Mark H.'s Movie Ratings - Rotten Tomatoes

Movie Ratings and Reviews

Spider-Man 3
Spider-Man 3(2007)
½

Hard to believe it's been 10 years since this movie came out. I remember all the hype after the tremendous success of 1 and 2. This movie is actually fine, if you cut 25 or 30 minutes from it. Take out some of the goofy humor, the odd, depressing scenes with Mary Jane (she is a real downer in this movie) and some strange scenes when black Spidey emerges. He acts like a very awkward jerk during this short phase. However, Sandman is great, Venom is fine, and young Goblin is pretty good too, especially the battle royal at the end. Well done. The CGI is overdone in this one, and the long battles at the start with Spidey and Harry are a little silly. This one simply could not live up to the hype, but if they had cut this one down 20 minutes, it would be nearly as good as 1 and 2, and with lots of bad guys and action scenes. Plus, Stern released Spider-Man pinball in 2007 and I love that game!

Spider-Man 2
Spider-Man 2(2004)

Another excellent superhero movie, it improves upon the first movie slightly, but I feel both are equally good. In fact, the only problem with Spider-Man 3 is the editing (if they lose 30 minutes of fluff, goofy humor and strange, depressing scenes with Mary Jane, this movie is actually fine) . Spidey 2 is a really fun movie with a good plot, same solid supporting cast (very colorful and well-cast) and good CGI. Another home run!

Spider-Man
Spider-Man(2002)

Terrific "modern" superhero movie is the best since Superman I and II. The acting is decent, casting is good (although I don't love Tobey Maguire, he is the right amount of nerdy for Peter Parker, who isn't supposed to be cool). The CGI is good, the action is great. Vivid colors, a fun backstory and plenty of plot to keep the film busy between action scenes. I actually saw Spider-man II first in the theater 2 years later in 2004. I really enjoyed the sequel, and I enjoyed this movie just as much. In my opinion, they are equally good. Most people give Spider-man 2 the nod over the first movie. There is a bit more action in 2, and some cool scenes (the train, battles wtih Doc Ock). Both are terrific, fun action/adventure movies. I wish there had been 4. I enjoyed the Sam Raimi franchise much more than the newer versions, which are boring by comparison. No depth, not nearly as funny and the super-vivid supporting characters are fantastic here. Fun movie, and it spawned the 2007 Spider-Man pinball machine, which I now own!

A Ghost Story

The premise is thin, the dialogue is scant and the acting is good. Although I really wanted to accept this concept and be moved by it, which I ALMOST was, I found myself waiting for something profound or something more emotional to make me feel moved. The acting is decent, but once I read about the making of this movie, I understood better why it's really a short-scheduled, small-budget one-trick pony. It does work. But it could have been SO moving and meaningful, I think the opportunity for a masterpiece was there. Instead, a couple grave mistakes are made. Instead of the subtle haunting that goes on in the first half of the film, the director goes full poltergeist in one scene that really undermines this movie for me. Also, the time loop stuff at the end is confusing, and not well realized. I respect what they were going for, and they almost got there.

Dark Night of the Scarecrow
½

Dark Night of the Scarecrow is probably one of the scariest and best made-for-TV movies ever made. Back when made-for-TV movies were as important as theatrical productions. The acting is excellent, especially Charles Durning as the evil, drinking, pedophile bigot who terrorizes Bubba and his mother. Jocelyn Brando is also good as Bubba's mother, Mrs. Ritter. Some scenes are a bit silly, and Larry Drake lays it on thick as Bubba, but this film scared me to death as a child, and it still works as a very creepy, gothic-feeling movie about justice over evil. In a neat twist, the scarecrow does not represent the evil in this film. The redneck townsfolk do. Something about this film feels more poignant than ever these days.

Meatballs
Meatballs(1979)
½

I was somewhat surprised to see a 75% rating on RT, and I'm almost certain that was NOT the reception it received from critics in 1979. This movie, if I am not mistaken, was almost universally panned by critics back then. I don't know if people are sentimental about this movie, or if our standards and mindsets have changed. In any event, Meatballs is actually a very sweet film, unfairly criticized as an Animal House-type rip off. It's actually not very vulgar, or sexy, or offensive at all. Perhaps in 1979, people were more easily shocked? Meatballs features Bill Murray in his very first lead roll, and he carries the movie from start to finish. The history of how this movie got made, and how Murray was hardly a lock to play Tripper is worth a Google. Ivan Reitman wanted a shot at directing a teen comedy after he was denied the director's chair on Animal House. He produced it instead, and when given the chance, soon after directed Meatballs. This movie most likely would be long forgotten had Murray passed on it. However, there is just enough goofy camp situations and supporting character development to make this movie worth while. What is most surprising about this movie is how sentimental and sweet it really is. You have to be a fairly cynical person to dislike the harmlessness of this film. It isn't a great film by any means, but it manages to be a little touching, a little funny, and is very easy to watch. This is a good choice for young teenagers who desperately want to see Porky's or Animal House, but aren't old enough for that just yet. A nice effort from a virtual novice (in film) from Murray, the SNL newbie and National Lampoon alum. Worth a spot in the genre's hall of fame. Honorable mention, anyway.

Everybody Wants Some!!

Ah, to be young and good looking, and really young and really good looking. Who said that? Richard Linklater has a near monopoly on the nostalgia of being young. He captured it perfectly in his 1976-era, end of high-school day-in-the-life movie, Dazed and Confused. D and C is not really a cult classic, it's more of a mainstream classic. People loved that movie, especially anyone who was a child or young person in the 1970's. I was 2 in 1976, but I feel like I can TRUST that it felt like Linklater tells us it felt like. He is so comfortable with natural dialogue and finding funny and touching moments in seemingly unimportant scenes. Both of these movies consist of a mishmash of scenes that feel improvised, though I believe Linklater is more deliberate than that. His perception and grasp of what it feels like to experience freedom and independence at the age of 16-22 is astounding. He brings that feeling to the screen and for 2 hours we FEEL like we are back in college for the first semester, with all the excitement and possibility and adventure that holds. I remember that feeling, and I miss it. D and C was better in that it was a bit more meaty, and felt more substantive than Everybody Wants Some!! But this is a fine film too, and who knows, if this movie came first, perhaps this would be the favorite son, and not the other way around. I doubt it, but either way, this is a very good attempt at recapturing that same feeling, by simply turning the calendar pages ahead 4 years to another memorable period in time. I hope he's not done...

Alice Through the Looking Glass

Alice Through the Looking Glass is, surprisingly, a well-made fantasy with a much better story and a tighter script than Alice in Wonderland. I was disappointed with Tim Burton's version of Wonderland, far too much CGI and what is almost totally lost in the computer translation is the magic. When the weirdness and whimsy of these stories take a backseat to a hundred million dollars worth of CGI effects, the result is simply boring. This film is easier to follow, focuses on a story with a problem and a goal, and wasn't any less spectacular in its effects. The result is a movie that feels much less self-aware. The pressure had to be immense on Burton making Wonderland, and this movie feels much less forced, and much more focused. Frankly, although Wonderland made real money despite the so-so reception, I was very surprised to see this movie made as a sequel with Depp, Wasikowska and the original cast. They make better use of them here, and I enjoyed this movie even more the second time I watched it. Simply superior to the first movie.

Lights Out
Lights Out(2016)

Horror movies, in my opinion, usually start off with an uphill battle when it comes to critic reviews. Critics are particularly harsh on horror movies, often because the film relies on jump scares, too much CGI or recycled ideas from prior horror films. Lights Out, in a way, does suffer a bit from those very problems, but it overcomes them by simply doing it better than those films that it borrows from. Mama, a film from Guerrmo Del Toro, is a very similar film, but is far less scary. This movie benefits greatly by its relatively short run time (81 minutes) and feels fast, tight and focused. It also barely gives us time to relax or breathe, as the scares come fast and never let up from the first 5 minutes into the film. The dim, dreary locations (mostly Maria Bello's house) are spooky and envelope us in tense atmosphere even when nothing is happening. You want to open a window or turn on several lights in every room, especially the basement. This movie has been described as a thrill ride, deliberately fast-paced, with lots of action and few chances to relax. The movie takes place over a period of just a few nights and days, and every night something creepy or worse happens. It reminded me of Poltergeist, not because the films are similar, but because every night you feel like something bad is going to happen, and it usually does. This movie isn't very unique or especially novel or new, but it simply does better what other movies like it have tried to do. I really enjoyed it in a dark, crowed theater, so I paid to see it twice in consecutive nights.

