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Child’s Play 2 (1990)

25 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

The first thing to say about “Child’s Play 2”—There is absolutely no reason to have a sequel to the sleeper horror film “Child’s Play,” on the basis of the many continuity errors and logical flaws that make up most of this movie.

The problems begin right at the start. See if you can follow this. If you recall, the first movie, “Child’s Play,” featured a Good Guy doll possessed by the soul of the serial killer Charles Lee “Chucky” Ray. As he attempted to transfer his soul into a little boy named Andy (Alex Vincent), he was killed by the boy’s mother and a cop…in every way you can think of—burnt to death, decapitated, and then finally shot in the heart. Now, we have “Child’s Play 2” as it begins with the charred remains of the doll apparently brought back to the toy factory from the crime scene, being rebuilt. Why would they clean it up and rebuild it?! Doesn’t that toy factory have enough of those creepy little dolls?

Well, sure enough, Chucky is brought back to life as his doll body is restored to its original state. How that happened, I don’t know. But hey—we have a sequel!

The little boy Andy (Alex Vincent, who to his credit does a better acting job here than in the previous movie) is taken away from his mother and taken in by a couple of foster parents (Jenny Agutter and Gerrit Graham). At the same time, Chucky the doll (voiced by Brad Dourif) makes his way to the house in order to transfer his soul into Andy. Otherwise, he becomes trapped in the doll’s body.

This should be a simple task, but no. If there was a reasonable excuse for Chucky not to go after Andy right away, we wouldn’t have a movie and the little boy in jeopardy wouldn’t be…in jeopardy. So instead of focusing his time on going after Andy, he simply kills—and not even the people he should until much later in the movie. Chucky even kills the foster family’s Good Guy doll and buries it in the yard so he’ll take its place. And then when he finally has a chance to perform the spell that transfers his soul, the older foster child interrupts him. This is supposed to be a “killer doll”—why not just kill her and continue the spell?

And there’s a real sick way this movie handles Andy—the boy is taken away from his mother, forced to live with foster parents, and is even blamed for the death of one of them. Everywhere he goes, someone gets killed and there’s nothing he can do about it.

“Child’s Play 2” is really nothing special—it’s just a sick horror movie. It has two things going for it, though. First is, Chucky is still a creepy, mean little thing and Brad Dourif enjoys himself in the voiceover role, as in the first movie. Second is, there’s a closing chase sequence that takes place inside the toy factory, full of conveyor belts with constructing dolls, and a maze of shelves full of boxed dolls—Andy and the other foster child who comes to rescue him are going through all of this, trying to get away from Chucky. It’s shot well and it looks great. It’s a fine climax for a horror film.

(Also, Christine Elise, as the foster teenager, has a great moment during Chucky’s oncoming demise—giving the finger to Chucky the killer doll earns some number of points.)

But those moments are so few, too little.

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

19 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Edward Scissorhands,” a weird fantasy fable by Tim Burton, has a unique and intriguing premise that begins with one gimmick, which is that the main character has scissors for hands. The premise is this: A young man named Edward was created in a mansion near a small town by a loving inventor, but the inventor died before he could finish his creation with hands. He is left “unfinished” with his scissors for hands. One day, Edward is found by a local woman, who brings him home and offers hospitality, and he becomes the talk of the town. This is an engaging premise and “Edward Scissorhands” plays it with magic realism and a real charm to it.

Johnny Depp stars as the title character, and it’s a more-than-successful creation. Sporting a fright wig, a plaintive expression, and a pure innocence within him, it is impossible not to care for Edward, played wonderfully by Depp. And as for those scissor-hands, it’s a great sight gag, even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense as a metaphor (if that’s what Burton was going for).

Edward has been living in the mansion alone ever since the death of his inventor (the fantastic Vincent Price, seen in flashbacks). His hands are the one aspect that the inventor was never able to create for him, leaving him with long, sharp razorblades. One day, he is found by the Avon saleswoman, Peg (Dianne Wiest), who feels sympathy towards this man and invites him to live at her home in the neighborhood nearby. When he’s there, he adapts to suburban life, becomes the talk of the street, impresses everybody with his skills with his hands (he can make gigantic hedge animals and give haircuts to the local women and their dogs), and also begins to fall in love with Peg’s teenage daughter Kim (Winona Ryder).

