October Blindspot: Cujo (1983)

Release: Friday, August 12, 1983

→YouTube

Written by: Don Carlos Dunaway; Lauren Currier

Directed by: Lewis Teague

Bad dog! Very BAD dog!

When man’s best friend becomes your worst enemy, you get Cujo‘ed — trapped in your 1983 Ford Gimp-mobile, fighting for your life against a rabid St. Bernard who can smell your fear and taste the salt of your sweat through the hot car windows and won’t stop attacking until he gets his treats.

Being the avid non-reader of Stephen King that I am, I’ll venture a guess that the modest thrills Cujo offers are not among the horror author’s most repeatedly sought out. The film’s gained a cult following over the years, and it’s not hard to see why even with the clunky narrative right-angles and the abundance of dull characters, not to mention an ending so abrupt it’s as if the filmmakers could NOT WAIT to get to the part where the audience applauds. Though if you ask me, what really makes Lewis Teague’s adaptation worth watching is how he presents the horror. As Michael Scott’s Fun Run Race for the Cure was so good at reminding us, rabies ain’t no joke.

As everyone but me has known for some time now, the story traces a cuddly pooch’s descent into madness after being bitten by a bat and the subsequent killing spree he goes on in a small American town. Famously the drama climaxes with a mother (Dee Wallace in an appropriately histrionic performance) and her young son (Danny Pintauro)’s terrifying encounter with the aggressive canine that imprisons them in the very car they’ve driven miles into the boonies to get repaired. With no easy escape in sight, a blood-soaked battle of wits ensues over the course of a couple of days.

Simplicity often works in the film’s favor, particularly as it concerns itself with that which is purely visually horrific: the transformation of Cujo from Ole Yeller to homicidal monster is surprisingly distressing. There’s not much more sickening than seeing dog fur matted with blood that’s not his own, eyes jaundiced from some level of psychosis only serial killers know. The horror in that way stems not from any supernatural force or alien-spawned violence but rather an animal succumbing to a real (nasty) disease.

When it comes to the human perspective, that’s where this monster movie struggles with its simplistic approach. The film’s pacing is so inconsistent it essentially becomes a tale of two halves, one that spends the first 45 minutes or so lounging about, exploring the dynamics of a rather boring family, and the other on the grisly, animal-related violence. In that first half, the Trentons are portrayed as a seemingly idyllic, loving household who inherit most of their character traits through their “fashionable” ’80s hairstyles and clothing. On the other side, we get a glimpse of the environment that breeds Cujo. (Spoiler alert: it’s not such a pretty picture.)

Only the broadest of brushstrokes are applied to the characters, with Daniel Hugh Kelly playing along as a likable and supportive father, while Wallace gets to have some fun with a more dynamic role as a distant housewife. The ones in closest proximity to Cujo, at least initially, are so obviously disposable. I will admit though it’s fun to watch them get turned into Cujo’s Kibbles and Bits. And as usual, the point of view of a child becomes a crucial lens through which a great many (if not all) King adaptations must be viewed. Cue a little more rolling around in cliché.

In Cujo, young Tad is convinced monsters are real. Of course, dear old dad — who is nearly subversive in his trustworthiness as a Horror Movie Dad — can’t possibly be expected to factor big-ass, ferociously rabid dogs into his anti-monster bedtime rhetoric. The film strains to connect it, but there’s an interesting enough parallel drawn between Tad’s imagination and the horror of reality he’s soon to experience.

Still, the loss of innocence is nowhere near as compelling as simply watching a wild animal confirm that sometimes one’s bite really is worse than his bark. Two thumbs up for the dog, woof. What a performance.

Curious about what’s next? Check out my Blindspot List here.

Chopper, sic balls . . .

Recommendation: Though it starts sluggish and takes its time to evolve from humdrum human drama into full-fledged, in-your-face bloody action, the back nine of this film is absolutely worth the wait. One well-trained animal makes it also well worth MY wait. But I wonder what organizations like PETA think of a movie like Cujo. I mean, yikes. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 93 mins. 

