Movie Reviews: May Issue
Oz: The Great and Powerful
Review by Michael Bradley
Disney's Oz: The Great and Powerful recaptures the awesome feel of faraway Oz as only Disney can, with sparkling lights, pretty flowers and kindly music. It starts with a black and white reality world and flashes to vivid color when you arrive in Oz, as an homage to its 1939 predecessor, The Wizard of Oz. The cast is made up of current, popular actors, including James Franco as Oz, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz (The Mummy), and Zach Braff (of Scrubs fame). However, the plot is rather easy to make out, and parts seemed designed to sell video game versions and action figures more than to add to the story.
As with the original tale, you are left to decide for yourself if reality is a dream, Oz is the dream, or if both worlds are real. Oz is definitely a children's film, with simple themes about believing in yourself, good vs. evil, jealousy, and morals about how to treat people. The violence, even in the 3D version, will be thrilling for children but is not too scary for them. I would definitely recommend this movie to families with children looking for a sense of wonder and adventure with good moral storylines. It is also a must see for Oz fans in general.
There is not as much for an adult viewer though. My wife and I enjoyed it, but it is not a movie that either leaves you in awe or results in deep conversations once you walk from the theater. There are a few adult themes subtly inserted, but not many. The character arcs are also wooden and black and white. People simply become evil or good completely, without a lot of prompting. Mila Kunis actually goes from a sympathetic character to one you care nothing about. The main character of Oz is supposed to learn from his experience, but at the end, I wonder if he learned anything.
The most emotion I felt was in watching Michelle Williams on screen. The two time Oscar nominee is extremely talented but has had a rough life. At age fifteen she was legally emancipated from her parents. In 2005, with co-Oscar nominee Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain, the two became an item and were engaged. Together they had daughter Matilda. Heath Ledger died tragically in January 2008 and some wrongly attacked Michelle Williams who to this day still loves her lost man and their daughter. To see her on screen in all her vulnerable sweet girl-next-door good looks was both happy and a bit sad when thinking of what she had endured in her few young years. Her performance and that of Zach Braff, first as the magic assistant, later as the flying monkey, are top notch.
Historically, L. Frank Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900. It became a popular Broadway musical in 1902, followed by the 1939 film adaptation that is one of the most watched movies of all time. Between 1900 and 1920, Baum actually wrote a series of fourteen Oz books, in the following order: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Marvelous Land of Oz, Ozma of Oz, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, The Road to Oz, The Emerald City of Oz, The Patchwork Girl of Oz, Tik-Tok of Oz, The Scarecrow of Oz, Rinkitink in Oz, The Lost Princess of Oz, The Tin Woodman of Oz, The Magic of Oz, and lastly, Glinda of Oz.
As with the stories of the Brothers Grimm, the Oz series is darker to read than the plays and the movies made from it. The dangers faced include torture, imprisonment, death, fearsome monsters, children in danger, and many other intense topics. If you wish to get the original books, I suggest you read each one as a parent first, before jumping in for night time story time with young children.
Reviewed by Michael Bradley
Oblivion is the latest Tom Cruise science fiction movie. I have never really cared for Tom Cruise or his acting, and special effects tend to be overdone in his movies, so that was my expectation entering the dark expanse of the theater. I was in for a refreshing surprise. Yes, there is Tom Cruise strutting, shirt off, close ups of his face as in all his films, and there are special effects full of eye candy, but there is also a fascinating sci-fi story as well. This makes Oblivion definitely worth seeing.
The role of Jack Harper is portrayed by Tom Cruise, who gets nearly all the screen time as well. Andrea Riseborough, an English actor portrays Victoria and does an outstanding job. Olga Kurylenko, the Ukraine born woman who played the Bond Girl in Quantum of Solace, plays Julia. Morgan Freeman, as always, plays himself, but the character is named Beech. They are the only four with significant airtime.
The story starts out with flashbacks and narration by Jack Harper that let you as an audience know that aliens called Scavengers, or Scavs, for short, attacked the planet. Earth won but was destroyed, so the people went off to Titan, but they have to harvest the seas for energy. Jack and Victoria are left behind to fix the patrol drones and keep the harvesters safe from the remaining Scavs who are bent on causing them troubles.
I hate the fact that movie trailers reveal too much. I have to confess that the first couple of "twists" in the story I had already guessed from the trailers. It is impossible not to see them in this mass media world we live in where they spend almost as much marketing as they do filming. Still, the movie takes several turns and some were not expected at all. The movie moves along at a good pace, revealing things one at a time, not making you wait to long, but having you reassess what is going on along the way.