This is no ordinary neighborhood, mind you. This looks and feels like something out of a comic book or an animated sitcom. I admire the visual style that Burton shows throughout this film—every film he makes seems to turn our everyday world into something resembling a fairy tale, for example. But there is one thing that kind of bugs me. The early scenes that the strangeness of this movie’s suburban world, with the bright colored visuals (houses with bright paint colors and people dressed in practical-Technicolor, looking an awful lot like “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure”), don’t leave us with that much wonder when we see the amazing-looking garden at the mansion—wonderful set design, with hedge animals and bright flowers. And thus, once we leave the mansion with Edward, the world just gets even stranger. That being said, I have to ask, wouldn’t it be more interesting to have Edward’s world collide with the real world? This is not the real world—this is a strange world in which the Avon lady looks at a creepy-looking mansion up on a hill and thinks there will be someone there who could use her materials, and just walks around the place and looks around for someone, saying “Avon calling.”  And some really strange people, too—the women in this weird neighborhood make “Steel Magnolias” look like a soap opera. At least the teenagers are normal enough, and react how anyone would react to a man with scissors for hands. Although, come to think of it, that means they’re less funny.

But here’s my major problem with “Edward Scissorhands” that almost kills the movie. It’s not that all the townspeople turn against Edward when they see how dangerous he can be with those scissor-hands, even if he doesn’t intend to hurt people. I get that; it’s like “Frankenstein,” which Tim Burton sort-of satirizes here. But that’s enough. Just give us the mob of local folks as a catalyst for conflict. And that brings us to the unnecessary, unwelcome addition to the villain role—Kim’s jealous, hostile, and unbelievably dull boyfriend Jim (Anthony Michael Hall). Good Lord, is this guy boring. We know that Jim is going to be jealous of Edward being in love with Kim, and know just about everything that he’s planning to do. Every time he shows up, I groan. No thought went into this character at all and it leads to a boring climax—a fight between hands and scissors.

There are enough things that “Edward Scissorhands” does right that I can marginally recommend it, despite that aforementioned boring element. I’ve already mentioned Depp’s great performance as the immensely-appealing Edward, but there’s also the sweetness that envelops around Winona Ryder. She does a really good job as Kim, who sometimes seems like the only person capable of loving Edward. The best, most touching moment in the movie is when she finds him and says, “Hold me.” Edward tries, but is too afraid of hurting her—“I can’t,” he says miserably. So, she helps him to let him hold her. That is a beautiful moment, and so is the sequence in which Edward uses his blades to scrape a giant ice block in such a way that it looks as if it’s snowing on Kim. The Danny Elfman music score in both scenes is very effective.

The first half is engaging in its weirdness of the locations and the characters, and lead to some nice sight gags and funny lines of dialogue—I love the bit in which Edward carves up some meat and offers some to one of Kim’s friends at the dinner table, and she says, “I can’t eat that—you used your hands.” I don’t even care about logic in this world, so I don’t even question how Edward is able to make shrubbery sculptures where no shrubs should ever grow. That’s just the kind of world this is. It’s a fantasy; deal with it.

There’s enough love and imagination to the making of “Edward Scissorhands” that I am recommending the movie for its strong, charming points. Sure, I hate the grudging boyfriend character and I kind of wish the ending was more about dealing with problems and accepting them, instead of resorting to an automatic fight scene. But until that point, the film is as innocent and appealing as the main character.

Flatliners (1990)

5 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Flatliners” is a thriller that asks the question, “What happens to us when we die?” According to the main character in the film, no one can know for sure…unless someone dies and then lives to tell about the afterlife experience. But how is that possible? Well, for the characters in “Flatliners,” it’s possible. As for me, I’m not sure if the method would work, but I personally wouldn’t try it out either.

Let me explain—the movie is about a group of medical students who one-by-one stop each other’s heartbeats, to die. Before too long, the others revive the person. So that person will have come back from the dead to live to explain what was happened.

Being medical students, these people have been taught to play God to their patients. It’s Nelson (Kiefer Sutherland) who has the idea to look God in the eye with this little experiment. He enlists the help of Rachel (Julia Roberts), Labraccio (Kevin Bacon), Joe (William Baldwin), and Steckle (Oliver Platt) to sneak into the school after hours with medical equipment, in order to lower his heart rate, die, and have the others revive him by emergency measures. This experiment is dangerous, and would result in both death and expulsion…but it works. Nelson has come back from the afterlife, convincing the others to try it out themselves. Thus tampering with God’s plans for them.

