The House at the End of the Street: resting on a tired plot


The House at the End of the Street: resting on a tired plot–A Review  ***Major Spoiler Alert!***

House I doubt it will be long before The House at the End of the Street sinks into the depths of Netflix one point five stardom.Directed by Mark Tonderal (Hush) with story by Jonathan Mostow (Terminator 3 and U-571) and screenplay by David Loucka (Dream House) The House at the End of the Street offers a worthy cast headed by Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Shue and Gil Bellows.

The House at the End of the Street shows its cards in the first scene where it’s night and a woman hears a bump.

She rises from her bed and we see a figure and a mop of blond hair covering the face of whoever made the bump. One determined blue eye peers out from the mop as a hand takes a long sharp knife from the kitchen. Right before the woman encounters the business end of the knife, we see the mad determined gleam in the blue eye. Despite the efforts of all involved, we also see part of a face that could use just a smidge more estrogen. The woman says, “Carrie Anne? What are you . . .” We assume Carrie Anne, from her toned bicep, must be working out. Then it’s shower curtains as Carrie Anne’s knife meets the woman’s kidney.

Soon, the woman’s waiting-in-bed husband becomes victim number two. Okay let’s jump ahead.

A woman (Elizabeth Shue) and her daughter (Jennifer Lawrence) move into  The House at the End of the Street.Sitting in a rustic area with trees and a hint of wilderness, this prime real estate is a steal because of property values dropping in the neighborhood.

The crime of the notorious Carrie Ann, previous tenant of The House at the End of the Street, refuses to be forgotten.

They never found her, you see. Now her brother (Max Theriot) lives there alone. The woman and her daughter are at odds. There’s been a divorce and rather than the absent rock musician father, the woman, a doctor, has custody of the daughter. Of course there’s lots of fighting and predictably, the misunderstood neighborhood boy living alone becomes the center of it all. The girl can’t resist the tortured blue eyes of her studly handsome neighbor, who wasn’t around when the murders happened. He went to live with an aunt when he was seven, you see. Now, all he wants to do is fix the place up and sell it, he tells her.

He doesn’t tell her about his sister, Carrie Anne. By the way, Carrie Anne is tied up in the cellar!

They were twins, and he feels responsible for her. Unfortunately, crazy Carrie Anne manages to get away and he ends up chasing her down and killing her. In the meantime, the neighbor girl decides to seduce the tortured but cute neighbor, much to the distress of her mother and annoyance of various high school bullies, who make it their business to drive him out by harassing him. Poor soul, he’s all alone now that Carrie Anne’s gone. Or is she?

***Read no more if  you plan to see The House at the End of the Street and don’t like spoilers.***

I kept waiting for something to surprise me in this pre-fab project.

The lack of originality had me shaking my head as we discover that those neighborhood punks had the right idea. Lonely boy finds another girl to be his crazy sister and it’s official: he was Carrie Anne when the murders occurred. It turns out that his mom and dad were so angry when the real Carrie Anne fell off her swing and died, that they forced him to take her place. Fed up dealing with puberty as a girl, he killed them. Understandable. Predictably, neighbor girl figures his secret out and she and mom have to fight him off. The movie ends with him on Thorazine as he stares glassy-blue-eyed at a jigsaw puzzle.

Young Mr. Theriot is playing Norman Bates in a TV production, Bates Hotel. Ah good plan.

For the life of me, I’ll never understand how projects like this are made and released while more worthy scripts are met with indifference. The plot and characters were indifferently written and trite. The actors, including Mr. Theriot will appear in more deserving projects. And if the writers and director do another one of these clunkers, I hope the ghost of Alfred Hitchcock haunts them, hopefully inspiring more original fare.


Cloud Atlas: a movie that connects the drops.


Cloud Atlas: a movie that connects the drops. A Review     ***Spoilers***

Before you read this, I recommend that you read my review of the book, Cloud Atlas.


Images from the movie, "Cloud Atlas"

Cover for “Cloud Atlas,” the movie

Whether or not you enjoyed reading Cloud Atlas the book, (I enjoyed some of it but I still wanted to throw it against a wall at the end) I believe most people will enjoy at least parts of the movie without wanting to toss Tom Hanks off a highrise.

I did not go into see this movie with high expectations.

Okay, here it is–my reason for not expecting much: I hated The MatrixCloud Atlas was co-directed (with German director Tom Twyker who did Run, Lola, Run, a movie I remember liking ) and co-written by the Wachowskis who gave us The Matrix. Go ahead and hate me. Virtual reality stories hold special interest for me (see my The Thirteenth Floor review ).

I found The Matrix pretentious, sophomoric and even with a suspension of disbelief, not credible.

