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Monday, October 17, 2011

Rob Zombie's "Halloween" - Tricked, No Treat (Retro-Review)

Let me start by saying this will be a very bias review I am a huge fan of the original "Halloween".  With that said, I stand behind every word, except the word timid - I should have used a thesaurus.
If you have not seen the original you may as well skip reading this until you do since I often reference the Carpenter version.

One of my all-time favorite films is the John Carpenter horror classic, "Halloween".  It gave birth to a horror film icon and did so with the use of  minimal blood, a simple story, a ton of suspense, a killer score and the unstoppable shape of evil personified - Michael Myers.  Upon hearing of Rob Zombie's planned remake I was hit with mixed feelings.   As a fan I wanted to see the Halloween franchise (which looked to be defunct at the time) continue, but was not sure if having musician Rob Zombie remake the classic film was the right way to go.  Actually, was there any reason to remake the film at all?

After seeing the first trailer I was relieved to see some familiar sights and sounds, mainly Dr. Loomis (the doctor that is obsessed with stopping Myers) and the haunting theme music.  My expectations were high - not only did I anticipate a pretty good horror movie, but possibly a great addition and a possible kick start to the Halloween franchise. Well, one out of two ain't too bad.

This film about a small town massacre on Halloween night, massacres the spirit of the original film. SPOILERS AHEAD (breaking my no spoiler rule already).  It took only a few minutes of viewing for me to come to terms with the fact that I never really wanted a remake of the film that shaped my nightmares as a child.  I am attached to the original, having seen it at least 30 times, subtle changes to the story or characters were going to noticed and frowned upon... then again, it is a remake I have to expect some minor changes.  Much to my dismay, there were not many subtle changes, instead it was a complete overhauls.

Below are some comparisons of the two versions of the film.

The original:  A brief, yet effective setup. Halloween night.  A young Michael Myers walks into his sister's room, still wearing his Halloween clown costume, and kills her.  He is found by his parents still holding the bloody knife with a blank stare on his face...his is pure evil.  Flash forward 20 years and introduce his shrink - Dr. Loomis.

The remake: A ONE HOUR setup. Michael Myers is a disturbed kid that wears a mask at all times. His parents are trashy, foul mouthed wretches.  His sister is simply a slut.  He kills animals, kills classmates and eventually is locked up. For the next forty minutes we watch Michael's stay at the institution - therapy sessions, mask making, etc. TOO MUCH INFO. Michael was creepy when he had unknown motives, unknown power - Zombie cheapened him, turned him into an everyday serial killer - no mystery at all.  The therapy sessions a overlong and at the same time revealing nothing interesting.  Eventually we flash forward twenty years and find out that Michael has a massive hulking figure, still making masks, still not talking, still not interesting.

The original: Shortly after fast forwarding to Michael as an adult we are introduced to all-American girl, Laurie Strode (played by a young Jamie Lee Curtis) and her friends. We learn about them and connect with them. Michael appears and disappears sporadically inciting chills and setting and an all around creepy Halloween feel.   Loomis as played by Donal Pleasance, races against time begging for support to hunt Myers down and stop a tragedy.

The remake: Little screen time is given to Laurie and her friends, not enough to establish any interest in the characters. Loomis pops up here and there, babbling garbage and selling a book.  Really!?!? Believe it or not, Malcolm McDowell's version of Loomis is the most successful interpretation of the original.

The original: Michael systematically kills Laurie's friends as he works his way toward his final kill, his sister, Laurie. The scenes are simple kills, shot to scare the living shellac right out of you.

The remake: After taking out a number of additional cast member, the friends are killed off one at a time. The settings and timings of the kills are changed, instead of slow paced scary killings he works his way through his victims quickly.  This is what the prolonged build up leads to?

The original: Laurie and Michael have one last confrontation - one of the scariest sequences of all time. Minimalist scares techniques, huge results.

