of marching cards is entirely menacing and certainly much more convincing than the paper thin Queen’s guards that the 1951 film offered.

Johnny Depp, as the Mad Hatter, brings in a great performance and as usual he melds himself to the role. At times I found the Mad Hatter to be almost a bit too sane, unlike the over-the-top 1951 Hatter. Depp gives a touching performance as a tormented soul who quickly forms a strong bond with Alice. Anne Hathaway offers a somewhat pedestrian performance as the mostly inneffectual White Queen.

The final battle sequence reminds us of the recent “Chronicles of Narnia” (2005) in which all the characters in the film are rounded up for one last melee. Whether or not Alice is supposed to remind us of Joan of Arc is inconsequential. Her glistening armor is a wonderful touch of costuming, and the sword fight with the Jabberwocky (voiced by Christopher Lee) should satisfy most action fans.

Please be forewarned that despite it’s PG rating, this is not a film for those under 13. There’s several disturbing scenes such as floating decapitated heads in the Red Queen’s moat, eye piercings and a decapitation during the final battle scene.

Tim Burton’s vision brings this timeless story to life on the screen. A recommended film, both for it’s wonderful special effects and a new take on a classic story.


Tim Burton

Mia Wasikowska … Alice

Johnny Depp … Mad Hatter

Helena Bonham Carter … Red Queen

Anne Hathaway … White Queen

Alan Rickman … Blue Caterpillar

Stephen Fry … Cheshire Cat

Running time: 108m.

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