aesgaard41

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Reviews

Captain America: Civil War
(2016)

Awesome Movie - Wrong Spider-Man
It is no understatement that comic book movies nowadays are really kicking out and breaking boundaries in theaters these days. Since Christopher Reeve made you believe a man can fly, Tim Burton has made Batman relevant again (before getting embarrassed by Joel Schumacher and rebooted by Christopher Nolan), and Sam Raimi has brought to life what is possibly the most definite Spider-Man movie ever. Where the "Captain America" movie series has succeeded is by basing its movies on successful espionage stories. "Winter Soldier" was based on the book, "The Manchurian Candidate" and this one owes a great debt to "The Odessa File." After the Avengers unwittingly cause an international incident, U.S. Intelligence decides it's time to restrict their activities, but Cap meanwhile tries to defend Bucky who has been framed for an assassination. Their different opinions split the Avengers in half that culminates in the top scene in the movie, a clash of all the characters from the last several MCU movies excluding Thor and the Hulk while including Black Panther and Spider-Man, making this a super- sized "Avengers" movie that thankfully doesn't get bogged down by the excessive characters. However, where the movie makes its fatal flaw is by not picking up from the Sam Raimi "Spider-Man" trilogy and instead inserting yet another rebooted Spider-Man with a young and hot Aunt May. Even without Tobey McGuire, it should have cast a new actor to pick up where Raimi left off with his version of the character, bringing those movies into the MCU while ignoring the ridiculous Marc Webb DC Universe version of the character. That snafu aside, "Captain America: Civil War" is awesome and spectacular; upping the ante on the previous Marvel movies. I can't wait to see where they go next.

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension
(2015)

Boring, Tedious, Predictable and Anti-Climactic
What do you get when you start a movie franchise on a hit movie that didn't need a sequel using writers with apparently no familiarity with the paranormal? Apparently you get a string of movies that keep declining in quality and interest. I liked "Paranormal Activity." It was scary, creative and told in an unbelievably tedious style that escalated toward the end, much like "The Amityville Horror" and "The Haunting," but the only thing "Ghost Dimension" sticks to is its ability to be long and tedious. The movie features a house built over the site of the grandparents' house that Katy says burned down off-screen in the first movie. The owner finds a jerry-rigged camera that records paranormal activity and before long starts causing them. It's a big old house, because a small one would be too realistic and hence not scary enough. There's another scary little kid as well as all of the old movie tropes (computer trickery, an obsession with cameras, lots of scenes where nothing happens...), and no attempt is made to explain anything in the previous movies. You'd think by this time someone would call in paranormal investigators. It's long, it's tired, it's so boring! The only good thing about this movie is that it killed off the franchise from releasing anymore movies.

Carrie
(2013)

Updated But Less Scary
There are a certain number of rules to making a remake, but at the top, the first one should be "Stay faithful, but try to be new." In other words, you should try to attract your target audience while also creating a surprise that they won't expect. While "Carrie" is somewhat more faithful to the book than the Brian De Palma book, it has also been updated with the technology and the teenage arrogance of the time. The cast is excellent. Chloe Moretz is a much more liberated Carrie who understands the nature of her abilities and seeks to control them while Julianne Moore as her mother creates a much more unstable and psychotic character. Best known for a string of demented characters, namely Kitty Sanchez from "Arrested Development," Judy Greer is a welcome presence in the role of the sympathetic gym teacher, proving she can do a serious role, but I find the story just a bit too familiar with no new scares and not much new except the contemporary setting. The updated Chloe Moretz "Carrie" becomes more in tune with her powers, even having an "X- Men" moment with witchcraft overtones, whereas in the Sissy Spacek movie, you had the sense she never really understood what was going on around her. The teenage cruelty has no bounds; there's no "Zero Tolerance" rule in this reality. Portia Doubleday as Chris Hargensen is more of a would-be serial killer and career criminal in training than the spoiled brat Nancy Allen portrayed while Gabriella Wilde as Sue Snell has more to do than what Amy Irving did in the role. My faults with the movie has nothing to do with the actors, script or plot but more with production. Did we really need seven to eight shots of one bucket of blood dumping its contents?? I mean, did it just magically keep filling itself up? What's with the stalling in the movie's pivotal scenes. The tombstone graffiti and tag scenes make no sense whatsoever not assigned to a dream sequence. It's not truly a scary movie; it's more of an atmospheric film with tragedy replacing horror. De Palma's version was a slow-plodding style that reached a terrifying crescendo while this version creates a terrifying situation that ascends to less than horrific levels. While Spacek gave us a sympathetic Carrie, Moretz creates a more adjusted version. Not terribly scary, just tragic.

Lucy
(2014)

Good Movie, Missing Ending
I'm a writer myself, and I've turned out a few horror novels where the female ingénue and the antagonist turn out to be one and the same; so with "Lucy," I was very interested to see how well this premise could be converted into a "Jason Bourne"-like scenario. First off, Scarlett Johansson is awesome in the movie. It's almost what would be expected if the Black Widow from the "Avengers" went through the Captain America process then went after HYDRA. Unfortunately, in "Lucy," HYDRA is replaced by the Chinese mafia, and the Super Soldier Serum is replaced by a dangerous addictive drug which in small doses causes heightened intelligence. Small doses is the key because when Scarlett's character is unwittingly used as a drug mule, the drugs break open in large doses inside her, granting her heightened intelligence, psychokinetic powers, paranormal abilities and eventually a complete control over reality itself. Along the way, Morgan Freeman narrates what's happening as the expert on this drug who she seeks out for help. While the action and chase scenes are "Terminator" quality, it soon turns into an uninteresting plot that runs out of steam. Starting out, the plot is fascinating and fun to watch, but as it gets closer to the end, and one starts wondering where it's going with the metaphysical discussion, it becomes more tedious and lackluster. The ending does not match the first ninety percent of the film. I don't understand it, it doesn't make sense, and it outdoes "The Shining" on its vagueness. It could have gone anywhere so to end on a question mark ruins what I thought was an otherwise interesting flick. I give it 3 out five.