Quoted: “F**k you, dog.” 

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.denofgeek.com 

Don’t Breathe

'Dont Breathe' movie poster

Release: Friday, August 26, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Fede Álvarez; Rodo Sayagues

Directed by: Fede Álvarez

Don’t Breathe, the sophomore effort from Uruguayan director Fede Álvarez, is what you’d get if you expanded into a full-length feature that scene from The Silence of the Lambs in which Buffalo Bill stalks a terrified Clarice Starling with night vision goggles while his prey helplessly fumbles around in the pitch black. This is, of course, to say that Don’t Breathe is relentlessly intense almost start to finish, marking it as one of the most effective thrillers to hit theaters this year.

In it, a trio of burglars are scraping together enough money so they can flee the dying suburbs of Detroit by looting homes and getting cash for valuable possessions pillaged. When they discover a rundown home belonging to a war vet rumored to be sitting on $300k in settlements from an accident that claimed the life of his daughter, they assume they’ve hit the jackpot. Especially when they figure out the dude is blind. But we all know what assuming does, don’t we?

Small-time crooks turn into big-time prey as they casually waltz into a trap thinking the job is a done deal. It is in this suffocating space of decrepitness and unpredictability where we more or less remain for the duration. We’re briefly (and just barely sufficiently) introduced to the gang in the opening twenty minutes, right before Álvarez flips the switch and plunges us all into the depths of a home invasion gone horribly wrong. Front-and-center is Jane Levy’s Rocky, who’s desperate to leave behind an abusive home for the sun-kissed beaches of Califor-ny-yay with her younger sister. Then there’s her main squeeze “Money” (Daniel Zovatto), a terribly nicknamed character who doesn’t at all make for a subtle metaphor or, quite frankly, a memorable character. Dylan Minnette rounds out the crew as the slightly more likable Alex.

It isn’t really their movie, though. Don’t Breathe inarguably belongs to a man and his dog. Stephen Lang plays The Blind Man, an unsuspectingly agile old git who can navigate the interior with his other, much keener senses — sound and touch, most notably — and who keeps a Rottweiler handy in case of such emergencies. (Puppy credits go to three separate, extremely well-trained animals, each getting their moment to shine. And I’m assuming their Cujo-like presence is what earns the film its horror label; otherwise that classification is something of a misnomer. Kind of like me calling these big boys ‘puppies.’) Indeed the kids become a lot more interesting once we see them forced into action against a trained killer — better make that plural — and pressured into taking drastic measures to ensure they not only escape with their lives but with the money as well.

Don’t Breathe simmers in a stew of sociological, economical and psychological ingredients. It’s a morality play involving characters whose chance for survival is perpetually undercut by their own actions. Greed, selfishness and desperation invariably imprison characters we weren’t ever supposed to “like” in this fortress, even magnetizing them to it. And it’s Lang’s full-on committal to a relatively silent role — in fact the best bits of the film languish in the choke of dead air — that simultaneously rebuffs the invaders and causes us, the anxious voyeurs, to question just what we would do in such a situation. Utterly compelling stuff.

Stephen Lang in 'Don't Breathe'

Recommendation: Think of it less as a true horror film and more of a thriller, the likes of which made me, personally, feel like I had chugged one too many cups of coffee. I watched my hand on the steering wheel as I drove home from my local theater. My knuckles were all jittery. What the fuck man. It’s just a movie. Granted, a very, very good one. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 88 mins.

Trivia: Stephen Lang has a total of 13 lines of dialogue, the majority of which are reserved for the ending moments. 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Voices

the-voices-poster

Release: Friday, February 6, 2015

[Redbox]

Written by: Michael R. Perry

Directed by: Marjane Satrapi

I always knew cats were inherently evil.

