Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (2003) Review:

How often are remakes regarded as decent properties? When audiences hear that one of their favorite properties is being rebooted or remade, most roll their eyes and complain. Majority of the time, this is an understandable opinion. Many studios do not understand why remaking a fan’s beloved movie over again is practically complete sabotage. Much of the reason is that producers want to introduce a new generation of viewers to the series. However, many would argue to just watch the original. Yet for some cases, remaking a franchise is probably the best way to go. When a franchise begins to sink so low in its capability to entertain the fewest of audiences, then it's time for an overhaul. After three releases with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2 (1986), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre III: Leatherface (1990) and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994) and all failing harder than the last, it seemed that it was time to take a break. That is until literally in 2003 almost three decades later, it was decided to run the chain saw once more.

The five teens
Surprisingly as tough as it is to get people to come back and see a remake, when a studio fails as hard as The Texas Chain Massacre: The Next Generation (1994), you really can only go up from there. Scott Kosar wrote the script for this remake. Kosar would later write the script for The Machinist (2004), another body horror film. Since it is a remake, the story has similar plot points to the 1974 original but there are a number of changes and added scenes too. Five teenagers in 1973 are reported to be killed. The last being seen near the Hewitt house. Originally headed to Mexico, Erin (Jessica Biel), Morgan (Jonathan Tucker), Pepper (Erica Leerhsen), Andy (Mike Vogel) and Kemper (Eric Balfour) are traveling through the Texas flat lands. However after coming across an emotionally and mentally scarred female pedestrian, the group end up getting involved with a terrifying local family. Directing this in his debut for movies was Marcus Nispel. Mostly known for doing music videos, Nispel does have an eye for horror films too.

What's enjoyable to see about Kosar's remake script is that he easily changes around the reason as to why these teenagers come in contact with Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski) and his family. On top of that, there's a bit of backstory given about the new Leatherface named Thomas Hewitt. It's not deep in its explanation but it does give insight as to why Leatherface is what he is when seen on screen. This doesn't get rid of the glaring continuity errors though. For example, audiences are introduced to the premise with cops going through evidence. One piece of evidence is a video of cops going through the Hewitt house. How did the cops recover that? Was it sent back to them? Also the fact that this remake is not as bizarrely terrifying as the original predecessor that inspired it is somewhat disappointing too. This remake comes off more direct in its approach when it comes to being grotesque. There's not a whole lot of unknown here especially for those who have been through the first movie and its subsequent sequels.

The one thing to be happy with though is that the tone is much more grounded that of any sequel that came after Tobe Hooper's first. There are no outlandishly over the top actors in this story. The family itself is crazy enough; there's no need to surpass them with family members that are beyond their range. Speaking of which, the acting is fine. All actors including Leatherface and his family are effective on screen. Of the cast Jessica Biel had the best role. Coming in second was Andrew Bryniarski for playing Leartherface as such a hulking monster. Even R. Lee Erney who plays an individual named Sheriff Hoyt has some intense scenes. Although the psychological aspect isn't as terrifying, the horror is still fairly gruesome. The gore itself isn't too disturbing yet it is tough to sit through. The set decoration by Randy Huke had a nice touch. So much of the Hewitt house looks like it could've been condemned years ago. The exterior looks rather similar to that of an insane asylum.

Peak-a-boo,....I C U
Complimenting the visuals was Daniel Pearl as cinematographer. This is a highly respectable addition because Pearl was the original director of photography to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). Everything from the lighting, the exterior shots and the interior shots of the Hewitt house are all shown to the point where it's enough for the viewer to enjoy. One of the best scenes shown in this remake takes place in a slaughterhouse. It truly is a well-shot sequence. Composing the film score to this production was at the time newcomer Steve Jablonsky. This was Jablonsky's first major theatrical outing in the scoring industry and it is nothing like his later works in the Transformers (2007) series; something he's best known for now. Unlike what listeners would hear from those scores, the tracks are much more natural with less reliance on synthesizers. There is a reoccurring main theme, which is important because prior to this, not one of the past films had a released musical score.