R.I.P.D.
(2013)

Too Much Detail Makes a Crowded Movie
Back when I first saw "Men in Black," I wondered what it would be like if Jay and Kay had to go up against ghosts, zombies, vampires and other paranormal entities. This is not that movie except superficially. Ryan Reynolds plays a police officer who is struck down in the line of combat, but in some sort of almost "Beetlejuice" arrangement, he has to police the world's ghosts before he can cross over. Jeff Bridges is his partner, a former Wild West sheriff, and they can only appear on Earth "Quantum Leap" style as their human hosts, an elderly Chinese man and a stunningly attractive statuesque blonde. If you've watched this far, you've realized it's already more convoluted than "Quantum Leap" and less entertaining or creative than "Beetlejuice." Now, I know "R.I.P.D." is based on a more successful comic book, but maybe more effort should have been put on the script than the special effects. It has a few funny moments, several gross scenes and tries to be exciting, but the only good part is the repartee between Bridges and Reynolds. Kevin Bacon is annoyingly tedious, there are numerous moments that just don't make sense much less feel as if they belong in the movie and some moments seem almost incoherently tagged on (a house that looks normal but is actually condemned??) Even Reynolds own pining for his wife feels stolen from "Spawn." Bottom line, this movie could have been streamlined to a much more tightly and coherent flick. "MIB" had much better acting, writing, visual gags and a stronger concept based on the extraterrestrial phenomenon. For "R.I.P.D." to have worked on a "Beetlejuice" level, it would have been better to have some concepts viewers would have recognized without knowing the comic books.

616: Paranormal Incident
(2013)

There is no point to this movie -
This is one of the most boring ghost movies I've ever seen. The strange thing is that it's set up like some sort of action movie with an FBI team invading a derelict prison for what seems to be a forensic investigation but in fact turns into a paranormal investigation. Right from the start, the movie has lost all credibility, and with that gone, the chances for a decent ghost story are practically out the window. In fact, the movie doesn't even start with ghosts but with a porn scene, right off the start insulting its core audience. The FBI team investigating the location describe vague events of a major riot in the prison and end up discovering a female vagrant living on the site, the woman from the first scene, and with no reason whatsoever, they lock her up in a cell until they figure out what to do with her. From here, the movie has no conscionable plot; it seems as if it's being made up as its going along by three to four directors each making their own movie. The agents report unseen haunting activity and start getting picked off by experiencing terrible visions of death or aspects of their greatest wishes turned against them that take them far beyond the prison. One African-American guard, for example, is spirited far beyond the prison to the 1960s South where he's murdered by the Ku Klux Klan. Another is butchered by the willowy ladies he thinks were going to seduce him. This is probably the only interesting aspect of the movie which also treads through one female agent getting possessed, a reported cycle of disasters that occur the same years apart and a presence that reportedly alters the perceptions of reality in the agents. This is one of the most incoherent, poorly executed so- called horror movies I've ever seen. The acting is tedious, the plot confusing, the profanity endless and the ending poorly conceived. The setting was filmed in the former Linda Vista Community Hospital in Los Angeles, and despite supposedly being abandoned, parts of it look like an empty doctor's office while others look like an empty parking garage. Bottom line: this is not a movie. This is more like the first draft of a movie before recasting, re-scripting and adding the special effects. The majority of this movie is just plain awful; more evidence that some people just should not be actors or directors.

Old Dogs
(2009)

Not Up to Robin William's Legacy
Sometimes, I thought there were two Robin Williams. There was the one who made "Aladdin," "Hook" and "Mrs. Doubtfire," and one who made "Awakenings," "Bicentennial Man" and "Man of the Year." This movie may belong to the latter one. "Old Dogs" stars Robin Williams and John Travolta who play two entrepreneurs in the middle of a large business deal, but then Williams discovers he has two kids from a wild fling Travolta created a few years earlier. Promising the mother to take care of the kids for two weeks very obviously wrecks their deal, their lives and their bank accounts. It's a plot device we've seen several times before done better in several other movies like "Jungle 2 Jungle" and it ends pretty much the exact same way it always has with the sudden father giving it all up for a life with the kids. There's no new spin, no real jokes and no credibility. In fact, the set-ups to the jokes are predictable. When Williams and Travolta talk about the after-effects of their medications, you can predict they're all going to be mixed up. What the movie does have is a stellar case of celebrity cameos from Seth Green, Lori Loughlin, Kelly Preston, Dax Shepard, Luis Guzman, Matt Dillon, Justin Long and Ann-Margret. Unfortunately, the cartoonish gags aren't very funny, and the plot isn't believable. At no point does Williams even come close to acting like a father and placing some boundaries on his kids to save himself some grief. However, the movie did do well enough to be called successful so apparently it has enough appeal to kids if not to parents.

Pixels
(2015)

Entertaining Movie but very basic Sandler material
I'm a big Adam Sandler fan. With the right plot, he can be incredibly funny ("Click," "50 First Dates," "Hotel Transylvania" "Water Boy," "Grown Ups,"…), but when the script isn't on his side, he tends to crash hard ("I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry," "You Don't Mess With the Zohan," "Bedtime Stories," "Jack and Jill,"…). I would place "Pixels" somewhere in between. It's an interesting premise to have aliens attack Earth using video games brought to life, but the problem is that Sandler is still basically playing the forgotten screwball character we've seen several times before. Maybe if he had played this role straight, it might have worked. In the movie, he plays Sam Brenner, basically Billy Madison as a video game player whose life went nowhere after losing a contest against his rival Eddie, played to the hilt by Peter Dinklage. His character is rude, offensive and immature, basically an eight-year-old in a forty-year old body. Kevin James is his best friend, Will Cooper, who as President calls him up to fight aliens using video games as weapons and battlefield strategies. The entire premise is played as straight as it can be with the three of them joining up with Josh Gad to fight the invasion or at least show the military how to do it. It's really hard to believe that in a country of over several billion people that there are only three top video game experts to be found. There are a lot of juvenile characteristics in the main characters; Gad himself acting annoyingly unbearable, obnoxious and creepy at times; there is absolutely no point for any of this. Michelle Monaghan of "True Detective" plays the woman meant to be his female foil and future inevitable love interest accompanied by Matthew Lintz as her son. Possibly the best part is the recurring 80s pop culture moments (young Madonna is transmitted by the aliens giving a declaration of war…). While the movie is fun to watch, the credibility eventually gets strained to the limit. It's not all Sandler's fault; the problem is that the movie is over-stuffed with stuff like androids with glass heads that serve no purpose and plot points (Gad somehow wins the "love" of a pixel-created "Lara Croft" character) that stretch the credibility of a plot that is already incredible. There are some funny moments, like an old lady obliviously watching TV as Sandler battles aliens in her living room, and several cameos by Jane Krakowski, Brian Cox, Sean Bean and Dan Aykroyd among others, but overall, the movie just seems to be one long special effects-laden acid trip. I like the movie, but there's no substance to it.

