Archive | October, 2022

My Favorite Movies – The Haunting (1963)

31 Oct

By Tanner Smith

It’s Halloween, so I thought I’d talk about my all-time personal-favorite scary movie, the movie that gives me chills each time I see it, the movie I make it a tradition to watch every Halloween night (“in the night…in the dark…”): The Haunting.

“The Haunting” is one of my absolute favorite movies–definitely in my top 20 as of now. And it’s the film that gives me the absolute chills no matter how many times I see it.

Based on the Shirley Jackson novel (“The Haunting of Hill House”) that also inspired the popular Netflix series, “The Haunting” is a 1963 psychologically gripping gothic story set in a haunted house in which you don’t know how much of the haunting is real and how much is in the unstable mind of Eleanor (Julie Harris), a mentally tortured woman who is utterly insecure and just wants to belong somewhere. She’s part of a small group of people, including Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson), clairvoyant Theodora (Claire Bloom), and cynic Luke (Russ Tamblyn), who are investigating the goings-on of a supposedly haunted mansion known as Hill House. Surely enough, things do go bump in the night, with many loud noises keeping everyone awake, things appearing where they shouldn’t be, and some kind of presence that continues calling to Eleanor and lures her further into the house’s trap…

A lot of people found “The Haunting of Hill House” to be scary. Even if they don’t find “The Haunting” particularly scary, it’s still a brilliant character study and a great psychological dive into madness.

You don’t see the ghosts. You don’t see the monster. You don’t know what’s bending the door inward, trying to get in. You don’t know what’s causing the misery. You don’t know what truly haunts Hill House. You just know that it’s something. And honestly, what I come up with in my head is more frightening than anything I could’ve seen…or anything the terrible 1999 remake (also called “The Haunting”) could’ve imagined with its CGI monstrosities.

The scenes that scare me the most in “The Haunting” are the scenes involving Eleanor alone in parts of the house, as things get worse and worse for her. You just know that what she’s going through is going to end up claiming her life if she isn’t careful. And as it’s been established many times in the film, she isn’t careful–she’s meek, fragile, and sensitive, and she does a lot of things without thinking. She just wants to belong somewhere, and the thing that haunts Hill House continues to bring her further into something that could claim her life. Striking cinematography and eerie music helps make these scenes utterly unnerving, but it’s Julie Harris’ performance that makes it all work.

And then there’s the ending–good Lord, the ending is the real winner here! The haunting is real, it stays within everyone involved, and it will never ever go away… That’s not directly said in the movie, but I get the idea fairly easily when it reaches its creepy close, with a final piece of voiceover narration…coming from a source that shouldn’t have had to deliver it! (Seriously, it’s one of the scariest moments I ever experienced in my years of watching movies!!)

Films like “The Others,” “The Blair Witch Project,” and ‘Paranormal Activity” owe a lot to the psychological turmoil of “The Haunting.” (And of course, the series “The Haunting of Hill House” owes a lot too.) It was a game-changing horrific experience in the 1960s, and it’s still among the best horror films now. And it’s my personal favorite…and I’m going to watch it again on Halloween night.

Halloween Ends (2022)

14 Oct

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Before you read my thoughts about “Halloween Ends,” you should know up front that I was one of the few that liked “Halloween Kills.”

For those of you still reading, I’ll just state my initial thoughts up front: I kinda loved “Halloween Ends”… That being said, I can see it being just as divisive as “Halloween Kills.” Director David Gordon Green and co-writer Danny McBride have taken a big risk with the final installment of this new “legacy-quel” trilogy in the Halloween franchise, and it may turn diehard fans off.

Well, it didn’t turn me off. I respect the risk, I admire the results, and I’ll say it again, I kinda loved this movie.

You know how people dissed “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” because it was so different? Well, that’s what may happen with “Halloween Ends.” And I don’t think Green & McBride cared that much–hell, the opening-credits font is the same as “Halloween III!” They know they’re doing something different, and they say you can either stay with it or get off the ride.

Laurie Strode is back and played by the ever-awesome Jamie Lee Curtis (who, along with John Carpenter himself, has championed Green for his hard work and risk-taking in this trilogy)–and thankfully, she has more to do in this film than the previous one. But this new Halloween film isn’t merely about how the killer Michael Myers affected her life–it’s about how he (or “it,” seeing as Michael is pretty much evil in the shape of a man) affected the town of Haddonfield, Illinois. This was touched upon in “Halloween Kills” in how mob mentality can do some damage. But in “Halloween Ends,” it’s four years after the night he returned and killed more people, and because Michael Myers has never been caught, most people in Haddonfield haven’t moved on and don’t know how to deal with it. (Laurie, however, has found some closure and a bit of normalcy–hell, she’s even decorating her house for Halloween night!) Some people blame Laurie for provoking Michael while most people look for a new monster to hate and fear. That’s where Corey Cunningham comes in…

Corey (Rohan Campbell) is a young man who is bullied and ostracized by the locals after he accidentally killed a kid he was babysitting. He has a chance at something hopeful with Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), who takes an interest in him. But the town won’t let the past go and keep punishing this guy for what was an accident–a bizarre and VERY unpleasant accident, but still an accident.

