R.L Stine’s Books Come to Life In A Fun, Simplistic Tale

Goosebumps

            Remember when you were a kid, and your parents told you to read something? Chances are you were like me and chose Goosebumps as your series, enjoying the juvenile horrors it brought. R.L. Stine’s band of ghouls, goblins, and dummies left me with chills many years ago, along with many memorable stories to enjoy. Now years later, following reprints, spin-offs, and more reprints a movie surrounding Stine’s creatures has emerged, and just in time for Halloween. What thrills, or chills, does this installment have for audiences? Read on to find out.

For those who grew up with the series, the main benefit this movie brings is a sense of nostalgia. Director Rob Letterman has placed iconic monsters (such as Slappy, Werewolf of Fever Swamp, and Lawn Gnomes) throughout the movie that will take you on an adventure that screams R.L. Stine. I felt the crew did a nice job integrating some of the characters into the story, providing plenty of “exciting” moments that young and young at heart will enjoy. Many of these scenes make a reference to a part in the book, be it in the form of a quote, iconic scene, or some other mark representative of our monsters. Unfortunately…they limited their monsters to only a few of Stine’s horror champions, reducing others to quick cameos that lasted mere seconds. I’m knew that it would be impossible to adequately provide all sixty four books proper screen time in 103 minutes, but was hoping for a few more appearances.

The second strength of Goosebumps is how fun the story is. It’s a very simplistic adventure that after a cliché’ opening gets pretty exciting. Chases through grocery stores, battling ceramic ornaments, and attempting to escape the clutches of massive mantis are just some examples of the bouts our heroes go through. The plot is of course obvious, but is certainly representative of an R.L. Stine plot. There are a few highly predictable twists in the film, but there are a few lessons that will hit home to audiences of all ages. Humor was injected into the sequences as well, mostly juvenile antics and over the top screaming that had little kids screaming in delight. However, there are a few witty puns and lines dropped at the right time that got some laughs from the older generation. All of the fun takes away from the “scariness” of Slappy and his crew, and wraps the whole film in a cute package.

Acting wise our cast has done their jobs of bringing the kids series to life. Jack Black was by far my favorite of the crew, capturing both the look and persona I envisioned of the famous writer. Black’s theatrical, overdramatic delivery works well in this film, building up the comedy in the scenes and adding some punch to the punch lines. He even does some voice acting in the film, bringing some humorous elements to Slappy and the Invisible Boy but still adding a little menacing atmosphere to the mix. Dylan Minnette’s performance as a struggling teenager was spot on, and was perhaps the most balanced character of the bunch. He held his emotions in check, and made for a relatable hero to latch on to. The lovely Odeya Rush helps ground the silliness and excitement, resetting the moment to keep the adventure fun instead of overbearing. As for Ryan Lee, well his role is the opposite of Rush’s, primarily escalating the scene to ridiculous levels with screaming, panicking, and more screaming. He was funny at times, but his characters antics got old after a while.

Filming wise the movie is has decent quality, in both special effects and camera work. The animation and design of the monsters is decent, personalized to mimic their expected natural movements. Slappy moves in a jerky, blocky, and somewhat stiff motion much like you would see in a ventriloquism dummy. However, the werewolf’s digital design is sleek, with fierce, fluid movements seen in wolves. The camera work is also decently stable, only going into a chaotic frenzy once or twice during the adventure. Our team maximizes the intensity and emotion in each scene, making sure to use the best angles to film the scene. There are numerous shots that are obviously designed for the 3-D version of the film, many of them involving something coming out of the screen to “terrorize” the audience. At this point I will say I don’t see a need for watching this movie in 3-D, but for the full cinematic effect you’ll need to spend the extra cash.

Overall Goosebumps is a fun Halloween adventure that families will certainly enjoy. Nostalgia runs deep in the veins of this movie, and fans like me will enjoy the adventure Hollywood has set up for us and be thoroughly entertained. Would I recommend a trip to the theater? For the special effects and fun, yeah I would recommend it, especially in the 2-D version. It is at least worth a NetFlix or RedBox rent whenever it joins their library in the future.