Ghostbusters
(2016)

Not based in any sort of reality
I'm a big fan of ghosts and haunted house movies. When they're scary, they're wonderful. When, they're funny, they can be charming. When they can be funny and scary, it can be a miracle. Unlike "Beetlejuice" and the original "Ghostbusters," this movie is a disappointment. It could have had so much potential. I really tried to like this movie. It had a few funny moments, some memorable quotes, the special effects are far superior and most of the cast are passable. However, the major problem I have with it is that it's just a retread of the original plot. Do you mean to tell me that in the years we've had since with TV shows exploring the paranormal that we can't make an entirely new "Ghostbusters" without just ripping off the original plot, inserting a few vomit and slime jokes and just completely embarrassing the cast with moronic lines and idiotic scenes. The best part of the first movie is that it was hilarious for being played straight; the humor coming from the characters reacting to each other and the phenomenon. Also, the main cast had a purpose. Murray was the cynic, Aykroyd was the heart, Ramis the brain and Hudson the everyman. Sigourney Weaver was the straight man, and Moranis was the comic foil. In this movie, the cast comes across as someone's dirty little fantasy as they somehow replicate piece by piece the same inventions and create the exact same work uniforms as the first movie. It's almost as if the characters saw the first movie and said, "Well, let's make one of those that works and dress like them too." Now, I like Kristen Wiig; she's one of the movie's most likable redeeming features, but Melissa McCarthy is just woefully miscast, ruining every scene she's in. She is just freaking annoying, but then that's what happens when you cast an actress who plays the same character in virtually every movie in which she stars. She really might have worked better in Kate McKinnon's role and vice versa, and then there's the tall Sasquatchy actress, I just can't recall her name, I'll just call her "Patty," but she also seems miscast when she should have been playing one of the demonic entities this movie is passing off as ghosts. The problem is the good jokes are immediately followed by bad jokes, the so-called ghosts look more like "Scooby Doo" villains and the so-called villain is tacked on like as afterthought. There is absolutely no follow-up to his appearance, and his so-called apocalypse looks more like just some annoying inconvenience. It's just incredibly boring. The worst part is that Chris Hemsworth is woefully underused and embarrassed by playing an affable idiot that by all rights would be in a special school than holding a job. It would have been funnier if they had treated him like how guys have been treating women for the last fifty years. For an interesting premise, the plot focuses too hard on trying to be funny than staying on plot, the jokes are predictable before they even land and some of them don't even land; maybe if they had stayed on the plot instead of playing up the jokes. The cameos of the original cast are kind of pointless; the one by Ozzy Osbourne is really embarrassing for him. The plot has holes in it that don't make sense. (How does Rowan know he'll become a ghost? He could have gone directly into the afterlife.) For that matter, the paranormal facts in this movie are non-existent – it just seemingly makes stuff up as it goes along. At least the original didn't stray off-field as much as this one does.

House of Darkness
(2016)

Don't bother turning on the lights.
I don't know why, but the SyFy Channel runs very few haunted house movies while Lifetime occasionally runs these family dramas with vague paranormal ingredients and calls them horror thrillers. It doesn't really work. The ghosts aren't scary, and the drama is often unbelievably cookie-cutter routine. Probably based on the events that inspired "The Conjuring," "House of Darkness" is about a family that relocates to a remote house with paranormal activity. The parents have the anxiety of Jack and Wendy Torrance from "The Shining," and the daughter is a loose clone of Carol Ann from "Poltergeist," but the scares are nowhere close to "The Amityville Horror." There are a few shots of the local neighbors looking over nervously to suggest there's something wrong with the house, but these foreshadowing elements don't work because the house looks more like a small motel than a haunted house. One of the more ridiculous plot elements is the fact that the couple is keeping up with their marriage counselor in short video diaries that they keep making through the movie. What consists of the hauntings are the wife seeing signs of children in old Halloween episodes she thinks is her daughter, and the daughter and her cousin experimenting with toys rolling by themselves across the house. The father sees a few things happen, but his situation is not to believe in what's happening and instead lose his mind much like Jack Torrance in "The Shining." It's not really scary, nor is there anything done that truly creative. Almost everything in this movie from the psychic attacked by flies to the daughter who turns up in a sealed up room has already been done in other more successful horror movies. This is what happens when one tries to turn a familial drama into a horror movie without having a real understanding of how horror movies work. There's just nothing to really pull the audience in. The activity isn't scary, the plot is slow, the characters are boring and the script drags on uninterestingly as the viewer waits for something to happen. Even the attempt for a twist ending is left vague, not that the effort really matters by now. I give it 2 out of 5.

Holla II
(2013)

When the plot doesn't match the movie -
If there's one thing that annoys me, it's a movie whose plot doesn't match its description. The description for Holla 2 on its DVD is about several friends who stay at a haunted mansion implying it is some sort of ghost movie, but it's anything but. First off, it's a long boring set-up that takes forever to get started and never really goes anywhere. It's boring as hell, the characters are tedious and the plot plods on slowly. The production values are so cheap that it might as well be someone's home movies. What it really becomes is a weak slasher flick lacking the strength of "Friday The 13th" or the power of "Nightmare on Elm Street." The nude scenes are seriously offensive and obviously gratuitous with absolutely no purpose at all. The so- called killer is disguised as a man-sized golly, a racial cultural character from the 19th Century, which is actually more culturally insensitive than scary or threatening. Overall, it's one of the dumbest most uninteresting under-developed so-called horror movies I have ever seen. It's only worth is if it was used to torture terrorists into giving up secrets to the U.S. Government.