A few caught me unawares, which is what I really enjoy. Oblivion is not a movie that you will talk about for weeks. It has no deeper meaning to it. However, it is a refreshing bit of eye candy, action film, that is not mindless, but actually tells an interesting tale as it goes and you use your mind a bit to keep up. I would like to comment on a few things that did not work as well, but I won't. They would require spoilers, and I won't duplicate a movie trailer by giving too much away.
Reviewed by Matthew Yenkala
Rated R/123 mins/Science Fiction-Action
Director: Joseph Kosinski Writer: Michael Arndt, Karl Gajdusek, Joseph Kosinski
From its dystopian, post-war, future-earth setting, to its final conflict/resolution (and the twist-but-not-really tag that follows), OBLIVION is a refreshingly honest film. By this I mean nothing more, and nothing less, than that it wears its sources on its sleeve without apology--but in a way that somehow manages to not rankle or offend. Not a single piece of it is new; it is a thrill ride pastiche of high-concept ideas, every single one of them drawn from earlier, better films (2001, Dune, The Matrix, Moon , many more).
It's almost as if the screenwriters--or the writers of the graphic novel on which it was allegedly based--came up with the final plotline by taking elements from all those other movies, putting them on index cards, and mixing and matching them until they found a sequence that worked. (My inner psychic tells me I may be more right than I know with that guess...) In any case, it doesn't matter. Its rip-offs are so thorough, and so evenly distributed, it's impossible to seize upon any one of them and get all righteously indignant about it. Better to just take it at face value and go along for the ride.
So: Tom Cruise plays a tech in the future named Jack. He and his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are "an effective team", avoiding an apparent alien menace while helping mine the last of Earth's resources, in anticipation humankind's final off-planet exodus (since the Earth is uninhabitable after that big war we're supposed to have one of these days). They take their orders from Sally (Melissa Leo), matron of the orbiting city that will whisk them off to their new home as soon as they are done strip-mining the ocean water.
Except, of course, nothing is as it seems. Jack is plagued by visions of meeting a beautiful woman (Olga Kurylenko) in pre-apocalypse New York City, and--what do you know!--suddenly she's there in the flesh, literally crashing in on him at work, and taunting him with glimpses of a past he can only remember in fragments. Soon the two of them are brought to the underground human resistance, led by (who else?) Morgan Freeman, who helps Jack realize that there's more about him than anyone realizes, and he's the chosen one, and the whole thing about mankind moving off-planet is bull, and...well, you know where it goes, because you've literally seen this movie before.
That doesn't mean it's not fun getting there. Again, the movie is a thrill ride, and on that level it delivers. No one is going to win any acting awards for this film, but everyone does a credible job. The effects are unsurprisingly top-notch, and the score by French electronica artist M83 may be the best, and most original, thing about the film. And despite its patchwork nature, it actually does manage to convey some genuinely big ideas for a mainstream picture, even if they are the legacy of the film's forebears.
I suppose there's room for a sequel (and even if there wasn't it's not like that's ever stopped Hollywood before). But I hope they just let this one stand on its own and quit while they're ahead. It's entertaining, it's not terrible, but--enough already, OK? Thanks guys.
IRON MAN 3
Reviewed by Matthew Yenkala
3 1/2 stubs
Rated PG/130 mins/Sci Fi/Action/Comic Book Movie
Director: Shane Black Writers: Drew Pearce & Shane Black (Based on Marvel Comics' Iron Man)
*MILD SPOILERS AHEAD*
Tony Stark can't sleep. Despite being a "billionaire genius playboy philanthropist" and world-famous superhero with an amazing girlfriend (Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts) and the keys to one of the biggest corporations in the world, he's plagued by nightmares of the alien invasion of New York City that forced him to team up with several other costumed crusaders and banish the nasty space worms--as depicted in last year's megahit team-up THE AVENGERS.
As the first movie in what's being termed "The Marvel Cinematic Universe--Phase 2", IRON MAN 3 is thus more of a followup to THE AVENGERS than it is to 2010's lackluster IRON MAN 2.
The basic plot, which is largely based on the acclaimed IRON MAN story "EXTREMIS", follows the time-honored route of taking the invincible hero with infinite resources and stripping him of most of those resources, leaving him only with one buggy prototype Iron Man suit and his own wit and determination. The enemy in this case is The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a demon of Tony Stark's own creation--an ersatz Bin Laden with a penchant for hacking into TV broadcasts and replacing them with deadly threats and bloody atrocities.
