Film Review: Serial Mom (1994)

Release Date: April 13th, 1994
Directed by: John Waters
Written by: John Waters
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Kathleen Turner, Sam Waterson, Ricki Lake, Matthew Lillard, Mink Stole, Mary Jo Catlett, Justin Whalin, Traci Lords, Suzanne Somers, Joan Rivers (cameo), L7, John Waters (voice)

Polar Entertainment Corporation, Savoy Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“If ever there was a time to go on record against the death penalty, wasn’t it that night? Capital punishment is already the law in the state of Maryland. So what are we waiting for, fellow Christians? Let’s just do it.” – Father Boyce

It’s been years since I’ve seen this but man, it was really refreshing seeing it again for probably the first time since it came out on video back in the mid-’90s.

I forgot how fantastic this movie was. But then it’s a John Waters film and his style of humor mostly works for me. And his ’80s and ’90s movies were a bit more palatable for mainstream audiences.

While Kathleen Turner is a damn fine actress, I don’t think she ever had a better time than she did making this movie. I mean, she looks like she is having a blast in every single scene. She commits to the bit wholeheartedly and gave us a stupendous and iconic performance in this film.

Granted, this wasn’t a big hit and is sort of a cult movie but that also kind of makes this cooler, as not a lot of people know about it and the few I brought it up to don’t even remember its existence. Although, I’m not sure how this went down the memory hole, as it’s an entertaining romp full of cold blooded murder and a solid critique on the celebrity status of serial killers in American culture.

It also peers beyond the facade of mainstream Americana. While this was a pretty common trope in the movies of the time, when it works, it works and Waters has a certain panache that others can’t match or attempt to replicate.

I love that this takes place in the ’90s but has a strong ’50s sitcom feel to it. But Waters was a master of channeling nostalgia from that era.

While Turner is the absolute centerpiece of this film and owns every scene, the rest of the cast is outstanding as well. Especially her family, played by Sam Waterson, Ricki Lake and Matthew Lillard.

My only complaint about the film is that sometimes characters’ motivations are confusing. Like how Turner’s family supports her and wants her to get off from the six murders she’s being tried for but then are immediately fearful when she gets away with it and is coming home.

Also, the ending was just sort of okay and predictable.

Additionally, the first two-thirds of the movie are perfection. But things slow to a crawl and become less interesting once the trial starts.

Still, this was a motion picture that I was really happy to revisit. And ultimately, it made me realize that I need to go back and work my way through John Waters filmography again.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: pretty much anything by John Waters.

Film Review: Ghoulies 3: Ghoulies Go to College (1991)

Also known as: Ghoulies Go to College (video title), Ghoulies III (France)
Release Date: August 19th, 1991 (Germany)
Directed by: John Carl Buechler
Written by: Brent Olson
Based on: characters by Luca Bercovici, Jefery Levy
Music by: Michael Lloyd, Reg Powell
Cast: Evan MacKenzie, Kevin McCarthy, Eva LaRue, John R. Johnston, Patrick Labyorteaux, Billy Morrissette, Hope Marie Carlton, Jason Scott Lee, Matthew Lillard, Marcia Wallace, Dan Shor, Kane Hodder (uncredited), Richard Kind (voice)

Lightning Pictures, Taurus Entertainment Company, Vestron Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

The Ghoulies movies only work for a certain type of film aficionado. I know that these are bad movies but for fans of horror, comedy, practical effects and the right kind of ’80s and ’90s cheese, these movies just seem to hit all the right notes.

I haven’t seen this chapter in the franchise since it came out on video in 1991. It sort of disappeared and was out of print for a really long time. I believe you can get it on DVD now but I checked it out on Amazon Video.

I was surprised to discover that I actually liked this one better than the original. However, it’s a tad bit lower on the scale than Ghoulies II, which stands as my favorite in the series. But what’s most amazing is that over the first three films, this series pretty much maintained its status quo quite well.

This came out when there were a slew of college comedies. Maybe it was at the end of that era, which peaked in the ’80s, but it fits nice and snugly in the college sex comedy subgenre.

The Ghoulies themselves are larger in this movie but not as big as whatever the hell those troll things were in the fourth film. They also talk in this one. Strangely, Richard Kind provided the voice for one of these creatures.

Another neat addition to the series is that they actually make the toilet matter in this one. Some people incorrectly remember the Ghoulies as little monsters that come up through the toilet because of the imagery used in the previous movies’ posters and because there was one toilet scene in each of those films. This is the first movie where the toilet is more central to the plot, as it’s their portal into our world.