What with their pawing and purring and hairballs and general infatuation with chasing their own tails. Is evil the right word? In this case, yes . . . yes it is; cats take on an entirely darker role in at least one human’s life.

At the center of attention in this bizarre twist on an already twisted subgenre of horror known as horror-comedy is a fairly lonely man named Jerry (Ryan Reynolds), who has just started working at a bathtub factory in a rinky-dink town we don’t know the name of. By all accounts a nice enough guy, he nevertheless shows some signs of detachment from reality and reluctance to interact with his coworkers. When he’s tasked with putting together a company barbecue and in the process meets the cute girl from accounting, a British babe named Fiona (Gemma Arterton), he is instantly smitten and asks her out.

Unable to flat-out tell him she doesn’t want to go out with him, she instead avoids him after work and goes with her friends from accounting, Lisa (Anna Kendrick) and Alison (Ella Smith), to a karaoke bar. She’s left stranded afterwards in the rain when her car can’t start up and her phone has been soaked in the downpour. Serendipitously enough, along comes Jerry who’s heartbroken to say the least having been stood up yet offers a desperate Fiona a ride home. In striking up a conversation with her on the way back Jerry can’t see the deer in the middle of the road and unfortunately creams it. Antlers and all sticking through the windshield, we’re now entering spoiler territory. Suffice it to say, The Voices quickly flips the switch and starts to pursue, with unsettling fervor, the horror aspect.

As far as the comedy is concerned, a little asterisk might need to be placed beside that word. A twisted sense of humor will help enormously in enjoying what Iranian director Marjane Satrapi has to offer here; although the brightly-colored promotional poster for the film doesn’t really make that a secret. What might be more of a surprise is the quality of Ryan Reynolds’ purely tortured performance. He is something to behold — the days of Van Wilder are long since gone, boys and girls. Not that staying in school for the better part of a decade was ever a bad idea but this is a role that represents a remarkable sense of maturity.

If Reynolds’ masterful turn as an oddly empathetic Jerry is the peanut butter to this messed-up sandwich the jelly, then, surely is Satrapi’s commentary on the truly disturbing potential of mental illness to completely consume its victim. There’s no doubt something’s off about this man and while we do surpass the point where we in any reality could forgive him for what he does (let’s get one thing straight: this isn’t an Eli Roth production, death is not played up for laughs), we are able to get to a place where we understand where his problems stem from.

Sure, in order to get to the root of the evil that pervades Jerry’s life we must try to buy into some rather ridiculous scenes that could have benefitted from stronger writing, but the surrealism, the downright perverse entertainment value wins out time and again. Talking dogs and cats? This isn’t quite like Homeward Bound. Or maybe, if Sassy had more of a psychotic agenda.

At the end of the film, one thing was certain for this reviewer: I’m still much more of a dog person.

ryan-reynolds-does-something-bad-in-the-voices

3-5Recommendation: The best recommendation I can give here is that if you’re still wondering what the animals have to do with anything (especially that darn cat — yay, another movie reference!) then you should just watch and find out for yourself. Fan of Ryan Reynolds and black comedies? This just may well be a must-see for you.

Rated: R

Running Time: 103 mins.

Quoted: “Pretty complicated inside the human mind, huh?”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Mr. Peabody & Sherman

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Release: Friday, March 7, 2014

[Theater]

Here’s a newsflash: Rover is a really boring name for a dog. You should get creative and name yours something crazy and endearing, you know, like Mr. Peabody. Or whatever suits your fancy.

Put thick nerdy glasses on it, too, if you want. Just don’t expect the pup to transform itself into the brainiac, time-traveling father-figure that audiences will come to know and love in Dreamworks Pictures’ Mr. Peabody & Sherman. Yes, it is possible for old dogs to learn new tricks. It’s probably not even that much of a stretch to imagine a really good trainer being able to teach a dog a thing or two about algebra, perhaps even physics. We’ve managed to make them speak our language. . . What’s next, dogs graduating at the top of their classes as valedogtorians? (I can’t take credit for that pun, it’s in the movie.)

