My Soul to Take

Wes Craven has had his share of ups and downs over the years (for every “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” there’s a “Shocker”), but when he fails, he fails hard, as is painfully evident with his latest film, “My Soul to Take.” Though it’s admirable of Craven to try and reinvigorate the slasher genre by introducing a horror villain for a new generation, the Riverton Ripper – a serial killer who reemerges 16 years after his mysterious disappearance to stalk a group of local kids who were born on the same day – simply doesn’t compare to icons like Freddy Krueger or Ghostface. It doesn’t help that Craven keeps him hidden for most of the film, because not only is there no suspense to the story, but the twist ending that he’s trying to protect is built around a single lie that falls apart as soon as the killer’s identity is revealed. The Ripper also isn’t very scary, and when he does come out to kill, it’s done in perhaps the most nonchalant, uninspired ways possible. Then again, the victims aren’t really deserving of any better, as they’re little more than cardboard cutouts of what I can only imagine Craven believes to be an accurate representation of modern day teenagers. This is low-grade horror at its worst, and unless you’re looking for some cheap laughs by skewering the movie “MST3K”-style, you’d be well advised to keep your distance.

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2010 Year End Movie Review: Jason Zingale

Every year has its share of good movies and bad movies, but in 2010, the good ones were especially good and the bad ones sucked more than they usually do. And then there were the ones that fell somewhere in between – films that a lot of us were looking forward to seeing that didn’t pan out quite like we’d hoped. But there was nothing more destructive to cinemas this year than the onslaught of 3D, with studios hell-bent on trying to convince moviegoers that it was the future of movies. Sorry to say, but it was a gimmick in the 50s, a gimmick in the 80s, and it’s a gimmick today, not to mention a giant scam. Nevertheless, the good far outweighed the bad, with new films from innovative directors like Christopher Nolan, Edgar Wright and Danny Boyle, and what’s shaping up to be one of the most exciting Best Picture races in years. That’s not to say that all of my choices are necessarily award-worthy, but in a perfect world, they would be.

Best Movies of 2010

1. “The Social Network

It might sound a bit contrived to say that a movie can define an entire generation, but in the case of “The Social Network,” I honestly believe it. There have been plenty of films made about corporate empires built on ruined friendships, broken promises and massive egos, but never has one hit so close to home as the story of Mark Zuckerberg and the rise of Facebook. It’s not just a product of our time, but something that directly affects the everyday lives of people all around the world. Interesting stuff no matter how you spin it, but David Fincher takes what could have been a boring courtroom drama and turns it into a wildly entertaining character study filled with some of the zippiest and cleverest dialogue that Aaron Sorkin has ever written. There’s not a weak link in the cast – from major players like Andrew Garfield and Armie Hammer, to Rooney Mara’s brief (but important) appearance as one of Zuckerberg’s pre-Facebook girlfriends – but it’s Jesse Eisenberg’s star-making performance as the socially inept whiz-kid that makes “The Social Network” the year’s most enthralling film.

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2. “Inception

It’s hard not to be envious of a filmmaker like Christopher Nolan, because the guy is only 40 years old, hasn’t made a single bad movie yet, and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Though it might have seemed virtually impossible to outdo “The Dark Knight,” Nolan’s seventh feature is better in just about every way – from its incredibly complex and original mind trip of a story, to the stunning visual effects and outstanding ensemble cast. “Inception” is the kind of film that only gets better with each new viewing, and though everyone may have their own theory about the ending (you could ask just about anyone whether or not it fell and they would immediately know what you were talking about), the real delight is watching the journey that leads us there. There are so many memorable moments that it’s hard to keep track, but the last 40 minutes are particularly spellbinding as Nolan manages to juggle four different dream states without tripping once. Can we just give the man his Oscar already?

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3. “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Edgar Wright wasn’t exactly a household name prior to directing “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” but that will hopefully all change with this wildly ambitious action-comedy that pretty much rewrites the rules on comic book movies. It’s been said that mimicry is the highest form of flattery, and if that’s the case, then Bryan Lee O’Malley must be blushing, because the film adaptation of his six-volume comic series is not only incredibly faithful to the story, but its quirky humor and breakneck pacing as well. The ensemble cast is terrific (from a pitch-perfect Michael Cera in the title role, to bubbly newcomer Ellen Wong), the fight sequences are playfully unique, and you’d need a Rolodex just to keep track of all the clever pop culture references that are crammed into the script. It’s like dying and going to geek heaven.