Indian Summer
½

I love movies about summer camp. I don't know what it is, but when I was a kid, I was too homesick and terrified to actually enjoy the experience of summer camp. Now, looking back, or watching movies like Indian Summer, or even Meatballs and Little Darlings, I realize how special the experience of summer camp can be for kids with the courage and maturity to appreciate it. What is great about Indian Summer is, these 30-somethings get to return to their beloved camp as adults for one final week of camp before the camp closes for good. As the old saying goes, "youth is wasted on the young," and this movie captures that spirit by allowing these former campers one more week to relive some of the best times of their lives. I don't have fond memories of my one summer at camp, perhaps I was too young or immature to relax and enjoy it. I just wanted to survive and get home. Watching this movie makes me want to go to camp now, at age 42. In fact, my girlfriend and I are taking the journey to the very lake where this movie was filmed - Tea Lake in Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada, in about 2 weeks. I can't wait. The location Director, Mike Binder picked to relive his real-life childhood camp experience is Camp Tamakwa, on Tea Lake in Algonquin Park. It's in the heart of Canada's wild, natural, untouched National Park and a perfect place to make a film like this. The casting is decent, although I could do without Kevin Pollak. The acting is fine. The only real problem with this movie, and it's a pretty big problem, is that it feels like one, long, inside joke where everyone is laughing hysterically at each of dozens of memories and most of them feel forced or not entirely believable. The actors are doing their best to express nostalgia, but it only works sometimes. An example of where it works much better is The Big Chill. We learn more about the characters and their respective relationships in that film than we do in this one. This is still a fun movie, more so for those, like me, who love the idea of camp and long for a second chance to go back and experience it. It's why we go camping in the woods as adults and why so many people buy motorhomes and journey into the woods. We all want to be campers again. And, as adults, we are better able to appreciate how special the experience is. And how lucky was Matt Craven? He got to play Hardware in Meatballs in 1979 and then Jamie Ross, 14 years later, in this film AND is engaged to gorgeous Kimberly "Father of the Bride" Williams. Lucky. I will add an addendum to this review next month after we visit the lake where this movie was filmed, and perhaps even visit the actual camp Tamakwa. I just hope it lives up to my expectations. My trip is, after all, inspired in part by this film! The movie was mostly fun for Mike Binder and childhood friend Sam Raimi, who plays Stick, as they revisit their childhood camp Mike attended for 10 straight summers. No wonder he wanted to make this movie! However, it's just another reason why it feels like such an inside joke - an experience we all wish we could have been in on, but most of us weren't.

Into the Wild
½

Fantastic realization of the novel of the same name about Christopher McCandless, who at age 22 and disillusioned by his parent's deception about his father's polygamy, abandons his comfortable upper-class life immediately upon graduating from college to explore the country largely on foot. He spends the first 2 years moving around the western states, taking various jobs and living off the land for weeks at a time. He travels down the Colorado River by kayak, and, after wandering for nearly 2 years, decides to travel to Alaska to attempt to live off the land for several months. The film is very well made, the performances, especially young Emile Hirsch, are very authentic and affecting. Backed by an incredible soundtrack of original songs by Eddie Vedder, this is a great movie about a somewhat lost soul, but someone most people can relate to at some point in their lives, who is merely searching for what he calls "truth." This film makes me question my own choices and lifestyle, which must say something about the power of this film. The end is tragic, but almost necessarily so. Would we have ever known of McCandless, aka "Alexander Supertramp," had he not perished alone in an abandoned bus in the Alaskan wild? This is a compelling story that is, understandably, quite polarizing. Opinions vary greatly about Alex and his journey. One thing is undeniable - he had the courage and principles which few have at age 22 to walk into the world alone and try to discovery who he was. Sean Penn pays the proper respect to the life of one young man who, right or wrong, chose to live a certain life instead of being told what kind of life to live, particularly by those he no longer trusted or respected.

Sleepy Hollow

Excellent atmospheric thriller is both fun and funny while being fairly frightening in some spots. Mostly it's about the set decoration which consists of the entire town of Sleepy Hollow, built from the ground up to meet Director Tim Burton's vision of what Sleepy Hollow should look like. The acting is fine, if a bit silly at times, but this is actually a lighter mystery than conventional horror or gothic ghost story. Depp is fun as Crane, although Ricci is a bit miscast as the object of his affection. And honestly, Burton could have made better use of Christopher Walken, who is reduced to a fairly inconsequential role. We rarely see him, except in very brief glimpses of head-chopping and off he goes on his dark pony. I enjoy this movie a great deal, if mostly for the near-perfect set decoration, atmosphere and mood. Lots of nice images of spooky jack-o-laterns, misty fields and wet marshlands. It's alot of fun but seems to go on a bit too long and overstay its welcome. 15-20 minutes leaner might have been a wise move. But, overall it's a lesser effort from Burton but still one of his best and most enjoyable if you don't pick apart some liberties he took with the story. Nice annual tradition to watch around Halloween.

10 Cloverfield Lane
½

*Spoiler Alert! Any movie advertised as a "cousin" to a movie about space monsters invariably must involve space monsters at some point, right? That was my take on the marketing campaign behind "10 Cloverfield Lane." I was about 90% sure the supposed "threat" above the bomb shelter our young female protagonist wakes up in was, in fact, going to involve a space monster. It had to, was my thinking, for two reasons. First, because it would be a big cheat to refer to this film as a "cousin" or any other distant relative of Cloverfield and then have it NOT end up involving a space monster. Second, isn't it just that much more fun to make a movie where the threat is a giant space monster, as opposed to, say, a faction of North Korean military backed by the Russians and China? I just felt this movie would involve space monsters, if it were smart, and I turned out to be, well, you watch and see. As for the movie itself, any movie where just a few people spend almost every moment on screen in one or two rooms better be good actors, and engaging actors at that. Here, they made excellent casting choices. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a very good actress with nice range, and I don't know who John Gallagher Jr. is, but he was very good in this film. And finally, John Goodman, who plays the claustrophobia, militant, apocalypse-fearing, is-he-a-psycho weirdo with just enough offbeat, oddball twitches and moodiness to pull it off just right. He's very good in this movie and is a good enough reason to see it. Otherwise, the movie is just pretty good. It's not great, and it feels a bit thrown together at times for my liking. Maybe a slightly bigger budget and a more concise ending (after she heads up-top I felt a tighter ending was in order) coupled with a bit more happening in the bunker to fill this movie out and it may have been excellent. It is still a very good movie, and I really enjoyed it the first time through for sure. I did feel they showed their hand too early in the movie (about 30 minutes in) or at least tipped their cards too much for us with the first scene where our young lead makes her way to the top of the bunker. An obviously very sick woman, who looks and talks as if she's had a brush with something otherworldly, gave the mystery away I felt. If the main point of this film was to mystify us into not knowing for sure what exactly was above them, if anything, they should not have included that scene. Or, at least make it more vague so that we really don't know what the threat is. Even the mere fact that there IS a threat is something we don't really know until she shows up outside the bunker. Until then, Goodman still could have just been nutty. I wanted that mystery to play out a bit slower. In the end, this feels like a pretty good low-budget indie type thriller with some mistakes which is saved by very good acting all around. Had the acting been bad, or even average and lacked Goodman and Winstead, this would have been straight to DVD stuff. Overall, a fun, somewhat mysterious movie that gives itself away too early, then goes on too long after the hatch is blown.

