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Mini Review: Carrie (2013)

Carrie 2013 #1

by Steve Habrat

Each year, it seems that Hollywood continues down the long list of classic horror movies and picks another one or two that they believe are in desperate need of an update. This year, we’ve seen spiffy remakes of The Evil Dead and the lesser-known Maniac, but it seems that Hollywood wasn’t eager to stop with those two. Rounding out the horror remakes for the year is director Kimberly Peirce’s Carrie, a teen-scream thriller revamped for a generation raised on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Now, don’t get me wrong, Peirce’s Carrie isn’t a bad film. It’s got quite a bit in the way of suspense and it’s slickly made with pretty faces, expensive special effects, and big names that look good on a poster. However, like a good majority of horror remakes out there, Peirce and her screenwriter, Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, do absolutely nothing new with Stephen King’s breakout material. It’s exactly what we saw in Brian De Palma’s 1976 Sissy Spacek version, just with minor scene and plot tweaks to give the illusion that the filmmakers aren’t being a tiny bit lazy. This remake falls in with the bunch that are almost shot-for-shot reconstructions of other, better movies. (Tsk tsk)

Carrie introduces us to Carrie White (played by Chole Grace Moretz), an introverted high school senior who is consistently targeted by her bullying classmates. One day, while showering after gym class, Carrie experiences her first period. Horrified and confused due to her deeply religious upbringing by her mother, Margaret White (played by Julianne Moore), she screams for help from her peers. Naturally, the girls see a prime moment to tease the poor girl and one of Carrie’s main tormentors, Chris (played by Portia Doubleday), even decides to film the girl’s anguish on her smartphone so that she can later post it on YouTube. The viscous teasing is finally stopped by Miss Desjardin (played by Judy Greer), the no-nonsense gym teacher who sticks up for Carrie. Miss Desjardin takes Carrie to the principal’s office where Carrie is told that the school will have to notify her mother of the incident. Terrified over her mother learning of the incident, Carrie uses telekinesis to blow up a water cooler. Confused by this emerging talent, Carrie begins researching telekinesis and teaching herself how to control it. Meanwhile, Sue (played by Gabriella Wilde), one of the girls that were present during the locker room incident, begins feeling bad about the way she treated Carrie. Sue asks her boyfriend, Tommy (played by Ansel Elgort), a popular jock that all the girls swoon over, to take Carrie to prom and show her a good time. After multiple attempts to ask her, Tommy finally gets Carrie to say yes, but her mother forbids to her to go, fearing that something awful will happen. Carrie defies her mother’s wishes, but as it turns out, Chris has something in store for Carrie that will push the tortured soul over the edge.

Carrie 2013 #2

While it’s never quite as creepy as the 1976 original, Carrie 2013 does pack plenty of suspense, especially in its second half. The minutes leading up to that bucket of blood being dumped on the poor girl’s head are sickening, mostly because we hate to see Carrie’s high come crashing down. There is also plenty of unease coming from her crackpot mother, Margaret, a fanatical Christian who self mutilates and is convinced that Carrie’s telekinesis is the work of the devil. The suspense crafted by Peirce is all well and good, but it should never be confused with legitimate scares. Nothing you see here will keep you from a good night’s sleep. However, the fact that it is able to generate any form of suspense is miraculous because the filmmaker’s take very few risks with a story almost everyone is familiar with. The early scenes are loaded with smartphones, social media harassment, teenage slang, and current radio hits by of-the-moment bands, all things that you expect from a remake looking for approval from the teen crowd that snuck into it. Sadly, it becomes increasingly clear that the filmmakers had nothing new to bring to the story—it’s just brought up to modern times for modern audiences, which makes some Carrie 2013 a bit of a bore. Even worse, it leaves you questioning the point of remaking the film in the first place.

Complimenting Peirce’s suspense are the performances from Moretz, Moore, and Greer, all of which are at the top of their game. Moretz is the very definition of pitiful as Carrie, a tragic girl with barely a friend in the world. She clutches her books tightly to her chest as she hurries through the halls, making sure she doesn’t glance over at the hurtful graffiti painted on the wall about her. Moore is a spitfire as the insanely religious Margaret, a scowling Bible thumper who locks poor Carrie in a closet and forces her to pray for hours on end. Greer earns your respect as the fuming gym teacher Miss Desjardin, a flurry of discipline who sticks up for the timid girl who is always hiding at the back of the class. Portia Doubleday is also memorable as the seething Chris, the vile and arrogant popular girl who hatches the plot to dump the pig’s blood on Carrie’s head. Overall, while there are several moments of Carrie 2013 that make you sit up and take notice, Peirce’s remake seems to exist solely for teenagers who don’t want to be bothered with De Palma’s original because it’s too dated for their tastes. This could have been a vehicle to explore bullying in the social media age, but instead it just looks the other way and refuses to spark an intelligent discussion on the topic. Oh well, at least it looks hip sitting on the sidelines.

