Sunday, June 21, 2015

'Return' Has Been Terrorizing for 30 Years

Remember when kids' movies were allowed to be scary? I don't think there was a freakier time than the late 1980's, because you had stuff like The Witches, The Dark Crystal, and, perhaps one of the most frightening, Return to Oz. The sequel to the Technicolor classic was weird and terrifying, and it turns 30 today. 

If you are unfamiliar with Return to Oz, let me enlighten you. It's been less than a year since Dorothy has returned for Oz, and the poor thing can't sleep. She constantly dreams of Oz, so Aunt Em and Uncle Henry send her to a doctor who specializes in electroshock therapy. That's right. Dorothy gets the Diana Goodman treatment. She breaks out of the hospital during a rainstorm and from a maniacal nurse with pointy shoulder pads that just won't quit. Dorothy escapes down a river and wakes up back in the magical Land of Oz. 

Unfortunately for Dorothy, Oz is all jacked up when she returns. The Yellow Brick Road has been destroyed, and she has to eat a lunch from a pail in a tree. I personally wouldn't have trust that, but, hey, she was hungry. That's not the most disturbing thing, though. The Emerald City has also been left in ruins, and the Cowardly Lion and Tin Man have been turned to stone. A group of minions called The Wheelers are wreaking havoc over Munchinland, and, boy, are those guys creepy as all hell. They still give me nightmares. They whirl around with wheels in place of their hands and feet, but they keep steel masquerade masks on the tops of their heads. 

Oh, not afraid of The Wheelers? How about Princess Mombi, the glamorous terror-in-waiting who can exchange her head out whenever the mood strikes? The most disturbing sequence has to be when Dorothy runs out of the hall of heads while all the heads are screaming. 

Did I mention that there are talking chickens, smiling slabs of rock, and a flying sofa with a talking moose head? If you didn't think the screaming heads and Wheelers were scary enough, the finale involves Dorothy trying to locate the Scarecrow in a room full of enchanted objects. If she guesses wrong three consecutive times, The Nome King will turn her into an object for his collection. This clearly isn't your mother's The Wizard of Oz. Return was adapted from the second and third L. Frank Baum's Oz book series, and it took elements from several other sources. 

It was deemed a financial failure, but it managed to net a Best Visual Effects Oscar nomination. I was kind of obsessed with it as a kid. When we first meet Mombi, she's actually pretty, and the production design is a perfect example of a big-budget family movie from that time. 

Why don't we have movies that scare kids anymore? I watched Return so many times, and I was freaked out almost every time. The Wicked Witch of the West caused me to flee the room, and Angelica Huston's Grand High Witch had me closing my eyes for the majority of The Witches (maybe I just have a fear of witches?). Things are too fluffy nowadays. We can't remotely scare kids in a movie today, because letters and angry emails would flood the studios' emails. 

Desperate pleas for better kid movies aside, you should find a way to see Return to Oz. It's creepy, silly, and absolutely a part of my childhood. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Magic Mike

Choosing a singular image from Steven Soderbergh's Magic Mike is the Sophie's Choice of Hit Me With Your Best Shot. So many men, so many shots in sepia. Between the sunshine and the smorgasbord of abs, what's not to love? 

Here's the dilemma while re-watching Magic. The men in the film (especially Mr. Tatum and Mr. Bomer) are so, shall we say, entrancing that it's hard to actually focus on the film's qualities sometimes. There's grinding...and thrusting...and allusions to men riding things like ponies. It can all be a little much to handle, to be perfectly honest. Who is ready for that sequel? 

I could have easily chosen a shot of the men on stage dancing their buns off or ripping off tearaway pants, but I refrained from doing so. My favorite shot of Magic Mike is one that stayed with me since I caught the first trailer. 

In one scene, Tatum's Mike brings Alex Pettyfer's Adam to a party where they pose a cops. Soon their lame police lingo translates to nudity, and the two guys simultaneously give the screaming crowd what they want. Adam takes this opportunity to sell some ecstasy to a girl, leading to a fight between her boyfriend and Adam. Right before the physical punches are thrown, we are given one quick shot of Mike with his police hat askew on his head. 

Looking at just this shot, we don't know what he's wearing below that blue cap. Mike wants to get out of the stripper game and build that ugly furniture, but is he fully ready to embrace that new lifestyle? There's something sexy about Tatum in this shot: it's sloppy and almost youthful. He's on the cusp of graduating from stripper school and becoming a man. Maybe he should just get out while he's at the top of his game.

Hit Me with Your Best Shot is currently in its sixth season over at The Film Experience. If you'd like to check out all the past submissions, you can do so here!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Boom Crunch Cha-Ching Scream Chomp Chomp

When Jurassic Park opened in 1993, I saw it on summer vacation. At that point, no one had seen visual effects like the ones on screen, and it was a genuine thrill ride. I screamed my way through that  entire movie, and it has easily become one of my favorites of all time. Try to find someone who wasn't born in the mid-80's who dislikes the original. You can't, and if you say you are one of those people, I will call you a liar to your face. 

After two sequels, the series cooled down. I've always loved the original and liked Jurassic Park III more than The Lost World. Who doesn't? It's always felt more successful when the island is hidden from the public eye and the terror is contained. In this era of reboots, sequels and spin-offs, it was only a matter of time before people went back to the island to make some more genetic mistakes. Is Colin Trevorrow's Jurassic World a bad mutation or a worthy new jumping off point? I had reservations, sure, but I have to admit that World kicked my nostalgia into high gear. 

