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House on Haunted Hill

The original House on Haunted Hill is by far my favorite Vincent Price film of all time.  It’s also my favorite concept.  Strangers locked in a house, haunted by ghosts, and they can’t get out.  Everyone is a stranger.  We don’t know who is who, nor the motives of anyone.  We just know they’re pretty much all bad people and deserve to die.

All of these idiots agree to stay the night in an old haunted house, and the winner takes home $1 million bucks, or at least whomever survives takes home the cash.  We’ve seen this story a million times, and isn’t it strange that it’s still an entertaining tale?  Booby traps, only the strong survive, guts, gore and death? Sign me up!

Geoffrey Rush plays Stephen Price.  The rich host of the party, and obviously in a role that is an homage to the late, great Vincent Price.  He has his booby traps in place within the host and he’s set out to scare the entire party in to leaving the house in his sadistic ways.  Unfortunately for him and everyone involved the house is actually haunted, and people are about to die.

House on Haunted Hill was in the middle of the remake throws of the late 90s.  It took its source material and created something that it set out to be…entertaining.  It’s not a film that’s trying to become something original and special, and sometimes that’s much needed from a film….just a good and entertaining view.

Grade: B

Alien: Covenant

Alien: Covenant is everything that I wanted Prometheus to be, but at the same time it does little to answer the massive questions that Prometheus laid out to begin with.

We follow the new crew of The Covenant.  Their mission is to find a sustainable planet for humanity to colonize.  They have their sights set on one particular planet, but those directions get derailed when a new habitable planet pops up on the radar. They decide to set their sights on this new planet, which of course will be a mistake.  This is the planet that Elizabeth Shaw chased David to in Prometheus.  We add to the dilemma of The Covenant with a David look-alike Walter….the more advanced version of David.  Collisions will happen.

The crew is of course in for a rude awakening as they search the planet.  They’ll run in to David and trust his story of what happened with Shaw, and why he is there.  The reason he ended up there though is obviously much different.

Covenant feels a little like a remake at times of Aliens.  The same type of characters are in place.  They’re just on a different world with a different type of Xenomorph.  That’s not to say that it is tired.  It is most definitely a welcome addition to the Alien franchise.  I also think it will end up being an important middle portion to a new trilogy, and in the end we will receive the answers from Prometheus that we’re looking for.  These are the questions of god, humanity and evolution that Scott set out to answer in his mythical world.

High praise for Katherine Waterston as Dany Branson.  She’s obviously meant to be a doppelganger of Sigourney Weavers Ellen Ripley, but she does it in a way to slightly imitate, not completely replicate.  There’s also this air of history repeating itself along the Alien franchise, not to mention history itself.

Ridley Scott does a lot with a little, and creates an extremely entertaining sci-fi horror film.  He’s able to create something that is loved by both critics and fans alike, and that’s not easy to do.  Covenant makes me really look forward to the next installment.

Grade: A-

Any Given Sunday

When I first saw Any Given Sunday almost 20 years ago I was completely indifferent on it.  I thought it was a bad take on the NFL.  20 years later though I see it as a film that is actually ahead of its time as a sports film that has tapped in to the problems that the NFL is now seeing.  The issues of CTE are at the forefront of the film, before these issues were even widely known.  The film dives in to these issues without making them the main focus of the film.

It’s a film that feels like it exists in a parallel universe.  A universe where maybe the XFL reigns supreme.  The teams are fictional and everything surrounding the league feels sensationalized.  Which is what makes the film work on some level.

Any Given Sunday for the most part stays away from the stereotype of hanging its hat on the “let’s win it all!” trope.  It focuses on the characters and their dilemmas within their specific roles.  Al Pacino gives an amazing performance as coach D’Amato.  He’s aged and lost his instinct as a coach.  It’s almost a “No Country For Old Men’ scenario.  Out with the old and in with the new.  And not just him, but also aging QB Cap (Dennis Quaid).  Jamie Foxx also gives what I believe to be one of his first dramatic performances as the emerging QB set to take over the team and revolutionize the game.

Any Given Sunday definitely isn’t Stones best, but on further view it plays better 20 years later.  It’s a film that taps in to serious issues we see today in the NFL, and is an interesting character study within one of the most watched sports in the world.

Grade: B+

A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner Darkly is probably one of my favorite Phillip K. Dick novels.  His works have been converted in to numerous Films and TV shows.  The problem with his work is that it’s actually quite hard to convert his writing in to other formats.  There’s been much failure in doing so.  Next, Paycheck, and unfortunately A Scanner Darkly.

Richard Linklater, who directed the film, is the greatest American film director who doesn’t get the credit he deserves.  However, even he has trouble converting the source material.  A Scanner Darkly is a frenetic acid trip that plays well on paper, but not so well on the screen.  It is the story of Bob Arctor who lives with a number of drug addled degenerates who are addicted to a futuristic drug, Substance D, or Slow Death.  Arctor lives a double life as a secret agent, Fred, who wears a scramble suit to make him un-identified. It alters his appearance.  Fred is looking in to the activities of Bob Arctor, himself, and the degenerates who live in his house, played by Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson.

Arctor tries to hide his dual life through the aid of the scramble suit.  His addiction to Substance D however guides his motives and friendship.  His love for Donna, his drug dealer, also guides his actions.  He’s conflicted between his role as agent, and drug addict.

A Scanner Darkly plays like a Hunter S. Thompson novel.  It works on paper but not so much on the screen.  It’s trippy. It’s weird.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it’s a film that fails at the box office, and tries too hard to become a cult film.  The way the film is shot also adds to this bizarre world.  Linklater definitely gets some props for attempting to create a new animated, dreamy world.  It’s a world of paranoia and addiction, but not a lot of Substance.

A Scanner Darkly, very strangely, mimics Phillip K. Dick’s personal life.  He lived in addiction for most of his life, and he stated that he lived with a number of transient drug addicts who would stay with him in his home.  It’s a fantastic novel, but not so much as a film.

Grade: C+