Poltergeist
(2015)

From The Reboots We Didn't Need Department
Did we really need a modern remake of such a horror classic? The idea was there but not the spirit. If anything, this movie reminded me of a high school play version of the original movie. Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt both give good performances to a movie that is almost a scene by scene recreation with few modern updates (the daughter's cell phone acts weird) and rehashed ingredients from the original made more ghoulish (the clown and the tree). For me, the movie races forward way too fast, there's practically no time to get to know the characters, no chance to really care about what's happening and no effort made to let this movie stand on its own ground. The only nice touches is allowing Rockwell play an out-of- work dad, another victim of the George W. Bush administration, and the fact that the ex-owner of the house abandoned a closet full of clown dolls, nice foreshadowing to later familiar events. The hauntings start mildly enough, but then they escalate way too fast to get to the plot. While the first movie had the Americana feel of the Eighties, this movie has the two-second attention span of the Digital Generation. Generally entertaining, there's just nothing to make this remake stand out like a good horror movie should. "The Shining" had the hotel, "House on Haunted Hill" had the basement and the original "Poltergeist" had Heather O'Rourke and Zelda Rubenstein. What does this movie have? A new ugly clown doll and an even creepier tree? Not even the updated special effects and the faked spirit photography nor the trip through Purgatory help this movie. It's visually stunning, but it's lacking in substance.

Frozen
(2013)

A New Generation of Disney Movies Is Born
Have you ever been around a movie that everyone liked and whose endorsements and promotions were exploding everywhere, yet you were reticent to go see at the theater. That was me in the 90s when "Aladdin" came out; I didn't actually see it until several months after it came out on DVD and left the New Releases wall for the regular movies of the rental place. After I saw it, I thought it was one of the best movies I had ever seen and was quoting and singing the songs afterward. Same thing happened with "Frozen." I didn't rent this until long after it was no longer a New Release, and I have to admit, it really is infectious without being obnoxious (Disney's "Beauty and the Beast"). It's a modern fairy tale loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" about the sisters Anna and Elsa, who seems to have a mystical ability to create ice. When Elsa's power is discovered after keeping it secret for years, she flees her home and creates an ice palace in the mountains, unaware the snow storms left in her wake are destroying the land. The songs are unavoidably memorable, the characters and voices are excellent and the plot moves forward evenly, barely sagging or slowing at any moment. What it is is an icy version of "The Little Mermaid" for the new generation, and one movie like "Aladdin" I wouldn't mind having in my collection.

Hotel Transylvania 2
(2015)

Lightning Almost Hits Twice
When I was in high school, I started a comic strip called "Horror Inc." It was loosely part-"Casper," part-"Addams Family" and part-"Far Side" as it developed the satirical side of ghost stories and horror movies in general. I developed almost 200 single-panel toons in the series, but I was never able to get it published much less get interest in it for distribution. If it had been animated, it would have been very much like "Hotel Transylvania" with an under-appreciated Dracula, a tired Frankenstein Monster, an exhausted Wolfman and a disrespected Mummy surrounded by various unsuccessful horror serial killers bungling their way through a universe where ghosts and zombies struggle to live normal lives. That's why I love "Hotel Transylvania" so much; it was a rip- off of my material, but it was a condensed roller coaster ride of it highlighted by the talents of Selena Gomez, Adam Sandler and friends. Sadly, as great as the first movie is, "Hotel Transylvania 2" doesn't seem to catch the same creative lightening in a bottle as the first movie, which by itself, didn't really need a sequel unless it was a strong enough script to warrant it. Unfortunately, the plot we get isn't nearly as strong as I would have hoped. In the movie, Dracula's daughter, Mavis has married Jonathan, her first love, and has become a parent herself. (Being a vampire, I don't get how this is possible.) There's some great comedy with Dracula as a grandfather and with Mavis in the real world, but where the movies fails is in repeating much of the same jokes of the first movie. Truth be told, "Hotel Transylvania 2" isn't a bad movie; there's a lot of great material in it, but where it drags is in the form of Dennis, Mavis and Jonathan's son as Dracula waits to see if he will be a vampire. The kid isn't funny, he's a plot device, and the movie wastes so much time on him, but there are volumes of new material to be made off the expanded universe of monsters, undead and assorted creatures trying to cohabitate with humans. Some of the better jokes involve giving human frailties and idiosyncrasies to Dracula and the other monsters. Of course, the mere fact that Mavis being undead and Jonathan still being immature makes them very unlikely parents, facts that also interfere and deter from the overall humor of the movie. It would have worked so much better if Mavis and Jonathan were still just dating, and Mavis was just still discovering the real world. Still, there's a lot of humor to appeal to children and youths alike. Sandler shines as Dracula again, as does Gomez, David Spade, Kevin James, Keegan-Michael Key (replacing Cee-Lo Green) in their roles, though Steve Buscemi doesn't have nearly the room he originally had to really explode as he did in the first movie. The animation is just as vivacious as the first, and most of the comedy is equal parts wacky and clever, but the plot just doesn't have the emotional impact as the first. Mel Brooks as Drac's dad is dragged in way too late, which is a shame considering the man's legendary talent. Only Brooks could have yanked this movie out from under Sandler and company, but his material is sadly restrained by the character he plays. "Hotel Transylvania 2" is a great follow-up to the first movie, but in this instance, I think there was an obvious missed opportunity to let it excel the original.