Jurassic World is a huge destination vacation spot now, and the island resort is trying to make sure people come back to the attraction by genetically modifying dinosaurs. Apparently, dinosaurs aren't a big enough drawn themselves. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Claire, the park's operations manager, complete with bitch bob and click clacking heels. Her two nephews, Zach and Gray, are visiting, but Claire can't manage to stop having high-profile meetings to give them the time of day. When Claire needs someone to test the paddock walls of the newest attraction, she reluctantly enlists the help of Owen (hunky Chris Pratt), a raptor trainer. The first third of World is a lot of standing around and talking science and mutation while tiny allusions to the original satiates die-hard fans of the original: a goat in the T-Rex paddock, that classic John Williams score, Zach and Gray getting attacked in the Gyrosphere, etc. 

As soon as all hell breaks loose, we are reminded what a thrill ride the world of Jurassic can be. These dinosaur fright fests are not there for the human characters or the most cohesive plots, so if you go into for that, you might not enjoy it. Jurassic Park was state-of-the-art spectacle. In this day and age of rampant CGI sloppiness, the wonder of the special effects has definitely waned. World replaces that with genuine scares. This run through the park is bloody and more violent than I anticipated. There is a terrifying set piece where pterodactyls descend upon the park visitors, and one unlucky woman gets flown around and raptors chasing after our titular heroes had my audience jumping and screaming. 

Is the CGI top-notch? Not always. The earlier scenes with Pratt and the raptors were kind of sketchy, but it's definitely better in the later scenes. The entire raptors plot is kind of silly--make them more straight-up killing machines next time? It reminds us that not all dinos are big stomping monsters. Pratt isn't given much to do except turn around dramatically and perfect the art of scowling while elevator doors close. Howard fares better, and there is a moment in the final sequence where she runs with a flare that had the 8 year-old in me flipping out. All right, I'll admit it. The 31 year-old me was going pretty wild throughout the entire final 20 minutes. 

Is Jurassic World high art? Not necessarily. It reminds us of the tired trope that we should never play God and that product placement is ridiculous (the park features a Starbucks and Ben & Jerry's among other standard outlets). The jaded kids who need "more teeth" to get their excitement up are almost as scary. Is Jurassic World a thrill ride that delivers? Absolutely. It doesn't strive to do anything but give you a few jumps and a break from this summer heat. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Do You Like Scary Book Sequels, 'Grey'

The idea of EL James writing another installment of Fifty Shades of Grey should strike fear into every reasonable person across this planet. It is not known whether it will also be a trilogy, but Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian will hit shelves and eReaders on June 18th. 

The cover art was also released, and I couldn't help but think it looks like a sequel in the Scream horror franchise. The original one-sheet was a closeup of Drew Barrymore's face bathed in grey, and the first sequel had a similar look. I can't be the only one that thinks this, right? 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Catching Up with May Movies Podcast!

Are you shocked that May has already flown by? What movies did you see at the beginning of this summer? 

In this podcast, Clarence Moye and I go through everything we've viewed in the month of May including Ex-Machina, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Pitch Perfect 2, and Tomorrowland. We even discuss something each that the other has seen. Have a listen, leave a comment, and even berate us for not having the same opinion as you!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Bloody, Bloody Game of Thrones

The inner drama geek in me squealed when I saw that the trailer for the latest big screen adaptation of Macbeth dropped this afternoon. Starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard (and using the original language), this looks like a bloody, violent adaptation.

The perpetual fogginess and the lighting are only amping up my anticipation. Directed by Justin Kurzel, Macbeth debuted at Cannes a few weeks ago to great notices. Fassbender's ambitious general isn't batshit crazy, but he's playing it as Macbeth with PTSD. It should ground him in the role in a way that we have never seen before.

Of course, I am most excited to see Cotillard as Lady Macbeth. Her light voice and tone are very unsettling with her large eyes and streaked eyeliner. Her ambition seems all the more dangerous with her slight French lilt and calm tone. 

It all looks like a bloody good time. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Dick Tracy

Calling Dick Tracy fans! Nathaniel Rogers' Hit Me with Your Best Shot has started back up over at The Film Experience, and I couldn't help but throw my yellow hat in. This week, the film in question is Warren Beatty's comic book adaptation, Dick Tracy. I re-watched it last night, and I was surprised by how much of the imagery has stuck with me after all these years. 

Picking a solitary image from Tracy was harder than I thought. I love how the sets pop out at you, but then everything turns flat like a comic book as the camera pans across the city. Flat but so colorful and eye-popping. Beatty famously used only 6 colors throughout the entire film--the only ones that were used when the comic was published. 

My favorite shot is from early on in the film when we first see Madonna's Breathless Mahoney. Is it too cliche that a shot featuring the Material Girl is my favorite? Her hands trail up and down her back as if mid-make out as 88 Keys (Mandy Patinkin) plinks the ivories behind her. His gaze is stuck on her almost every time she's out there. Is he that infatuated with her? Looking out for her? Jealous of her? The sexuality of Breathless Mahoney went so far over my head at the age of 7--I think I just thought she wanted to kiss everyone, and I was fine with that. That slinky nightgown she wears when Tracy visits her is frickin' sheer! How is this rated PG?! God bless 1990. 

Between this shot and all of Michelle Pfeiffer in 1992's Batman Returns, my love of curly blonde, confident women was solidified. 

The Blank freaked me out as a kid, and he still does as an adult. That is all. 

My other favorite shot is of Glenne Headley glancing at Tracy as she goes inside. I've been a fan of hers since seeing this the first time, and the look of sadness on her face has always gotten to me. She doesn't know if some gangster is going to kill him while he's out on the job or if it will be the last time she sees him. Breathless Mahoney has never had a shortage of men, but Tess Truehart only wants one man in a yellow coat.

Hit Me with Your Best Shot is currently in its 6th season over at The Film Experience. If you'd like to check out all the past submissions you can do so here!