Grade: C+

Game Change (2012)

by Charles Beall

There is a moment in the new HBO film Game Change that is particularly striking.  Upon delivering his concession speech after his loss to Barack Obama, John McCain fades into the spotlight amongst the growing chants of “Sarah!  Sarah!”  Woody Harrelson, who portrays McCain’s chief strategist Steve Schmidt, watches in horror as his “game change” becomes an uncontrollable entity, a force in the Republican Party that, as of 2012, is leading to its ultimate demise.

Game Change is riveting theater, a look into an historic moment in our nation’s history.  Lagging in the polls behind “celebrity” Barack Obama, John McCain (Ed Harris) needed something to shake the campaign up.  The economy was tanking after eight years of a Republican president, and like it or not, McCain was tethered to the sinking ship that was the Bush administration.  The film kicks in around August 2008, when sitting with his advisors, McCain decides to go for broke and make a “bold choice” in a vice presidential running mate selection.  McCain wants Joe Lieberman, the Independent Democrat Senator of Connecticut; the campaign wants someone who is not a white male elitist.  The problem is that it is getting down to convention time, and while the other choices for Vice President have been vetted, they are still unacceptable.  Enter the game change.

After five (five!) days of vetting (in what is usually a multi-week process), McCain and his advisors agree on the unknown Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin (a brilliant Julianne Moore).  She is attractive, insanely popular in her home state, and a solid conservative who balances out McCain’s more liberal political positions.  She lights up a crowd and can bridge the enthusiasm gap that Republicans are lacking when it comes to Obama and the Democrats.

But looks can be deceiving.  Palin, who with much more time and experience, could have been a decent candidate is thrust into the national spotlight without so much as any experience (or knowledge) to be one heartbeat away from the most powerful office in the world.  The stress of the campaign begins to fracture Palin, pushing her to the verge of a nervous breakdown.  She begins to worry about her standing in Alaska, rather than the national campaign and the mission ahead.  Her advisors quit, and the campaign (particularly Schmidt) begins to wonder what they have gotten themselves into.

There is a turning point in the campaign, however, that snaps Palin out of her funk.  Instead of teaching her everything about everything (and there was a lot she didn’t know), they campaign begins to feed her talking points.  She gains her confidence back and a transformation begins.  Sarah Palin becomes the celebrity that Obama is; she becomes an uncontrollable lightning rod that feeds off of the masses (which, I must say, Obama is not).  Sarah Palin morphs from a respected governor into “Sarah Palin”, the woman who is around today.

Game Change is quite a fascinating character study.  Moore’s performance is incredibly restrained.  For someone who has been lampooned constantly, Moore brings humanity back to Sarah Palin.  Her performance reminds us that Palin was a person who has feelings, who loves her family, and cares for her country…but then we see the morph of someone who is ultimately corrupted by our current American political system.  There is a sad scene where Moore’s Palin is watching Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin on SNL; she can’t believe that they are laughing at her, not with her.  The look on her face is heartbreaking, because she is realizing that she is not being taken seriously, but rather as a national embarrassment.  This is a turning point, because she then begins to famously “go rogue” and do things her own way.  She in a way becomes a Frankenstein Republican, the product of a desperate campaign and the victim of a vicious sense of entitlement.

Game Change is not a perfect film, but it is indeed an entertaining one.  The performances and fireworks between Moore and Harrelson are particularly noteworthy and deserving of Emmy consideration, as is Harris’ subtle and enjoyable McCain.  With that said, political junkie or not, Game Change is a very entertaining, cautious tale about the dangerous road our democracy is headed down.