Meanwhile, rogue scientist Aldich Killian, bitter at stark for blowing him off on the eve of Y2K, is out for blood--Stark's blood. After pitching Tony's Malibu mansion into the Pacific, he sends his creepy, biologically enhanced minions to make sure the job is done. Stark, presumed dead, goes incognito into the Deep South, teaming up with a smartass whiz kid/orphan to find out who's really behind the attacks that have grown increasingly violent, and increasingly personal, while doing his best to keep tabs on the kidnapped Potts as well as the well-meaning but misguided help from buddy Colenol Rhodes, now in his own "Iron Patriot" suit.
Following a genuinely clever twist surrounding the Mandarin's character, all is set right, with Stark making a decision that will doubtless shock purists but which perfectly resonates for the story being told here.
Under the direction of LETHAL WEAPON creator Shane Black, IRON MAN 3 doesn't quite reach the heights of AVENGERS, but it's definitely more inspired than its predecessor. (Jon Favreu, who directed the first two IMs, is still here involved as executive producer and onscreen as Tony Stark's bodyguard.) The first and final acts are pretty clearly drawn and enjoyable, but like the last IRON MAN flick, it's still a little flabby around the middle--though the repartee between Downey and young Harley (Ty Simpkins) are priceless; that kid has a future, one hopes. Paltrow gets better each time she plays Pepper, and at this point, Downey and Tony Stark really have pretty much merged into the same being. And the effects are possibly the most impresive every committed to celluloid (or pixel).
As with all Marvel movies, the viewer is *STRONGLY* advised to stay through to the very end of the credits for an amusing tag (featuring another Avenger), and the words "TONY STARK WILL RETURN". And while it's not specific about when, how or played by whom, we are probably safe in assuming that despite the events at the close of the film, Downey hasn't seen the inside of that suit for the last time. After all, he IS Iron Man.
Iron Man 3
Reviewed by Michael Bradley
As a huge comic book fan and reader of the original Iron Man comics, I would probably go see any movie made about Marvel or DC Comics heroes. Unfortunately, that is what Hollywood banks on too often. Film producers do not understand the fascination with comics and rely on the old tried and true formula of big stars, big trailers and lots of computer generated special effects. It is what makes Iron Man 3 interesting, but also what makes it fall short of the mark.
I try to avoid spoilers in movie reviews, but in this case, I have to discuss the scenes themselves. If you have not seen it before, I give it high marks for eye candy and low marks for plot and acting. You should stop here if you want no spoilers.
Iron Man 3 starts off with The Mandarin, the mystical head of the Ten Rings shadowy organization. The Mandarin played horribly by Ben Kingsley, a man who other than Gandhi has played every stupid role in a film. The Mandarin turns out to be an idiot actor with no villain qualities at all. It is a real insult to the comic fans. Robert Downey as the title character seems to call it in on this movie, having already announced he might not do future ones. His acting is wooden.
You start off with Tony Stark narrating how he made innocent people into demons. This narrative is heavy handed throughout the film, including The Mandarin being a fake terrorist to prop up military industrial spending. They come out and tell you over and over, that we make our own demons. The point of the movie is clear, that all terrorists are created by our military to sell weapon systems. It is just as crassly portrayed in the movie, a political charge that is without any depth.
At the beginning, we find Tony Stark beset with anxiety attacks, worried about Pepper Pots, but never spending any time with the person who is indispensable to him. Then he makes a stupid taunt in the press and nearly gets both killed. He spends most of the film trying to get one partially functional suit to work, only to have forty fully functional suits magically appear at the end of the film for the finale.
The best part of the movie, and there are not a lot other than the computer action scenes, come when Tony Stark is relating to a young boy named Harley Keener, played by Ty Simkins. Ty steals the scenes and you wish the movie dwelt more on real characters like that than on the incessant assault on the senses of loud destruction scenes. The other good part of the movie is the humor inserted. A henchman actually leaves a scene, putting down his weapon and saying, "I hate this job, the people are weird here, I'm just going to leave if that is ok."
The end has the Vice President being part of the conspiracy of course, so he can take over and you guessed it - get in more wars to sell more weapons for the defense industry. When Stan Lee created his characters they were about social commentary. The X-Men represented the viewpoints during the Civil Rights movement. Spiderman was the boy coming of age and learning how to be a man. Iron Man was created during the Vietnam War as a challenge to make a warmongering weapons manufacturer popular at the height of protests and hostilities. Stan Lee always played against type. That is one reason turning Iron Man into a pacifist who still builds violent personal robot exoskeletons by the score attacks the very foundation of the canon.