Krampus
Krampus(2015)

Krampus was one of those rare movies that I went into the theater to see without knowing anything about it. I don't think I'd even seen the trailer yet. My girlfriend suggested it and I decided to go without any research. I must say, I was very pleasantly surprised. Like the best Joe Dante films of the 1980's, Krampus is very much like a less famous or successful Gremlins. It has the same tone, takes place on Christmas, and is more gruesome and violent than you expect it will be. The atmosphere is good, the characters given just enough development that we care, if only a little, what happens to them. But this movie is all about the fun, creepy monsters that come out to play, or rather punish, when a family forgets or ignores the spirit of Christmas. Even with a 64% critic score, I felt critics were too harsh on this fun movie. How many movies like this, with a blend of comedy and horror, can you name in the past several years? It may be me, but I really enjoy and miss movies like Gremlins. Holiday movies are easy to find endearing, and while this movie could have been a little more fun and a little more frightening, this is a nice little throwback to 80's campy horror. Horror movies are simply difficult to do perfectly right. There are so many ways to make a poor horror movie - too gory, not enough gore, wooden characters, too formulaic, etc. It feels like big studios are leery of backing horror movies, perhaps because the ceiling is usually limited with respect to box office receipts. On the other hand, they aren't usually very expensive to make, and you don't need A list actors for a successful spook show. (Just look at Blair Witch, Insidious, House of Wax, etc.). A decent script, good pacing, having fun and building suspense rather than pouring on the gore are usually good starts to a hit horror movie. This is a good horror comedy film. Gremlins is better, but it's also a classic which spawned sequels and spinoff cartoons and Gizmo dolls and even its own cereal. This movie won't be remembered in that same class, but this nice addition to the holiday horror genre is a worthy entry, and one which I plan to add to my holiday rotation come next December.

The Hateful Eight

When I first saw the trailer for The Hateful Eight, I thought to myself, this looks too much like a continuation of ideas explored in Django Unchained (civil war era America, the lawless south and wild west, the world of bounty hunters, etc). Not that those ideas were bad, I was also not interested in either of Tarantino's previous two films - Inglorious Basterds or Django - when they first came out. I was wrong about both. Basterds was a masterpiece, and I feel perhaps Tarantino's finest (if not most entertaining, which designation belongs to Pulp Fiction) film, and Django is not far behind it. Both were quite similar in style and formula. Tarantino found causes and oppressed people that were very easy to root for and fun to see defeat the bad guys, even in violent, bloody, Tarantino fashion. Who didn't root for Brad Pitt to blow up Hitler in Basterds on behalf of all the Jews and millions of other tortured, murdered victims of WW2? And who didn't root for Jamie Foxx and especially his hero fighting for his cause, Dr. King Schultz? So I probably should have given The Hateful Eight the benefit of the doubt, but something told me this one was going to let me down. I was wrong and I was right, both. This was a very different film from those previous two. Other than a long stagecoach ride opening scene, the entire 2 hour balance of the film takes place in a large cabin. However, it's so wide open and well-appointed, it feels like several set pieces take place in different rooms almost. Granted, this is a talky film. But, like a good one-act play, the characters are fairly well defined and each given things to do, and each has some interesting dialogue. The best element about this film is the mystery component to it. Before Tarantino gives away the true identity of each character found inside the cabin, there is an hour or more of mystery as to who they are, and what they each want. I really enjoyed the film the first time through for that reason. I am not sure repeat viewings will be as much fun as the first time through, and this film certainly carries less weight than most other Tarantino films except maybe Kill Bill, but it was an entertaining movie with excellent dialogue, music, camerawork and some very good acting, especially from Jennifer Jason Leigh.

The Revenant
The Revenant(2015)
½

At 3 1/2 stars, I know I am coming in slightly below most critics and reviewers, but I just can't justify a higher score, and here's why. The Revenant is a fine film, and certainly a well made movie. That fact is readily apparent in the first 20 minutes or so when we learn what the backdrop (hunting for pelts and trying to keep them away from, and survive, hostile native Americans.) The action is intense, the cinematography is amazing and the camera work is fantastic. The acting is great all around and the special effects - particularly in the bear versus Dicaprio scene - are breathtaking. DiCaprio has never been better in a physically demanding role. So why the ho-hum rating? For me, it's simply because I grew tired of the incredibly drawn-out recover and seek revenge plot. After the bear attack, which comes in somewhere around 30-40 minutes into the movie, the movie spends what feels like nearly 2 hours monitoring DiCaprio's recovery, setbacks, small gains, and then, finally, his moment of redemption. The battle with his enemy felt short to me. Perhaps it was because after such a long build-up, no pay-off could be adequate. I just wasn't all that interested in this journey. Maybe it was me. Maybe it was my state of mind on that particular day. I will have to watch this movie one more time and perhaps modify my review and rating. Until then, this is a well-made movie that isn't quite as interesting or compelling as it should be. The story and action on the screen can't compete with the startling photography and natural beauty in the background. It's beautiful to watch, but not all that much fun. Think The English Patient. Not as fun or interesting or affecting as it's reputation. But still a very well made movie and worth seeing, even if you can only sit through it once.

The Boy
The Boy(2016)

I went into The Boy with low expectations. After movies like Dead Silence (a terrible film), and in the 80's Child's Play (a decent movie), and in the 70's - Magic (a fine, if odd, film with real chills and an eerie plot that stays true to itself the entire time. In Magic, the doll isn't haunted, or real, or alive, or contains a small alien. It's simply a twisted manifestation of Anthony Hopkins' mental illness, and it's done pretty well). So, after so many years since we've had a respectable movie about a spooky doll, I went in assuming this movie would be pretty bad, maybe a bomb. It wasn't a bomb, until the final act. For the first hour, I was intrigued and enjoyed the creepy atmosphere and wondered where the story was going. Was Brahms dead? Was the doll haunted by his evil spirit (which is what probably should have happened) or was something else going on in the huge mansion? The acting is fine, the plot is decent and the trailer is very good. But the rules, which seem SO important in the trailer, are all but forgotten in the film. They are hardly important at all. There is no mystery here for Cohan to solve. At least, she does a poor job uncovering one. The rules should have had enormous weight and tremendous consequences if broken. They don't. Cohan ignores the rules almost from the start to little effect. Then, the twist. There are a half dozen films with this plot twist in the past few years. I wanted something more difficult to explain, something either supernatural or beyond our physical possibilities. Something that stayed with me and left me baffled and puzzled and mystified after the film ended. That didn't happen It was headed in that direction for an hour, then downshifted into conventional horror and took the easy, and routine way out. This movie has been done before, I just didn't know it for the first 2/3rds, and during that time, I enjoyed myself. I suggest turning off the movie at about the 1:15 mark. It's a decent film until then.

Twilight Zone: The Movie

Let's be honest, has there ever been a "great" film featuring a series of vignettes? How about one where each short is directed by a different person? Creepshow and Twilight Zone were released only about 7 months apart, and they may represent the two best short story compilation movies ever made. Years later, Tales From the Darkside was released, is worth seeing and a decent film in it's own right. Creepshow is the better film between it and Zone, but they are both very well made overall. We know about the tragedy, Vic Morrow and two children lost their lives in a horrific helicopter accident during the filming of what would be the first segment. Twilight Zone features four short stories, each from the legendary 1950's TV series of the same name. Mostly, the four directors capture the feel of that show, a very difficult task in and of itself. They also succeed at creating very widely diverse stories and moods. The first, a dark, somewhat mean tale about racism and hatred is even darker because of the real life fate of Vic Morrow. Still, this is a decent first story, and felt, to me at least, the most like an original Zone. Humorless, this first tale is wisely shown first so that by the end we sort of forget about it. The second story may have been viewed by the group (and, ironically I suppose, by director/producer, Steven Spielberg) as the weakest of the group. I don't agree. I felt this was the second best of the bunch, and I liked that it isn't out to scare us or creep us out in any way. It's a story about the value of life, making the most of the time we have, and that once around, for most, is enough (or it should be). I love Scatman Crothers, so I'm partial to this story, but I was moved by it, and I always am when I watch it. Without this story, this movie would have lacked alot of depth and weight I think. Spielberg is not afraid to step outside the box and do his own thing here. Even by 1983, he had juice. Joe Dante directs the weirdest of the bunch, the third entry which is about a cute, harmless-looking boy, about 11 years old, who has powers to make anything happen merely by making a wish. Creepy and uncomfortable, this is typical Dante being funny, creepy and scary in equal measure. The special effects are pretty good, and they save this entry from being a lot worse. The set is creepy and, while the story doesn't stand up to even the slightest scrutiny, is fun if you just accept it for what it is. The fourth segment is the best, most feel by a large margin. I agree that it is tightly directly, well acted, and quite scary. The monster is well done, and the final showdown between John Jithgow and the air-gremlin is really scary. I think this movie was so-so until the final act, when it all gets salvaged by a fine finale. It's not that the rest of the movie isn't good, it's just that it was really on the fence teetering precariously until the "terror at 20,000 feet" remake pushed it decidedly onto the right side of the fence solidifying it's place in movie history as a modest success scarred by tragedy. Ironically, the monster in the original "terror at 20,000 feet" is a laughably bad costume which looks like a furry monkey with a puffy, swollen face the result of a seafood allergy.

