“The Dark Sleep” is a short film based on an H.P. Lovecraft story “The Dreams in the Witch House.” I have only read a couple Lovecraft stories and “The Dreams in the Witch House” is not one of them. So I cannot comment on the accuracy of this particular portrayal or even the quality of the original tale. Still, I have always loved the macabre feel and the notions of alien deities that mention of Lovecraft conjures up. I even played the RPG game “The Call of Cthulu” a couple times back in the day, so I went into this movie with reasonably high expectations. Now, on to the review.
The main character of the film is Nancy Peterson, played by Ashley Galloway. She is a recently divorced writer who purchases a house from her ex-husband, Pete, for zero dollars. There is but one stipulation: she cannot paint over the bizarre painting found in the basement. However, once she sets up shop in the house, she is soon beset with strange nightmares and encounters with extra-dimensional creatures. Her concentration goes to pot: she can’t write; she can’t sleep; and she grows more irritable with every passing day. Her sister, Kelley, comes to visit and to lend a hand, but soon she is drawn into the surreal web of macabre construction herself. Can Nancy solve the mystery of the house for the sake of her own sanity and her and her sister’s safety? Watch the movie and find out.
Strengths: overall, I thought the story held together fairly well. There weren’t any gaping logical flaws (assuming you can accept the premise of extra-dimensional travel through dreams), and most of the acting, although not stellar, was fine. There were some weak parts, though: most notably a brief scene in the very beginning and the climax at the end, both of which featured the ex-husband. Weaknesses: special effects do not make a movie, but they can add to one. And in this case, I think the effects subtracted. It was a low budget movie and it really did show. That said, the scenery and surreal atmosphere of the dream sequences was handled well; it would have been nice if the effects were up to snuff to complement such, but alas, they weren’t. Another weakness was how the house appeared … well, maybe not. But both my friends and I were expecting an old beat up thing from the nineteen-twenties, or something like that, but it looked like a reasonably modern house. And that just did not fit the tone of the movie.
Anyway, I’ll give this film three and half out of five stars.
Joining the list of recent 80’s remakes, we have “Red Dawn” starring Chris Hemsworth, a.k.a. Thor. This is based on the 1984 movie of the same name starring Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen.
In the original movie, the Soviets and a few smaller countries (Cuba and Nicaragua) invade the U.S. This time around, it’s the North Koreans (I heard that originally it was going to be the Chinese, but, thin-skinned as their oppressive government is, they raised holy-heck over it and Hollywood backed down, changing it to North Korea. Oh well), which to me, makes the movie somewhat implausible from the get-go. (I mean, really: North Korea? I know they have a nuke, but it still seems like a David and Goliath type of scenario to me). The implausibility is mitigated somewhat by one scene where it is stated that the North Koreans “had help.” And a Russian anti-insurgency specialist does show up later in the movie. Additionally, the North Koreans used some sort of super-weapon: a massive electrical pulse that took out all our power grids. Everywhere.
Anyway, that’s the premise of the movie: the North Koreans invade the U.S. And two brothers, one a rough and tough ex-marine (Hemsworth), and the other a football player, lead a group of high-school students and a little bit older people in an insurgency. The movie follows the story of that insurgency. There is blood, death, and explosions. It’s not a very intellectual movie, but I don’t think it was intended to be. It’s more of a story of patriotism and national spirit.
Strengths: well, we’ll give it a few points for being patriotic. That’s always a plus. I thought the acting was fine with the script they were given; beyond that, though, nothing stands out. Weaknesses: well, there were several of these. First, there was the premise which I discussed above. Additionally, and more importantly, for much of the movie, it seemed to lack a well-conceived plot. There was nothing more specific driving the characters than insurgency. And that just led to shootings and explosions without much more meat for the brain. For a brief time, they had a specific objective—get the North Korean top-secret case—but other than that it was just too generalized. And I didn’t like that. Additionally, and this is also important, it seemed hard to follow for me. This may have been related to the too-generalized plot, but whatever it was, it detracted from the enjoyment. Finally, and this may have just been the CD, but the action—I mean the actual movement of the characters across the screen—was jerky. This last defect bothered my friends more than it did me, but at times even I was annoyed.
Overall, I’ll give the movie three stars out of five.
“Sinister” is a horror movie starring Ethan Hawke and former Senator Fred Thompson (Senator Thompson has only a small role but I felt obliged to mention because he did run for President). It was a movie I was curious about seeing when it was in theatres, but never got around to for a variety of reasons. Basically, I think I was just too chicken: the trailer of this movie looked pretty intense.
Anyway, Ethan Hawke plays a semi-successful true-crime writer, Ellison Oswalt, who has the self-inflicted misfortune of deliberately purchasing and moving into a home where an entire family, save one missing child, was slaughtered by being hung from a tree. Ellison, intent on recording that family’s tragic story, moves into the house with his own family and sets to work. First, he finds a collection of old film up in his attic. When he views the film, he discovers that this is not just one murder of a family, but a whole series of murders spread across the country going from city to city, and going back nearly fifty years. It is both perplexing and invigorating. Now, he may just have the makings of the book of a lifetime, one that will earn him and his family riches beyond his wildest dreams. But soon things start to go wrong. Lights go on and off inexplicably. The more he learns, the more chilling the details become, and the more he finds himself drawn into a “sinister” web of supernatural horror.
