For nearly four decades now the music that John Williams has created for Star Wars has become as instantly recognizable as Darth Vader’s breathing or the heart stopping light saber duels between Jedi Knight and Sith Lord. These scores serve as the heartbeat to the films and go beyond setting the mood whenever a firefight breaks out on the streets of Mos Eisley or in the skies above the icy war torn battlefields of Hoth. With Disney now owning Lucasfilm the long term strategy plan being put into motion is to release both saga and anthology/stand alone films from here until eternity. With John now in his mid-80s his focus will remain on the new saga trilogy that began with The Force Awakens last December. As for the anthology films that have just now begun rushing down through the flood gates the young film makers and composers who helm these projects will have the daunting task of creating something that can go off and explore the vast reaches of that galaxy far, far away all the while retaining that emotional depth viewers felt when Luke Skywalker stood and looked out upon the twin suns of Tatooine as they sank down beyond the horizon.
Michael Giacchino is certainly no stranger when it comes trying to emulate John Williams. His first major scoring session was composing original music for the Playstation and Sega Saturn video game adaptation of The Lost World: Jurassic Park. As fate would have it Giacchino found himself transitioning into the long dormant film franchise with Jurassic World (which would go on to become the second highest grossing film of 2015 right behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens, no less). Originally Giacchino wasn’t the first choice to be the composer on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as Alexandre Desplat (who collaborated with director Gareth Edwards on Godzilla) had to drop out due to a scheduling conflict. Michael entered the fold with only four and a half weeks to write and record a full score. Under any circumstances even the most seasoned composer would crack under such extreme pressure however Giacchino melds a majority of Williams’ classic Star Wars motifs with material that fits into Edwards’ vision of an anthology film that brings a gritty realism to the wars fought between the empire and the rebellion. I’ve read feedback where many feel that this soundtrack would be more in line with any other science fiction film currently on the market and upon giving it my first listen I didn’t quite like what I was hearing as one track in particular, The Imperial Suite, teeters on being generic and leaves a lot to be desired considering John’s Imperial March is widely considered one of the most popular musical themes of the latter 20th century. Regardless of being under the gun (or more fittingly the blaster rifle) Michael Giacchino was able to come into his own during the final half of the score with five of the last six tracks where I’d recommend everyone put their focus if you’re willing to hit repeat and allow something that’s a little left of center to truly take form. Personally I think it blends rather well with the classic themes we all know and love and if you’re wishing that there were more of those cues featured in Rogue One all the previous soundtracks are still readily available in various formats so you can mix seminal with contemporary and still win out.
When George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney back in 2012 many breathed a sigh of relief. Even though Lucas was the creator of the immensely popular space opera the reaction his prequel trilogy received was mixed to say the least. A majority of criticism stemmed from the over reliance on green screen and digital effects rather focusing on the grand story telling aspect that made the original films a beloved sci-fi series. Plus the wooden acting and clunky dialogue certainly didn’t help either.
George ultimately decided to give Star Wars back to the fans and let the next generation of young film makers reignite that spark of excitement in all of us who enjoy time and time again traveling to that galaxy far, far away. While Episode VII: The Force Awakens went back to many of the techniques the classic trilogy employed I felt like it stepped into the same foot prints of A New Hope without taking the risk of deviating from a set path and didn’t challenge itself to be different. The other reason I didn’t get behind The Force Awakens as others is we’ve had six movies devoted to the Skywalker lineage the time is right to go explore other avenues of the force.
What gets me excited now that Disney owns the property is the decision that in between the main saga films fans are going to get spin offs that will focus on side characters or various other elements in a limitless universe. The first stand alone, Rogue One, is set to be released in theaters in less then a month and will tell the story of how the rebels were able to get their hands on the Death Star plans. My initial thoughts were for the most part skeptical towards the idea until it was announced that Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) had signed on to direct. While a select few were lukewarm to Edwards’ interpretation of the king of the monsters there is no denying that the man has a keen eye for delivering breathtaking visuals as well as a grand sense of scale. You couldn’t ask for a better choice to direct a stand alone film as every trailer for Rogue One captures the style of the original trilogy in stunning perfection. Having that sheer scope mixed with classic Stormtroopers is enough for me to buy a ticket opening night but if there was any other reason to get on board its the big screen return of the iconic Dark Lord of the Sith himself, Darth Vader.