The remake: Some similarities, but the subtle (and extreme) changes destroy all of the classic shocks. Remember Laurie running across the street, hysterically trying to wake Tommy so he could open the door to evade Myers?  The unbearable moments of Laurie screaming for help as you see the silhouette of Myers coming up behind her?  Zombie found a way to deplete the intensity.   How do you ruin that scene?

The original: "It was the boogie man." "As a matter of fact it was." Followed by one last shot -- MICHAEL MYERS IS GONE. AMAZING!

The remake: "Was that the boogie man?" "As a matter of fact... I do believe that was."   Followed by 15 more minutes of film and a final confrontation in a swimming pool. Are you kidding me?  When I see the original ending I get the chills... the Zombie version, not so much.

There are some positive elements to Rob Zombie's version of Halloween, the sets are great, capturing the feel of the original. The characters are fairly well cast with a few important misses. The most successful, even though they alter the character way too much, is Malcolm McDowell as Loomis – a good choice. Unfortunately, he is overwritten and has too much compassion for Michael instead of fear and obsession needed. Annie is played by Danielle Harris, the star of Halloween 4 & 5, she fits the part although like all the “current Day” Haddonfield roles it is cut down to accommodate the overlong back story. Laurie Strode, the Jamie Lee Curtis role in the original, is played by an unknown, whom after this role will probably stay unknown – she brings nothing to the role, while removing Jamie Lee’s strong but timid approach. The casting of Michael as both child and adult are not very successful – the younger is pudgy and annoying, the older, as stated before, looks like a WWE wrestler rather than the average guy he should have been. I guess if you are going to remove the “supernatural” element you “need” to explain his strength.  One bit of odd casting was the return of Police Academy’s Callahan – thought she was dead years ago.  Welcome back?

As mentioned earlier, the film spends way too long creating a back story that alters Myers from a possible supernatural killing machine, into a disturbed serial killer found in so many films. The soul of the film has been removed, stripping away what made the original a classic and replacing it with heaps of gore and explicative language. As you wait and wait and wait for the introduction of Laurie and Co, you are delivered instead a prologue goes on so long I started to wonder if they had removed the entire storyline from the original. (Zombie, sometimes less is more.) By the time the film gets to the familiar setting of Haddonfield the damage had already been done; the film’s timing, themes and characters are all skewed. As a horror film, the movie does provide some scares and an all around uneasiness that feels like familiar territory, but this will not do for a Halloween film.

Supposedly Zombie loved the original film.  After viewing his version, I almost question if he is talking about the same film.

As a horror film – 4 stars out of ten
As a Halloween film – 3 stars out of ten

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Brand-Spanking New "The Avengers" Trailer

Is the world ready for another superhero film?    It better be, because more are on the way. After cramming superhero film after superhero film into our theaters The Avengers trailer has finally been released. The film has been a hot topic since Samuel Jackson mentioned the word S.H.I.E.L.D during his cool cameo after the original Iron Man film. After all the hype, all the fan boy buildup, the billions spent to bring most of The Avengers to the big screen in their own films - I have FINALLY watched the trailer and......meh. Yup. That's it. Sure it looks good, but after so many superhero films these last few years it is tough to get too excited.

Sometimes less is more. That has never been more evident than in this trailer. This film looks like it is going to suffer from an overload of characters fighting for screen time. Reminds me of X-Men United a superhero so jammed packed with character that it lost he heart found in the previous entry. The promo starts nicely, but toward the middle it turns into a catalog trying to fit all the items on the page.

The saving grace for the film Joss Whedon the director has a great track record and a history with the characters is not going in the hands of some rookie director, or worse, in the hands of someone that directed Charlies Angels.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Netf***ed : Can the online DVD rental company stop its free fall? - UPDATED 10/23/2011

It seems like Netflix can do no right these days.  The same company that single-handedly took down the behemoth, Blockbuster, (with some help from the clueless execs at Blockbuster, of course) has quickly taken dragged its name through the dirt.  As recently as last year, just about everybody who used the service loved Netflix.  Its unique approach to video rental provided movie fans a new experience,  no more video store trips, no more late fees - instead we received DVDs at our house to be viewed as long as we would like.  It was a new approach to an old business and it took the industry by storm.