First Blood
First Blood(1982)

First Blood introduced us to Sylvester Stallone's second iconic character of his career. A war-battered former green beret searching for friends 8-10 years after returning home from Vietnam. Unable to find them, or finding they have all died, John Rambo is at his breaking point when he crosses paths with an abusive, highly prejudiced sheriff, played perfectly by Brian Dennehy. Stallone does some real acting here and the action is, at times, over the top, but mostly it doesn't take away from the story. It does get a bit sillier in the third act, and Stallone's monologue at the end is legendary for being almost impossible to understand. However, where Rambo, First Blood Part II requires that you turn off your brain and enjoy the mind-numbing violence. First Blood actually has a decent story, characters and some acting, even from Stallone. A decent early 80's actioner and easily the best of the series, although die-hard Rambo fans will probably argue that Part II is better. The violence in part II is thrilling, at times, and there are some memorable, iconic scenes (the leeches while soaking in pig feces, the Russian interrogation scene). But this is the better movie.

Zathura
Zathura(2005)

Did you enjoy Jumanji? Well, this story is a bit simpler, and doesn't feature Robin Williams, but in many ways is the better movie. The story is good, two young brothers, bored and frustrated with a time-share situation between divorced parents, find an old board game with characteristics of 1940s-50's pressed tin toys and games. A great deal of care and affection went into the making of this movie, and the attention to detail paid off. The special effects are fantastic, especially for 2005, and a huge improvement over 1995's Jumanji. Although Jumanji is fun, it's too obvious that we are watching early CGI, especially the monkeys and the lion and, well, the animals. Zathura's effects are incredible. The space backdrop is flawless, and the scenes with the defective robot and Zorgons are terrific and very realistic. (Yes, they look just like REAL Zorgons, not CGI'd Zorgons.) Casting is good and the boys are fun and have a genuine brotherly relationship. Dax Sheppard is pretty funny but nicely restrained as the hero astronaut. Ironically (I think?) it was this movie and at about the same time, RV with Robin Williams that put Josh Hutcherson on the map and led to the Hunger Games and his fame. Although this is technically a remake of Jumanji with a modified story, different characters and creatures, the story is fresher, the effects much better and should age well (this review is being written in 2015, 10 years after release of Zathura, and the effects remain an astounding achievement and do not appear dated). Just a great action-adventure movie with some fun creatures/characters and good direction by Jon Favreau. The opening titles and set decoration, particularly with the game itself, the box and artwork should have either garnered oscar attention or a special oscar for the effects and artwork. The soundtrack is good too.

Halloween II
Halloween II(1981)
½

John Carpenter knew enough as a young director not to take responsibility for directing the sequel to his masterpiece, Halloween. He and Debra Hill did, however, write it and produce it, so his fingerprints are all over this installment, despite his efforts to distance himself over the years. The story is actually ok, and is a logical continuation of the same night as the first film, October 31st, 1978. (Probably Nov. 1 after a few hours of hunting the very wounded Mike Myers all over Haddonfield.) This feels like a typical horror sequel and cash-grab. Michael, shot 7 times at close range, including in the head, is still on the prowl and hunting Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) now in the hospital recovering from her rough night, stab wound, fall down stairs, shock, etc. Anyway, let's get to the movie. It's a weak imitation that, other than including most of the entire cast from the original film, lacks Carpenter's eye for detail, slow burn build up and eerie atmosphere. This one is pure slasher silliness, more on par with the Friday the 13th series than with the first Halloween. It was inevitable, with the way the first ended, that a sequel would follow, especially considering the amount of money it made (like 70 million on a $320,000 budget). This was a guaranteed money maker, even if it stunk, which it mostly did. Also, Jamie Lee had short hair by this time (Trading Places, Perfect) so her wig is really silly looking. It's not a total bomb, with all the cast returning and Carpenter and Hill producing and writing, but it lacks the magic and eerie ambiance of the first. Check out The Fog, The Thing or even Halloween III instead. Still, a huge financial success, relatively speaking, taking in 25 million dollars on a 2.5 million budget. Not the juggernaut that Halloween was money-wise, but a solid hit. And while it pales in comparison to the original, it is best viewed back-to-back with the first film for continuity purposes. It also benefits by simply being associated with such a classic piece of horror history.

The Goonies
The Goonies(1985)
½

The Goonies is a classic Spielberg/Chris Columbus mid-80's comedy/adventure which incorporates elements of films like Gremlins and Raiders of the Lost Ark, with kids in place of Indiana Jones. Donner does a decent job directing the film, but it's really Spielberg who dictates the action and story here. The story is impossibly hokey and lacks credibility, but if you can suspend disbelief for a couple hours, the characters are fun, the kids are energetic, the sets are exciting and very much like a less serious Raiders. Spielberg must really love coming up with booby traps and elaborate obstacles and sets. The bad guys are bumbling and not really very threatening as much as comical (like bad guys in John Hughes' movies like Home Alone). Sean Astin and a young Josh Brolin are fine, and Anne Ramsey as the evil matriarch is memorable. Overall, it's a fun comic book/theme park thrill ride which was probably alot of fun to make, and it shows in the result. It's silly, it's a kids' movie, but who doesn't remember The Goonies from their past? It's a part of pop culture, and that speaks volumes about what this movie meant and still means to people. It's fun and a nice escape and excuse to eat popcorn in front of your TV.

The Thing
The Thing(1982)

A tense, atmospheric film that works best as a mystery, and worst as gory horror movie. Rob Bottin's legendary effects are excessive, and take away from an otherwise first-rate thriller. Close your eyes during the 4 or 5 gruesome scenes and reserve your attention for the rest of the film which deserves it. Just as he did in Halloween, John Carpenter succeeds here with a relentless sense of dread, a terrific ominous score, and a nice build-up. However, where he exercised restraint in Halloween with the graphic violence, he failed to do so here. Armed (burdened?) with his first big budget - $15 million, I think he felt an obligation to make the movie bigger, grosser, and more violent. It wasn't necessary. Never forget, what the audience DOESN't see is often as scary or more scary than what they DO see. And, it costs much, much less to imply rather than show. Rob Bottin did a commendable job creating several gross, slimy and sometimes scary monsters, but less would have been more here. Still a great mystery/thriller/monster movie. Sadly, this film seemed to derail John Carpenter's career, as he was never really trusted with a real budget again or a major studio release. Always better as a low-budget movie maker, he would return with some success a year later with Steven King's Christine, followed by Starman and Big Trouble in Little China. By 1988, just 10 years after Halloween launched his career into legend territory, he was reduced to making "They Live," the last semi-interesting horror/comedy movie he made. A few forgettable horror movies later and that's basically it for the last 25+ years. The Thing really was the beginning of the end for Carpenter, as the release date doomed the film to failure (it was released within a couple weeks of both ET and Poltergeist. Both films performed much better than The Thing and were more family oriented, reached a much broader audience, and made alot more money and were both critical hits. Had the studio waited just 3 months until October, 1982 and released it as a Halloween weekend movie or at a time when competition was week, The Thing might have done much better and Carpenter's career may have been much different. Instead, it made about 3 million more than it cost, which means after marketing and distribution costs, it lost alot of money. That money was recouped on VHS, TV and DVD later, but the damage was done. Still, a terrific, gross-out monster movie with a fun story and mystery at its core.