Nowadays one can’t simply be a Star Wars fan without checking out the official tie-in novel. Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel serves as a prequel to the prequel (if that makes any sense) and from the 14 chapters I’ve made my way through thus far its a fascinating/involving read well worth looking into before heading out to the theater on December 16th. I might delve into the novel a bit more on here once I’ve finished it and we’ve all had time to dissect Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as the new year approaches. You can pick up your copy of Catalyst by clicking on the book artwork below.
Synopsis: A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.
Which is the greater evil? The evil that resides inside of man or the evil that lurks out past the shadows in the woods and inside the beasts that inhabit such a vast untamed forest? With modern society we don’t have to turn far in order to see the evil that men do. Grab a TV remote and turn on the news, power on a laptop and load up a internet browser to CNN.com, check out a copy of The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune or USA Today. It is all around if given the chance it envelops us and yet its white noise that a vast majority decide to tune out and pay no mind to as we try to live our normal everyday lives. The fear that lurks beyond the shadows as the sun slips down below the horizon is far more elemental preying on the wide array of emotions our minds will go through whenever we’re out in the middle of a serene wilderness. The unexpected sound of a branch snapping will send a surge of adrenaline through our bodies as we instinctively begin turning in circles desperately trying to locate the source of the sound. Now imagine in the course of taking four simple footsteps you’re transported some 400 years back in time to a point where if you hold a certain set of beliefs you’re cast out of society forced to make a go of it in unfamiliar territory that rests on the edge of an endless forest. It’s a world where their form of contemporary medicines wouldn’t be able to fight off simple illnesses and would ultimately be blamed on the work of the devil. If you’re not familiar with how to properly cultivate the earth and in your brash arrogance plant vegetables that turn up rotten blame wouldn’t be put on pure ignorance one simply had to point their finger at something as wicked as black magic instead. Wandering out into the serenity of the woods would greatly be frowned upon as you’re risking life itself. The sudden snapping of a tree branch could simply be a deer a wolf or a bear or it could be something that engorges on the fears of the unknown and is sinister beyond imagination.
Good horror films embrace the story their telling whereas magnificent horror films will use atmosphere to toy with every human emotion. The atmosphere The Witch embraces hinges on primordial elements deciding early on that its going to use the plain fear of isolation to slowly unnerve viewers. A family has to readjust their lives as best as they can in an absolutely remorseless wilderness. A mere 10 minutes in the tension is quickly fractured when the family’s newborn son mysteriously vanishes. The father is quick to blame the disappearance on wolves and the mother is bedridden with grief and depression breaking down into tears as she prays for the safe return of her child. After searching for a few days the father makes the heartbreaking decision that everyone should move on with their lives readjusting once more to whatever hardships may come their way. The forest around the homestead begins to feed off the tragedy and despair by punishing those who set foot in it. These were the moments where I found my pulse quickening to the point where my heart was ready to punch out of my chest. Subtle little instances where what could be viewed as a bit of misfortune returns with those who ventured out and like a single ember sets fire to an already fragile powder keg of raw emotion. Atmosphere comes in many shapes and forms and the way it crawls out of the shadows in The Witch is through the performances of four very talented young actors. Any respected thespian will tell you delivering a line of dialogue in the right inflection can be extremely difficult yet all four of these kids bravely carry the entire weight of the film on their shoulders. I knew almost immediately when I began making my selections for Schlocktoberfest 2K16 that The Witch would bookend the month and decided not to screen it right away preferring to wait and see where my emotions would lead. Thankfully I was not disappointed. This is bare bones horror at its finest. No lens flares or flashy explosions. No Hollywood hunks brought into the production to try and sell the film on the merits of being a box office smash. You want those qualities you know where to find them The Witch on the other hand is for those who like having a plot thread expanded out beyond set traditions and reminds us why we always gather together to tell these stories during this part of the year.
Synopsis: In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds – and remembers.
Guillermo del Toro’s obsession with the things that go bump in the night began at an early age. He distinctively remembers seeing monsters from his crib and would frequently wet his bed making his mother upset to the point where del Toro finally decided to make a deal that if the monsters would allow him to go to the bathroom he would be their friend forever. Then there is the story of his Uncle Guillermo (whom he is named after) being fascinated with the occult and horror in general. One conversation led to a ghostly visit in which the younger Guillermo told his beloved uncle that when one of them passes on to the great beyond that they should come visit the other to prove that there is such a thing as the after life. When Uncle Guillermo did eventually die del Toro inherited the guest room his uncle frequented whenever he visited. One night while doing homework Guillermo began hearing groaning and deep breathing. Curious to find out where these sounds were resonating from he quickly turned off the television and closed the nearest window only to discover that the breathing was following him around the room. It got to the point where Guillermo checked his pillow and the mattress itself where he made the eerie discovery that the moaning was echoing throughout the bed springs and not long afterwards decided to never sleep in that room again.