While it may still lack explanations for certain plot points and is not as psychologically scary as the its first parent film, it is by far better than any sequel that came after it. The actors are cast well, the horror is still there, the musical score is a commendable element and the set design plus camerawork help drive home the grounded tone.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989) Review:

There comes a point in time where a viewer who has seen enough sequels to a horror franchise where it doesn't phase them anymore. When a formula is repeated over and over and over and over again, the redundancy feels more like an attribute of lazy writing versus actually copying out of flattery. It's obvious as to why studios love making sequels but it's crazy as to how they believe one exact formula is necessary for all entries. There has to be some kind of creative brainstorming going on in the background otherwise every entry after the original continues to just rinse and rehash the same concept until the end of its run. After the blunder of Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) and the lukewarm return of Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), production studio Magnum Pictures Inc. felt a year later was just enough time to make another sequel. Unfortunately since Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), there has been a stagnation of quality in this series. This is okay but nothing to cheer over either.

Michael Myers is back.....again.....
Written by Michael Jacobs, Shem Bitterman and Dominique Othenin-Girard, the story picks up a year later after the last film. After killing her stepmother, Jaime Strode (Danielle Harris) now lives in a child care clinic where she is under the supervision of Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence). Knowing that her uncle Michael Myers (Don Shanks) is still alive and well, Dr. Loomis hopes to get whatever information he can from his now mute niece.  Trying to keep a cool head is returning characters Jaime's stepsister Rachel (Ellie Cornell), her friend Tina (Wendy Foxworth) and the local sheriff Ben Meeker (Beau Starr). It sounds like an okay setup but really much the execution is flawed. For the three writers mentioned, all but one had prior horror film making experience so that's already a fairly bad start when it comes to continuing a horror franchise. Directing this sequel was also writer Dominique Othenin-Girard. Girard's direction unfortunately does not improve the viewing experience all that much.

What truly hurts this sequel's performance is how empty the story is on substance and the few frightening moments. This is by far the sequel with the most holes in its plot. There's no explanation to numerous things. No reason as to why Jaime no longer has the Myer's killer instinct. No understanding is made as to why Michael Myers returned exactly one year later when he could've done so much sooner. Nothing is justified as to why Jaime is mute after the events of the first movie. There's even a new character that enters this series and he too is given no background information whatsoever. What gives? The pacing is another problem. Like the slew of other slasher films that were inspired by its original film, many scenes contain teenagers walking around calling out into vacant rooms and saying how much it isn't funny anymore. There needs to be development in some of these characters otherwise, there's no scare factor involved throughout the movie. There are some moments of intrigue that are made as the film gets closer to the finale but that's it.

The kill scenes are also rather disappointing. Only a couple of Michael Myers’ victims have a memorable scene with him. A lot of the other deaths are off screen. There's also nothing wrong with the idea of less is more, but there's nothing new that's added to the end result. However here is what does work. The main actors such as Danielle Harris and Donald Pleasence are the best parts. As much as it's sad to see Pleasence continue to try and make this series watchable, he still carries some kind of dramatic heft. Although his character is becoming less and less useful. Harris was okay although she is mute. Her fear looks real on screen as well when Myers is around. Shanks as Myers was okay too but did miss the opportunity to do several Myers like responses such as the infamous "head tilt". The rest of the supporting cast is all right but they do not add much to the actual narrative. The thing viewers can be grateful for is at least the casting department brought back what was left of the previous cast for another round.

"Tell me why we keep making sequels Jaime!"
The visual aspect of things was decent as well. Robert Draper handled the cinematography. Although he had worked on small and big screen productions, this was Draper's first big theatrical entry. For what was shown, it looked adequate. It was when Draper's skill and the set decorations worked together to create some creepy scenes. Sadly it wasn't very often but when it was seen, it worked. This takes place in the old Myer's house. Returning composer Alan Howarth produced the musical score. Considering he has been apart of the franchise dating back to Halloween II (1981) with John Carpenter, it's reassuring to know there's one more dedicated crewmember. Howarth's score continues Carpenter's memorable theme from the series and includes various other motifs as well. It isn't perfect nor is it entirely effective but it does make up for a lot of the other issues going on with this movie. The score itself is still mainly made up of synthesizer keyboard and that's fine looking at it's origins.