Annabelle
(2014)

Chucky has a sister?
I'm a big fan of horror movies, especially those that cater to the paranormal genre, which generally means I cater to haunted houses movies than anything else in the genre. "The Conjuring" was a pretty good movie up until three quarters through so the idea of a film based entirely on the Annabelle doll and avoiding the sudden turn to an annoying possession plot line seemed to have some merits. "Annabelle" fits in very well with the new twisted horror transition that created "Insidious" and "Sinister." It doesn't try to scare you with something, it just scares you. It doesn't waste time with the "Chucky" point of view of something running around at floor level either. The movie is completely revealed in the fears and experiences of Joan and Maria who own Annabelle who seemingly runs through the apartment from the top shelf, somehow returning when she is dispatched and even at times warping reality to cast doubts in the minds of the main characters. Some of the scares are reminiscent of scenes from "The Amityville Horror" and other films, but the acting and direction almost makes up for the fact. Where the movie really succeeds is creating a true paranormal horror character out of "Annabelle" in what has been lately a string of serial killers and undead maniacs since the 1980s. Bottom line, "Annabelle" is a return to the real horror movies of the 30s, 40s and 50s before the field was inundated by blood and gore flicks, and for that, I greatly approve.

House of Dust
(2013)

Basic Horror
Every once in a while Hollywood tries a new variation of the haunted house genre, and every once in a while, it works. This is not one of those times. The movie starts out with a flashback with a doctor doing lobotomies when one of his patients escapes and kills the doctor. The orderlies then take him out, stage a murder scene and burn the evidence in the hospital crematorium. Jump to the present and we get into the real movie; actress Inbar Lavi plays Emma, a new student at Eastern Connecticut State University. Her roommate, Gabby, introduces her to Colt and Dylan and take her to a burning trashcan party in the vacant front property in front of the abandoned Redding Home Asylum. In time, we learn Emma is psychic, although she has been using medicine to drown out the voices for years. When she is drawn into the hospital by the voices of one of patients killed at the start, her friends follow her inside but accidentally knock over a shelf with the forgotten canisters holding the ashes of the three cremated in the prologue. The spirits of the three patients infest the three as a result - Colt becomes psychotic, Dylan develops Intense OCD and Gabby becomes manic depressive. After the local mean girl gets murdered, Emma starts to realize what's happening. It's not very scary; in fact, the plot does get tedious and drags in places, but it is atmospheric and the acting is pretty good. However, it kind of ends on an incomplete note with no police involvement or resolutions. The other big problem I have is that the movie is based loosely on the discovery of actual abandoned human ashes found abandoned at Oregon State Hospital in 2015. Making a horror movie instead of a documentary on this discovery seems quite in bad taste to me. "House of Dust" is a fair horror movie that isn't really that memorable except for this fact. It's worth a look for its creepy moments, but it's not as intense as one would expect a horror movie should be.

This Is the End
(2013)

Raunchy Comedy Wrapped In A Cool Candy Coating Shell
First off, take Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill and Danny McBride, put them in another god-awful CGI-laden disaster flick full of celebrity cameos, such as Emma Watson and Michael Cera, toss in twenty times more than the allowed profanity, sexual references and drug references than should be allowed in any movie out of Hollywood (but then this movie was written by Seth Rogen, whose brain is already wired a little weird) and a mild smattering of religion, and then you get a good idea of what "This Is The End" is all about. Now, as bad as that idea sounds, this movie is actually a lot better than you'd think. James Franco has a party at his new fortress-like house for his celebrity friends while Seth and Jay make a food run and experience a paranormal event as most of humanity is beamed up into the afterlife. Returning to the house, they experience earthquakes as people vanish into the earth. There's some light gore and some dark sadistic dialogue and violence, but the movie moves along so smoothly and rapidly that one quickly gets out of it. Seth and the main cast start speculating that it might be the Apocalypse, probably the most religious stuff in any Seth Rogen (or James Franco or Danny McBride) movie ever. After they plan for what might be a long wait, things take a turn for the worst. McBride reverts to character and immediately eats up all their supplies and is exiled from the house. Emma Watson comes by looking for help but is quickly offended and robs them blind. The in-fighting causes Jonah Hill to make a deal with the devil, and he gets possessed. Franco turns out to be hiding food, and the resulting fight between Rogen's Brat Pack ends up in the destruction of the house. This is not just another one of Rogen's drunk buddy comedies or another offensive drug-laden sex fantasy. There is actually some serious character moments and real comedy in this movie as well as some positive messages in this film, and unlike "Left Behind" with Nicolas Cage, it's not overtly preachy. Despite the stupid premise, it's done straight and logical, something you don't see in Seth Rogen movies, with some honest and decent performances and it ends with an awesome message. Dealing with demons and sin on every side, Rogen, Franco and Baruchel are the only ones left after Robinson gives his life to save them, if but only to run into McBride in ultimate douche-bag mode "Road Warrior" style and a giant Satan stomping all over what's left of Los Angeles, although, if I was writing this movie, I would have brought Emma Watson back fifty-feet tall and completely insane instead in place of the Devil, mostly because that's something I'd want to see.

The Haunting of Hell House
(1999)

From the "Movies With Misleading Names" Department
I've watched this movie five times since I got it on DVD, and I still don't know what it's about. Now, you'd think a horror movie called "The Haunting of Hell House" would center on a haunted house, but this movie doesn't focus on any one person or location like a good haunted house movie would. Based on a story by playwright Henry James, the movie stars actor Andrew Bowen as New England college student James Farrow whose wife, maybe girlfriend, dies due to a botched abortion, and he begins to see her in dreams and hallucinations. He is soon drawn to the empty house they once explored in their youth, but now, it turns out that it belongs to a Professor Ambrose, played by the talented Michael York from the British stage. Farrow pursues York's help to rid himself of the ghost he believes is haunting him and scratching him up, but whether it's in his mind or just his guilt is never explained. Meanwhile, Ambrose is similarly being haunted by the ghost of his dead wife who refuses to let him sell the house. Neither man believes the ghost of the other one exists. Meanwhile, Farrow is being hunted by the police for his dead girlfriend found in his apartment. He escapes to Ambrose for protection, but the old man is dying and can't help him. Farrow flees to the house to ask for forgiveness from his girlfriend's ghost, but discovers Ambrose's ghost isn't real after all. It turns out he's being systemically poisoned by his angry daughter and Farrow drinks the poisoned wine from her for her father to be with his bride. In the end, Farrow dies in jail next to the phony doctor who botched his girlfriend's abortion. Is this a good movie? Uh, no. It's long, it drags on, it's confusing and the name of the movie is misleading. This is not a haunted house movie. This isn't even a horror movie, and trying to make it look like one may be its worse trait. However, it does have some beautiful scenery for what I speculate is supposed to be Turn-of-the-Century New England. Overall, it's not exactly a movie that can live up to the hype of its name.

