Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark: Less Horror and More Dark Fairy Tale

29 08 2011

A remake of the 1973 made-for-TV movie of the same name, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a Guillermo del Toro produced “horror” film starring Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce and  Bailee Madison. Here’s the breakdown:

When Sally (Madison) moves in with her architect father (Pearce) and his new girlfriend (Holmes), she unwittingly uncovers a centuries old secret and unleashes a living nightmare.

The Monkey: The tone of this movie was rock solid. From the set design to the music; from the cinematography to the script, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark thoroughly maintained its “creepiness” factor. The sprawling Victorian mansion became a character all its own, with its blood-red stained glass, creaking stairs, secret chambers, roaring fireplaces, labyrinthine gardens and classic fixtures. It was a haunted house from backyard to buttress.

Del Toro brought much of what made his critically-acclaimed Pan’s Labyrinth a success to this endeavor as well. A classic story, with genre tropes twisted just enough to feel refreshingly original and genuinely creepy. More of a “dark fairy tale” than a true horror film, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark played out its fantastical elements without apology and del Toro’s contributions continued to shine throughout, especially regarding the honesty of the storytelling (not to mention his almost infamous creature designs).

While the “Don’t go in there!” moments were myriad, it lent to the overall “We’ve seen this before but we don’t mind seeing it again” feeling that permeated the whole movie. Fairy tales are grounded on archetypes and familiar plots…so it becomes all about the embellishments. And there were many here. A truly blood-chilling opening sequence, creepy music-box music, grotesque drawings and even a homage-ish shower/bath scene, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark rests firmly on the bones of tried-and-true ghost stories, allowing the filmmakers room to get creative with the trappings.

The Weasel: Unfortunatley, the movie was not exactly marketed well. Touted as a true horror film, the movie was much more thriller, much more dark fairy tale. And while there were wonderful tastes of this (especially when the story began to focus on its own mythology), the fantastical elements seemed almost out of place, in that it kept the movie from becoming actually terrifying. The fantastic nature of the story should have been given more prominence.

The acting was neither here nor there; decent enough to support the story, without being distracting.

There was a significant portion of the movie dedicated to the family drama surrounding Sally’s estranged parents and Kim, the new girlfriend. This relationship was played up even more in the final moments of the film; however, the build-up was shoddy at best and unbelievable at worst. Tonally, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was never quite sure of itself, and the mismatched drama/horror/fantasy pieces were evidence of this.

In the end, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a big-budget camp-side ghost story, an extended episode of the Twilight Zone, a twisted fairy tale. A bit of mis-marketing and some tonal inconsitencies aside, don’t be afraid to give this movie a chance.

And on a side note: there was NO reason for this movie to be rated R. This was practically cable TV ready, with no gore, swearing, nudity…R for “Violence and Terror”? Please. The most ridiculous rating I’ve ever seen.

2.5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Was Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark a decent remake? Did you find it more horror or fantasy? Share your thoughts in the comments!





Conan the Barbarian: A Fun Action Flick…Better Suited For Your Xbox

22 08 2011

A remake of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1982 cult classic, Conan the Barbarian stars Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols, Stephan Lang, Ron Perlman and Rose McGowan. Here’s the breakdown:

As a young boy, Conan (Momoa) witnesses the massacre of his village and family, including his father (Perlman), by the ruthless warlord Khalar Zym. Zym and his witch daughter Marique (McGowan) are after pieces of a mystical mask that, once assembled, will turn Zym into a god. Conan grows up to be a warrior and a thief, all the while seeking his father’s murderer. When the grown Conan stumbles across Zym, still on his god-quest, an epic struggle ensues, and the fate of the world and the fate of an innocent girl (Nichols) who’s ancestral blood is the key to Zym’s plans hangs in the balance.

The Monkey: Conan the Barbarian was, most noticeably, visually stunning. From idyllic Cimmerian villages to sprawling temple cities, this movie definitely delivered audiences an epic feel.

It was also nice to sit through a hard-R action adventure, where nudity and violence weren’t shied away from. It’s a story that lends itself to such excess and never did it feel over-the-top or unnecessary (although a certiain scene involving a finger and a nose had me squirming).

The fight scenes were extremely well choreographed and surprisingly original. A standout scene involving bewitched sand warriors was by far the best action piece in the movie and was incredibly entertaining, original and looked amazing in 3D. And Stephan Lang’s Zym and his double-bladed sword action was some of the best and most exciting sword work since Star Wars.