My scores for Goosebumps are:

 

Action/Adventure/Comedy: 7.5

Movie Overall: 6.5

Decent Ghosts, Okay Scares, Del Toro Plot

Crimson Peak

            In the season of horror specials, I look for special gyms among the mediocre Halloween specials of today. So naturally I turn to the theater to provide me with the scare, creeps, and thrills to put me in the spooky mood. One movie that has shown promise is Crimson Peak, directed by Guillermo del Toro, the supposed master of horror. His work has provided such thrills in the past, but is the Peak capable of pushing one over the edge into a realm of nightmares and screams. As always read on to find out.

With del Toro you never know what you are going to get, but in this film his direction seems to be story. Crimson Peak is certainly plot favored, actually focusing on the characters instead of just the scares. From the beginning we jump into Edith’s (Mia Wasikowska) story, getting a look into her life and her relationships with our colorful cast. After a rather slow, detailed opening, there is a little ambiguity that lures you in to the second act. Once at the house, the true mystery begins, as you try to decipher the nuances of the obvious plot. I knew the general details, but piecing the motives, the drive, and deeper details was the real challenge in this movie. The few twists in the tale were decent, if disgusting, but this was a solid tale for a genre that is often lacking in the story department.

In the acting department, del Toro’s casting director did her homework incredibly well. Wasikowska performed very similar to her work in Alice, very primp, proper, and elegant without the awkward curiosity. I felt her responses to the CGI ghosts were kept in check and blended well with the more grounded moments of the film. Tom Hiddleston plays his old hat as the eclectic debonair blinded by ambitions and driven with a dark intensity to sting. He delivers his lines with poise, amplifying them with the right emotional edge to drive the dialogue home. Charlie Hunnam looks handsome (according to a few female audience members), and his acting isn’t too shabby, though he takes a backburner to the rest of the cast. The best acting title of the movie though goes to Jessica Chastain who is like a chameleon changing tones, emotions, and parts at the drop of a hat. Chastain executes her part fantastically, capturing the dark environment and personifying it in her acting.

By now I’m sure you’re saying, “Cut the crap, I want to know if it was scary!” For this reviewer, Crimson Peak was not as scary as the trailers had made it to be. The scares are largely based on the surprising, jump out at you moments, but are so predictable (or obvious) that they lose their surprising sheen. In addition, the direction the film takes also dulls the edge of the scares, almost as if there is no threat to be had. The real “scare” factor is the design of the ghosts themselves. Rotten, decaying bodies drenched in crimson red and wraith black certainly establish a lovely picture. Their disjointed movements are also quite disturbing, the unnatural angles, the bone crunching and unholy screams mixing to form creatures that nightmares are made of. However, the house itself may play a big factor in upping the scare. A Victorian mansion filled with creaking floors, spacious halls, and dim lighting is a rather realistic stage to haunt. In fact, the creepiest aspect may be the manipulation of those shadows, to hide the visage of the dangers and steal the comfort of home away. Once more Del Toro allows your imagination to do the heavy lifting for making you squirm in your seat.

Crimson Peak is one of the better horror stories, filled with mystery and character development. While not the scariest movies, the setting and use of shadows is a great tool to scare audiences. Del Toro just needed a little more honing and a slight change in plot to give you the scares that most of us wanted. Though there was a lack of screaming, it was a lot better than half of the mundane sequels and thrillers that come to the theater. I can’t recommend this one for the theater, unless you are looking for a decent horror plot, so save this for watching home to maximize scares.