There’s no way anyone would look that buff after spending a lifetime in a pod. Aliens using us to power their alien stuff didn’t make sense. We wouldn’t be cost effective. Plus the long coats, the dippy mysticism and all the martial arts got on my nerves. I could go on but it won’t convince anyone who loved The Matrix. Another thing, I should disclose that I briefly worked on casting The Matrix sequel (nothing fancy–just set up auditions for the secret service guys and you’d have thought we were guarding the secrets of the universe rather than a few pages of barely there script).

Regardless, in my opinion, Cloud Atlas the movie is better than Cloud Atlas the book.

The problems that I had with the book centered on Mitchell’s failure to adequately connect the six stories. I felt like Mitchell the writer was showing off. I wanted more than he gave in terms of connecting the stories. It was all icing and very little cake. Then those last two pages of “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing,” the first and last story. They were the last frickin’ frackin’ two pages of the novel, and might as well have started with “So you see boys and girls . . .”

Cloud Atlas the movie was able to stitch the stories together.

Movies have more options in terms of pacing, plus visual and audio devices, something a novel lacks. As small a thing as a shiny blue button on a 1930’s vest that becomes a beautiful stone prized by a goat herder helped me connect. The music helped. Casting the same actors in different stories helped a lot and most of all, the editing, which blended the parts of each story, pacing them all to build and crest like music wove the narratives into a satisfying ending, an ending that differed from the book. The stories had been simplified, characters pared and the plots crafted to suit the film and it helped.

Cloud Atlas, the film, conveyed the message, the universal theme that Mitchell meant for us to discover in his novel.

I felt Mitchell said it rather than showed it. The movie, on the other hand, did what movies do best. It made us feel it so that we could think it. The reviews I’ve read of this film have been mixed. At three hours, it is very long. All I can say is that I liked it, and so did the others in the audience. There was applause at the end, and I doubt many had read the book. It didn’t matter. They felt it; so did I, shiny blue buttons and all.

SKYFALL: a bit of a downer


SKYFALL: a bit of a downer,  a review         ***Spoiler Alert***

Skyfall I have mixed feelings about Skyfall, the new James Bond film directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty).

Starting with 1963’s Dr. No until the recent reboot (Casino Royale, Quantum of Silence and Skyfall)  Bond films gave us movie-goers lots of beautiful people, cities most of us will never see and fantasy. Evil geniuses hatched outlandish plots to rule the world, requiring ridiculous amounts of money, often wagered in elegant casinos full of tuxes and evening gowns, up-dos and bow-ties.

There was always a seduction, with Bond making love to a dangerous goddess-like bad girl. 

007 would growl and she stretched and purred as the music crescendo-ed. Next came the action and all those Secret Agent gadgets.  Long stretches of chases, fights, dodges and jumps moving through exotic streets and narrow alleys kept us on the edge of our seats. And the streets were crowded by costumed extras.

All of it was played out by vivid characters.

Barely there emotions let us thrill to the stunt because we owed them no empathy when they met their cinematic ends.We expected dreamy, gleaming surfaces that offered an occasional flash of something darker, a secret, a hint of the forbidden. Or at least we did until the last few with a new Bond, and a new kind of Bond.

Skyfall delivers on the beautiful people, the seductions and the long chases. But, Skyfall gives us a different Bond.

James Bond has become emotionally complicated. Now he has a past. There’s still some fantasy. The chases, as always, are entertaining, The convoluted plot takes us to all those far away places for show.

They have little to do with what is at the heart of the Skyfall plot: betrayal and abandonment.

“M,” whose cold pragmatism allows her to apply the cost/benefit dynamic to those who serve the Crown so valiantly. She betrays and abandons both Bond and a former agent, Silva. M’s actions cause Bond’s seeming death. Her desertion of Silva (Javier Bardem) results in his transformation from a dedicated agent to a relentless enemy. For Bond, it seems the sky does fall.

Underneath M’s steely professionalism there’s a maternal caring that both Bond and Silva perceive.

And that makes her betrayal and abandonment of each all the more painful–a pain we the audience can see and understand. No more mere glimpses of dark secrets, we learn of the sacrifices both men make and it makes us and them question M’s decisions.

And so I was never sure how to feel.

Javier Bardem, as usual, was the best thing in the movie. Daniel Craig is growing on me. I’d had my heart set on Clive Owen for the new Bond, but Craig has this battered charm that works. I wonder if the scripts are going to get even darker in tone, sort of in keeping with the reality of the world today. If so, the character may be named Bond, but he will no longer be the same tuxedo-ed hero we knew. I did like Judi Dench’s “M.” Along with the crisp manner, she brought a light humor to the more recent Bond offerings, before they became so dark. Sorry to lose Judi Dench, (if you’ve made this far, I hope you took the spoiler alert seriously), but Ralph Fiennes can send me on a mission any time.