Strengths: this movie had all the makings of a really good classic horror film. Suspense literally dripped off the screen (okay, maybe not literally). Part of it was the creepy background. Another part of it was the fact that you the viewer weren’t completely cognizant of what was happening until it happened. They fed you the storyline, piece by piece, letting the suspense build as the pieces fit together. It was one-part horror; one part mystery. And that would have made for a great film. But … they blew it. Weaknesses: really, the only weakness in the film was the ending, and it was a lackluster one indeed. They turned a good suspenseful horror/mystery (spoiler alert) into just another blood bath … although they did not show the killings they just plastered a lot of walls with blood. My friend and I were talking about it, and we found at least three other viable endings for the film that would have been much better, if they had just cut it off there and left it. Or, they could have been really daring, and made a horror movie with a happy ending. Because if Ellison had come out on top, it would still have made an excellent film and he would have deserved it.
Overall, I’ll give this film three stars out of five (it would have been four stars if not for the ending).
“The Awakening” is a paranormal horror/thriller starring Rebecca Hall as the skeptical hoax-buster Florence Cathcart. The setting is 1921 England, shortly after World War I. Florence has led a troubled life: she has blocked out much of her childhood, and (if I recall correctly) has lost her husband in the war.
The movie begins with her exposing the hoax of a spiritualist group. Shortly, thereafter a man by the name of Robert Mallory comes to her home to hire her to look into several ghost sightings at a boys’ boarding school. She reluctantly agrees and heads to the school. She begins her investigation with the various and sundry trappings of a disciplined scientist. She soon discovers, however, that the things that go bump in the night may just have more credence than she first believed.
The plot of the story is pretty straightforward at first: it’s basically a paranormal investigation being performed by a skeptic based on debunking the phenomena. The paranormal effects are carefully and precisely done, which is a pleasure. They did not go overboard. There were no bubbling cauldrons of blood or eviscerated phantasms … well, there was some gunshot wounds, but that was about it. I found that refreshing because the movie relied on plot and structure to build suspense. And that’s what it was: more suspenseful than horror. And I liked that.
Strengths: the carefully chosen special effects were masterful. As were the oddly disturbing use of seemingly ordinary objects: a doll with a rabbit’s head, a dollhouse filled with little homemade figures. Taken together, they gave the film a subtle, yet satisfying ambience. Weaknesses: I wouldn’t call this a weakness, but there was little blood and gore. Some people looking for strict horror might be unsatisfied. But actually, upon reflection, I would regard that as a strength. The biggest weakness, I thought, was the unneeded double twist at the end. I say double, because there were two twists and neither one was needed. I would have been perfectly happy if the story had stuck to the original storyline of the paranormal investigation vindicating the existence of ghosts. But they had to (spoiler alert) tie back the whole building and ghost to the main character, and then have the psycho nanny (or whoever she was) try to kill the main character. A well-crafted paranormal investigation would have suited me much better and could have been a better movie.
Overall, I’ll give the movie four out of five stars. It would have been four and a half out of five if they had just resolved the original story line without the double twist. But they didn’t.
The movie “Flight” stars Denzel Washington as Whip Whitaker the crack airline pilot with something of a debauched lifestyle. The premise is simple: a routine flight takes a turn for the worse and Whip Whitaker is forced to crash land a plane in an open field; it isn’t a simple crash landing, in fact, it seems more like a landing only he and he alone could have made. Because of his efforts, 96 of 102 souls on board are saved. But there’s a catch; he’s a drunk, and at the time of the crash he was intoxicated.
At first, Whitaker is regarded as a hero; he landed a plane that no other man could possibly have losing only six people (one of which was Katerina, his flight attendant lover). But soon, things start to go awry. His blood alcohol level at the time of the crash was over .2. An investigation ensues. He has a hot shot attorney who gets his blood test results thrown out, but there is other evidence: two empty vodka bottles on a flight for which no drinks were served. Things look bleak. Throughout the film, Whitaker’s alcoholism is powerfully evident.
He begins to develop a relationship with Nicole, a young woman who has had her share of bumps on the road of life: she’s a drug addict and alcoholic herself, but she is bent on recovering her life. Their relationship struggles to take off; Nicole wants Whitaker to join her at AA meetings; she believes they can fix their lives. Unfortunately, the chemical addiction that has Whitaker in its grip is too strong and eventually their relationship falls apart.
Then, there is the inquiry for the plane crash. Whitaker could lose everything if he messes it up. He has a chance, if he keeps to the script his lawyer gives him and he sobers up, but that seems beyond his capabilities. Ultimately, (spoiler alert) he confesses his drunkenness in the middle of the hearing and takes full responsibility for it, primarily because the only other option would be to blame it on Katerina, his now deceased lover. Although he winds up in prison at the end of the movie, he is comfortable with that arrangement. It will be several years before he gets out, but he looks to the future with hope, emerging from the disaster a changed man.
Overall, I thought the movie was good. It is, however, an R rated movie with a gratuitous shot of full frontal nudity in the beginning, but the story holds together well. I half-feared they were going to wind up glorifying drug-use and abuse with the resolution of the story, but they didn’t. It ended well.
Overall, I’ll give this movie three and a half or four stars out of five.