The key thing that makes me such a huge Guillermo Del Toro fan is never quite knowing where each new project of his is going to be focused. When he came up with the concept of Pacific Rim and excitedly described fusing the kaiju and mecha genres together as one I couldn’t wait to see how he would transfer his soul into each metropolis leveling leviathan. When Pacific Rim hit theaters in July 2013 I wasn’t disappointed and as I made my way toward the exit I began to wonder where Guillermo would hang his hat next. When it was announced that his next directorial project would see him return to telling another ghost story a sly smile formed across my face as I said to myself ‘This will be vintage Del Toro!’ For the most part Crimson Peak is a love letter to those who grew up with the golden age of Gothic horror of the 1960s and 70s. I say for the most part because the first 35 minutes feel like something out of PBS’s Masterpiece block of programming. It’s not what you’d call a slow burn especially when a romantic subplot goes from simple flirting to marriage quicker than a hiccup. That minor annoyance aside as soon as story shifts to the newlywed couple moving into the haunted family estate is where Guillermo lets his brilliance run wild and free. Every scene is beautifully shot and like every Del Toro production it doesn’t take long to get lost in the sense of scale. Reading the movie trivia on IMDB the house used was built specifically for this film as was every item in it so when production wrapped it was torn down to make room for studio space which is a shame because its one of those structures that if it was left standing a majority of people would take one look at it and go yep that place is undoubtedly haunted. Where Crimson Peak really dials in it at is with the beyond outstanding performances from Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain. The chemistry between the two is so well executed to the point where everyone else has a difficult task keeping up. I’m not what you call an overly romantic type and there were several moments where I ended up rolling my eyes yet as soon as Del Toro got away from that and pushed the accelerator down to the floor board Crimson Peak rarely lost any momentum. I’m looking forward to giving it another watch since like any other Del Toro production there’s always going to be something you’re going to miss the first time around. That’s the power of Guillermo Del Toro though as long as those things still go bump in the night continue to haunt his memories he’ll keep the creative juices flowing.
Synopsis: A group of heavily armed hijackers board a luxury ocean liner in the South Pacific Ocean to loot it, only to do battle with a series of large-sized, tentacled, man-eating sea creatures who have taken over the ship first.
What defines a seminal creature feature? Two of the biggest qualities that will stand out for a lot of people are overall impact and longevity. Each and everyone of us remember the days of sitting on the couch at our grandparents’ house drawn to the television screen to the point where if something freakishly weird happened such as the sky opening up and it raining down 100 dollar bills even that wouldn’t be enough to draw us away. Part of the longevity factor is how well the special effects hold up over time from the impressionable moments of youthful innocence up till full fledged adulthood where we can sit and look back at childhood nostalgia and go was this something that was released at a point in time where certain fads and phenomenons were impacting pop culture to a point where they couldn’t be ignored. Or was it simply high quality film making at its very finest, nothing less and nothing more? Go ahead and pull up Jaws or Jurassic Park or Tremors even then go back further and explore the original King Kong or The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms or Japan’s response to both those classics in 1954 with Gojira. All the effects work in every one of those films that I just mentioned are what critics and average movie goers alike refer to as setting the standard. Of the six listed only one took the mold and shattered the industry standard beyond repair where Hollywood began their journey into the unknown thanks to the advent of digital effects. Jurassic Park made us stare up at the silver screen in awe and wonder however once the mid-90s hit every major film studio was cashing in on the easier way to produce eye catching visuals to the point where what once was considered a special attraction in 1993 was relegated to the freak show a mere five years later.
