Friday, April 30, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Last night, I watched the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street as directed by Samuel Bayer (making his feature debut) based on a script by Wesley Strick (the Cape Fear remake, Wolf, and Doom) and Eric Hesserer (the upcoming The Thing remake and Final Destination 5) based on the classic film written and directed by Wes Craven.

As in the original, A Nightmare on Elm Street tells the story of a group of teenagers who are being systematically hunted in their dreams by an all-too-real boogeyman. If they die in their dreams, they die for real.

I am a huge fan of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, specifically of its lead character, Nancy Thompson (played by Heather Langenkamp, who is one of my favourite actresses.) It’s incredibly well-written with strong characters and an intense storyline that preys on our basic fears as human beings. This film has influenced me in countless ways as both a woman and as a filmmaker. I want to be like Nancy, so brave in spite of her fears, and I want to write characters, male and female, that inspire others as I have been inspired by her. I want to write stories like ANoES, stories that examine good and evil, the relationship between the two and how people become either good or evil (and, of course, the Machiavellian aspects to the two, but I digress.)

Obviously, I was biased when I went in to watch this remake, but I honestly wanted it to be good. I wanted the writers and the director to Get It, to understand the characters and the mythology that Craven created and Englund and Langenkamp expounded on with their performances of those intense characters. I really wanted to like it. Instead, I walked out of the theatre more angry at a movie than I’ve been in a long time and, as I tweeted while the credits rolled, I wished to invoke Jon Stewart’s “Go f*ck yourself” choir and direct them to Warner Bros. (though it’s a New Line Cinemas film, and Bob Shaye is credited as Executive Producer, New Line hasn’t existed as a standalone studio since February 2008 when Warner absorbed them and Bob Shaye resigned from the company when that happened. The remake was greenlit in mid to late 2008, I think. Wes Craven, Robert Englund, and Heather Langenkamp were not consulted.)

I couldn’t have written this review last night. I was too angry and, honestly, too tired. It’s a good thing I waited because while I’m still angry, I’m mostly disappointed in what really could have been a great flick. In fact, I may come back to this review several times to rephrase things to make my points more clear.

First, I’ll go into what I liked about the film. I was pleasantly surprised by the direction, deftly handled by Samuel Bayer. I was afraid the whole thing was going to look like a crappy music video just based on the trailers and while there was just too much CGI, I think he did a good job.

The cinematography was good, even if it borrowed a bit from the sequels in terms of lighting, but I’m pleased with DP Jeff Cutter’s work.

The music, by Steve Jablonsky (a Platinum Dunes mainstay), was very good, building on Charles Bernstein’s original theme at just the right points, but bringing new depth to the musical landscape of the film.

My favourite performance in the movie is from Katie Cassidy who played Kris (the equivalent of Tina from the original.) I won’t be able to bring myself to watch Melrose Place for her, but I will keep my eye on her for the future. She did a fantastic job with a character who was given more screen time than she should’ve had and was far better written than the new Nancy, but I’ll get to that shortly. I have to wonder why she would not put up the top on her convertible, but still engage the car alarm, though.

The effects were very good, though there was just too much CGI, and the burn make-up on Freddy was ace, even if he did look like a “wet alien cat” as one reviewer put it.

Finally...Freddy. The franchise has morphed into the Freddy Show and this remake reflects that in the loving attention to detail given to the Clawed One. I have to give Strick and Hesserer credit for taking Freddy to the level that Craven couldn’t when they bluntly confronted Freddy’s paedophilia and gave him that level of connection to Nancy. And Jackie Earle Haley was great as Freddy. It’s hard to not compare him to Robert Englund, but he brought his own form of menace to the role, just as I hoped he would. This Freddy is filled with rage and you feel it. However, and this is huge, his penchant for cracking off one-liners is still there and instead of underlining his rage, it’s distracting.

Now, before I head to the things I hated about the film, I want to give a heads up to the Twihards who are going to plunk down their (parents’) hard earned cash to watch Kellan Lutz sit there and look pretty: he doesn’t last beyond the opening title card. Sorry for the spoiler, but he was brought in specifically to steal your cash. While I think Twilight’s a freakin’ joke, I can’t let you fans waste your money without that word of warning.