But all good things must come to an end and right about now it looks like the Netflix's good thing may.  In just a matter of months the company has gone through some drastic changes due to increased competition and increased operating costs.

For those of you unfamiliar with the changes, here is a brief history of some of the changes that started the backlash:

1) Delayed Release:  In an attempt to increase slumping DVD sales several studios delay delivery of new releases to Netflix up to four weeks.  If you want the latest film the day it comes out, either buy it, go to Blockbuster or set your computer date back several weeks and pretend the film has not been released yet.  You got us good studios, I guess I will start buying DVDs again.

2) The Biggie:.  Instead of free streaming with just about every subscription, there would no longer be free streaming with ANY subscription.  In order to stream you need to pay and additional $8 a month, in some cases a 60% increase.  People loved the idea.

3) Loss of  Starz: Netflix's streaming service had one huge complaint, the films were not the newest releases.  That changed when they partnered with Starz, the cable movie network.  Suddenly, streaming was not just for fans of old TV shows and indy films, it was for everyone.  As of last month, plans for the end of that partnership have been announced.  As of next year, no more Starz streaming.  Starz wanted too much money for the rights - they have since walked away from the bargaining table.  Starz will soon go off to being the pay movie channel no one has ever heard of, again.

These changes to their system, some their choice others forced up upon them, has lead to increasing resentment from the once faithful users.  Ultimately this led to this: 

4) THE Letter:  an email was sent apologizing for the recent, let's say less than popular changes to service.  Oh yeah, and by the way, we also breaking the company in two, a streaming company (Netflix) and a DVD company (Quickster).  This means two accounts, two queues, two bills.  Too much??  I personally thought it was a joke.  Apparently, so do many people out there.

Though many may, it is not fair to pin this entirely on Netflix.  The biggest catalyst for the unpopular changes pf service was the studios that supply the content finally seeing the light.  The light being Netflix's untra-successful/profitable approach to rentals and streaming.  The studios got wind of the massive profits associated with creating a easy to use, non-traditional approach to video rental and now want the money for themselves.  Like the music industry which allowed Apple to steal the power to distribute right from under their feet, the movie industry has been sitting back for years enjoying the money, continuing to offer the same antiquated delivery system.  When they realized the Netflix stock was going for close to $300 as they were struggling to survive, it was time to come collecting.  Netflix built a successful system, but if it wanted to keep it going as is it would need to pay more for content to the lazy studios.  The same geniuses that put out Paul Blart: Mall Cop still have the power, they still have the content.

These next few months are going to make or break Netflix.  The company once seen as a video rental messiah - freeing us from late fees, offering us a wider selection than ever before and allowing us to watch what we wanted when we wanted (on our phones, Xboxs, Wiis, etc.) is facing its toughest days.  Now, as so often happens, the loyal will stay and weather the changes and others will leave and bitch endlessly on the way out.  The free lunch has come to an end, it is time to start paying up or time to starve.  Thanks Netflix, it WAS delicious while it lasted.

UPDATE 10/10/2011 Goodbye Qwikster, We Hardly New You: 
According to the New York Times the plans for a split in the streaming and DVD-by-mail services has been cancelled after an overwhelming negative consumer reaction which cost them millions of subscribers.  The company admitted it moved too fast when it tried to spin-off the old-fashioned DVD service into a new company called Qwikster. 

“We underestimated the appeal of the single web site and a single service,” Steve Swasey, a Netflix spokesman, said in a telephone interview. He quickly added: “We greatly underestimated it.”