The worst attack on the canon of Iron Man is at the end. Tony Stark decides to get his heart "fixed" by removing the metal shards in it. What? The one thing that made Iron Man was that his heart was inoperable, that he had to create the power device that made him part human, part machine. The scene lasts less than a minute, and then he is all healed and throws his chest power plant into the ocean.
They even made over Pepper Potts from the spunky, smart, moralist to a superhero with compromised moral viewpoints at the end. Last, after waiting through the longest credits in history, was the let down of the end clip. In previous films in the Avenger line, the end clip reveals some cool clue about an upcoming movie. In Iron Man 3, the end clip is just Tony Stark finishing his narrative to a sleeping Incredible Hulk in human form, who tells him he is not a psychologist. Of course Tony Stark in the comics would never open up about anxiety disorders, his love of Pepper Potts, or giving up his powers to a fellow Avenger, but hey, every other thing about Iron Man seems to be lost in this movie as well.
If you are an Iron Man fan, you will see this movie no matter what I say, and probably already have. Once your adrenaline settles back down from the cgi and sound track, see if you don't agree with these comments. Movie producers, please pay attention to character development and not just special effects.
THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES
Reviewed by Matthew Yenkala
Rated R/140 mins/Drama
Director: Derek Cianfrance Writers: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder
It's a symptom of today's cinematic climate that a movie that would once have been released simply as an adult drama now has to be stealth-marketed as an "indie sleeper". It's also a shame, because this is, in my opinion, the best movie released so far in 2013.
It's the mid-90s, and Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) is a trick motorcyclist with a travelling circus who, on a stop in Schenectady, New York, reconnects with a former one-night flame Romina (Eva Mendes)--and meets the infant son he didn't know he had. Some sense of filial responsibility (and a bit of male possessiveness) sets in, pushing him to quit the circus, stay in town, and "do the right thing" by trying to provide for his child--and woo back Romina from the man she's since hooked up with.
Unfortunately, his skill set is limited, so things don't look very promising--until his new friend, auto mechanic Robin, tells him just how fun and easy it is to rob banks. Initially thrilled that he can give his son gifts and Romina cash, he soon gets addicted to the thrill of the act itself--which leads him to a second-story confrontation with lowly police officer Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper). Not to give too much away, it doesn't end well for Glanton.
The narrative then shifts, becoming Cross's story. Cross is young and idealistic, having recently left a promising career as a lawyer to become a beat cop, believing he can make a difference on the streets that he can't in the courtroom. Disillusion quickly sets in, however, when in the wake of the Glanton affair he realizes that corruption is as rampant within the police force as it is on the streets, particularly in the form of Officer DeLuca (professional psycho cop Ray Liotta), who leads an unethical raid on an unsuspecting low-income family as a "reward" for Cross's heroic actions in the Glanton affair.
Haunted by his actions and experiences, and by the knowledge that because of him, a little boy will grow up never knowing his father, Cross begins to slowly disconnect with his own wife (Rose Byrne) and their young son. When his conscience becomes heavier than he can bear, Cross makes a fateful choice, striking a deal with a reluctant D.A. (Bruce Greenwood) that sees him begin the process of cleaning out the dirty cops and restoring order and sanity to Schenectady--but at heavy cost to himself.
Flash forward fifteen years to the present day. Cross is now a rising political star on a major campaign, divorced, and thoroughly estranged from his thuggish son A.J. Inevitably, A.J. and Glanton's son Jason cross paths at school, both with no knowledge of their connection to one another--knowledge that Cross withholds from his son, who nevertheless gets the point: somehow this strange kid means more to his Dad than he himself does.
Part of what makes the film so evocative is the audience's having information that the characters don't--so that when, for example, Jason, who knows almost nothing about his real father, robs a drug store (at A.J.'s instigation) and rides away on his bicycle, the unwitting echo of his father's actions is touchingly tragic.
The dénouement plays out in heartbreaking fashion, as the threads laid throughout the entire film are slowly woven together, strand by strand, into a tapestry of fathers and sons, nature and nurture, lies and legacies. The film doesn't take the easy or predictable way out--many times, especially towards the end, it really feels like it could go in almost any direction, but seldom goes in the one that the audience probably expects. And yet looking back, it's clear that no other outcome or resolution was possible.