Jason Momoa and Stephen Lang played their respective roles well, playing off each other and bringing a believable amount of chemistry to the screen. While I wasn’t entirely convinced that Momoa could take on the Conan mantle (based on the movie’s marketing), he surprised and fit the role with the right amount of humor, brawn and bravado. Perlman was, as ever, enjoyable as Conan’s stalwart father, Corin.

The Weasel: The rest of the cast was a bit weak. Rachel Nichols’ whining Tamara was an unlikable love interest and would-be heroine. And Rose McGowan’s villainous Marique was almost comical; how that woman and her immovable Botox addled mug get any acting gigs at all amazes me.

The plot played out much like a video game. I half-expected to see “level-ups” and “loading” bars between scenes. This led to the movie’s biggest problem; a lack of urgency and danger. Zym had been searching for the mask for decades and yet he was just now letting the pieces fall into place? Just as Conan happens to be of ripe ass-kicking age? The movie really could have used a “race against time” feel to it. In addition, the video game quality caused each fight scene to become repetitive; yes we know Conan can kill, yes we know he’ll win – there was never any real sense of danger, and each time Conan was pitted against enemies, it just made the next encounter that much more unnecessary.

Momoa has supposedly written a sequel to Conan the Barbarian and sees this movie as his ticket to even more leading roles. Unfortunately, I think the poor box office and negative reviews might set him back a bit. And that sequel? Yeah, probably not happening.

Conan the Barbarian is an action-packed, violent, testosterone-fest. And it’s fun. While it suffers in the acting and plot department, the action scenes and the 3D make this a fun, B-sword-and-sandals flick. Don’t expect any more.

3 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Is this newer Conan a worthy reboot? Did Momoa do an adequate job of filling Schwarzenegger’s shoes? Do you want to see a sequel? Share your thoughts in the comments below!





The Mechanic: A Well-Oiled Action Movie Machine

28 01 2011

A remake of the 1972 movie of the same name starring Charles Bronson, The Mechanic teams up director Simon West with action star Jason Statham and Ben Foster. Here’s the breakdown:

Arthur Bishop (Statham) is a “mechanic,” a contract killer. When his latest assignment proves more personal than he’d like, Arthur takes on a protégé, Steve (Foster). Together, they set out to take down the men who betrayed them. But thier partnership proves to be more complicated than expected.

The Monkey: The Mechanic makes no effort to hide its true intent: shoot up, beat up, blow up, sex up. The plot is refreshingly straightforward without being overly simple, leaving the audience plenty of brainpower to dedicate to the over-the-top action and violence – and it’s all played out to Mark Isham’s sufficiently pulse-pounding, James Bond-esque score.

Since 95% of the movie is action, there is a lot riding on these sequences. Thankfully, The Mechanic does a better-than-average job, delivering a barrage of crushing punches, splattered brains, crumpled cars and spent shell casings that leaves the audience cringing and groaning – in a good way. And in addition to all the action, the movie manages to incorporate a healthy dose of tension; there are more than a few edge-of-your-seat moments, giving The Mechanic an added layer often missing from action fare.

Jason Statham has long since established himself as one of the leading action stars of today, and his turn as Arthur Bishop only reinforces this status. He’s slick, sexy, lethally efficient and manages to do it all with a wicked sense of humor. Ben Foster rarely disappoints either, and his portrayal of Steve was a compelling mix of lost soul and vengeful spirit.

The Weasel: Editing is one of those things most people don’t remember in a film. Good editing is usually seamless and works with the other filmmaking techniques to create the overall finished product. For whatever reason, The Mechanic‘s editing was not only blatantly obvious, it was blatantly horrible. Random cuts to unrelated scenes, unnecessary shots of characters just standing around or walking down the street; I’ve never been so distracted and confused by a movie’s editing. Thank goodness the action scenes were cut well, otherwise the whole movie would have been practically unwatchable.

Unfortunately, the cliché “training montage” reared its ugly head; are we really supposed to believe that Steve can sharpshoot, repel off buildings and keep up with Arthur after only a few short training sessions? Ugh.

While Arthur is clearly supposed to be the lone wolf character with no heart, he confuses the audience by showing random moments of emotion and unexpected glimmers of a conscience. This would be acceptable if his character was moving through a development arc toward something else. But he’s not. And in fact, by the end of the movie, he’s as cold-blooded and efficient as ever, making him a hard character to really root for or identify with.

The Mechanic is an entertaining action movie, with solid performances, but ultimately offers little else.

3 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? How does the remake compare to the original? Does Jason Statham still have what it takes to be an action star? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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