Frágiles
(2005)

Superb Haunted House Flick
If there's one thing I really believe in, it's that all actors should have at least one or two horror movies in their resume. I loved Nicole Kidman in "The Others," and Christina Ricci in "Cursed," so when I heard Calista Flockhart had starred in a haunted house movie called "Fragile," I had to get this movie. She plays an American nurse studying in London who is called down to help close Mercy Falls Hospital on the Isle of Wight and move the young patients to a new hospital. Her character is played with a back story we never really learn anything about, but then we really don't need to learn anything because once the movie starts moving forward, it runs forward so efficiently that it never once bogs down with exposition. The hospital Calista arrives at is old, outdated and falling apart, much like most stereotypical haunted sites, but she soon learns she is replacing a nurse who was scared so badly that she quit. In the children's ward, she meets a distant young girl named Maggie (Yasmin Murphy) who gradually fills her in on the strange stories of the hospital. Actor Richard Roxburgh goes against playing a psychotic character for once, portraying the night physician, Dr. Richard Carey, one of the hospital staff members sympathetic to the plight of the kids, and slowly delving into the location's past for the identity of the spirit. The kids are terrified by a presence they call Charlotte who is breaking their bones at night to keep them from leaving and is getting more dangerous as things keep progressing. Director Jaume Balaguero does an excellent job setting up the atmosphere and scares slowly at first and building up to a pitch where Calista's character goes from suspicious to curious and gradually terrified as she realizes the children are in danger, rescuing Maggie from the top floor as the hospital seems to crumble around them. It's everything a good haunted house movie should be; thick with atmosphere and light on the special effects with the highlights on the character performances rather than on the ghosts. Unfortunately, there is nothing here to appeal to the gore hounds that prefer blood and violence. "Fragile" is an intense intellectual ghost story with atmosphere, a strong cast and a top-notch plot that moves along briskly, and that is actually the best thing about it.

The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
(1977)

The Return Of The Ghost of the Sequel of Lee Harvey Oswald
In 1977, there were two movies based on historical fiction. One was called "The Lincoln Conspiracy" and revealed how Radical Republicans plotted to kidnap Abraham Lincoln to extend the Civil War and then rushed to cover up their treason after Booth assassinated Lincoln and allegedly got away with it. The problem with the movie is that it had the guts to try and pass itself off as the "true" story despite the overwhelming evidence in the State Archives that says otherwise. In "The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald," the historical fiction unlike Oliver Stone's "JFK" is instead used as a plot device to examine the alleged possible JFK conspiracy and in doing so debunks it rather neatly, exposing Oswald as what we all knew he really was, just an angry lone nut. In this alternate history, Oswald is instead brought to trial in a scenario with actor John Pleshette as the faux Oswald. It has a slow start before finally picking up with the recreation of the assassination and the recreation of the trial as it might have gone had it really happened. Actor Ben Gazzara plays prosecutor Anson Roberts, and Lorne Greene of "Bonanza" fame is defense lawyer Matthew Arnold Watson, but they're actually just guides through the known history of Oswald with recreations of chosen historical events leading up to the assassination. A few incidents are omitted, such as Oswald's street fight with the Cubans and his attempted assassination of General Edwin Walker. The fictional framing does well to paint a much better picture of Oswald that "JFK" ever did, a movie where he barely appears for more than ten minutes in the movie's three hours. "The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald" actually credibly tries the real Oswald without perpetuating the conspiracy theory, instead pushing it off to the sidelines as rumor. Pleshette's Oswald is more than willing to perpetuate it if he thinks it will keep him from going to jail, all the time being the most difficult defendant in history as he schemes to be the next Lizzie Borden and live to see the results of the chaos he creates. Pleshette gives an extraordinary performance more enhanced by Ben Gazzara and Lorne Greene's attempts to get at the truth before history once again takes over. While it's hard to say how much of this film is accurate, it does give a picture of how Oswald would have likely played the system had he lived to see trial and that's where the movie succeeds by how it merges reality and fiction to hopefully find the truth.

Vacation
(2015)