Netflix tried to be crystal-clear about it, issuing a press release that was titled “DVDs Will Be Staying At” and sending e-mails to subscribers about the news.
Well it seems that someone has come to their senses.  Unlike some companies that are too proud to admit their mistakes (i.e. Apple with their buttonless mouse) Netflixand loss of millions of subscribers and billions in stock value.

On top of the cancelled split service new partnerships have recently been announced for their streaming service, Dreamworks and AMCShrek and others to be part of your updated queue as early as next year.

One bit of bad news for people that want it all, but do not want to pay for it - the recently announced price increase will remain in effect.  This explains the aforementioned improvements to the streaming catalog.

UPDATE 10/23/2011  - Oh oh.
According to The Wall Street Journal, more bad news for Netflix, "The movie-rental company's shares sank 26% in after-hours trading.
Netflix reported 21.45 million streaming subscriptions at the end of the third quarter and 13.9 million subscribers to its DVD-by-mail business, with a good bit of overlap between them. The company said total U.S. subscriber base by the end of its third quarter was 23.79 million—below expectations of roughly 24 million. Netflix lost 810,000 subscribers between the second and third quarters."

800K lost subscribers is nothing to laugh at.  Wall Street is nervous, the name Netflix has become synonymous with sneaky corporation instead entertainment - that is bad news.  Once you gain a reputation it is hard to restore your name, just ask the class whore at your school.  See you just thought of someone in your head.

Netflix is going to need to pull out some big guns soon or the slope will become even more slippery.  The competition is not offering a helping hand either, more like a kick to the stomach while they are down.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

FilmSnork now has a Facebook Page - "Like" Us Now

This story is here to announce the new Facebook FilmSnork page, the page that will contain links to all the latest FilmSnork stories including a link to the announcement of the link to the announcement that you are reading now.  I think we just opened a hole in the time space continuum.  Great Scott!

"Like" us now before it is too late.  It is easy, just click HERE and click "Like."

John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe - Serial Killer Hunter in "The Raven"

As a normal thing, I will continue to post trailers for films of interest.  Feel free to recommend some to me.  This one combines three items of interest: Serial Killers, Edgar Allan Poe and John Cusack.  A match made in heaven or one that will have you muttering "nevermore" to Cusack film.

I personally, want my twelve dollars to see this film.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs - Visionary Inventor and Entrepreneur - RIP

The world lost a man that not only changed computing, entertainment and communications; he changed the way we live.  Beyond the tangible legacy left are the thoughts of a great mind.  Below are a few quotes from a man whose influence will be felt for generations to come.
RIP Steve.  Thanks for your contributions to mankind.

a few of his best quotes
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
"A small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players."
 “I’m sorry, it’s true. Having children really changes your view on these things. We’re born, we live for a brief instant, and we die. It’s been happening for a long time. Technology is not changing it much — if at all."
“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.”
“When you’re young, you look at television and think, There’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That’s a far more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastards! We can have a revolution! But the networks are really in business to give people what they want. It’s the truth.”
 “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”
 “When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."
“I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.”
“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

FilmSnork's Bad Idea #1 - The Arrested Development Movie - The Worst Thing to Happen to the Bluth Family Since the Banana Stand Burned Down?

This past weekend at an Arrested Development reunion at the New Yorker Festival the creator of the show, Mitchell Hurwitz, released word that there are now plans to bring the show back to television for a shortened season, followed by the much talked about feature film.  News spread quickly over twitter, facebook, delighting fans whom after numerous false alarms and misguided reports had finally received news that feel concrete.  While many people are overjoyed about the news I can only think, "Noooooooooo!"  This is a bad idea.