Apart from Richard Kind, who I mentioned earlier, this also has some other notable actors. It is the first film appearance of Matthew Lillard and also features another well-knwon ’90s actor, Jason Scott Lee. Marcia Wallace, most known for sitcom and comedy work and for providing the voice of Edna Krabappel on The Simpsons, appears in this as well. It’s also worth mentioning that Kane Hodder appears too, although he is uncredited and used for the stunt where the janitor is riding in the mop bucket.

This is a really enjoyable, mindless horror film. The jokes and the absurdity work. The terrible and hokey soundtrack is perfect in its own way. Frankly, I can’t say anything bad about this really, without having to peer intently through a more academic lens. But this isn’t a movie that deserves the same kind of examination as a Kubrick or Fellini film. Just enjoy it for what it is and what it is, is a fuck ton of fun.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: The other three Ghoulies films, the Munchies films, Hobgoblins and Sorority Babes In the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama.

TV Review: Halt And Catch Fire (2014-2017)

Original Run: June 1st, 2014 – current
Created by: Christopher Cantwell, Christopher C. Rogers
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Paul Haslinger, Trentemøller
Cast: Lee Pace, Scoot McNairy, Mackenzie Davis, Kerry Bishé, Toby Huss, Aleksa Palladino, Annette O’Toole, Graham Beckell, James Cromwell, Annabeth Gish, Matthew Lillard, Anna Chlumsky

AMC, Lockjaw Productions, Gran Via Productions, 30 Episodes (so far), 42 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2015.

AMC’s Halt And Catch Fire is one hell of a show. In fact, while people are mourning over the loss of Mad Men, this show can easily fill that void and is, in some way, AMC’s spiritual successor to that great long running show. I also think AMC knows that, as despite having abysmal ratings its first season, Halt And Catch Fire was renewed to many people’s surprise.

In the beginning of their runs Mad Men and Breaking Bad weren’t ratings hits but AMC stuck with them and both shows took off to become two of the biggest shows of their generation. Halt And Catch Fire could and deserves to follow suit.

The show follows a cutthroat business man in the early 1980’s computer industry and his quest to imprint his mark on the world. He is backed by his savvy, his ruthless approach and his burning desire to usurp the evil IBM. Employing a dream team of geniuses who have either failed at greatness or who are misfits, the journey from creation to completion in the first season is pretty remarkable.

Now having just started its second season, the show has already proven that it isn’t going to just stick to one formula, as it has veered off into unseen directions due to how the first season concluded. There really is no way to know where this show is going to go, how it is going to explore this interesting industry during its most interesting time and how this will all eventually wrap up, assuming it makes a lengthy run. I hope it does.

The acting is superb, once the ball gets rolling, and the casting just seems perfect. The actors are more than comfortable in their shoes and each character plays off of one another brilliantly. There is a natural dynamic between all of the characters on this show and the scenes just flow organically.

Like Mad Men before it, this show captures the essence of the time with great music selections, whether they are songs from that specific era or more modern tunes that assist in bringing the world of Halt And Catch Fire alive. This show has a distinct vibe and the music plays a big part in that, as does the attention to detail whether it be the culture of the time, the look of the era and the knowledge of the writers in regards to such complex subject matter.

Sure, the biggest tech head could find issue with things in this show but then again, a 1960’s advertising executive probably found discrepancies with Mad Men. Hell, as realistic as Breaking Bad felt, the chemistry wasn’t always on point. This is television and the narrative is the point, as is bringing the viewer into a believable world. Halt And Catch Fire succeeds in that and then some.

There aren’t a lot of shows that I am really enthused about. Halt And Catch Fire is one of those shows, however.

Film Review: The ‘Scream’ Film Series (1996-2011)

*written in 2015.

I was a senior in high school when the first Scream came out. It was huge, especially due to kids my age. Well, mostly kids who were never really into horror or girls who were too terrified to watch something actually scary. This isn’t me taking shots at the film, it is just the reality of it.

Scream changed the horror genre forever. The problem, is that it essentially ruined it. I’ll explain more as I go on but let me get to my thoughts on each film.

Scream (1996):

Release Date: December 18th, 1996 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Kevin Williamson
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Skeet Ulrich, Drew Barrymore

Woods Entertainment, Dimension Films, 111 Minutes

Review:

“What’s your favorite scary movie?” – Ghostface

I didn’t like this film the first time I saw it when it came out. I thought it was cheesy, not scary and full of too many recognizable stars. Although, everyone else in the theater seemed to be terrified when Drew Barrymore got murdered in the beginning. But then, the audience for Scream is not the real horror fan audience. At least not by 70s, 80s and 90s standards.