In what will be the final creature feature to be included as part of Schlocktoberfest 2K16 Deep Rising hasn’t aged like a fine wine to be frank most wouldn’t compare it to bottle of Mumms. And let me set the record straight this is solely from a digital effects perspective as there are still a wide range of elements that drove the production above and beyond what any other science fiction/horror/action/comedy film of that era did. Take a competent director the likes of Stephen Sommers (before cinematic suicide attempts the likes of Van Helsing and GI Joe: Rise of Cobra) and let him loose with a fun script, genuine chuckle inducing one liners and some underrated casting the likes of the always bad ass Treat Williams, the stunningly gorgeous Famke Jannsen, the ever reliable and deeply missed Trevor Goddard and you get something that in many regards shouldn’t work. As the film continues to push forward at break neck speed one can’t help but get wrapped up in the fun popcorn flick style that Deep Rising has its tentacles tightly wrapped around. One thing I can’t figure out is how Sommers was able to write and direct this film and then immediately switching gears to work on The Mummy which was filmed and released almost a full year later. In many regards Deep Rising and The Mummy share the same DNA despite taking place in completely two different time periods and using the polar opposites in terms of movie monsters. Treat Williams’ Finnegan could be the distant relative of Brendan Frasier’s O’Connell as both have an affinity for firearms and equally explosive one liners. Frequent Sommers collaborator Kevin J. O’Connor slips into the role of a sniveling side kick although he’s not as weaselly as Beni was in The Mummy. Alright I sort of got off course somewhat so let’s wrap this up Deep Rising goes beyond a guilty pleasure or cult classic it was released during the beginning of 1998 which was a horrible decision because even to this very day this has summer blockbuster written all over it. Stephen Sommers reached his zenith in the span of two years and in the blink of an eye hasn’t been able to get back on that same level of creativity again. I know you’re still out there Stephen. Want some friendly advice? Reinvent yourself, strip away the corporate side of the industry and get back to basics. A Deep Rising sequel most likely isn’t in the cards but a similar idea can go a long ways.
Synopsis: Survivors escape to a deserted atoll after a Semester at Sea ship is sunk by a mutated two-headed shark. But when the atoll starts flooding, no one is safe from the double jaws of the monster as it eats fresh delicious women and men.
Every so often the appetizer that is served before a main course isn’t very appealing and in the case of Megashark vs. Giant Octopus while it helped The Asylum break out into a larger spectrum the film was marred with excessive pacing issues and a plot that withered and died not even a quarter of the way through. Despite these gaping flaws MSvGO is proud to walk that line between insanity and sheer genius fifty times over and in the years following its conception it has found a loyal following from creature feature fanatics. Now if you weren’t satisfied with little to no blood or gore or even less of Megashark and Giant Octopus laying the smackdown on one another today we’re focusing on a much more savage predator born into this world with two heads attached to the same body and according to the DVD/Blu-ray tagline it has 6,000 teeth between the both of them. It couldn’t be a true shark movie without a bevy of bikini clad women and several dumb jocks and thankfully 2 Headed Shark Attack takes these two stereotypes and meshes them together better than peanut butter and jelly. The only thing worth questioning about the plot here is how Calvin Klein catalog models were able to get passing grades in their college courses in order to qualify for a semester at sea aboard a scientific research vessel but than again maybe its best to throw all logic off the port bow considering if you try and devote more than 5 minutes to dismantling an Asylum production you deserve to get ripped to shreds by a 2 headed terror.
One has to wonder what the person who coined the phrase two heads are better than one would think of a schlocky horror flick the likes of 2 Headed Shark Attack? Would they sit and watch in awe as this awesome creation goes through hordes of college students faster than Leatherface and Michael Meyers could do in a weekend fueled by binge drinking, ruthless chainsaw swinging, and competition kitchen knife throwing. While Megashark vs. Giant Octopus takes multiple viewings to live up to its namesake 2 Headed Shark Attack is near flawless in its overall execution wasting no time by killing a group of wake boarders within the first two minutes of the film. Why go for dull plot exposition? Bring on the shark ravaging goodness and that’s exactly what The Asylum promises and delivers upon in spades. If you’re a bad movie aficionado, like me, then you’ve probably built up sort of a immunity to watching trash cinema and in doing so you now actually encourage the film to kill off all the irritating characters with stone cold precision. 2 Headed Shark Attack wipes the floor with 99.999% of the cast and it does it so quickly that you’ll get an adrenaline high that lasts until the next victim bites the big one. The funny thing is that this never becomes overly cliched either you get someone dropping a horribly quipped one liner one moment and then quicker than you can say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious they’re in the belly of the beast trying to read Louisiana license plates realizing that they forgot to pack a flashlight. This is another Asylum feature where there are some spectacular locations to take in plus I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the spontaneity that the filmmakers took here where they didn’t keep everyone fighting for survival on just a broken down boat. Moving the action to an atoll made for a great change of pace because it gives the group what they think is a safe haven but when sudden earthquakes begin to rip everything apart all the survivors know that they are now royally screwed. Looking at the acting both Brooke Hogan and Carmen Electra were able to hit their marks respectively more so than any of the other actors featured but in many regards there isn’t anything that they add to the movie as a whole. Electra is well past her prime looking like she had to trim down quite a bit to fit into a swim suit and even when viewers get a scene of her tanning its nothing like almost two decades earlier when posters of her were selling like hotcakes. Brooke Hogan, on the other hand, is a Jill of all trades including a pop singer, a model, has followed in her father’s footsteps by being a professional wrestling personality of sorts, and now with her trying to become a respectable actress the only thing she does in 2 Headed Shark Attack (way too much I might add) is flaunt herself in a bikini top. Charlie O’Connell proves that he can handle any part that his brother would most likely pass on without a second thought. It was such a blast watching this guy all the while thinking to myself ‘Hmmm, I wonder how Jerry would deliver that line???’ Witnessing a 2 headed shark devour everything in its sight is the main reason to drop rental money down on this and in doing so I have to ask – is it weird that I secretly obsess over wanting to see a major network pick up a sitcom with both the 2 headed shark and Charlie O’Connell working together to solve bizarre crimes on the high seas? Personally I think that has the words smash hit written all over it.