All of this is still less ridiculous than the concept of a dog raising a child, yet these are the kinds of possibilities we are presented with in this fanciful adventure comedy from the director who brought us The Lion King.

Sherman (voice of Max Charles), abandoned by his parents at a very early age, was discovered in an alley one rainy night by a passing dog, a dog who had never managed to find himself an owner and was getting very lonely. Apparently feeling in a generous mood, a federal judge granted Mr. Peabody the right to take care of and raise the child. This is a responsibility he would take extremely seriously, making sure Sherman grows up to be an intelligent, sensible boy who stays on the straight and narrow. He wants Sherman to be just like him, except without the paws.

Because he looks after the boy so intently, his childrearing skills have caused Sherman to be a bit of an oddball. During his first day at school he is teased by a mean girl, Penny Peterson (Ariel Winter) when she learns of his unorthodox upbringing. Feeling cornered, Sherman takes a leaf out of his father’s book and sinks his teeth into her arm in self-defense, an act that would then draw the principal’s attention and that of a nasty woman from Child Services, Ms. Grunion (Allison Janney). In case any adult in the audience was thinking the same, the movie does indeed address the concept of a dog raising a child. We are left to make up our own minds whether the role reversal works. It is indeed a comical idea, at the very least.

Over the course of 90 minutes this endearing but undeniably oddball pair go on many a wild adventure using what Peabody has called his latest invention the WABAC (“way back”) Machine, a device that allows them to travel back in time to any point in history they want to visit. When Penny and her parents come over for a dinner one night in an effort to patch things up between the two kids — thus eliminating the need for Child Services’ intervention — Sherman disobeys his dad’s orders to not show anyone the time travel machine, and they shoot back into the days of ancient Egypt, where the fun jumps into hyperdrive.

Meh. That’s a bit of an exaggeration. But this moment does mark a beginning, a point in time where later we might actually remember what was attractive about this movie. The general set-up and story is fairly generic and nothing that will be chatted about excitedly afterwards (unlike some as of late that have become the trendy thing to talk about). However, the time travel element of Mr. Peabody & Sherman diverts our attention away from the conventional aspects more often than it highlights the weaknesses. A pit-stop in Renaissance Era-Italy serves as a highlight, where we get to see the “real” behind-the-scenes of Da Vinci’s painting of the ‘Mona Lisa,’ watch Sherman testing out the very first airplane prototype, and experience the first of many little arguments Sherman has with Peabody, who seems to be going from protective father to overprotective nuisance with each scene that passes.

All while this epic trek is happening we are trying to get back to the original timeline, before Sherman makes the mistake of showing anyone the WABAC, and just after the Peterson’s arrive for dinner. Peabody hopes that all tragedy can be avoided if they can just make it back home safe and at the right time. Of course, if they jump back to that time they will create their own doubles, which will prove to be problematic when it inevitably happens. This is a side effect Peabody had warned of when using the time traveling machine. You can’t blame him too badly, though; he’s a dog that’s basically one-upped Einstein. So there are kinks and flaws in his newfangled contraption, but come on. Stop pretending like this is confusing. . . . .

There is a great deal of heart to it, and even despite all of the interesting scenarios we find our intrepid voyagers getting involved in, the ultimate experience is ironically bereft of the intelligence quota that is suggested by the character of Peabody. A fiercely intellectual animal is stuffed into a movie with fart jokes and lame sight gags as its sales pitch. A good deal of the joke-telling not aimed at kids becomes repetitive and was never very strong from the beginning. But the little ones should find themselves with plenty to do as they analyze ridiculously animated fat people, thin people, famous icons, and of course, the requisite fart jokes and sounds. In essence, it’s nothing like the segment from The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show from the late 50s/early 60s.