The writers were careful to include little details: the film’s set in Ohio, which is where Craven is from and where the original was supposed to take place, but budgetary concerns made him change it to LA. Subsequent entries in the series moved it to Ohio, but that breaks continuity within the canon. They also kept the address, 1428 Elm Street. As a fan, I appreciate those little touches. The house is similar enough to invoke memories of the original and dissimilar enough to be its own place.

What I didn’t like about the Nightmare remake: EVERYTHING ELSE.

So much attention was paid to Freddy and his backstory in the script that relatively little attention was given to the rest of the film. They had fantastic actors playing the main adult figures (Connie Britton and Clancy Brown) and they were frustratingly underused and underdeveloped.

Jesse (the equivalent of Rod from the original), here portrayed by Thomas Dekker, was ridiculously flat, over the top, and boring. Quentin (he would be the Glenn), played by Kyle Gallner, was okay, but wishywashy.

Finally, we get to Nancy Holbrook (Nancy Thompson in the original), here played by Rooney Mara. She is supposed to be the Everygirl who has to go up against Freddy on her own, essentially. She’s supposed to learn the truth and deal with it. I think Mara gave it her best, but the character felt like an afterthought, as though the writers said, “Oh, yeah...Nancy...” with a roll of their eyes and a snigger.

Kris was better written and with some easy adjustments could’ve been Nancy. Instead we get a character who says she knows what’s going on and yet has to be told everything by all of the male characters who seem to be doing all of the research and by her mom who’s really there as filler. In fact, there are three women in the whole movie and if you add them together you might get one character and most of that character would be Kris. They’ve reduced Nancy to little more than your typical freaky chick Final Girl and given her past with Freddy, it should’ve been a more explosive finale with her rising up to really defeat his Evil. Instead, it was weak and anger inducing. It makes me want to cry and to puke to write this, but in this film, Nancy was Freddy’s toy.

At least the writers were conscientious enough to change her last name so we still have our Nancy Thompson, the only Nancy there ever was.

I know everyone has different feelings when it comes to the Elm Street franchise and most of the fans are fans of Freddy. There was a guy in the audience for our midnight last night who was wearing the red and green sweater and a brown fedora. I hope the characterization in this film gave him a wake-up call: Freddy was a paedophiliac child murderer before the series made him a cuddlebunny. He’s not a character to be admired. I fell into that trap, too. I have quite a collection of Freddy memorabilia. In my defense, there are no Nancy action figures except the one of her in the tub. If there were, believe me, I would have had them right alongside my Freddy figures, but she doesn’t hold the same fascination for anyone else, apparently and certainly not for the toy makers out there.

All in all, if the writer had just spent more time building the teenaged characters and spent just as much time on Nancy as they had on Freddy, I would’ve loved this flick because almost everything else was in place. Instead, I’m left almost gutted in disappointment by this misguided film.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I Sell the Dead, Zombi 3, Predator

I Sell the Dead is a horror-comedy from 2008 that was written and directed by Glenn McQuaid. It stars Dominick Monaghan and Larry Fessenden as two turn of the century graverobbers who stumble upon the otherworldly in their grisly career. It's told as a series of flashbacks as Monaghan's character relates his story to a priest (Ron Perlman) as an act of contrition before he is executed with the individual sequences being linked together with comic book panel style segues.

The film is pretty good, if not as funny as it should've been. That's really the only thing that I found to be lacking in the movie. The performances were great, the cinematography was fine, the music was good, and the special effects were good, but there was too much telling of the story and not enough showing the adventures of the two graverobbers. Disappointing.


Zombi 3 is probably best known amongst the real deal horror fans as an unfortunate entry into the filmography of the Godfather of Gore, Lucio Fulci, who was very ill and absolutely miserable for his short time on Zombi 3 and for the next nine years of his life. When he left halfway through production, Bruno Mattei stepped in to "save" it.