The problem with having recognizable stars in horror, as well as a decent budget, is that it feels less real and authentic. It is similar to the use of bad CGI for blood splatter and monster effects in horror now. It separates you from the film by constantly reminding you that you are watching a production. I’m going to feel more for some girl I’ve never seen before, who I have only witnessed going through the horror on screen, than I will some girl that was whiny and moody on Party of Five for several years before this movie came out. Or a cast member of Friends who I would’ve loved to see killed off, yet somehow she survived to be in all four films.

Ghostface, the slasher in these films, is not scary. Maybe he was to the teen audience of 1996 but being a teen at that time, I thought he was shit. The mask is goofy, the cloak looks like it was stolen from the Spencer’s Halloween display and the wavy knife looked like something gimmicky that came with a 80s G.I. Joe toy.

The film was too polished, and just looked too Hollywood. Craven, before this, had been known for his grittiness.

The slasher genre and horror, in general, were pretty much ruined when the characters started discussing the rules of slasher films. The film parodied the genre it was in and put on blast the unspoken rules of horror. Maybe perceived as smart and cool at the time, and maybe it was just Craven’s way of saying “fuck you” to his competition, this approach killed horror going forward. Yes, Wes Craven, a guy who modernized horror in the 70s and 80s, killed it in the 90s.

Due to its success, Scream went on to kill horror even further. It was mimicked by every studio, horror was now free of sex, gore was minimal, it became PG-13 to pull in more teens, known stars were cast, budgets swelled and the rest is history.

Today, I don’t hate Scream. Even with how it altered everything, it is better than the modern horror films we’re stuck with. While Scream was the start of something bad, year after year, that bad has gotten worse. And that wasn’t Craven’s intention. I think he was really just focused on an idea and a concept. That concept ended up bringing an end to his own career, other than pumping out Scream sequels that got worse as time went on.

Scream 2 (1997):

Release Date: December 10th, 1997 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Kevin Williamson
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jamie Kennedy, Laurie Metcalf, Jerry O’Connell, Jada Pinkett, Liev Schreiber, Rebecca Gayheart, David Warner, Omar Epps, Portia de Rossi, Luke Wilson, Heather Graham, Tori Spelling, Joshua Jackson

Konrad Pictures, Craven-Maddalena Films, Dimension Films, 120 Minutes

Review:

Scream 2 was a step down from the original but I like that Liev Schreiber got to be a bigger character. I was also glad they killed off Jamie Kennedy. And Aunt Jackie from Roseanne is in it.

The problem with Scream 2, which is made more than obvious in the opening scene, is that it feels like it has to compensate for its lack of black actors in the first film. In fact, the first film really featured no black actors and was thus, accused of being another “whitewashed” slasher picture.

Some people have criticized Jada Pinkett’s monologue about race in slasher films but I enjoyed it. She wasn’t wrong. And at least Craven put it in there to address some of these issues that were brought up after the success of the original film. Although, it did feel like overcompensation.

The film isn’t as good as the first. The reveal of who the killer is this time, is pretty underwhelming. The formula ran it’s course in the first movie and we were stuck with a picture where we were treading the same water without any new scenery. The ending brings with it a twist but it is more of a head-scratcher than a shocking reveal. It also starts the trend of building up a bigger backstory that isn’t necessary.

Neve Campbell’s mom was a slut and her sluttiness is a key factor into why her daughter and her friends have to suffer. And in the third film, her legacy of sluttiness goes back even further.

Scream 3 (2000):

Release Date: February 3rd, 2000 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Ehren Kruger
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Patrick Dempsey, Scott Foley, Lance Henriksen, Matt Keeslar, Jenny McCarthy, Emily Mortimer, Parker Posey, Deon Richmond, Patrick Warburton

Konrad Pictures, Craven-Maddalena Films, Dimension Films, 117 Minutes

Review:

The third film ended the trilogy. Well, it was supposed to be a trilogy, where the fourth film years later, was to be the start of a second trilogy. The second trilogy never happened, so we ended up with a single quadrilogy. But, at the time, this was treated as the third and final act.

This was also, by far, the worst movie in the series. It takes the parodying itself shtick to the max. It takes place mostly on a Hollywood set where it gives you a movie within the movie, which is a tactic that is more annoying than clever.

Scream 3 adds the awful Jenny McCarthy to the cast, the typically cool Patrick Dempsey and the indy sweetheart Parker Posey. I almost feel bad seeing Posey plying her trade in this shit picture.

The killer reveal is stupid. It fleshes out the backstory more than anyone needs in a slasher film and the bad guy’s motivations are recycled horror trope schlock. There is nothing imaginative or original about any of this.