In the end, we are left with an extremely powerful meditation on the themes of choice and consequence, and how the sins of the elder generation are visited upon the younger, despite (and sometimes because of) the best intentions of both. And while there is a certain grimness to the film's final scenes, they also leave us with a ray of hope--and the knowledge that a little mercy can go a long way.
PAIN & GAIN
Reviewed by Matthew Yenkala
Rated R/129 mins/Action-Drama
Director: Michael Bay Writer: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
"Unfortunately, this is a true story."
The old maxim about real life being stranger than fiction is put to the test in this film, ripped from the pages of Florida headlines circa 1995. Bodybuilder/ex-con Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), obsessed with station and the trappings that go with it, concocts a scheme to get what he feels he deserves--all the money, cars, women, and more that have been denied to him by cruel fate and the real world necessities of, you know, working to get ahead.
Roping in pals Adrian (Anthony Mackie) and Christian soldier Paul (Dwayne Johnson), he decides to take wealthy cad Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) for all he can get. Unfortunately for them, thrice the brawn makes for half the brains, and their short-term gains lead to not only their eventually losing everything, but ending up in jail for life on Murder One.
The film is atypical for the much-maligned Michael Bay--there's nary an explosion in sight (well, ok, maybe one or two, but they are relatively small by Bay standards and actually serve the story). Given that it's based on real people and events (albeit fictionalized in true Hollywood fashion), there's arguably more substance here than his usual popcorn fare, merely by default. And somehow, the almost lighthearted tone--including shifting narrators, depending on whose part of the story we're witnessing at any given moment--juxtaposes effectively against the often brutal violence on screen and matches up to the absurdity of the story itself.
The cast inhabits their roles--Shalhoub manages once again to be a revelation, playing against type as a thoroughly unlikeable one-percenter; Johnson is both humorous and almost touching as a True Believer who quotes the Bible even while committing unholy violence; and Ed Harris is appropriately crusty and grounded as the retired PI who unravels the whole scheme. Comedy icons Rob Corrdry and Ken Jeong make the most of their limited screen time (Jeong in particular captures the "Learn how to make a lot of money!" essence of 90s TV pitchmen), and the steadily rising Rebel Wilson simply can't put a foot wrong. Known to date mostly for comedic roles, she actually delivers the most dramatically believable performance in the whole picture.
While Bay's films are always technically well made, guaranteed to deliver superficial thrills, they are almost always devoid of any real depth or substance. This one is an exception, as close as he'll probably ever come to making a film that's both (a) good and (b) ABOUT something. It's not perfect, and another director would likely have handled the subject matter very differently. But he does a solid job of taking a story that's equal parts horrifying, ludicrous and true and turning it into a supremely watchable, if highly disturbing to some, piece of entertainment. PAIN & GAIN isn't a masterpiece. Not even close. But it may well be the best film Michael Bay ever makes.
THE GREAT GATSBY
Reviewed by Matthew Yenkala
Rated PG-13/143 mins/Drama
Director: Baz Luhrmann Writer: Baz Luhrmann (based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald)
As it's one of the most widely read books ever written, a contender for The Great American Novel, and the bane of high school English students everywhere, I don't think I need to dwell much on F. Scott Fitzgerald's roaring 20s tale of the rise and fall of Jay Gatsby. Instead, it's all about what director Baz Luhrmann brings to the table.
Known for flashy, anachronistic reinterpretations of such classic tales and settings as Romeo & Juliet and Moulin Rouge!, Luhrmann's touch could have been the best or the worst thing to ever happen to this oft-retold tale. And fittingly, the finished product shows him at both extremes.
The first hour or so is pure setup, cloaked in Luhrmann's trademark style: quick cuts, mouth-watering production design, eye-popping visuals (though somehow the 3D didn't seem to pop as much as it should have, at least to this reviewer's eyes). Tobey Maguire's Nick Carraway is the blandest of narrative cyphers, through whose eyes we meet Gatsby himself (Leonardo DiCaprio, in a role that seems almost tailor made for the man who played penniless artist Jack Dawson in Titanic); Carraway's cousin and Gatsby's unrequited love, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), and Daisy's callous, racist, philandering husband Tom (Joel Edgerton); and the world in which they live: a world of money, jazz, booze and sex beyond the wet dreams of the most hedonistic party-goer.