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4. “127 Hours

Aron Ralston’s incredible story of survival may not exactly sound like the feel-good movie of the year, but despite all the attention that was placed on the dreaded amputation scene, there’s a really positive message coursing throughout the film. It’s not necessarily something you’ll notice the first time you watch it, either. In fact, while I was engrossed by Ralston’s perseverance during my first viewing (his know-it-all selfishness may have gotten him into the mess, but it’s also what got him out of it), it wasn’t until I saw it a second time that I truly appreciated how much the film is bursting with life. There aren’t too many actors that could have played Ralston without coming off as smug, but James Franco brings an Everyman quality to the role that wins you over immediately. And if he’s the heart and soul of the movie, then Danny Boyle is the brain, interweaving memories/daydreams/hallucinations of Ralston’s family and lost love as he tries to free himself from the boulder. This could have been a really dull film, but under Boyle’s direction, it’s an unforgettable, one-of-a-kind experience.

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Weekend box office: poor, poor “Iron Man 2″…

“It broke no records” seems to be the fairly silly refrain. According to Box Office Mojo, “Iron Man 2” made only an estimated $133.6 million Paramount and Marvel Productions. Why, that’s not even enough money to buy a pound of Kobe beef for the entire state of Hawaii! Of course, at $163,193,428.00 they’ll hit that milestone shortly. (Yes, I did the math, based on the $380.00 it costs to buy four pounds of Kobe New York steaks via mail order from Neiman-Marcus.).  That’s the problem with all this bar setting, it makes massive success look like failure.

I personally succumbed to that mania partially on Thursday. I did that mostly in deference to the gurus who generated the mania, even knowing that, while it’s not a bad movie, almost everyone seems to agree it’s some level of let down from the first film — the only real disagreement is how much. (There are people out there who didn’t even care for the first film for perfectly legitimate reasons, shocking as that might be to some of you.)

Jon Favreau has made some charming movies — I love “Elf” — but “The Dark Knight,” this ain’t. However, Anthony D’Alessandro points out some good reasons why, in terms of box office at least, that might be an unfair comparison. He also mentions that it pulled a 31% improvement over the original’s opening, which is “well within the perameters [sic] for most sequels.” It’s worth noting that the movie more than justified the one record it really did break — the number of theaters it was booked into. It’s 4,380 screens enjoyed by far the week’s best per screen average (which usually goes to a limited release film) with a terrific per-screen average of $30,502.00.  Still, I can’t help wondering if Favreau’s improvisational approach, which he discussed in some detail at the film’s press conference, might have limited the power of the film’s story and hence it’s long-term appeal. We’ll see.

In any case, given the film’s international take of $194 million so far according to Nikki Finke, it’s already significantly exceeding its $200 million production budget by roughly $127 million. That is not shabby. ($200 million is now considered low for this kind of movie, I guess. Marvel is the stingy maker of efx laden epics. I guess there are a number of big salaries to pay.)

Freddy contemplates his rapidly dropping grosses in despairComing in a very poor second indeed is the latest horror remake, “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” It dropped a gigantic 72% in its second week, obviously not generating a whole lot of excitement in terms of word of mouth and also probably sharing a big part of its youngish audience with “Iron Man 2.” Coming in third place is Warner’s extremely strong “How to Train Your Dragon” which is leggy as all get out and made $6.76 million in its seventh week. It cracked the $200 million mark this week, though it’s $165 million budget shows just how risky a gamble this kind of movie can still be. However, if you can make a family picture that parents truly enjoy, you can be reasonably sure the world will beat a path to your door.