If Peabody’s science is meant to be cutting edge, then the product he’s now featured in is a pretty dull blade. Like, plastic knife bad. While the animation is often humorous and perpetually beautiful, this isn’t quite the breath of fresh air as something like (yes, I’m going to have to reference it again) The Lego Movie, where entire families will have something to feast on for the duration; no, indeed this is one for the kids. Apparently they still think you owe them one, even after you took them to that most rare of animated films.

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2-5Recommendation: Kids may forget it possibly quicker than their chaperones. Its hardly a replacement for the segment that aired so long ago (titled Peabody’s Improbable History) but also somewhat disappointingly, Mr. Peabody & Sherman doesn’t surpass even modern animation standards as it features rather lazy writing and storytelling. It has an interesting gimmick but the rest is nothing but predictable, even if there is a lot going on. It certainly won’t be the worst idea to take the family to this, but it’s pretty likely there’ll be much better family outings as the year progresses.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 92 mins.

Quoted: “All sons have had some issues with their parents. Odysseus was going to be left stranded at home. Ajax was going to be in a Greek chorus. And Oedipus. . . . you do not want to go to his house for the holidays! You want to talk about awkward. . .”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Aningaaq (Gravity “spin-off”)

aningaaq-movie-poster

Release: Wednesday, November 20, 2013 

[Vimeo]

Written by: Jonás Cuarón

Directed by: Jonás Cuarón

In case you departed Earth recently and don’t know yet, the film Gravity by Alfonso Cuarón was nothing short of a revolution in filmmaking, albeit mostly from a technical standpoint. While still selling a considerable number of buckets of popcorn for being a seemingly high-brow sci-fi adventure film, the legend to proceed it will be much more for the sheer brilliance of its scientific accuracy, visual depictions of life in space and its usage of sound — specifically, the lack thereof.

So authentic in its visual detail and human emotion, Gravity seems to be one of those films that you simply can’t get enough of. If you’re going to see it in theaters, it’s one that must be done in 3D (yes, I just said that) and on the IMAX screen. Twice in a row. Some of the more hardcore of us may feel that even that’s not enough to satiate the appetite; fortunately, the brilliant director’s son, Jonas, is where and whom we should turn to next.

Not more than a day ago, it was revealed that Jonas had conceived of a 7-minute short film that shows what goes down on the other side of the desperate calls Sandra Bullock’s Doctor Ryan Stone makes to Earth to try and get help. The film, titled Aningaaq, deals with a major plot point in the film, and it should really go without saying here that if you have yet to see the full-length feature, you should not watch this short until you do. This WILL ruin the film for you, if you aren’t careful.

With that said, Aningaaq is pure brilliance, and serves as a fascinating companion piece to one of 2013’s most eerie and tense dramas. As was the case with the full-length feature, Aningaaq is similarly fraught with tension, though it’s far more limited and not as complex. It is nevertheless a must-see featurette for those who experienced Doctor Stone’s ordeal with isolation in space; it’s important to hear and see what the world is like on the other end of a poor radio signal that is effectively your only tether to the rest of humanity when you’re in orbit.

Ingeniously answering a major question some (if not all) viewers likely have, had or will have in a pivotal and highly emotional scene towards the end, these seven minutes of footage also serve as a good heads-up of what to look for come the awards ceremony, paying particular attention to the short film category. This strange title (referring to the Inuit man featured here) should be one mentioned at some point.

aningaaq-afafa

To watch the film yourself (again, please see the actual film first) click the link below, which will take you to the Hollywood Reporter. Enjoy!

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/gravity-spinoff-watch-side-sandra-657919

4-5Recommendation: Given that you. . . well, er. . .liked Gravity, this will undoubtedly help establish an even bigger appreciation of what was just accomplished in this supremely intelligent piece of cinema. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 7 mins.

[No trailer available. Sorry everyone.]

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.filmaffinity.com; http://www.screenrant.com