His bullies even include a group of high-school marching-band kids who see no repercussions from bullying adults. I mean, it’s not like shoving an issue-filled guy off a bridge is gonna do some damage…IS IT???

I won’t give away what happens after that (and it happens about 30 minutes in), but let’s just say it causes a strange effect in Corey for the rest of the movie.

This is where the film may divide audiences–“Halloween Ends” includes a new serial-killer origin story while Michael Myers sort of hangs out in the background, occasionally getting in on the carnage himself, while we see the growth and horrific progression of a new killer to fear in Haddonfield.

There are no long speeches like in “Halloween Kills,” but there are telling lines of what causes evil to erupt, how do people handle it, are people to blame for what happens, etc. Some of it works, the rest are kinda hokey–it’s not subtle, but it’s not overly drawn out either. (Oh, and no one says “EVIL DIES TONIGHT”–although, “LOVE LIES TODAY” is seen spray-painted.)

And I got into what happens with Corey–it gave me a lot to think about, it kept me intrigued, the guy playing him is a good actor, and most importantly, I admired it because it was happening in a “Halloween” film that was actually doing something different. It felt very fresh.

Although…I do wish they did something more interesting with Allyson. They started to, with her now being a nurse and hanging out with Corey and dealing with people constantly bringing up the murders she survived four years prior (but her parents didn’t). But then, after that, I feel like they took the easy way out in dealing with her character’s progression–that’s a shame, because I actually started to care about her. (Yeah, sorry, but Allyson was the character in this new “Halloween” trilogy that I was least interested in.)

“Halloween Ends” is ultimately a character-based horror film that shows people dealing with some heavy sh*t. This is a very David Gordon Green film in that sense (it even has moments that reminded me of Green’s drama “Snow Angels”)–I feel like this is the “Halloween” film he wanted to make. There’s a lot of dreariness and loneliness here, but there is some hope at the surface–it’s just ever a question of who deserves to hold on to that hope.

Oh, and we DO get the Laurie vs. Michael battle we’ve been waiting for and it is ultimately satisfying–Green is trusting that you’ll stay with the film to get to that point, which is another risk I applaud.

I’ll say it again–I kinda loved “Halloween Ends.” And I like what was done with this trilogy.

Alan Jones Part One (2022)

14 Oct

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

There are a lot of crime thrillers out there. They’re practically a dime a dozen. So many of them are interchangeable. We get the mood; it’s bleak. We get the scenario; someone is missing (usually a kid). We get the characters; they have personal conflicts. We get everything.

It’s gonna take a special vision to get me to care about a new crime thriller–and maybe it’s because I came into “Alan Jones Part One” with a more open mind, but I did care about the vision brought upon this one from writer/director Baron Redman. It reminds me of why people make these films–to delve deep into the knowledge or lack thereof of why things like this happen in the world. And with stunningly detailed cinematography, a thrilling mystery, and a couple of interesting characters to root for, Redman’s feature film is intriguing and a standout.

Kurt Hanover stars in a superb leading performance as Henry Allen, an embittered private detective with a tragic past and a rough edge. We already know this guy’s got issues. When we first meet him, it’s in a dream sequence where his hands are stained with blood (and an avalanche threatens to engulf him in the same dream); next time we meet him (in reality), he’s in a bar meeting with police captain Charles Hollis (Greg Lane), who wonders why they didn’t meet at his apartment–his answer: “I ran out of scotch.” Following that, we catch on quickly that a horrific occurrence drove him to leave the force, be a private detective, and drink.

In a refreshing change of pace from most character-based crime thrillers, we also learn just as quickly that Hollis feels guilt for it seeing as it was his case. This type of character-dilemma in this type of dramatic-thriller has been done before, but it’s this kind of pacing that keeps it interesting.

We get even more of a rooting interest in FBI Special Agent Valerie Hall (Wendy Morris). She’s a Kansas City agent being called to handle a missing-child case in the same Oregon town Allen lives in. (Allen is also working the same case on his own.) This is complicated for her as she doesn’t normally do missing-person cases, she and Allen used to be a couple, and their own child disappeared many years prior. But come to Oregon, she does, and she begins by questioning the missing kid’s parents (Stefanie Stevens and Shawn Eric Jones)–they of course question why the FBI is involved here, so we don’t have to. (I joke, but this scene is pretty strong–the writing is great and the acting is on-point, especially from Jones & Stevens’ confusion and uncertainty to Morris’ calm, collected manner of questioning.)

Could the child have run away? Not according to Hall’s instincts…

Soon enough, Allen and Hall are on the case and in each other’s business, as more evidence piles up as to what could’ve happened and more traumatic details are surfaced and resurfaced. This is where “Alan Jones Part One” excels at the most: the characters and the actors playing them. Hanover, in particular, has so much to tackle in his performance as a tortured man trying to let some things go and others linger–he’s up to the challenge.