The Fog
The Fog(1979)
½

The Fog is John Carpenter's first offering immediately following the tremendous, well-deserved success of Halloween. Call it the sophomore jinx or the pressure of generating the same kind of success that he did on Halloween, The Fog was reportedly fraught with production problems, didn't make sense when first edited and viewed by Carpenter, so much so that he re-shot or added a full 30 minutes of new footage, including the opening campfire story scene, to help tell the story and eliminate confusion. He also added some violence, feeling The Fog lacked scares. In the end, Carpenter has said this is his least favorite film he made, due to the production problems and disappointment following Halloween. But let's face it, Halloween is a masterpiece which defined and created the benchmark for a genre, and you simply cannot do that twice, let alone back-to-back and with only 3 theatrically released films to his credit at age 32. And Assault on Precinct 13 is pretty primitive and simplistic. By comparison, Halloween was a quantum leap in terms of story and direction. The Fog is actually a good movie with a decent, if a bit odd, mystery backstory to explain the curse on the folks at Antonio Bay. Carpenter again, wisely, avoids graphic violence or gore, and sticks to slow, atmoshperic build up with some decent spooky set pieces including the Elizabeth Dane ghost ship and the coastal town and lighthouse. This is a respectable, simple ghost story which was made on yet another tiny budget - 1 million, and earned more than 20 million, setting up Carpenter for his first big-budget horror movie 2 years later, The Thing. The Fog is a good entry-level horror movie for those who are easily frightened, and probably should have been rated PG. Surely it would have fit the PG-13 mold a few years later. Overall, a worthy ghost story and one of Carpenter's best. (Sorry, John!).

Halloween III - Season of the Witch

Halloween III has almost nothing to do with Michael Myers or the first 2 Halloween movies, other than a few jokey references to the original. However, moving on with a new story was a good idea, even if it was almost universally reviled upon its release. Since then, it has grown in popularity and has minor cult movie status. It was a modest financial success too, taking in 14 million on a 2.5 million budget. However, the series went dormant for about 5 years after this odd film came out to mostly groans. I enjoy this movie. Tom Atkins is always fun and, somewhat similar to Jamie Lee, made a career in the horror genre. The plot involves an old toy maker who is a sadist and wants to sacrifice millions of children on Halloween by creating evil masks which, when worn while watching a flashing commercial created by the evil company, will trigger a deadly reaction which causes death by melting, bugs, snakes and other gruesome deaths. The concept - planning to murder millions of innocent kids on Halloween to embrace an ancient festival of Samhain. Pretty repellent stuff, but the execution is somehow less offensive and pretty creepy and cheesy at the same time. It's hard to take this movie seriously, there are so many over the top scenes and Cochran, the evil mastermind, is fun and absurd. Not a "good" movie, but for an early 80's entry in the horror genre, this one is worth a look and is better than many, and is, at the very least, original.

Sinister
Sinister(2012)
½

Snuff movies involving helpless families and children. Fun! Sinister is effective and affecting, but the material will be too disturbing and tasteless for some, including me. The ending is a downer, and the audience figures out the sick joke of a plot twist long before Ethan Hawke does (or should). I enjoy great horror movies, especially dark, atmospheric films that show less and suggest more. The first half of this movie is actually pretty good, tense and scary. But, the excessive violence and celebration of sadism is pretty repulsive. This one doesn't show it's hand too often, but when it does the result is pretty disturbing.

Halloween
Halloween(1978)
½

THE holy grail of slasher movies and truly launched the late 70's early 80's horror genre. And why not? John Carpenter pulled off an incredible magic trick here by utilizing a ridiculously low budget ($320,000), low even for 1978, and somehow earning more than 70 million at the box office and many millions more in rentals, DVDs, television rights, and a franchise that never seems to end. Low budget gem was filmed in less than a month, in the wrong season and with newbie actors and a very inexperienced crew...and look out! The result is THE heavyweight champ of horror movies. Excellent script, music, atmosphere and build-up. No unnecessary gore, just dark, effective shots and a sense of dread that never lets up for 90 minutes. A classic film that's perfect to screen each October with the lights off. A masterpiece that does everything right. Like The Thing, this movie takes itself very seriously. Donald Pleasance brings just enough weight to the film to counter the amateur actors and his panicky, desperate turn as Dr. Loomis borders on silliness at times, but there is simply no room for criticism here. Just an amazing feat of minimalist film-making that is truly scary and alot of fun.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Seeking A Friend is actually two films mashed together in a way that keeps you off balance right up to the very end. It is part comedy/road movie and part earnest drama which at times is quite moving and sad. The blend isn't always seemless, but the payoff is very worthwhile for those invested in the journey of the two leads. The chemistry between Carrell and Knightly isn't perfect, and perhaps it shouldn't be. There is something about two strangers thrown together on the road for what may be the last days of life on Earth that almost requires they not be a perfect match. That would be too convenient. In keeping with everything about this film, reviews by critics are decidedly mixed. That may simply be a reflection of what this film truly is at its heart and what it asks of its viewers. This is a tearjerker disguised as offbeat comedy until the third and final act, when the film is at its best. Seeking A Friend is not a great film, but rather an imperfect film which wins when it finally decides which field it's playing on. The end is perfect and heartbreaking.

Poltergeist
Poltergeist(1982)
½

If Halloween is the holy grail of slasher movies, this surely is the holy grail of haunted house movies. None are close. There are always three things I think of whenever I watch Poltergeist. First, I am always stunned that this film somehow avoided an "R" rating. You have to wonder if that would have been possible had anyone other than Spielberg been involved. Having Tobe "Texas Chainsaw" Hooper on board certainly couldn't have helped. In any event, this has to be the most frightening "PG" movie ever made. Had "PG13" been around at the time, this movie certainly would have qualified. Incidentally, it was two other Spielberg productions, "Gremlins" and "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" that caused the MPAA to invent "PG13." 2 years, too late. Second, I always wonder just how good this movie might have been had Spielberg fully committed to it, instead of devoting most of his time and interest into the more dramatic but overall inferior, "E.T." This movie is very good. It's almost great. Regardless, it's a thrill ride right from the ominous opening "Star Spangled Banner" scene. I can't help but think of the opening of this movie whenever I hear that song now. Oh, and third, this movie contains some of the scariest scenes ever filmed and THE scariest scene ever involving a clown doll. (See "Amusement" for the second scariest). This movie is what Hooper's "Funhouse" should have been. Fantastic score by Jerry Goldsmith.

Friday the 13th

Released 18 months after John Carpenter's Halloween in an attempt to capitalize on the early days of the 1980's low-budget horror craze, Friday the 13th has just enough story, production values and originality to nearly replicate the success of Halloween. Halloween is far scarier, better paced, less silly and has less gratuitous nudity and violence, but Friday the 13th ended up with the more successful franchise. In this review I will cover the first four films in the 'Friday' franchise, Part I, II, 3D and The Final Chapter. After that, the next three films weren't worth watching and were barely straight to VHS quality. It wasn't until Jason Takes Manhattan (number 8 in the series) that the franchise produced another worthy entry. Anyway, the first Friday is a decent horror film, iconic for its location (summer camp) and memorable storyline and ultimate surprise twist ending. The movie made over 50 million dollars on a budget of less than 1 million, which nearly matched Halloween for low-budget success. Critics were far less kind to Friday than Halloween, however. Where Halloween was atmospheric, with slow building tension, low body count and little on-camera violence (most is implied), Friday is excessively violent with twice the body count. Friday II is a weak entry with little plot and is merely an obvious attempt to capitalize on the success of the first film. Jason makes his first appearance as the killer in part II, and the final reel is decent and more suspenseful than the first film. The final few scenes are particularly scary. Part III is probably the best of the series, with decently defined characters, a few creative 3D scares and kills and decent pacing. Overall, this is probably the best of the series, even in 2D. Don't bother with 3D, which is primitive and was a fad in 1983. Part III was quickly followed up by The Final Chapter (who really believed that, even in 1984, right?), which is pretty bad. The characters and dialogue are pretty stupid, even for this series, and the end involving Corey Feldman is just silly. It also sets up for an obvious sequel, despite the desperate title, as if the studio is begging fans of the series to return for just one more go around...before Friday V that is. (By the way, Friday V is so bad it never should have been released.) Final Chapter is a routine, by the numbers remake of the first 3 films, interesting only for a young Crispin Glover and some attractive young actresses, the Final Chapter probably should have been the final chapter and we'd all be better off, except for Kane Hodder, of course. Watch Friday I, II and III and forget about 4. I'd give the series 3 stars on average overall, and each film 3.0, 2.5, 3.5 and 2.0 individually.