While it may have a decent musical score, returning credible actors and adequate camerawork, this sequel continues to hit the middle of the road. The story is bare bones developed, the reasoning behind several things goes untouched, its pacing is pretty slow and the creep factor is hardly there. It's not worse than any other prior entry starting from Halloween II (1981) but it doesn't bother to add much either.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Secret Life of Pets (2016) Review:

When growing up as a kid, there's almost a 100% guarantee that at some point a parent will here their child ask for a pet. Whether it's a gold fish, cat, dog, ferret, frog, rabbit, snail or whatever, humans have been domesticating animals for quite some time. There's just something about our pets that we enjoy. The fact that they share and display similar emotions to that of us is so heart warming. They all might express them in different ways but most owners know or understand what their fuzzy friends are feeling. However this is the only thing we comprehend about them on a personal level. They can't speak to us in our native tongue or vise versa and we have no clue what they do behind our backs or how they feel in the moment. When left up to the minds behind Despicable Me (2010) though, viewers will get a completely different perception. Will it make us think differently in what our pets do behind our backs to this extreme - no. But will it let us come up with crazy ideas as to what could happen - of course.

Snowball & Max
This spin off series that runs parallel to the Despicable Me (2010) universe was directed by Yarrow Cheney (his theatrical debut) and Chris Renaud (Despicable Me (2010)). Three writers also collaborated on the script, that being Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio and Brian Lynch (Hop (2011)). The story follows Max (Louis C.K.), a puppy with a good life. His owner took him who found him when he was a baby and gave him everything to his hearts content. Things were great. Then unbeknownst to Max, his owner comes home with another dog named Duke (Eric Stonestreet). Feeling a bit slighted, Max and Duke end up learning that you have to give in order to get. Within that conflict the two end up crossing paths with Snowball (Kevin Hart), an eccentric bunny rabbit whose main goal in life is to overthrow the human race for his fellow abandoned pets. All the while, Max's secret love interest Gidget (Jenny Slate) hopes to gain his affection at some point in time but she's not sure how. Nevertheless she's very determined to make it happen.

The development among characters is proportional to the significance each role has. Through several experiences both Duke and Max learn a lot about themselves. Backstories are given for each, which is why their development works. What's even more effective is how many viewers can relate because of comparable life experiences. Gidget as a love interest isn't written so cliche either. The idea itself is rather turned on its head and that's not seen very frequently. As for Snowball, he doesn't have incredibly deep development but his background is made apparent. For the rest of the supporting characters, there aren't too many complaints to have. The only character that doesn't really have a clear motivation is Tiberius (Albert Brooks) the hawk. According to Tiberius, he's sad to have no friends because his owner locks him away in a cage at the top of an apartment. Yet later on, audiences will see Tiberius being petted by his owner and they seem to be enjoying each other's company, why is he upset again?

The other blatant problem in the story's writing is Max's owner and every other pet's owner for that matter. Apparently this whole movie plays out within a day's time. Throughout the running time, Max and company go through a lot of locations in the city. Some not as clean as others. Yet somehow nobody smells his or her pet has been anywhere but home. Surely somebody's pet would be coming off foul somewhere. What are the odds that they remained clean the whole time? That's about as preposterous as Rosie Huntington-Whiteley's role in Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) where her white dress did not get one smudge. Also the title is a bit misleading. The adventure the main leads go on is nothing that secret. There a few secret like activities that take place throughout the film, but much of it is so out in the open. Aside from this though the comedy and actor chemistry all blend well together. Both Louis C.K. and Eric Stonestreet practically sound like brothers and Kevin Hart makes Snowball likable and hilarious all at once.

The utterly adorable Gidget
The other supporting character that has a number of great lines and best fits her role is Lake Bell as Chloe the cat. So much of her responses and sarcasm are exactly how many cat owners would expect their cat to react to certain situations. The animation is also enjoyable feature. Heading the animation is Salem Arfaoui as senior animator. Arfaoui has been a senior animator going all the way back with 9 (2009) while also participating in Despicable Me (2010), The Lorax (2012) and Despicable Me 2 (2013). The musical score on the other hand was okay but nothing outstanding. Composed by Alexandre Desplat, the music is appropriate to the surroundings with real orchestral instruments but there's no reoccurring theme for the audience to remember. Especially if this is being planned as another franchise, there should be a main theme too. This is what really helps solidify the characters and story. Desplat was also the composer to Unbroken (2014), Godzilla (2014) and The Imitation Game (2014). Especially for such big films, one would expect something.

Definitely an entertaining family movie for all ages. It's strongest point is that it can relate to almost any viewer because of how frequently we as a human race go through pets in our lives. The writing is mostly well balanced with a few questionable tidbits. The music isn't truly memorable but the actors and animation are fun to watch.

Points Earned --> 7:10