Good Attempt - So-So Result
I'm not a big fan of reboots and remakes. It's such a hit and miss process; sometimes it works, most of the time it doesn't. I think it's too early to call "Vacation" a total bomb because while it fails on some levels, such as almost replicating the plot of the first movie, it does have some very funny moments. Ed Helms plays the fifth or sixth actor to bring Rusty Griswold to life. Not quite as delusional as his father, he is sort of a lovable doofus as he plans a road trip to re-bond with his family at Wally World before it closes for the last time. At least, that was the premise in the original movie draft before the movie came together. His wife is played by Christina Applegate of "Married With Children" fame, who does not look good in HD. Sadly, she's become a thin white shadow of Kelly Bundy. Their two boys are one of the best things in the movie. The older boy is a sensitive intellectual, and the younger one is a sadistic little brat trying to murder, kill or maim his older brother… or at least embarrass him publicly. Another funny part of the movie is the Albanian monstrosity that Ed rents to drive to Wally World. It's a huge ugly blue beast called a 2015 Tartan Prancer covered in numerous headlights, side mirrors and a power cord to an outlet that doesn't exist. It is also controlled by a on-board computer covered in symbols no one can figure out; a hilarious parody to all those endless new car computer enhancements which no one wants or needs in modern cars. Unfortunately, for every funny joke that works, there are a few that fall flat. For example, the movie has some weird penis fetish. The younger brother writes on his brother's guitar, "I have no penis." A giant penis is drawn on the car after its vandalized that Helms and Applegate try rubbing off, and when they visit Audrey in Texas, they're also introduced to her husband, played by Chris Hemsworth of "Thor," and his little friend from the previews. Another stop along the way is to Applegate's old sorority in Memphis where she tries to once again to channel her inner Kelly Bundy. What is supposed to be the funniest vomit joke ever is actually disgusting, offensive, disturbing and three minutes too long. The visit with Audrey is not as up to par as the visit with Cousin Eddie or the "anything that can go wrong, will go wrong" mentality in the original; it's basically a moment for Helms as Rusty to realize things are not happy at home as he thought before setting up for another tasteless joke concerning a cow being blown up by an ATV. Yes, it happens… Along the way, Ed has also his turn embarrassing his son in front of a girl, and in a return to the Grand Canyon, they meet up with a deranged Grand Canyon guide, but it's still not a sequel unless they steal one more scene from the original, namely getting lost in the desert after a mystery button to the car actually blows it to smithereens. Rescued by a phantom trucker that's been intimidating them through the movie, they finally reach San Francisco for the second to last references to the first movie, namely the cameos which every has been waiting for by Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo. There's not a lot of heart to these scenes as much as one would think as much as it's getting the movie back on track by revealing the old Roadster once more which as you recall was destroyed in the first movie. I guess Clark loved it so much he bought a new one, but there's still one more joke along the way, namely the realization that all theme parks are badly staffed, their employees under trained and regular customers are often screwed over by pretentious jerks with gift cards even God can't afford. While the first movie reminded you of how horrible the car trip was, this movie certainly reminds you of the ugly truth of theme parks with endless lines and surly employees. Overall, it's not a bad movie, but it's not a great movie. This is one of those movies I think the critics will hate but will still end up with its own loyal cult base of fans anyway. It doesn't have those memorable lines like "Getting there is half the fun. You know that." or "Real tomato ketchup, Eddie?" or "Uh, we like to send out a mailer." Uncle Stone's offensive little friend is no replacement for the metal plate in Cousin Eddie's head, but the frustration with the computer in the car is one of those nice little modern updates that make the movie worth enjoying and that in my book makes the movie worth it. It's dirtier, raunchier and more offensive when it doesn't have to be (Hard to believe parts of this movie was written by the guy who played Sweets on "Bones."), but at least it moves along at a quick pace without getting stranded on those less than stellar moments.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
(2014)

How Not To Make a Comic Book Movie -
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I'm a bigger fan of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies than the Andrew Garfield version. My excuse is and has always been that Sam Raimi was such a fan of the Spider-Man movies that he knew how to do it right. On the other hand, the Andrew Garfield version was more about the Ultimate Universe version than the real Spider-Man, and there was the difference. There are elements in both movies that work very well, and elements in both movies that don't. Tobey's version was more like basic Spidey; Garfield's was more like the updated version. They were two different versions, and despite the fact Raimi did a better job, Emma Stone still kicks Kristen Dunst as far as sex appeal. On the other hand, Garfield's sense of vengeance over the murder of his uncle is a poor substitute for "With great power comes great responsibility." Amazing Spider-Man 2, however, seems to get worse than its original with even more plot lines to fall over and crash into each other. I couldn't keep up with everything that was going on, and quite frankly, there was nothing about them to make me interested. The villains are kind of lame and shallow. Electro terrorizes the city for no reason but to be noticed. The weird part is that when he gets arrested they terrorize him by electrocuting him. This makes as much sense as punishing an Ewok with a bath and flea dip. However, Paul Giamatti as the Rhino does nothing but yell and threaten kids. When he shows up in a giant ridiculous robot Rhino tank, it looks as if he's auditioning for the next "Transformers" movie. Harry Osborn's motivation makes a little sense, but as the Green Goblin, all he is an amped-up school bully on crack. At least Sandman, Doctor Octopus and Venom had clear goals that went far beyond just killing Spider-Man. I mean, in Spider-Man 3, the villain that had the least to do was Sandman, but at least, he had some really cool bank robbery scenes. Even Venom had a little worth doing as an alien-possessed psychopath. Another thing that annoys me about the movie is that it feels as if it runs just way too long with moments that feel like its ending but then it drags its way to yet scene that once again runs toward an ending before starting again. The only good parts of the movie I like are Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone's chemistry. The web-slinging scenes are okay, but they're all but stolen from Sam Raimi's work. At times, the whole movie feels like two movies loosely interconnected with enjoyable scenes, such as the Peter-Gwen relationship broken up by the interims with what feels like the DC Universe version of Spider-Man. The movie is bothered immensely by the fact that it's trying to create all these lead-ins to an expanded Spider-Man Universe that unfortunately has no part in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and thank God for that since Sam Raimi's version fits in a lot better with those films).

Nothing But Trouble
(1991)

Nothing but Dan Aykroyd -
Have you ever watched a movie that seemed great at the time, but by the eighth or twelfth viewing, it starts looking worse than you thought it was? I love Dan Aykroyd. He was and still is one of my top ten favorite talents to emerge from "Saturday Night Live." However, as far as being able to write, produce, direct and star in a film, he might have bit off more than he could handle. I saw a portion of this movie for the first time around 1995; it was the scene where Chevy Chase is tried before the judge, found guilty on trumped-up charges and sent through the roller coaster from hell to his death. That was it for me. I never knew what happened next for several years. What happened before that? Where did it go from there? I had to know. Some years passed, and I found the movie at the local library. (Yes, libraries actually rent movies, and they do it for free.) It turns out what I missed was Chevy Chase as a successful stock broker meeting Demi Moore, a really hot lawyer, and that's basically where things spring board. It starts out dull and boring and leaves you waiting to get into the plot. Chevy wants to take Demi out for a long drive down the coast to be alone, but in walks the late Taylor Negron from "Fast Times At Ridgemont High" and his girlfriend to horn in on the trip and pretty much get on everyone's last nerve, including the audience. They don't even have a purpose in this movie and are quickly shuffled out twenty minutes later after serving their purpose. After pressuring Chevy to break the law and get them all arrested, they all get dragged up before Dan Aykroyd in very heavy (and I do mean VERY HEAVY) prosthetics in a courthouse in the middle of several acres of junkyard surrounded by a moat. While this fat-suit gimmick worked out great for Eddie Murphy in "The Nutty Professor," Aykroyd uses it to become as gross, obnoxious and unappealing as possible. It's just not funny or really integral to the plot. The house and junkyard with its various "Addams Family" hidden room aspects are more intriguing, but we never see much of it. John Candy plays the judge's nephew, the only normal person in the judge's family, but Candy also gets stuck playing double-duty as his overweight and homely sister in a role that is both disturbing and uncomfortable for Candy. It's supposedly played for laughs, but it's not funny. The rest of the movie is pretty much about Chevy and Demi trying to escape with Chevy getting trapped into a marriage with the homely fat niece and sent through the aforementioned roller coaster to his death. Luckily, it conks out before truly chewing him up. Unfortunately, he's basically sleepwalking through the scenes and phoning in his dialogue without the energy or personality of Clark Griswold. Demi Moore tries playing her role straight, but it is not hard to see she's completely confused and dismayed by the script that isn't very funny and is actually frequently disturbing. It's basically "Deliverance" as a live-action horror cartoon, and it's not really helped by a disconnected musical interlude by a group I'm told calls itself Digital Underground. I'm never heard of them either, but they're the only good thing in this movie even if it gets disturbing to watch two young beautiful ladies rub up against Aykroyd in his fat latex old man costume. If this movie is what we can expect from the unbridled imagination that is Dan Aykroyd, all I can say is Thank-God for Harold Ramis for keeping him restrained enough to create "Ghostbusters."

