Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Scariest Movies Ever: Top 10

This is by no means a complete list of what I find to be the scariest movies ever made, but rather one of those realizations on Halloween that I should write such a thing as I'm peeling a chocolate eyeball. It is, after all, Halloween.

An American Werewolf in London: I originally went to see this movie because (1) I heard the Rick Baker effects of changing David Naughton into a werewolf were eye-popping, and (2) David Naughton was really cute in those Dr. Pepper commercials. Cuteness doesn't prepare you for some of the most shocking scenes I've ever witnessed in a werewolf story. Naughton and British actress Jenny Agutter were charming and vulnerable, and David's sidekick, Griffin Dunne, was downright funny and at the same time haunting and menacing. I'm such a fan that I bought the blu-ray version, recently issued.

Alien. I read as much as I could about Alien before I saw it, including the novelization of the film. Still, that didn't prepare me for the claustrophobic feeling of having nowhere to go as the alien hunted down the Nostromo crew men and women, one by one. And the part where the little bugger leaps from the stomach of John Hunt? Iconic horror.

The Mummy. We're talking the original 1932 version, not that horrible franchise in the late 1990's. This Mummy starred Boris Karloff as Im-ho-tep. He never looked so ghastly, except for...

Frankenstein. Boris Karloff, don't forget, was The Monster, not Frankenstein, who was played by Colin Clive, the creator of "let my creature live!" And always remember that the story was written by a woman on a dare.

Halloween. John Carpenter hasn't hit one out of the park since he made Halloween, which made a star of Jamie Lee Curtis. What you have to like about his style was that he didn't show you everything at once, but showed us bit by bit pieces of the horror that awaited many of the young people in town. Halloween is a masterpiece of filmmaking that later slasher/horror films would do well to emulate.

Carrie.I thought I had it together, I really did, until that final scene, when I rose out of my seat, levitating, and grabbed the guy next to me. He was very surprised, as we didn't know each other. This one made a star of Sissy Spacek as well as her screen mother, Piper Laurie.

Psycho. Psycho, one of Hitchcock's "lesser" films, is a charter member of the scary top 10. Anthony Perkins' neurotic mama's boy surprised us in every scene. And Janet Leigh, supposedly the star of the film, was killed off very early -- early, yes, but in spectacular fashion. Many of us had a hard time taking a shower after that...

The Silence of the Lambs. The introduction of Dr. Hannibal Lecter would prove to be earth-shaking to us horror fans. He was a sociopath with a specific code for killing and a sort of seductive depravity. Jodie Foster's FBI trainee Clarice Starling was as helpless as a lamb in his cold presence.

The Shining. Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of a Stephen King novel about a family's plunge into insanity during a secluded winter. The idea that such horror can exist in a fixed location, an old hotel, seemed to be new and inspired.

The Exorcist. The Exorcist was so disturbing, building and building on expectation, that it seems profane with its anti-religious imagery. Imagine putting Satan into the body of a 12-year-old. But it doesn't stop there. Truly viscerally harrowing. And I could never look at the color green in the same way again.

17 Again

17 Again is another of those teen-switcheroo comedies, where the person goes back to high school and relives those moments so that they can get it RIGHT. We all want to do that, right?

Uh, no. There is no way you're gonna drag me back to that living hell. Buffy the Vampire Slayer got it correctamundo when the TV show claimed that hell was right beneath your high school, brimming with creatures with whom one would never want to be associated. And if anyone ever expresses that wish, it usually has to do with the BIG PLAY, something in sports that failed to happen.

And so it is here in 17 Again. The Zac Efron 17-year-old gives up a sure basketball scholarship and refuses to play in the big game when he discovers his girlfriend is pregnant. We flash-forward 20 years and discover that his grown-up self, played by Friends guy Matthew Perry, resents his wife for ruining his life. He is self-destructing steadily, and his wife (played by Leslie Mann) recognizes this and begins divorce proceedings. His kids, a girl and a boy, both in their own hell at high school, don't even care.

But something different happens in this movie. First of all, Efron's character is not catapulted back into the 1980's: he's 17 again in modern day, and high school mates with his own children. Efron's "Mark" discovers that it isn't about getting back on the basketball team and making the big play, it's about helping his kids get past their problems and self-esteem issues. And so he focuses on them. He knows they have problems when he finds his son taped to the urinal and his daughter snogging the high school bully in the cafeteria.

Zac Efron, we all know, is gorgeous to watch and charming in the right role, and this is that role. But he's not terribly funny. We can admire how he "becomes" Matthew Perry at a younger age, and he does mimic those mannerisms well, but he doesn't milk every situation for its humor. When Mark stands up in a classroom and tells his teen peers that they should all just wait for marriage, it's not funny at all and we cringe. However, he has such a great supporting cast that he doesn't need to do anything but look earnest. The guy who plays his best friend in high school and then masquerades as his father, actor Thomas Lennon, is just hilarious as the millionaire geek who tries to help his friend but falls for the school principal. His antics are worth spending the $10. And Mann as Perry's wife is very deft at comedy. The kids, too, played by Michelle Trachtenberg and Sterling Knight, are great at (1) looking their age, and (2) being charming enough so that when they do something stupid, we're irritated at them for not living up to their potential.

It's not your Peggy Sue Got Married, and certainly not your Freaky Friday. It's a warm take on the old wish. Thumb's up.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen

I've seen Transformers I, and now I've seen Transformers 2. And I still can't tell the difference between Bumblebee and Megan Fox. After all, they both have kind of a robotic acting style. And I sure can't tell the difference between the good robots and the bad robots. The bad robots tend to have a nasally voice, and they seem smarter than the good ones. But those are the only differences.

So it was with some trepidation that I approached the sequel to the almost billion-dollar franchise, Transformers. But I found that the writers and producers figured out what went wrong with number 1 and gave us what we wanted: more transformers.

So be prepared for CG in every scene. It must've been a real challenge for the actors. But the payoff is that you get transformers all the time. Good ones, bad ones, stupid ones, silly ones, rap-talking ones, well, they had to really dig deep into the transformers bucket to produce dozens of new and old robots who can turn themselves into lawnmowers.

Actually, I have never gotten over the fact that some little VW bug-sized car can transform into a really gigantic, walkin', talkin' robot. Isn't this against the principles of matter and energy? Oops, almost went the logic route, which is a no-no when you're watching such films. Leave the brain at home, and for God's sake, DON"T look for a plot!

The plot, loosely, is that some slivers of the old transformers were left behind and our young hero, played by Shia LaBeouf, is trying to stop it from evolving into something that can destroy the earth. There are lots of twists and turns along the way.

I enjoyed the film, as its effects are amazing and LaBeouf is very good at what he does, which is to allow us to wonder what a normal kid would do in such a fantastical circumstance. There are just too many battle scenes to keep everyone and everything straight, but I imagine that in most people's views, this is a positive.

This ain't Shakespeare, but it is entertaining chaos. Thumb's up.