One can't really review a film as notoriously bad as Zombi 3 with a straight face. Even the title is a misnomer; the first film in the series, Zombi, is actually the Italian title for George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead. Zombi 2 (known in the States as Zombie, in the UK as Zombie Flesh Eaters) is the true first entry into this particular series, which was written and directed by Fulci as a way to capitalize on the popularity of Romero's film, but then bloomed into the Italian horror renaissance we fans know and love, usurping Giallo's place as the main Italian horror export in an eruption of grue. There are quite a few Zombi flicks out in the ether, including retitles of older zombie flicks to cash in on the name, and it gets confusing, but I think the only "true successor" to Zombi 3 is Claudio Fragasso's Zombi 4: After Death (Zombie Flesh Eaters 3.) See what I mean?

While this is a terrible film even by 80s Italian horror standards, Zombi 3 does have a couple of interesting, if not well utilized, ideas and set pieces. Sentient zombies, for example. While a few of the ghouls in Return of the Living Dead were able to communicate ("send more cops!" and "your brains are spicy...") I think that Blue Heart's arc was a bit ahead of its time. It was also the only interesting character arc in the entire thing, but no one really watches Fulci or even Mattei for the character development, do they? That said, Claudio Fragasso's script, while inept and painful, aspires to be more than it really ends up being and in a couple of instances actually succeeds. Perhaps that credit should be given to uncredited writer Rossella Drudi, but I really have no idea.

I'm an unabashed fan of Fulci, which would probably amuse him no end. He was pretty damn misogynistic (Zombi 3 star Beatrice Ring's stories from set are truly chilling), but there's something amazing in his work, even in what little of his work on Zombi 3 remains intact after the bumbling, thieving Mattei got his damn dirty paws all over it. As you can tell, I'm NOT a fan of Bruno Mattei's stuff. The Beyond is my personal favourite Fulci flick, with The Gates of Hell (City of the Living Dead) and Zombie tied for second. Mattei's work is pretty bland and lifeless (haha) whereas Fulci never seemed to like to cut film to get another angle (probably to save dough) so his shots are filled with zooms and pans. His trademark eye gouging is missing in this flick and the loving caress of a gentle pan over a gorily ripped up body part is almost totally absent, but the effects for this film were pretty subpar anyway and not deserving of Fulci's attention.

The theme music was good, but repetitive and it seemed like they were trying to emulate Goblin's and John Harrison's work on Romero's Dawn and Day respectively.

I can't really recommend this flick, even as it descends past Return of the Living Dead-style slapstick with a straight face which just makes it funnier. If you'e a horror fan, and I mean a true horror fan, you've probably already seen this at least twice; once for yourself and once to show your friends just how bad it was. If you're looking into what makes Quentin Tarantino weep with joy when it comes to Fulci, you might want to skip this for now and watch a couple of his Giallo meanwhile, like The Psychic (Seven Notes in Black) or Lizard in Woman's Skin. If you're learning the history of Italian horror or of Fulci himself, at least watch Zombie first then come back for this one, but don't skip it entirely. You might just learn how NOT to direct something, like male lead Deran Sarafian who went on to become a successful American television director (he's worked on Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, House, and the CSIs amongst others.)


Predator is the action/sci-fi hybrid from the late 80s that stars Arnold Schwarzenegger (I didn't even have to look up the spelling!) as the bestest human commando soldier evar!1eleventy! who, whilst in the middle of a mission for the CIA, is attacked by the bestest alien commando soldier evar!1eleventy! and has lots of eyesex with Carl Weathers before covering himself in mud and making things go esplodey blah blah blah.

I don't like action movies, which is ironic considering I like writer Shane Black, who is IN this flick as Predator Fodder #1. He wrote The Monster Squad (*squee*), The Long Kiss Goodnight (I quote this movie all the time), Last Action Hero (which I liked a lot), and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (oh, Robert Downey, Jr...I heart you...)...oh, and the Lethal Weapon flicks (which I've not yet seen.) I found this flick to be pretty dull, honestly, and the music to be so bombastic as to start out laughable and finally just fade into the background, like the annoying buzz of a fluorescent light in an office. The editing was good and it was a solid flick from the technical and effects points of view.