This film also loses sight of its whole purpose. In trying to be a clever series in constantly referring to the rules of horror, this one breaks its own rules – or it just doesn’t truly understand them. Especially in regards to what they say about the final film in trilogies, Scream 3 proves that these films have no balls. This is obvious when characters establish that “all bets are off” and “no one is safe”, yet for the third consecutive film, every major character survives. Additionally, the horror gore factor it tries to sell in the film is minimal, the sex factor in horror that this film constantly makes reference to, is nonexistent and everyone who understands the rules, continues to make the same dumb mistakes.

And the sole black character is reduced to a caricature but at least they didn’t “whitewash” this one after meeting their quota in part two.

Scream 4 (2011):

Release Date: April 11th, 2011 (TCL Chinese Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Kevin Williamson
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Anthony Anderson, Alison Brie, Adam Brody, Rory Culkin, Marielle Jaffe, Erik Knudsen, Mary McDonnell, Marley Shelton, Nico Tortorella, Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell

Corvus Corax Productions, Outerbanks Entertainment, The Weinstein Company, Dimension Films, 103 Minutes

Review:

Oh, there’s Emma Roberts! Why’s she in every thing horror-esque, lately? I don’t dislike her but I’m getting tired of seeing her play the same roles again and again. She’s actually okay and I’m certainly not as sick of her as I am of her Aunt Julia.

Anyway, here we go, years later. The main cast is still alive. Surprise, they live through the end because again, the Scream franchise has no balls.

There’s a bunch of false curveball beginnings to the film, all movies within the movie, which has gotten tiresome with the Scream series. I mean, fuck, has Wes Craven completely run out of ideas? Hire new writers, bro.

This film tries to establish the “new” rules of horror, as it takes place a decade after the previous film. Except, everyone knows that the new rules post-Scream are horrible and the genre has gotten awful.

The killers are predictable. More so than previous films, actually. The two killer formula has been used to death in this series and was only somewhat effective the first time around.

Also, from what I remember, no black people in this one. But there is the reference to gay people surviving horror movies and then a bad in-movie joke where a character being stabbed to death, claims he’s gay in hopes of getting a free pass. I’m not standing on a politically correct soapbox here but Craven isn’t doing himself any favors trying to branch out beyond his audience of straight white teens. I get the attempt at humor but it was juvenile and not that funny.

I’m getting tired of talking about these movies now.

In the end, this film sucks. Although it doesn’t suck as bad as Scream 3.

Film Review: Hackers (1995)

Release Date: September 15th, 1995
Directed by: Iain Softley
Written by: Rafael Moreu
Music by: Simon Boswell
Cast: Jonny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie, Fisher Stevens, Lorraine Bracco, Matthew Lillard, Penn Jillette, Wendell Pierce, Felicity Huffman

United Artists, 107 Minutes

hackersReview:

When I first saw Hackers in 1995, I thought it was enjoyable. I also thought it was really ridiculous in several ways.

At the time, I saw it as incredibly implausible and way too stylized and cartoony. Having now watched it for the first time in two decades, I enjoyed it more than I did when it first came out.

To start, I’m not sure if this film was meant to be taken seriously or if the director intended it to be some sort of fantasy world parody of the technological and cultural changes of the times. Seeing it now, I view it as similar to Walter Hill’s The Warriors. It deals with some real shit but ultimately it is presented in a sort of fantastical world different from the reality we live in – highly stylized with an abundance of visual embellishments. It also embraces all the things that were pretty annoying about mid-90s Gen X culture, which twenty years later, makes me feel like I’m trapped in a time capsule full of things I hated at the time. Having had two decades worth of distance, I’m more amused than annoyed now.

The film stars Angelina Jolie’s worst haircut, Matthew Lillard’s worst haircut, roller blades and some kid that Jolie married for a few years and then dumped. It also has Wendell Pierce as a special agent; I love him in everything he does. Then there is the villain, known as “The Plague”, who is a ridiculous prick and more annoying than cool. Also, Lorraine Bracco plays a villain character and she’s just as horrible as ever.

I did like the music for the time and it still plays great in the film. It fits the insane style of the movie and helps enhance its bizarre tone.

I’m glad I rewatched this though, after all these years and no fond memories of it. It is a very dated film nowadays but that also adds to its modern appeal, at least for me. And being that I saw this as a completely different film than I did when I was 16 years-old, makes me want to go back and watch some other films from that era that I haven’t seen in awhile.

This film is unique and that alone makes it worth a watch. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did on the second viewing. And I’m sure I’ll watch this again in less than twenty years time.