What's Eating Gilbert Grape
½

A slice of life film about a small town family struggling to make it years after a family tragedy (the suicide of Gilbert Grape's father). Gilbert is played by Johnny Depp in his (in my opinion) best performance of his career. Depp was reportedly struggling with personal issues of his own during filming, and he certainly seems to use that despair in his performance. A tremendous cast, including a then unknown John C. Reilly, a young and incredible Leonardo DiCaprio, Juliette Lewis, and many relatively unknown others who give this movie tremendous depth. Everywhere you look there are talented actors adding color to this movie and almost every scene is affecting. It's a toss up between DiCaprio's performance as a boy with special needs, and Darlene Cates, a morbidly obese woman who had never acted before in her life for finest performance in this movie. Depp is excellent, but DiCaprio is a revelation and Cates is painfully honest and brave. This movie feels more like what real-life feels like than most Hollywood films have achieved. There are funny moments, tender moments and sad, lonely and desperate moments. Life can be very hard, with responsibilities and relationships to manage, and this movie captures that struggle and makes it compelling. Despite mostly positive reviews, this film remains underrated and is quickly becoming a forgotten masterpiece.

The Shining
The Shining(1980)
½

In true Kubrick style, The Shining is an odd horror/ghost story based on a Stephen King novel. For those who embrace movies as art, an argument can be made that while flawed, the Shining is one of the most beautiful ghost stories ever put on film. Kubrick focused on imagery and atmosphere, and not so much on storyline or even pacing. The pace is uneven. It begins slowly, which is fine, but once Jack begins to succumb to the darkness within the Overlook and himself, he goes off the deep end a little too abruptly. Movies are movies. They are never perfect. As an artistic expression of King's novel, Kubrick's imagining is chilling, creepy fun with some truly unforgettable scenes and images. This is a sophisticated horror movie, and one that warrants many viewings and critiques. Unique, iconic and memorable, but at times very cerebral and confusing too.

The Muppet Movie

Many Muppet movies have come and gone since the 1979 original, but none come close to capturing the magic of the Muppets like The Muppet Movie. Good script, good songs, fun scenes and cameos, and genuinely tender moments performed with such skill and care that we often forget we are watching hand puppets and not real, living creatures. And who can forget Kermit singing The Rainbow Connection on his log (in a first-ever full-body shot made possible by submerging an obviously committed Jim Henson in a waterproof box under water)? That song should have taken the Oscar for best song. All the magic and joy Jim Henson infused into his life's work, the Muppets, is all on screen in this fantastic road movie.

House of Wax
House of Wax(2005)

Inspired, creative, well-made and conjuring dusty, dirty horror movies of the 60's and 70's such as Texas Chainsaw and Tourist Trap, this movie is really far better than most of its critics gave it credit for. Admittedly, the movie is formulaic, especially during the first act when we are introduced to a typical group of immature, horny, ignorant teenagers who embody the usual stereotypical characters - the jock, the slut, the "good girl," the criminal/bad boy and his henchman, and the sole black guy. With the victims in place, they quickly drive out to the middle of nowhere and get lost, oversleep, suffer vehicle problems and end up separated (naturally) in a very creepy, frozen-in-time town which seems to be void of actual living people, save for a filthy local who picks up roadkill, and a rude local who runs the town gas station. You cannot begin to examine the plot (and plot holes) in a movie like this and still hope to enjoy it on any level. It's a ridiculous plot which cannot stand up to the slightest scrutiny. However, on its surface, the film is first-rate in some very key areas when it comes to horror. The sets, props, makeup and production design are fantastic, and worth the price of admission. If this movie had even an average script, it might have been a small masterpiece thanks to it's production design and wax figures, fake town and attention to detail. I was totally sucked into this little town frozen somewhere in the 40's or 50's, although it isn't quite clear when things went south for this place. In any event, turn off your brain, pop some corn, and enjoy the visual splendor that is House of Wax, a very scary movie with some real thrills and a dynamite closing act.

The Woman in Black
½

Solid, old-fashioned haunted house tale uses ambience, dim lighting and first-rate production design to create scares. Virtually no violence or gore, just some spooky old toys and an old woman who pops up from time to time. Daniel Radcliffe is ok as a young lawyer sent to the old mansion to settle the estate. What he finds is a mystery that could have been much more intriguing if fleshed out more. This film may have been a classic had there been a better mystery beneath the strange goings on. Instead, the result is still a very good ghost story that with a bit better writing, could have been great. Excellent slow-burn atmosphere though.

The Changeling

This is what good horror/thriller/mystery films are to me. This movie has a good story with a mystery at its center needing to be solved by a suddenly widowed music professor who rents a 100 year old mansion with a dark past. This film has very little violence or gore, just a creaky old mansion, odd noises in the night and a hidden staircase leading to an attic bedroom where a secret has remained hidden for decades. This film possesses many of the same qualities as the Omen, with it's plot centered around the urgency to solve the mystery before more bad things happen. I hold both films in about the same esteem, with the Omen achieving slightly higher marks for technical virtues and a better overall cast. I would like to find more films like this one - a ghost story with an actual mystery at its heart, and an engaging journey to solving the puzzle and ending the curse.

The Others
The Others(2001)

Atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere. And then, more atmosphere. Story? Well, it's mostly about Nicole Kidman rambling around a poorly lit mansion with her pale children and very odd housekeeping staff when things start to go bump in the day and night. Not much really happens in this movie, and that's a good thing. The mood is tense and dream-like, but having watched this movie a few times now, it is far too obvious what the big twist is. We know the twist long before Kidman's character learns of it, but it doesn't undo an otherwise solid ghost story. This area is well-worn, sadly, as it would be nice to see more like this (such as Woman in Black) where violence and gore take a backseat to mystery, creepy sounds, and offbeat characters giving clues as to what all the fuss is about. It's not easy to make a successful ghost story anymore, but this one is a very good attempt.

The Strangers
½

Home invasion flick provides a few good jolts, but is ultimately undone by a director who forces the victims to do things you and I would most likely never do. They don't call 911 when they have a working cell phone. They don't drive away as fast as possible when they have a working car. They don't shoot the intruders when they have a working and loaded shot gun. Instead, they allow their cell phones to be taken by the badies, their car to get smashed by the badies, and they shoot a friend instead of the badies. The film starts off with some promise, and then repeatedly insults our intelligence before its bleak and pointless ending.

Trainspotting
½

Simply the best, most accurate and fair treatment of drug addiction (in this case, heroin) ever made. You don't have to have personal experiences with drug addiction to appreciate the highs and lows depicted in this incredibly intense ride. The highs are never as real or as wonderful as drugs promise they will be, but the lows are usually worse and lower than any addict ever imagines could be possible. This movie does not celebrate or sensationalize drug addiction, nor does it vilify it. It simply takes us deep into the dark, dishonest and sad world of the heroin addict and allows us to experience genuine feelings of what addiction is like, without actually risking life and limb in the process. More most addicts, their stories end badly, or simply continue in desperate fashion. For Mark, one of the only addicts to overcome (at least for a time) drug addiction, we come to understand how uncommon it is to beat the odds and win when the deck is always stacked against the addict. A must see for young people, especially those dabbling in recreational drugs. Perhaps it will give even one future addict pause.

