With the Halloween month of October scaring up things now it seems fitting to have some past and present fright flicks included in the cinematic crop below. Tall men, silver spheres and empty graves both new and old are examined, but also painful past relationships, men who haven’t gone through puberty and tough teens searching for self are also encompassed in this weeks edition of Encapsulated Movie Reviews. So check out the skinny on the films Phantasm: Remastered, Blue Jay, The Late Bloomer, The Great Gilly Hopkins, Kids In Love and Phantasm: Ravager.
(Well Go USA)
Having become a cult favorite and one of my personal favorite horror films of all time, the merits of the 1979 classic Phantasm are hardly in question. So unbridled (even the director admits there’s things he doesn’t understand in the film!), so original (a terror tale set in a funeral home ripe with evil dwarfs and killer silver balls – oh yeah!) and so innovative (no need for names – he’s The Tall Man!) is Don Coscarelli’s flick that even a big budget nut like J.J. Abrams bows to its bold indie beauty. Which brings us to the meat and potatoes of this review – how does this very dated but decadent dark ditty hold up with a new Bad Robot remastered silver ball shine? Pretty damn good. Yes, the nostalgic 70’s era can hardly be erased from the film (and it’s a big part of the unpredictable charm!), but so glowing, so clean and so detailed now is the film that it feels like something shot today that’s simply paying homage to a time forgotten. Scenes previously clocked in too much shadow now pop in full view and what’s left is now used towards the original intent – creating mood. Also the crisp new sound design and groundbreaking score by Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave are given a volume jolt, which so adds to the rich new visual tapestry. Bottom line – Phantasm looks better than ever and more than likely the way Coscarelli wanted it to be seen back when he made it. Phantasm: Remastered finally gets right what George Lucas and his original trilogy tinkering could not – enhancement without alteration.
The curious thing about actor Mark Duplass is just how much an amazing co-star ups his acting ante. In the underappreciated Safety Not Guaranteed, Aubrey Plaza brought out the best in Duplass and his hapless nerd looking for love and a life partner character. But on his own, Duplass can also churn out walk through work like the distinctively annoying killer in the subpar found footage flick Creep. (Scary – but not in the way intended!) Fortunately this time out director Alex Lehmann wisely enlists the five-star talents of recent Emmy winner Sarah Paulson as the ying to Duplass’s on-screen yang in a tale about a chance meeting between two former lovers with a ton of unresolved back baggage and the result is magnetic and magical. (Plus being in black and white definitely puts the focus where it belongs – on the characters!) A seemingly simple tale is given weight and worth via the truthful turns within and it’s a testament to what an actor truly in the moment can create. Admittedly there are a few bits of Duplass disbelief (his breakdown borders on bad acting!), but with such a stellar and grounded partner in the form of the pitch perfect Paulson, Blue Jay manages to cinematically soar nevertheless.
THE LATE BLOOMER
The feature debut of funnyman actor turned director Kevin Pollack, The Late Bloomer is a competent comedy that walks the line of been there done that. Meaning no new comedic ground is broken in the tale of man child Peter, a gent who has never gone through puberty that suddenly finds himself in a light speed crash course (go The 40 Year-Old Virgin!), but Pollack knows well enough to sprinkle his ruckus ride with enough dirty humor and witty asides to keep the laughs coming fast and furious. Especially poignant and perverse are Maria Bello and J.K. Simmons as Peter’s candid and caustic mom and pop, plus dig Pollack’s 80’s montage fascination with both a killer Teen Wolf basketball homage and section dedicated to male self pleasure. (That’s a first!) The Late Bloomer is like a fun albeit forgettable one-night stand – it may not be ‘the one’, but it will leave a smile on your face.
THE GREAT GILLY HOPKINS
The tale of a troubled foster home teen that ends up finding a family, The Great Gilly Hopkins has some wonderfully dramatic emotional beats from a killer cast that includes the likes of Kathy Bates, Octavia Spencer, Bill Cobbs and Glenn Close. But the movie via not-so-subtle Director Stephen Herek is also rife with a gaggle of those forced film familiars that fully carry the cliché cornball seal of approval. As a result the film frankly feels like a decent movie wrapped with an outer layer of over-the-top heartstring hokey that works as a constant reminder that viewers are watching ‘a movie.’ And while Herek has made a successful career with such a heavy-handed style staple (see Critters and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure where it works!), with Gilly it reduces a great film to a moderate one.
KIDS IN LOVE
Filled with every trope of the coming of age genre, Kids in Love is a film with few surprises. There’s a young gent looking to find himself and explore the unchartered (Will Poulter in full photographer Jon Cryer via No Small Affair mode!), a mysterious maven who forces him out of his comfort zone (fetching French Blue is the Warmest Color alum Alma Jodorowsky) and struggling with past friends and family for a little character conflict. But regardless of being so recognizable, there’s still enjoyment in Kids in Love with even the most conventional genre scenarios still having a genuine sweetness thanks to a believable and watchable cast. So while one can’t say they’ve never seen a film like this before, these are kids we know and still love.
(Well Go USA)
With the first two Phantasm films being a great example of cool ideas on a small and large budget and the two follow ups being so-so examples of what cult can accomplish in terms of keeping a franchise alive, the new Phantasm: Ravager feels unneeded. Even Director Don Coscarelli is wise enough to sit this one out and its fitting as the overall feeling of the film is providing fan service. Ravager takes every favorite quirk (this one plays with the idea of fantasy and reality…every five seconds!), character (Reggie is once again the everyman focus of the piece!), cool effect (the plethora of balls roam the open highways!) and squeezes the life blood out of them in the name of giving the initiated a mere Phantasm quick fix. But what everyone involved here fails to understand is that what made Phantasm such a unique experience in the first place was exploring the abnormal, celebrating the unknown and going places wholly unfamiliar. Bad CGI silver spheres and Matrix ‘lots of guns’ scene with Tall Man substitution aside, Phantasm: Ravager is a fan film we never asked for.