My main problem with the idea of the Predator is that he's great at hunting with all of his equipment, but you strip him of all that and a guy who could barely wipe his own butt for all of the muscles on his skeleton was able to defeat him. If Ahnold had died, then I probably would've thought this a neat flick, but you can't have your action hero die at the end of the flick unless it's the thing that pushes the real protagonist into action to get revenge. American audiences just don't dig it, y'know? Perhaps Billy should've survived and gone on to kick the Predator's butt to avenge Ahnold.

Also, the mud mask? It doesn't work. It'll mask body temperature for a few minutes, but to maintain a low temperature, one would have to be frozen, therefore hypothermic and therefore dead. And you can't cover your eyes with mud and eyes give off a heat signature, too.

This is the first flick (that I know of anyway) to give the Governator the snappy one liners that would go on to be his trademark for his 80s action flicks. Even as much as I love The Running Man and Terminator 2, I find the snappy one liners to be a complete mood breaker. For other, the whole reason they watch his action flicks is because of the one-liners.

Whatever floats yer boat, I guess. Chances are you've already seen this flick and don't need me to say yay or nay on it. i think I'm one of the few people on this planet who hadn't actually seen the whole thing, but I thought it was boring. Ah well.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Just a couple of things...

I'm really tired and this is my only day off until after the mainstream Sarasota Film Festival is over, but I wanted to post a couple of reviews for the projects I edited for the Sarasota Fringe Film Festival.

This link is to a review of the Circus Sarasota documentary:

This link is to a review of the Bertha Palmer project. The guy only saw the first version, which was a work in progress. The one that played yesterday was much better and everyone loved it! So much so that I got a Colson Award for my work on the project:


edited to add: I found out yesterday that I also won for my cut of the Circus Sarasota documentary!

The complete list of winners can be found here:

A special shout-out must go to Asif Ahmed, the director of the Vampire Film Festival and the man for whose website I write the vampire movie reviews, for winning the award for Best New Feature! Congrats Asif!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Time to breathe, time to sleep...

...of this I have none. I'm writing this while I wait for a scene to finish rendering.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been wonderfully, deliciously, exhaustingly busy editing documentaries to be shown during the Sarasota Fringe Film Festival. I was originally given a piece on Circus Sarasota to edit (one hour from 8) and about halfway through, I was asked to cut together a three minute interview. Four days ago, I was given three books, two scratch tracks (place holders so I could do basic edits until the real sound bed arrived), a DVD, and some raw footage of a historical re-enactor and was asked to start putting together a 10-15 minute documentary on early Sarasota settler Bertha Palmer as well as edit a video set to a song about Ms. Palmer using everything at my disposal and to have them both ready for yesterday's screening. You read that right: yesterday's screening. For those keeping track, that was three days to edit two projects that used techniques and ratios and qualities that I've never used before while also working full time at my day job which is gearing up for the mainstream film festival for which I am head film projectionist. Three days ago, I finished the first cut of Circus Sarasota and it also screened yesterday. I don't know how that went, I was too busy flipping out about Bertha Palmer and going to the screening for Anathema. It must've gone okay, I didn't get any phone calls saying that the DVD screwed up.

Anyway, since I can't just reuse every photo over and over, that would drive me nuts, I scoured the internet looking for photos that would apply to the script. I have to hug the Library of Congress's Flickr stream and Wikimedia Commons for their incredible collections of public domain and Creative Commons photos. Fair Use is a little too gray for me, though, I have to say. I also scanned something like 65 photos for the project at what I thought was the appropriate size.

I finished the first cut of the Palmer project yesterday afternoon at the office (thank you Ampersand, my wonderful, wonderful MacBook Pro, for being AWESOME.) I exported normally and burned a DVD then took the disc downstairs to watch it on their TV and discovered that the render and encode did nothing to alleviate a fantastic moire effect on the photos I scanned, and a couple of the photos I found.

Merde (pardon my French.)