Synopsis: Six young actresses auditioning for a movie role at a remote mansion are targeted by a mysterious masked murderer.
The lengths some actors/actresses will go to to deliver truly iconic performances are what separates those who set their sights on Hollywood because of their model good looks and just want to be famous for the attention to those who start out with simple bit parts as they slowly struggle their way up the ladder of success to one day be nominated for the biggest prize in the industry, a coveted Oscar. The late great Heath Ledger got his first big break as a heart throb in the teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You and after the monster success of that film refused to be typecast choosing his next roles very carefully. By the time he accepted the role of The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight the initial reaction from people was how could someone who did lighthearted comedies like 10 Things and A Knight’s Tale play the clown prince of crime? In preparation Health locked himself in a hotel room for the better part of a month keeping a journal and slowly created the Joker’s voice, laugh, and mannerisms. With Heath’s unexpected passing months before the film’s premiere there were some who wondered if he perhaps went a little too far down the rabbit hole in order to attain the performance of a lifetime. I never really thought of the events surrounding Heath’s death as more than a unfortunate tragedy and upon watching the first half of Curtains I can definitely see where that certain line of thinking can come into focus. An actress decides that in order to fully embrace a character that she is going to be playing convinces the director of the film to have her committed to a woman’s insane asylum and surround herself with individuals who have a wide array of disorders. At first she is able to play along relying on her acting to convince the staff that she has had a complete mental breakdown yet as the days wear on her interactions between fellow inmates legitimately begin to take their toll on her own mental stability. It certainly doesn’t help matters when she comes across an issue of Variety with front page news that the director has decided to hold an open casting call looking for another actress to play the role instead.
So what do you honestly think is going to happen when an aging actress is conned into being institutionalized and then finds out that the director of the film she was set to star in had little to no interest in using her in his production? Anyone… anyone… Bueller? Bueller? Congratulations, if you said that the emotionally crippled, highly jealous, now potentially insane former starlet was going to find a way to break out of the women’s asylum and begin plotting her revenge give yourself a pat on the back. Curtains has a solid dynamic behind the first 30 to 45 minutes where you’re naturally intrigued as to whether there is going to be a huge payoff or not. The director and writers go so far to introduce a second killer to really try and keep you second guessing but like any murder mystery of the week it doesn’t take much sleuthing to figure out who is behind the other set of killings. What’s even worse is there’s a point a good three quarters of the way through where the plot starts to drag itself around like the dead body of one of the film’s victims. I like the fact that Curtains takes the secluded approach of The Shining by having the main setting be a house that is out in the middle of nowhere while a blizzard has all the roads are snowed in. I love that John Vernon (National Lampoon’s Animal House and Killer Clowns From Outer Space) gives audiences another solid performance as a vile/cutthroat director that treats all the actresses auditioning for him as nothing more than mere set decoration. There’s certainly a sense of style here and regrettably its marred down by trying to do too much too fast and not allowing that much breathing room in between. While I understand that Curtains has developed a cult following over the years after my one and only viewing I think I’d find more enjoyment in comforts of a straight jacket and a comfy padded/soundproof cell.
Final Grade: D
Hell is when the VCR starts eating your VHS collection & spitting the remains back out at you…