Tusk
Tusk(2014)
½

I gave Tusk 2 1/2 stars partly because it is really 2 films in one. The first 45 minutes is an unsettling, disarming mix of tacky humor, stereotypes and the makings of an intriguing mystery. The film is well made, actually, with some very good performances. If you have any inkling whatsoever of what is in store for Wallace, you cannot help but squirm in your seat even during the first half of the film. It's like reading a lighthearted magazine in the waiting room at your dentist's office when you know you will soon undergo an unpleasant procedure. There is that kind of teeth clenching dread because we know what is coming, even though Wallace does not. I recommend anyone who is the slightest bit squeamish skip this one, or, better yet, watch the first half and turn it off after Wallace finds his cell phone and makes a few desperate calls. After that point, things go downhill fast and into a very disturbing place. It simply isn't funny enough to offer relief from what we are seeing. If Kevin Smith had avoided dark humor after the "transformation" of Wallace, this might have been a truly terrifying experience, similar to Texas Chainsaw. Instead, the tone is hard to put your finger on and you can't help but stare at Wallace as the camera refuses to look away either, displaying the grotesque creature for long minutes at a time. This is one of the strangest films I've ever seen, and that's a good thing. I just don't intend to watch the second half ever again.

The Babadook
The Babadook(2014)

I first read about the Babadook in January, 2014, some 11 months before it was released in the U.S. This little indy spooker took the film festivals by storm and was snatched up by a small distributor who very methodically released it gradually over the course of 6 months and in only a few cities in just a few countries. The marketing strategy, evidently, is to let the internet, word of mouth, and incredibly strong critic reviews create a demand for a larger release (ala Paranormal Activity) and perhaps we will see The Babadook in more theaters soon. I hope so, because watching this at home was a shame, even though I still enjoyed it. The problem for me is that I have never anticipated a movie as much as this one, and therefore it was doomed to never meet my impossibly high expectations no matter what. This is a very good horror movie, with a good monster, a good script and director, great acting and good sets, music and camerawork. What is most compelling is the incredibly intense and painful relationship between Mom and Sam, which screams despair and nervous breakdown. Just when things couldn't possibly get worse for Sam, a troubled little boy whose father was killed in a car accident on the way to the hospital to deliver him as a baby, a deranged pop-up book called Mr. Babadook arrives and bends reality into a 24 hour/day nightmare. I wish I hadn't read so much about this film in advance, or anticipated it so much, because I probably would have been stunned by how intense, well-made and terrifying it actually is. Sadly, I did have higher hopes for it than it delivered, and so my ultimate opinion is that it is an excellent horror movie and a unique one at that, but not the revelation that many critics are making it out to be.

Safety Not Guaranteed
½

A fantastic little film that was better the second time I saw it. Perfect ending, terrific performances and some excellent, offbeat moments make this a surprise hit and one of those under-the-radar gems that put many big-budget films to shame.

Willow Creek
Willow Creek(2014)
½

Willow Creek is a blatant, unapologetic ripoff of The Blair Witch Project, and a pretty bad one at that. The acting is not up to par with the amateurs in Blair Witch, a film that virtually invented the "found footage" genre. Many have come and gone since Blair Witch scared most of us witless in 1999, and this one is no better than any since then. Silly, obviously staged interviews with locals leads to basically one night in a tent with lots of sitting in silence, staring into a video camera, waiting for something interesting to happen. When it finally does, the end is abrupt and dissatisfying.

ParaNorman
ParaNorman(2012)

ParaNorman is the latest product to roll off the animated 3D CGI assembly line and it looks great. It starts well and the concept is strong. And that's just about where ParaNorman runs out of virtues. The characters are shallow and, ironically, 2 dimensional and stereotypical. The misunderstood oddball, the fat kid, the bully, the obnoxious oversexed teenage sister, etc. Even John Goodman fails to inject much life into this routine exercise. For all its potential, ParaNormal fails on most levels to capitalize except for aesthetics and some good spooky scenes and dark themes. Overall, a disappointment. Especially in comparison to Coraline, which was a small masterpiece.

Creator
Creator(1985)
½

Creator is a better film than its reputation thanks to a fine performance by Peter O'Toole and a good supporting cast including a young Virginia Madsen, Vincent Spano and David Ogden Stiers. The film has its flaws, but is good-natured and often funny if too often sentimental. The plot is actually quite clever for the mid-80's - Peter O'Toole has been cultivating his dead wife's cells for 30 years until technology allows him to recreate her using the fertilized egg of a another woman. It feels just plausible enough to be compelling, and we do wonder if Dr. Wolper will pull it off. O'Toole looks and is cast in a role of a much older man (he was 53 at the time), but his charm and charisma make this worthwhile despite its flaws.

The Blair Witch Project
½

THE Citizen Kane of "found footage" horror movies, this one invented the genre in 1999. A low-budget, amateur production thrown together by a handful of people with a few days of footage cobbled together into a tidy 84 minutes - and it simply works. The acting is largely believable, and the pace is perfect. From the opening minutes the interviews with locals feel quite real, the enthusiasm of the 3 filmmakers soon turns to frustration, then fear, then panic, then hysteria. And over what? This is the best horror movie ever made where the monster is entirely left to our imagination.

Insidious: Chapter 2
½

Insidious 2 lacks all that made Insidious a surprisingly terrifying sleeper hit of 2011. This film feels like a hastily thrown-together cash grab with almost no real shocks whatsoever, save for the usual James Wan jump scares, which consist of little more than sudden loud noises. The sense of unease that permeated Insidious with genuinely scary creatures (the freaky little man-boy dancing to Tiny Tim; the creature in Dalton's room at night) are absent here. Instead, we have women in pale makeup who scream a lot and a possessed Patrick Wilson. This was as disappointing a sequel since Poltergeist 2. Avoid this.

Dirty Girl
Dirty Girl(2011)
½

An underrated, admittedly uneven film which boasts a powerful performance by lead, Juno Temple. She carries this film, and while it never feels sure on its feet, Dirty Girl has a lot more to offer than the title or opening act suggest. Once Danielle opens up to Clarke, we are treated to an unconventional friendship that grows strong as the two chase their respective dreams. And just try not to cry at the end when Danielle meets her father, or when she performs her vocal solo. You know you want to.

Clifford
Clifford(1994)
½

An utterly stupid film that is as enjoyable as it is weird if only you accept it for what it is. Obviously, Citizen Kane this is not. This movie had no chance at any sort of success having sat on the shelf for three years while Orion Pictures was in bankruptcy. When they emerged, they released a number of oddball films that were barely straight to video quality. But Clifford has some charm and some virtues to it, namely, the ridiculous and absurd lead role played by Martin Short with as much energy and good intentions as possible. Ultimately, I cannot call this a "good" movie. It's a bad movie that has a special place in my heart which even caused me to name my cat after Clifford's dinosaur, Stephan.

Tourist Trap
Tourist Trap(1979)
½

Tourist Trap is campy, it's weird, and it's better than it's reputation because it uses eerie music, dark lightening and creepy sets rather than violent, bloody gore. There is very little violence or gore in Tourist Trap. Instead, four friends find themselves off the highway and stumble upon a closed tourist attraction, which appears to be some kind of museum of oddities. One look and you'll no doubt understand why it went out of business. This film is very offbeat, and Chuck Connors keeps you off balance with his creepy charm throughout. The plot is confusing at times, but you never quite know whether Connors is acting alone or not until late in the film. This is an underrated 70's horror gem, flawed and fun at the same time. The best way to describe this film is part Texas Chainsaw (rural, hot, dusty 70's locations) and the remake of House of Wax (closed tourist attraction with spooky mannequins who may or may not be fake). This isn't a great piece of cinema, but horror films rarely are. But this is better than most and is certainly a worthy entry into the genre.

I Love You Phillip Morris

One of the more underrated films in recent years, this was perhaps difficult for some people to embrace because of its homosexual themes. I was deeply moved by both leads and felt this was the third (at least) showcase of Jim Carrey's talent that was worthy of an Oscar nomination. This is an imperfect film with some very poignant moments, especially the last half hour. The fact that it's based on a true story makes it that much more compelling. This film was made in 2009 and sat on the shelf for more than a year due in part to the dilemma of how to market it. Unfortunate, and says something sad about how far we have yet to go with awareness and acceptance.