But the filmmaking at hand can’t escape praise because this is some truly sharp direction provided by Baron Redman, who also wrote the film (he actually began it as a web series before he decided it worked better as a film). He helps keep the tension heavy and the choices unpredictable. Why? Because he’s seen one too many crime thrillers too and thus knows how to make an interesting one. (He also provided the film’s cinematography, which as I said before is absolutely outstanding.)

Other characters, including suspects, give their actors time to shine. (These include Jack McCord as a neighbor whose testimony to Allen may or may not be reliable and Naomi Chaffee as a troubled woman who has an interesting encounter with Hall followed by an emotional breakdown during interrogation.) But who is the titular character of Alan Jones (played by Dan Daly)? Well…that’s not really for me to disclose in a spoiler-free review.

“Alan Jones Part One” is an exceptional crime thriller. The characters are compelling and engaging, the mystery is involving, the filmmaking is terrific, and it’s over in less than an hour-and-a-half. And again, I did care. How much did I care? This is only “Part One” and I’d be interested in seeing a “Part Two” come to light.

“Alan Jones Part One” is available on-demand and you can find out how you can help bring “Alan Jones Part Two” to life by checking out this crowdfunder.

My Favorite Movies – Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

7 Oct

By Tanner Smith

Napoleon Dynamite is very much an indie filmmaker’s dream. Talk about the little indie film that could! Here was a little movie made in a Mormon community by people who just wanted to make a nice, down-to-earth, funny movie…who I doubt would have even suspected that it would become the pop-culture phenomenon that it was!!

No joke–this movie was EVERYWHERE for a while! Everybody was quoting it, they were telling all their friends about it, and there was a TON of merchandise sold that was based on it–“Vote For Pedro” t-shirts, Napoleon’s PE t-shirt, flipbooks of Napoleon’s finale dance, quote books, and even the shooting script was available in bookstores!

How did this happen?? When I was 12 years old at the time of the movie’s release, I only heard about it because everyone in school was talking about it, and so I jumped on the bandwagon. But what did THEY get out of it? What about “Napoleon Dynamite” spoke to them in such a way?

My guess is because it’s like nothing they ever saw before. It’s a story about a high-schooler, which we’ve seen many times before, but this one was so different (and so funny) in the way this particular high-schooler and his friends and family were portrayed. We can laugh at them, quote them, even sort of identify with them in ways we don’t want to admit.

Napoleon (played memorably by Jon Heder) is not very likable. He’s a sadsack high-school student who would make a nerd look cool. (I think that’s how the late Roger Ebert described him.) He can’t even get in with the nerd crowd because he can be pretty obnoxious when he’s not unbelievably awkward. He’s not one of those “movie outcasts” that everyone picks on because he’s different–he’s an outcast because he deserves to be! There’s something very sad and yet so very funny about that idea alone. And that’s why I love this movie. As much as I love a good coming-of-age teen comedy/drama, there’s something very refreshing about this sort of anti-coming-of-age teen comedy/drama, in that it takes most conventions we’re familiar with and tones them way down to the point where we get laughs from the mere lack of cliche.

There’s also a bunch of colorful supporting characters, such as Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) who constantly dreams of living in the past (I love how he keeps checking his biceps when he has his arms crossed), Napoleon’s brother Kip (Aaron Ruell) who at least has a better chance at finding love than Napoleon does, Napoleon’s buddy Pedro (Efren Ramirez) who is just as emotionless as Napoleon, and the ultra-shy Deb (Tina Majorino) who at least isn’t afraid to talk with her mouth full. Oh and there’s also the very quotable, macho Rex (Diedrich Bader), who has a couple scenes as a would-be martial-arts instructor…I don’t know WHY he’s in this movie, but I’m glad he is.

There’s hardly a story in “Napoleon Dynamite”–it just rides on the characters themselves, which helps make scenes memorable. Who doesn’t remember what a liger is because of this movie? Who doesn’t remember Napoleon complimenting Deb’s poofy sleeves on her dress at a school dance? Who doesn’t remember Deb’s method of taking glamour shots? Who doesn’t remember how Napoleon wins Pedro the election for class president? And so on. It’s mainly an episodic slice-of-life where we spend an hour-and-a-half spending time with odd, quirky characters. And that’s why I think a whole lot of people latched onto it back then.

My favorite scene: the dance scene! We’ve spent pretty much the entire movie watching this sadsack loser with no energy, and now here we are seeing him present a TON of energy! It’s a wonderful payoff.

“Napoleon Dynamite” doesn’t force us to hate these characters, because it doesn’t necessarily mock or even hate them. It shows its heart near the end and we can appreciate any hint of redemption these people might have in their lives. The film isn’t about that, mind you, but it does show a bit of hope seeping underneath the surface.