The editor sitting next to me working on another project suggested that I convert and de-interlace. It took something like two hours to encode, but it gave me a useable picture to get us through today's screening and I could go back and fix it for Sunday's. Great. It finishes, it burns, I check, all's well, I start and finish a rough cut of the music video, but it needs way more polishing before I can let it go out so at the Main Man's request, I create a screen wash for while people are seating using the song and the credits and a note that says that the music video will be shown on Sunday. I hand over all of that and, by that time, I have to head to work for my 6 pm shift.

Half an hour after I get there, I get a phone call, remarkably calm, from the Main Man saying that the DVD is screwed up. While he's sending someone to get the back-ups, I check my file and, lo! and behold!, there's a sound glitch 8 minutes into the project. The only other useable copy I have is the crappy moire'd version from earlier in the day, but it's on my computer and I don't have time to burn it. I arrange to leave the booth in my co-worker's hands while I take my computer over to the venue and hook it up to the projectors for the 7 pm screening. Thankfully, I have all of the connections we needed to get picture via the mini-display port and sound via the headphone jack. They have me play the screen wash after every one is seated (which I thought was a bit strange, but I'm also exhausted, so what do I know?) and then the movie. While it wasn't as pretty, it looked a heck of a lot better than I thought it would and if the gasps and laughs are anything to go by, the audience (a packed house) loved it! I received a couple of notes from the Main Man and the Main Woman, the producer and director of this project, things I already knew I had to fix (and one thing I had fixed between encodes, actually...) and then headed off to the screening for my film.

Yeah, A Hammer Fell in Jerusalem: Anathema screened yesterday.

I have to say very quickly that while I love this festival, I think it's wonderful and lively, it's also packed with documentaries. Jam packed. I only know of four or five narrative films in the festival, but I haven't had much time to go over the programme as I've been busy. Anathema was surrounded by documentaries and with a name like "A Hammer Fell in Jerusalem", it's easy to confuse it for something of heady enlightenment and social significance. Whatever messages I have in it, and they're there, they're wrapped up in a 30 minute black and white silent Sci-Fi / Dark Fantasy film. That's a lot of strikes against it, not to mention the few little problems in it that endear it to me, but would annoy most people. I can't WAIT to do the feature version! (Yes, it'll be a talkie...though it's debatable about the colour aspect because man, I love the cinematography on that flick...)

The already small audience walked out fifteen minutes into the flick leaving just myself and Brian's friends in the theatre.

I've had people not show up before, and people have left before, but I've not had such a mass exodus in any of my previous screenings. Though it stings on that personal ego level, I'm really okay with it. I know, realistically, that not everyone, especially in the hometown, is going to dig what I put out there. The idea of an Asian descendant of Christ seems to be as strange to people as the thought that Jesus wasn't white, though I have to say that I didn't hire Eon because she's Asian, though that was a factor. She was well-prepared in the interview stage and her background brought something unique to the story. I don't cast for race, I cast for talent and spark. Eon has both.

I got giggles from Brian's friends in all the places that make me giggle, which is nice. Whether theirs were "haha this is crap" giggles or "teehee!" giggles (like mine) who knows, but they provided the reactions I was looking for.

A year on, though, I can see all the little things that I wish I could go back and fix, and will when I do the feature. With all of the crap that happened before the screening, how little sleep I've been getting, the twenty-hours days I've been putting in between the editing and the theatre, the screening itself, and all of the work still ahead of me on so little time, yesterday was just a really crappy day. On the bright side, however, the Fringe festival's projectionists are wonderful. It was, seriously, one of the best screenings visually that I've ever had. The ratio was displayed correctly and it was crisp and clean. That, right there, is HUGE. Also, it's always wonderful to see Brian again and his friends are awesome! Hopefully, we'll all work together! To quote Wil Wheaton, let's get excited and make things!

All in all, yesterday can go take a long walk off a short pier. Today, I'm back at it. The last screening for Bertha Palmer takes place at 1 pm on Sunday and I promised to have it in their hands at around noon that day. The Sarasota Film Festival starts properly tomorrow, but the opening night film is tonight at the Van Wezel. If anyone sees Kevin Kline, wave to him for me. I won't even get to see the back of his head. :(