Grade B+

The Big Lebowski (1998)–Blu-ray Review/Reflection

by Steve Habrat

When it comes to discussing the Coen brother’s existential stoner comedy The Big Lebowski, I never admit that I did not find myself smitten by the film on my first viewing. Keep in mind that I was in the eighth grade when I first exposed myself to the wickedly fast dry humor that Joel and Ethan wove so slyly into the narrative. I was honestly bewildered by this oddity of a film. Sure, I knew it was supposed to be a comedy but I felt left out of the joke. Like the film knew something I did not. I would later come to realize that this is a feeling that you get while watching every Coen flick.

My cousin directed me towards the film, who vigorously quoted lines from the film like “Shut the fuck up, Donny!” and “I can get you a toe by three o’clock!” He vividly described scenes to me and had me doubled over in laughter just by his descriptions. While making a Best Buy run with my old man the next weekend, I happened upon the DVD and bolted to the register. When I got home, I tore the shrink wrap off the case, popped the disc into the player, and strapped myself in for what I anticipated to be one of the funniest movies I would ever lay eyes on. When the credits rolled, I stared blankly. I was unsure what to make of it. I chuckled a few times but I failed to see the gut busting hilarity of it all. I was disappointed. Furthermore, I had no clue what it was supposed to mean. For an eight grader, trying to decipher a film like this was quite a challenge. It all seemed to signify nothing. That we are just here living our lives and what happens around us is ultimately irrelevant. That’s the message I take away from the film now but back then, I simply had to watch it again. Yes, I groaned at the thought of enduring it a second time.

Upon my second viewing of the film, everything clicked. There is no plot to this movie! It’s just about a lazy stoner who enjoys bowling. He lives a simple life with zero complications. Everything is perfect in the Dude’s universe. Then, along comes two thugs who confuse Jefferey “The Dude’ Lebowski with a millionaire also named Lebowski. Turns out that millionaire Lewbowski’s wife owes some money and the thugs aim to make him pay. To con him into coughing up the dough, one urinates on his beloved rug. The Dude’s universe is shattered. After all, that rug really tied the room together. The Dude gathers his cronies, Walter, an obese Vietnam war veteran with anger issues and the scrawny pushover Donny, and they set out for compensation.

After knowing the background of the film, the rest is all sound and fury, signifying absolutely nothing. The Dude finds himself caught up in one wacky encounter after another. All he wants is a new rug. What he gets is his perfect universe turned upside down. I will admit that after this revelation, the film was automatically hilarious. In fact, it was uproariously funny. There was no reason for any of this to be happening but it was. But hey, that’s life! There are events that take place around us that really have no meaning at all. We can try to understand them but we are just a small piece of the puzzle. Like the song through the opening credits suggests, we are just “tumbling tumbleweeds”.

What ultimately makes The Big Lebiowski a classic is the ensemble of characters that it packs. Everyone from Julianne Moore’s Maude to John Goodman’s Walter is so outrageous that they end up feeling real. No matter how outrageous things get, they seem to stay grounded. The true reason to see the film is Jeff Bridges’ dedicated performance as The Dude. He’s a character that is out of touch and in touch with reality all at the same time. His character is fully realized and never sees any growth but yet he polarizes us. We can’t stop watching him. To be honest, I think we are the ones that ultimately experience a change. Should we really worry about the little things that happen? Shouldn’t we just let it go? These characters exist just to act as our guides through our conversion.

We can debate the films other underlying meanings until we are blue in the face but the truly astonishing aspect of The Big Lebowski is the fact that the film gains more and more popularity as it ages! Its cult status is through the roof. The mere mention of the films title sparks a string of quotes and chuckles. I should note that these are for the people in the know. What further shocks me is the reach that the film has. Everyone from the stoner who lives next door to your doctor has seen it. The Big Lebowski has shot up the ranks and sits as one of my favorite films of all time. I quickly learned that the irrelevance of it all is the point. The film is now available on Blu-ray and I highly suggest that if you don’t own the film, go out and pick it up. It will really tie your film collection together. Grade: A+

The Big Lebowski is now avaliable on Blu-ray for the first time.

Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)

by Steve Habrat

Here is the ugly truth about the romantic comedy genre: The well has run dry! In the past years, it has had nothing new to offer on the topic of love, romance, and the comedy has sure been nonexistent. The genre has been forced to evolve in the most bizarre ways imaginable. It has stopped limiting itself to heterosexual relationships and branched out into “bromance” films, which include movies like the innocently hilarious I Love You, Man, the coming-of-age Superbad and the Adam Sandler monstrosity I Know Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Sadly, the bromance films were just acting as the placebo tablet to the sickly genre that was riddled with cancer in the form of Kate Hudson. They were a nice distraction from the obvious but they refused to break new ground. They just remained stationary and unprogressive. We laughed it up but by the time we got The Hangover Part II, I think most people had had more than enough of the man and man action.