The script could have been way tighter. I did like the youth versus age and experience theme., but I found myself wanting to keep Bond a mystery.

I hope they can find a way back to that cool spy and lover we found so irresistible, the man who was unknowable.

As director Kevin DiNovis, recently commented, “There’s a place in the world yet for exploding pens and volcano lairs.”

I agree, but perhaps that place lies in the “discovered country” of the movies that spoke to who we were–moviegoers relishing a new world that was breaking away from the rules of the past and we were breathless at the idea of all that glamor and sex. Change has sped up and in as in Skyfall, it’s a little disconcerting.

We may not be able to jettison the past so easily now.

For the time being, I’ll look for the gleam in those Arctic- blue Ralph Feinnes eyes and the steely pale blue gaze of Craig’s as the new “M” sends 007 out to save the world again.

Ah the mysteries behind those sexy blue eyes. In the next Bond film, I hope they reveal a secret formula or two.


Crimson Peak: Shake, Rattle and Ooze


Crimson Peak: Shake, Rattle and Ooze a review

**** BEWARE–this review is full of spoilers****

Crimson Peak


Crimson Peak is an okay ghost story about Edith (Mia Wasikowska), an American girl (with money) who marries Tom (Tom Hiddleston) an Englishman. Tom, the Englishman comes with a title, an old mansion, and a sister who likes poisoned tea and meat cleavers.

Like the new bride on arriving at her new home, called Crimson Peak, we find lots of motifs (the cold, the ratty mansion) and more red than a mall at Christmas.

But there were few scares, not even when the undead plow through a hallway carpet and rise from a vat of what looked like some super red preschool paint. The thing is, these devices don’t have the same effect anymore. The yawning death grin of Norman Bates’ mother scared the popcorn out of 1960’s audiences. Some times, and I’m talking to you, Guillermo, less is more.

I really enjoyed Mama, del Toro’s previous horror effort. But, Mama with her absurdly elongated chin and little manic eyes looked like someone’s blind date nightmare.

Much, much scarier was an earlier film of del Toro’s, The Devil’s Backbone. That one was truly eerie. The little boy ghost with a head of blood floaties was like nothing I had ever seen. I can still recall the chilling buildup to certain scenes. Since seeing The Devil’s Backbone, I avoid looking through keyholes.

 I’ve learned one thing from watching Crimson Peak and Mama, del Toro’s latest scare-fests.  If you’re the star and you die and come back from the dead, you get to be a good-looking ghost.

In Mama, Nicolaj Coster-Waldau plays twins. One kills his wife and attempts to kill his children.  He dies as Mama’s first victim. Given his deeds, the dad should look like quite the troll in the afterlife, but noooo—he just looks sad.

The ghosts of the victims of Crimson Peak’s murderous brother and sister team rattled and oozed.

When Edith was a child, her dead mother appeared as a ghost shortly after the funeral.  Looking like a tar-drenched mummy, Mommy deadest had chattering teeth, ten-inch spikey fingers and wore a funeral dress borrowed from Scarlet O’Hara’s Aunt Pitty Pat. After being stalked by a number of gross looking ghosts, Edith tries to address what is eating (pardon the pun) the shades.

Alas, Edith discovers the truth. It’s murder and she’s next!

But it’s complicated.  Edith and Thomas (the brother) are in love. Tom’s having second thoughts about murdering her (though he had offed his previous wives). Then sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) discovers that she and her brother Tom are no longer exclusive as a couple. Hell hath no fury like Chastain. Seriously I would never want to have a fight with Jessica. She’s almost as manic here as she was in Zero Dark Thirty. A very fine actress, she steals every scene. And like every imperiled Victorian damsel, Edith’s old American boyfriend (Charlie Hunam—none of these actors are American other than Chastain), makes it just in time to feel Lucille’s steel, saving Edith.

Lucille, who makes quick work of the boyfriend, decides to teach Tom a lesson by shoving a knife through his face. Edith has had enough.

She takes Sister Dearest down, by whacking her with the business end of a shovel. Though the brave boyfriend, thanks to Tom, survives, Tom does not and his ghost distracts Lucille long enough for Edith’s shovel to make it count. And his ghost, looking rather gray, with blood floaties around his head, makes sad eyes at his soon to be out of there and on the way home bride. Hiddleston’s ghost had no chattering oversized teeth and no head parts with a gaping hole where your brains once sat.

What about Lucille? There’s not a hair out of place nor is there a bow untied as her ghost plays the piano. They wouldn’t dare.

In The Haunting of Hill House, what walked there, walked alone. And we never saw it. It was one of the scariest novels I ever read and the 1963 film, made of it, The Haunting, was incredibly creepy. During the 1999 remake, there were tons of scary special effects and each over-the-top one detracted. Though I love a good monster and a good acid-dripping alien, when it comes to ghosts, less is more.