Unfortunately, none of it has the impact that it should. The slow-mo sequences, the stylized, choreographed dancing, the Jay-Z-produced soundtrack--striking as all of it is, the cumulative effect is tiresome rather than dazzling. It's not until well into the second hour that the movie shifts into high gear and the dramatic weight that's been building too slowly up to that point suddenly begins to crash down. From there it's full speed ahead to the story's tragically inevitable ending, in which no one gets what they want, or what they deserve--and the result is staggering. It's probably no coincidence that the effects finally take a back seat at this point, letting the story unfold surprisingly naturalistically.
And this is where the movie redeems itself. The performers, all of them excellent, truly own their roles. Maguire does the best he can making Nick interesting, Mulligan manages to convey the embattled helplessness of her situation, and Edgerton makes Tom both relatable and reprehensible. But it's DiCaprio's movie to make or break, and he makes it big time. As the layers of Gatsby's history and identity are slowly peeled away to reveal the real man and his true motivations, he imbues the role with a heartbreaking hopefulness and dignity. In the end, because of him, we all leave the theater wishing we had someone like Gatsby in our life--even if only for a summer.
THE LORDS OF SALEM
Reviewed by Matthew Yenkala
Rated R/100 mins/Horror
Director & Writer: Rob Zombie
When the main character's dog is the most likeable character in a movie--when you actually care more about the dog's fate than that of the dog's owner--you know that you're in trouble.
Please understand: I **like** Rob Zombie. I really do. I've been a fan of his music since the early 90s, I've enjoyed some of his film work, and I've heard nothing but great things about what an awesome guy he is in person. (He also puts on a mean concert.) Moreover I like the **idea** of Rob Zombie: a cool rock & roller who is really steeped in the horror aesthetic--not as a gimmick but as someone who loves it and lives it.
But his latest film, the micro-budgeted THE LORDS OF SALEM, is probably the single greatest creative misfire of his career. Even with almost no expectations, I was not only not impressed--I was downright disappointed. Which is the worst thing you can say about a work by someone you genuinely like and respect.
Set in (duh) Salem, Mass and starring (of course) his wife, Sherri Moon Zombie, as an afternoon drive-time-zoo DJ named Heidi, it posits that a witch-coven's curse from the days of the New England Puritans resonates down through the years and bloodlines to the modern day descendants of those early settlers, and the witches that plagued them.
All fine and well; there is plenty of interesting material to be mined from such a setup. Unfortunately, this movie does the exact opposite, creating an endurance test that seems to take forever to start, and which you can't wait to end.
There is no tension, and really no plot to speak of. What little cohesion there is in the story is constantly undermined by pointless asides, trippy visions and "symbolic" imagery that I suppose is meant to be blasphemous (I'm sure it is to someone) but left me yawning. And for a horror movie, there's very little horror to be found. There are a few creepy scenes, but--except for one entirely manufactured "jump" moment--nothing that's actually, genuinely scary. It's just scene after scene of faux-shocking imagery (naked old women, masturbating dog-headed statues, Sherri Moon on top of a pile of dead bodies), meaningless symbols, and undeveloped plot strands that go nowhere. And the lead-balloon ending is clearly a setup for a sequel that will likely never happen.
If I reach, I can find a few things to like here. OK, it does have a consistently creepy tone, including the "ancient" music that apparently summons, or triggers, the dark forces to do their dirty work. The supporting cast, including genre legends Ken Foree (criminally underused) and Bruce Davison (the Donald Pleasance avatar), is solid. And it's an absolute kick to see E.T. Mom Dee Wallace and ROCKY HORROR's Magenta, Patricia Quinn, chew up the scenery as part of a trio of seasoned witches guiding Heidi to her ultimate fate. (Having spent a fair amount of time in the presence of Lady Quinn, I can say that her character in the film is entirely true to her real-life persona--just turned down several notches.) And, um, there's a song on the soundtrack by RUSH (my favorite band). That's pretty cool, right?
But in the end, we're left with a muddled, confusing mess, and I can't even tell what it was intended to be. It's so bad, I can't even imagine that Zombie intended for it to be taken seriously. Is it a parody? Is it an homage to all those early 70s European horror flicks he grew up watching? Is it an unironically humorous take on Scooby-Doo--minus the humor, or the substance?
But I have a theory. Maybe Zombie made this movie for his 14-year-old-self, as if to say, "See, Little Rob? Someday you'll be a rock star with a hot wife, and you'll get to make dark, shocking horror movies like this! There is hope for you!" And I hope from the bottom of my heart that if time travel is really possible, he's able to transmit this film back to his younger self--because I sincerely can't imagine anyone else wanting to ever see it.
In the meantime, for Gods' sake, I hope they let the dog out of the bathroom.