This is an intriguing concept for a movie and it has a top-notch cast, as well as a unique, incredible style to it, from director Joel Schumacher. Also, the idea behind the afterlife’s plans after their experiment is quite something indeed. You know how when you nearly escape death and your life flashes before your eyes? In “Flatliners,” when the characters kill themselves and then are revived again, their biggest sins and fears (mainly to do with guilt) are brought back along with them. They haunt them to no end—for example, William Baldwin’s character is known for his one-night stands and secretly videotaping sexual intercourse; now whenever he looks through a camera or to a TV, he sees those same women, asking “How could you do this to me?” or saying, “I trusted you.” They conclude that the solution is to face them instead of run away from them. This is the movie’s way of saying that you should have your emotions in check before you die. That’s very clever.

This is when “Flatliners” stops becoming an adventure and a thriller and turns into drama. But while I got into Kevin Bacon’s story, and Kiefer Sutherland’s story becomes the central conflict, I feel like William Baldwin’s story had no satisfying turn and Julia Roberts’ entire story is handled so heavily that I felt like I was watching an afterlife-themed soap opera. (Oliver Platt doesn’t “flatline,” which he gladly mentions.)

There’s one thriller aspect that annoyed me, and it had to do with the “flatlining.” Actually, it’s not necessarily the flatlining; it’s the reviving. The first time you see it is kind of suspenseful, but when you have to see it a few more times, suspense is long gone and the scenes desperately try to hammer in the tension to little prevail. I was also annoyed by the competition among the characters based on who can stay dead the longest.

“Flatliners” works as a thriller, and works fine as a drama (though like I said, that’s mainly coming from Sutherland and Bacon’s separate story arcs, which are the strong points). Is there a tunnel with a bright light leading to heaven after you die? I don’t doubt it. Just don’t ask me to undergo this sort of therapy to find out.

The Freshman (1990)

28 Jan


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“The Freshman” could be considered a spin-off of “The Godfather,” since both movies feature a character who is not only entirely similar to each other, but also played by Marlon Brando. In “The Godfather,” he was Don Vito Corleone. In “The Freshman,” he’s Carmine Sabatini, the man that is said to have inspired the character in “The Godfather” (despite the fact that “The Godfather” was a novel before it was a film). In every way respectful, he is the Godfather. He looks like him, acts like him, talks like him, and has the same kind of what could be considered discreet authority as him. With Marlon Brando playing the role of Sabatini, it’s in the great tradition of the original character Corleone, and not taken as a ripoff or a cheap shot.

And what’s better is that “The Freshman” is not supposed to be as serious and epic as “The Godfather.” It’s a comedy—this is the joke; Brando pays a Mafia man extraordinary similar in every way to Don Corleone. And the screenplay and supporting actors don’t let him down.

The story isn’t necessarily about him, like how “The Godfather” wasn’t necessarily about the Godfather. But like the Godfather, Sabatini plays a crucial role in a young man’s life. The young man in “The Freshman” is a film school student Clark Kellogg (Matthew Broderick). He has left his home in Vermont to attend New York University to study film. Things don’t start out very well, as his luggage and money are stolen by thief Victor Ray (Bruno Kirby). When Clark goes to school, his film professor (Paul Benedict) doesn’t tolerate excuses.

Clark confronts the thief and demands his stuff back. Instead, Victor offers Clark a job. He brings him down to Little Italy, where Carmine Sabatini socializes and keeps his office. Clark can’t believe the striking resemblance to Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone, but Victor advises him not to bring it up. Clark has a conversation with Sabatini and it is like he’s actually talking to the Godfather. It intrigues him (and in some way, scares him), so Clark takes the job when the offer is made.

The job involves the movement of a giant lizard—a Komodo Dragon. In a very funny sequence of events, Clark and his roommate Steve (Frank Whaley) attempt to be discreet about moving this lizard from an airport and driving it (an especially difficult task) to an animal smuggler (Maximilian Schell) and his assistant (B.D. Wong).

But before he knows it, Clark finds himself a part of the Mafia family. Clark is doing what Sabatini and Victor tell him to do through a lot of convincing, and he’s also in the middle of a relationship with Sabatini’s daughter Tina (Penelope Ann Miller) that goes way too fast for him, even pressuring into marriage. Everyone is even doing favors for him, like subtly threatening Clark’s film professor for an A-grade. And things get him in more legal danger than he expected. What’s he to do?

“The Freshman” is a sharp, funny, well-written movie that really makes good use, paying homage to “The Godfather” (clips of it are even shown in film class as examples). And it features a highly respectable performance by Marlon Brando, who is truly marvelous in playing a variation of the iconic character he brought to life. It’s strange that Brando didn’t think as highly of the film as I do, as well as most people who saw it. It’s reported that he attacked the movie when it first screened, calling it trash. Well, Brando may be a highly dedicated actor, but he’s no film critic. “The Freshman” is very enjoyable.