Terms of Endearment
½

Spoiler Alert...I struggle with films like Terms of Endearment coming up with reasons not to give it a 100%. Few films should truly be deserving of such a rating, and if Terms of Endearment isn't, it's only because it sometimes feels like deliberately manufactured sentimentality. The casting is good and the acting is excellent. But there is something about writing in characters who succumb to cancer and then say goodbye to their children from their hospital deathbed that is guaranteed to generate tears. This film is the definitive tearjerker, it just sometimes feels like James L. Brooks' is all too aware of that fact. But if you enjoy a good cry, this is a sure thing.

The Big Chill
½

Having attended the University of Michigan this film speaks to me a bit more than it otherwise might have. However, the casting is excellent, the dialogue is well-written and the music adds to the feeling of nostalgia. The relationships between the characters are unique and it's fun to speculate about who will end up with who. I've watched this movie dozens of times and I am always impressed with how affecting it is. Good drama should be moving, and this film has genuine emotion to spare and that, for me, is what movies are all about.

War Horse
War Horse(2011)
½

If there were a film that could somehow roll 9 of Steven Spielberg's films into one, this is it. Part ET, part Schindler's List, and part Empire of the Sun, etc., this film features an unlikely hero (a horse), another hero (a boy), and another hero (a little girl)set against the historical backdrop of WW1. Spielberg loves to use the backdrop of war in stories about inner strength, love, loyalty and courage because it gives incredible weight to the story's central characters. Imagine how amazing a horse would have to be to cause an entire world war to pause and take notice? Spielberg wants nothing less than for us to believe that his characters, with all their virtues, are so admirable that they can change the world, literally. The problem is, by the time War Horse arrives in 2012, we've seen ET save the world from the US government, Schindler save the world from the Nazis, and young Christian Bale survive WWII on foot with only a potato and some chocolate. If you love a good story, told well, and beautifully shot with amazing action scenes and cinematography, you will enjoy War Horse. This is a good film. It is also a well-worn Spielberg formula by now. It is a product, and a very calculated one intended to tug at your heart. If only the film were a little less obvious, and a little less deliberately sentimental, perhaps it would have allowed us to be sentimental ourselves, and thus more involved. Instead we are spectators, not participants, in Spielberg's latest effort.

Zodiac
Zodiac(2007)

A home run for director Fincher and a must-see for true crime enthusiasts. One of the most incredible and infamous unsolved crimes of all time is captured in near perfect style. The feel of the late 60's and early 70's is dead on, and the complex script and screenplay come to life with a near perfect cast. This film was obviously a labor of love for Fincher. For those who are not familiar with the true story of the Zodiac killer, this may be a bit slow and plodding. However, for those who know the history, or are captivated by the mystery of this story, this is a truly great film.

Deep Water
Deep Water(2006)

Surely one of the best documentary films of all time. Part documentary, part mystery, part drama, this film takes the viewer on an amazing journey. I've seen this film dozens of times, and each time I see it I'm moved. What is so compelling about this film is the way it explores what it means to be human so deeply and nakedly. This isn't a movie merely about an ocean voyage or a historical event or even a tragedy. It's really about the limitations we have as human beings and how devastating isolation and lonliness can be. The odyssey of Donald Crowhurst during his 9 months or so at sea is absolutely spellbinding, and heartbreaking. This is a rare film. Incredible.

Fast Times At Ridgemont High

Fast Times at Ridgemont High is one of those rare films that rises above the usually trashy genre of sex, drugs and teenage life by actually showing some respect for its characters and their issues. There are cheap jokes and bathroom humor, to be sure, but mixed throughout (often from one scene to the next) are sincere moments and genuine feelings. This is surely due to the awkward mix of Cameron Crowe and Amy Heckerling influences. The performances are good all around, and the casting is excellent. Several careers were launched by this film, and it is now a deserving cult classic. This film does better what "Little Darlings" tried to do two years earlier. The soundtrack is great and really compliments the early 80's feel. Overall, this is a worthwhile film which sometimes stoops below its own level but gets it right more often than it gets it wrong.

Melancholia
Melancholia(2011)
½

Disappointing, depressing and bleak. Some impressive visuals, yes, but overall this is more an unpleasant study in sadness and mental illness than a profound vision of the end of the world. Some will be moved by it, some will be deeply annoyed. I was annoyed.

The Aviator
The Aviator(2004)
½

A near-perfect period piece and examination of one of America's oddest historical figures, Howard Hughes. Martin Scorsese is in top form, and DiCaprio is very good as the enigmatic billionaire mogul, Hughes. However, as good as DiCaprio is, he isn't perfectly suited to this role. Perhaps he was too young or looks too boyish to play a virile man like Hughes. The film essentially begins with Hughes' arrival in Hollywood and attempt to make the biggest blockbuster film in history at the time, "Hell's Angels." From there, the film moves on to his aviation exploits, and many attempts to bed Hollywood's most beautiful actresses, including Katherine Hepburn and Ava Gardner. (Kate Blanchett is fantastic as Hepburn, and scored a well-deserved oscar.) From there, Hughes descends into mental and physical illness and frailty, before emerging to face charges of being a war profiteer before the U.S. Senate. The production design is terrific, and the film is aided by terrific music and a powerful score. This is a long movie, and it does bog down a bit at times. But overall, The Aviator is a sensational film with as much action as first-rate drama. Alec Baldwin is ok as Juan Tripp. Alan Alda is better as Senator, Owen Brewster. First rate.

Little Darlings
½

A very hard to find (as of 2012) film about two teenage girls trying to win a bet/dare by losing their virginity first. This movie is notable for the pairing of two of the biggest young female actors in hollywood at the time, Tatum O'Neal and Kristy McNichol. Although O'Neal won an oscar at age 10 for her work in Paper Moon, she appears to have left most of her acting ability behind by 1980. She isn't terrible, but when compared to the work McNichol does in this movie, there is no doubt who has the natural talent. The first 2/3 of this movie are barely average summer camp kid comedy stuff. What saves this movie and, in my opinion, redeems it is the work McNichol does in the final 30 minutes. Switching from summer camp silliness to (perhaps awkwardly) serious drama about the fear, anxiety, responsibility and intimacy of sex, this part of the movie rings 100% true. McNichol is emotionally naked, her tough-girl persona stripped away as she learns that sexual intimacy is not merely a physical act. It requires an emotional investment, and her scenes with a young Matt Dillon are powerful and genuine. Overall, Little Darlings feels like two movies. One, an average or slightly below average summer camp comedy. The second, an earnest examination of how truly terrifying sex for the first time can be. It's an odd mix, but the film is worth while if you can find it and McNichol is, at times, amazing.

Psycho II
Psycho II(1983)
½

22 years removed from the original classic horror film and more a distant cousin than a real sequel, Psycho II is a good horror movie, especially the first half. That's when the film focuses on creating atmosphere and on Norman Bates' quirky character, and here the film is actually very good. Unfortunately, the second half of the movie succumbs to unnecessary graphic violence, diminishing the movie overall. In the end, this is still a very respectable scary movie, and one whose strengths overcome its weaknesses. Great Jerry Goldsmith score.

About Last Night
½

A very honest and accurate portrayal of a young couple's first attempt at a serious, commited adult relationship. Rob Lowe and Demi Moore play lovers in their early 20's, each with their own ideas of what love means. Some good moments which ring true when the main characters realize that living together is much more complicated than dating. Ultimately, they both own up to their mistakes and realize how naive they were. Not a great film by any means, but captures the feeling of learing about commitment very well. Jim Belushi is fun as Rob Lowe's best friend.

Insidious
Insidious(2011)

Quite possibly the best horror movie in the past several years. Not without its flaws, Insidious starts off slowly with the usual haunted house tricks, but soon becomes much more inspired, with some of the most terrifying moments ever filmed. Part poltergeist, part exorcist, part David Lynch dream sequence, Insidious is a lot of fun for horror fans. Good build-up to a not so good ending. Horror movies are always contraptions and usually have flaws, but Insidious' strenghts far outweigh its weaknesses.