It’s also important to remind everyone that Sunday hasn’t actually happened yet as I write this and I’m not sure the Mom’s day factor is all that easily predictable. One movie that could benefit from a Sunday surge is the “awww” generating documentary, “Babies,” which did okay in it’s 534 theater release, earning $1.575 million and a per-screen average of $2,949.00. The week’s second highest per-screen according to Box Office Mojo (which is missing several key movies on its list) also benefits from a mom’s day tie-in as its title, “Mother and Child,” makes clear. It earned about $11,000 per screen at four theaters for Sony Classics. According to Indiewire, that figure was nearly matched by a movie that is just a few years younger than Betty White, Fritz Lang’s once-again re-restored “Metropolis” which — visually, anyhow — blew me away at the TCM Classic Film Festival just a weekend or two ago.

Actually, there’s much more going on regarding limited releases than I have time to discuss, including strong business for “Please Give” and “Exit Through the Gift Shop” as well as not-bad biz for “Harry Brown” and perhaps some spectacular showings on individual screenings for that horror movie I’m not talking about. The above-linked Indiewire is the place to go for such information.

Do not f*ck with Michael Caine. Trust me.

  

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No box office surprises: “A Nightmare on Elm Street” tops the charts; “Furry Vengeance” bites it

A Nightmare on Elm StreetI’m going to keep in short and snappy, especially since things have worked pretty much they way they looked to way back on Thursday night. So, yes, as expected, the critically dissed remake/reboot of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” did scarily well for Warners, earning an estimated $32.2 million or so as detailed by Box Office Mojo. At the #2 and #3 spot are the leggy successes of the moment, Paramount/Dreamworks “How to Train Your Dragon” and Fox’s “Date Night.” They earned estimates of $10.8 and $7.6 million respectively.

In other news…Oh, for a universe where someone not named Frank Miller made “The Spirit” and cast Brendan Fraser in the part he was born to play as Will Eisner’s affable-but-tough Denny Colt.  In that universe the accomplished actor wouldn’t have to take parts in apparently horrid comedies like Summit Entertainment’s “Furry Vengeance,” which climbed all the way up form 0% on Rotten Tomatoes earlier to a rocking 02% here on Sunday nigh because of a positive review from voice-in-the-wilderness Chris Hewitt. Still, the other 48 RT critics apparently spoke for the majority of filmgoers. The comedy earned a fairly pitiful estimated $6.5 million on its opening weekend to hit the #5 spot, despite plenty of publicity and screens for a wide release family film.

In the world of limited releases, the top per-screen earner was the extremely well-reviewed comedy-drama from critical favorite Nicole Holofcener and star Catherine Keener, “Please Give,” which earned a rocking estimated $25,600 or so for Sony Classics on five art-house screens over the weekend. Among other indie films doing notable business was the offbeat comic documentary, “Exit Through the Gift Shop” which earned an estimated $182,000 on 20 screens. “Harry Brown” starring Michael Caine also debuted strongly, earning an estimate $180,000 on 19 screens for Samuel Goldwyn, who is doing very well for a mogul whose been dead since 1974.

Michael Caine is

  

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Weekend box office preview: It’s a “Nightmare” all around

So, we have just two major releases this week and while one is hard-edged remake of a franchise-spawning eighties horror hit and the other is a purported family film, to me all signs this weekend in terms of major new releases (and one tiny release) scream: “Be afraid, be very afraid.” For the most part, the critics aren’t disagreeing.

For starters, we have “A Nightmare on Elm Street” which brings us Jackie Earle Haley in the role made famous by Robert Englund — the child-murderer of everyone’s dreams with the specially augmented fingers, Freddy Kruger. Now, as someone who is such a wuss that he was unable to get past the first twenty minutes or so of the original on VHS — that Wes Craven guy really knows how to scare people — I’m not really one to judge. However, the critics are thoroughly unimpressed with the new version directed by another music video alum, Samuel Bayer, granting it a dismal 11% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing.

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Still, even if the original version is regarded as something of a classic today by critics, this movie has “critic proof” written all over it. Indeed, jolly Carl DiOrio, assures us that it’s “tracking” very well and will top the box office with “as much as” $30 million for Warner Brothers. He also gets a bit less jolly in his video this week and actually complains about the use of the word “reboot” to describe films like “Nightmare.” Well, considering that you’re starting over an existing franchise as if the original had never happened, I’m not sure what you’re supposed to call it. It’s not only a remake.

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