My scores for Crimson Peak are:

 

Drama/Fantasy/Horror: 7.5 (for drama)

Movie Overall: 7

Holy Pudding for the Visuals, Eh for the Story.

pan

                  Robbie K here bringing you another review on the latest movies to hit the theater. This weekend we start off with another iteration about the famous boy who flies, fights off pirates, and flirts with mermaids. That’s right I’m talking about Peter Pan. Over the decades we’ve experienced numerous spins on the tale, and yet I can’t recall too many films portraying Peter’s origins. Well hold on to your hats folks, because director Joe Wright has brought his tale to the silver screen entitled Pan.

Let’s start with the story. We know all the classic elements of Peter Pan, but perhaps you have questioned the origins of our title character. Pan’s tale dives into the impoverished England, once more strolling down the Oliver Twist orphan path as the opening of Peter’s tale. The origin lacks much in terms of originality, but bypasses gross details to get to the meat of the story. Once Peter is abducted to the ageless Neverland, the tale begins to liven up. Pan forgoes a lot of the character development and emotional buildup for superficial thrills. Peter’s relationship with a lot of characters evolves rapidly, from simple hellos to becoming their wards. Fans will certainly not suffer a drawn out plot, but may not like the rapid and abrupt scene transitions. I give Wright his props for adding some darker moments while maintaining the kid friendly environment, but I felt he was a little to ADD in organizing the story. Peter’s journey reaches many impasses, however they blow over without much struggle with our good guys able to overpower their oppressors with ease.

The characters that are part of this plot were also lacking. Acting wise I give them a round of applause, each member certainly doing their best to breathe life into their characters. Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard has the gruff and ruthlessness of a pirate Captain, but soon becomes annoying with his constant screaming and pompous braggart. I did enjoy the use of metal songs as his anthem, a nice touch of modern metal. Garrett Hedlund as Hook captures the classic voice, but his look and presence comes off more Midwestern desperado than future pirate. Levi Miller plays the adolescent Peter quite well, nailing the devious, adventurous, and vulnerable sides of Pan while keeping everything balanced. However it is Rooney Mara who takes first place, bringing a nice balance of wonder, courage, and emotion as the warrior princess Tiger Lily, minus a few flat moments.

Simplistic story and characters aside, Pan’s action is surprisingly higher intensity than I expected. The opening chase between pirate ship and plane is quite exhilarating with all the stunts, explosions, and elements of a World War II movie. From there the action remains dynamic as our characters navigate the various hazards of the world, interjecting combat and comedy to keep it entertaining. Again these conflicts sometimes end without much of a struggle, and a bit anticlimactic at times. Still I appreciate Wright slightly breaking the PG mold and adding some quality edge to the mix. I warn parents there are a few moments that might seem a tad too mature (i.e. executions), so evaluate your children’s psyche before attending this film.

Finally the best quality of Pan for me was the setting. Wright’s team designed a world that is majestic enough to have you say “Holy Pudding”. The jungle is ominous, filled with deep foliage that offers shelter from the pirates, while also concealing ominous predators. Pirate ships are decorated to mirror their “helmsmen”, such as Blackbeard’s ship being cold and lifeless to personify the merciless man he is. And mermaid lagoon, while not as passive as it was in the cartoon, still held the serenity, especially once the gorgeous glowing, (CGI enhanced) mermaids who glow showed up. Even the costumes help pull you into the moment, the pirates having styles that span from traditional buccaneers to more formal, butler ware…okay not everything makes sense. Fortunately the tribal people bring about the hunter atmosphere, blending multiple cultures into their attire and dwellings. While certainly not the most impressive, Pan’s world has the color, whimsy, and magic that captured all our hearts years ago.

Overall Pan is not the best movie to “soar” into theaters. However, it offers a good, kid friendly movie to entertain until the holiday season arrives. It’s a fun thrilling ride for all ages that lays foundation for other movies, (either existing or new), while recapturing the moments you grew up with. Unfortunately the story just wasn’t as put together as I hoped it would be, or as thrilling as the trailers made it out to be. Worth a trip to theater? Only for the special effects and setting can I say it is worth a theater trip, but your money is best saved for other films.

My scores are:

Adventure/Family/Fantasy: 7.0

Movie Overall: 6.0