Sure, I would love more Arrested Development, but I would also like a 3rd arm at times - sometimes, it is better not to get what you want.  Here are a few reasons I think we should move on and remember Arrested Development for what it was:

What's left to say - As the third came to an end the original storylines were completed in a satisfying fashion.  There were attempts to save the series, to have it picked up another network, but they never came to fruition.   Maybe the networks realized there was no place for the story too go without reinventing itself.  Cancellation gave the show what many TV series wish they had, a positive legacy.  Many shows overstay their welcome, look at The Simpsons.   Arrested, like all shows, had begun to show signs of aging, minor age lines, but they were there.  By the end of season three it wrapped up the central plotlines and headed for the exit.  Congrats.  It was this decision that secured its spot as one of the best shows ever on television (a list that once contained The Simpsons).   Sure good things are hard to walk away from -  Dickens could have added another chapter to "Great Expectations," "What Happened To Pip Next," but he knew better.  A great storyteller knows what he/she has to says it and ends the story.  The Bluth story has concluded, perhaps it should stay that way.

Sequelititis - And since story line was complete, this new series/movie will essentially be a sequel to the original series.  Haven't we learned time and time again about the consequences of making sequels successful stories that stood on their own.  How many Blues Brothers 2000's or Caddyshack 2's do we need before we learn our lesson?  Sequelititis - I define, in part, as a film that possesses the following characteristics: rehashed storylines, well received secondary characters given expanded roles, the addition of characters (or a well know celeb) in an attempt to cover for flawed writing, forced/predictable/uncalled for romances.   Basically, any sequel that is not created to tell part of the story, but rather to squeeze more money out of a popular title, character.  These films are almost always unsuccessful at capturing the magic of the original and often leave it with a black eye.  There are sequels that succeed and the team behind Arrested have a great track record, should it be tested?

Too much time has passed - Since the original series came to an end 5 years ago the cast has aged, economies have changed.  Do the Bluths still fit, unforced, into this day and age or will they be a square peg?  It seems like the new series will be created for the sole purpose of reintroducing the Bluths into the modern world, making a better transition from small to large screen than just creating a feature film.  The short period of time the original storyline took place over supported the arrested development of the characters, made it feasible.   Will that hold up with a storyline that takes place 6 years later, the world moved on, the characters didn't.  For example, the children stars are now college age?  I do not want to see the equivalent of Danny Cooksey, (Diff'rent Strokes) filling the hole left by the aging of Michael Jr. and Maeby.  Please no.

I am incredibly selfish - Have you ever found an undiscovered cozy little restaurant with great food/service, had the night of your and never told anyone about it in an attempt to keep it as something special for yourself, fearing new crowds woud destroy what made the experieince special?  That is how I feel with Arrested Development.  I found it when it originally ran on television, I tried to get people to watch it,  I supported it, I bought the  It is MY show.  Now it is going to be released again to the world, to a new breed of fan - the type of fan that will use it up and dispose of it like the peel of a banana.  Remember when Austin Powers was popular (before the terrible 3rd film)?  Everyone was saying "Yeah baby" to finish of just about every sentence.  "Check out her dress on her, yeah baby!'  "This burrito is spicy, yeah baby!"  "We are going to have to amputate, yeah baby!"   It started off harmlessly, but by the time Kathi Lee Gifford was saying it I wanted to finish anyone's delivery of the two words with a punch to the stomach.  Let's not do that to Arrested Development.  When I see a half naked man, painted blue wearing jean shorts at a Halloween party I want to  have the urge to congratulate him on the costume, not punch him in the stomach.

With all that said, I would love to see an Arrested Development film/series IF it does not reek of Sequelititis.   I wished for a second Matrix and. damn, that was a mistake.  We have the TV equivalent of the Mona Lisa here, do we risk tampering with it.  These guys have the talent to create a brand new show and not risk blacking the eyes of AR.  Just think, what it Rob Thomas never moved on from Veronica Mars we would not have Party Down, it Joss Whedon continued to only focus on Buffy would we ever have Firefly?

Producers, whatever you decide to do with this series reboot I support you.  I want a the best for Arrested Development but, one request.  Please, no Ted McGinley.  Sorry Ted.