Thankfully, in saunters the confident and unapologetic Crazy, Stupid, Love and it is just in the nick of time. Goldie Locks Kate attempted once this summer and critics hissed in disgust but Steve Carell and his merry gang of gifted, pretty faces saved the day. The truly amazing aspect is that Crazy, Stupid, Love is one of the best films of the year so far. The film is teeming with life and it manages to be reassuring for the genre and the audience itself. The film covers all the stops when it comes to love and infatuation all the while fluffing off its PG-13 rating with a devil-may-care charm. Carell plays Cal, a slouchy everyman who appears to be just going through the motions of his marriage. He’s plain and downright insipid. He can’t talk to his wife Emily (Played by Julianne Moore) about anything over dinner except the fact that he ate too much bread and now he’s full. He now finds himself faced with the horrorific decision of what to order. Suddenly, Emily announces she wants a divorce from her husband of twenty-five years. She proceeds to tell him she has slept with someone else and she needs out. Cal is devastated and becomes a self-pitying sad sack.

While sulking in a posh bar, Cal meets Jacob (Played by the always welcome Ryan Gosling), a suave smooth talker who has no problem luring the ladies to bed. He approaches Cal and tells him he can make him over from the bumbling dud into a self-assured stud. He does and the transformation is downright side splitting. But Jacob soon decides to leave the game in pursuit of a sexy, over-achieving law student named Hannah (Played by Emma Stone, who appears to be everywhere this summer!).

Crazy, Stupid, Love is loaded with side stories and appealing background characters that make the film a joy to behold from second to second. The jokes are fast and the subject matter bold but the film presents it in such a sweet manner that you can’t be disgusted by it even if you tried. Even when the film finds itself at the most envelope pushing moments, know that the film is going to deliver one of the most satisfying payoffs imaginable. I won’t spoil too much of the raucous antics that follow, but it all adds up to a ten minute sequence that will have you howling with laughter. It all plays into the theme of the movie—love is crazy and we all act stupid in the face of it. When the bombshell Marisa Tomei shows up as horn ball teacher that Cal woos to bed, Cal lights up like a kid at Christmas when she asks what he wants to do with her in the throws of passion. Trust me, you will die laughing from his response. I guess when love and lust strike, we are all reduced to behaving like children.

The film boasts a shot-on-the-fly vérité approach at points and this adds to the down-to-earth mentality of the film. It has moments of raw emotion, especially in a scene where the separated Cal and Emily meet up at a parent/teacher conference. They have a heart-to-heart that will have many audience members’ eyes welling up with crocodile tears. The film hits exceptionally hard when it chooses but I guess that’s what love does—it hits us hard when we least expect it. Furthermore, love itself can be a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows, just like the film. One second it will have us beaming and the next, we will be at its mercy. It gets us to lower our defenses and then it strikes. That, my dear friends, is what solid scriptwriting and filmmaking is all about.

I can only hope and pray with everything in me that this film is remembered come awards season. I hope that the Academy will be willing to sift through all the rubble from those superheroes and rediscover this gem. It’s taboo and reassuring all at the same time. You will fall head over heels for Carell and Gosling, both who play their characters as if they will never have another chance to be in front of the camera again. Moore plays the moist eyed Emily with her heart on her sleeve. She’s despicable in one moment and the grabbing our empathy the next. Stone brings her usual girl-next-door charm to Hannah. She is an actress to keep a close eye on and Crazy, Stupid, Love allows her to really convey some depth.

From the performances to the directing to the finely weaved story, Crazy, Stupid, Love is a finely polished piece of filmmaking. One that will be calling you back to take some comfort in it again even if you are not particularly bumming from lost love at the moment. I think it calls us back because these characters seem so real that we sincerely enjoy being in their company. It also features something literally everyone can relate to in some manner. In a summer filled with larger than life pictures released every Friday, this small, intimate portrait of emotion is the one that will leave the biggest impression on the viewer. Rejoice that the romantic comedy is still holding on to dear life. There’s still some life in that old dog yet! I can’t recommend this film enough. Grade: A