The Conjuring
(2013)

Almost Decent Haunted House Movies Turns Stupid
Hollywood has a strange notion of what a scary movie is. What they think is "scary" is actually "surprised." You can get over being surprised, but if you're really absolutely positively scared, you will still feel that cold shiver you got three to four years later while remembering what scared you, but then that's just me. I've read so much about real ghosts that the fake stuff in the movies doesn't chill me at all. Even modern horror movies don't know what it takes to really scare people. Compare a weak installment like "Occulus" to movies like "The Amityville Horror" or "The Others," movies you likely watched between your fingers, and you realize it's what you think you're going to see that is going to scare you. It's because older horror movies knew how to exploit what scared you. Today, movies like "The Conjuring," "Insidious" and "Sinister" try to follow in that vein with the addition of adding disturbing imagery within chilling shadowy settings. What we have with "The Conjuring" is a file from Ed and Lorraine Warren. It is "based" on a true story, but since it has been embellished, exaggerated and had fake incidents added, the movie is about as fictional as the books claiming John Wilkes Booth escaped. It tells the story of the Perron family and the hauntings they experienced on their Rhode Island farm. The opening activity consists of poltergeist activity and odd sounds, it's charming and quaint, adding atmosphere to a story that should be building in intensity but instead goes Hollywood with the arrival of Ed and Lorraine Warren, self-proclaimed demonologists who Hans Holzer called "religious zealots posing as paranormal researchers." I'm not sure what really happened at the Perron Farm, but anything concerning the Warrens always go from a straight haunted house movie to a bad rip-off of "The Exorcist." Is the movie scary? Yes. Is it a good plot? Hell, no. What the movie does have is a good cast, some decent special effects and several good scares, but it's only the first half of the movie is really watching before it descends into malarkey about demons and ends with a very unnecessary possession/exorcism scene which doesn't add or further the plot except to add some disturbing scenes to a movie that was already only partially scary to begin with. If anything, "The Conjuring" runs like two different movies badly edited together – the first half a pretty decent haunted house move, the last half a really disturbing and sometimes really loud exorcism flick. Be warned and only watch the first half of this movie and switch it off when the Warrens meet the Perrons because by then, it's just not worth watching from that point.

Crazy Eights
(2006)

How Not to Make a Haunted House Movie
Every once in a while a horror movie comes along with an interesting new spin or a brand new premise. The idea is to create something new rather than a rehash of any of the top ten to twelve horror movie archetypes out there. "Crazy Eights" has a good idea, but it doesn't really go anywhere with it. Part of the problem is the glaring holes in the plot and the confusing script. The movie starts out like "Without A Paddle" as six friends meet at the funeral of a classmate and are drawn into a scavenger hunt they takes them into a remake of "House On Haunted Hill." After a variety of strange encounters in their lives, the six are drawn to a barn where they left a time capsule as kids and find a skeleton in the trunk, which may or may not be linked to their pasts. They struggle too briefly with doing the right thing and way too quickly try to shrug it off if but to get very quickly lost on the local dirt roads and end up at an old deserted hospital in the ghost town of Entonsburg within an unidentified Southern state. This is where things start getting confusing. Instead of making efforts to get on their way, they explore the hospital and start getting picked off by an unseen killer in a dress. Thankfully, the gore is done off-camera with the disturbing images revealed only in brief flickering images. It's difficult to feel sympathetic to the characters unless you're a fan of the actors. The cast includes George Newbern, Traci Lords, Gabrielle Anwar and a number of actors with whom I'm unfamiliar. The movie never at any moment makes an effort to clear up or resolve any questions, instead pushing forward and killing off its cast like, as Jeff Goldblum once put it, the "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride coming to life and killing the tourists. In fact, the movie can't choose if it's a haunted house movie or a slasher/gore movie. Somewhere in this detritus of scenes and images, the movie establishes the six friends once lived in the old hospital with their deceased friend and one other girl ("The Crazy Eight") where they were victims of psychological experiments, but they escaped after hiding the young girl and promising to return. (Remind you of "I Know What You Did Last Summer?") This suggests their dead friend is the one getting revenge for forgetting about her in the trunk all those years ago, but at no point does anyone realize, "Hey, this the old hospital where we were abandoned by our parents to be terrorized by those evil doctors?" How could they possibly block something like that out, and why does the girl's ghost look adult and zombified? Why do they stay in the building when all they were doing was trying to get directions? Why does the ghost kill them at all when she could just scare the crap out of them over and over and over? Like I said, the movie can't decide what it is. It's a promising premise that gets convoluted and confusing without being scary or even making sense, and in my world, that's just a crying waste of what could have been a decent haunted house movie.

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