Maine film ‘Hanover House’ gets what it wants (a world premiere) May 9-10

Casey Turner (left) and Brian Chamberlain star in Corey Norman's "The Hanover House," a horror film premiering at the Saco Drive-in's Dead at the Drive-in film festival May 9-10.

Casey Turner (left) and Brian Chamberlain star in Corey Norman’s “The Hanover House,” a horror film premiering at the Saco Drive-in’s Dead at the Drive-in film festival May 9-10.

We’ve all heard the legend surrounding William Friedkin’s 1973 classic “The Exorcist,” where the production was surrounded by so many unusual deaths that many came to believe the film’s set was cursed. Same goes for “The Poltergeist” and “The Omen,” each one earning a bittersweet spot in Hollywood’s haunted history.

Now, the Maine film scene has an “Exorcist” or “Omen” of its own, only without casualties, of course.

Going into the production of his first feature film, “The Hanover House,” Portland filmmaker Corey Norman knew that his setting – a monstrous farmhouse tucked away in the hills of Western Maine – was said to be haunted. In fact, it was one of the many appealing aspects the location offered. Still, Norman was more of a skeptic than a believer, until he had a few ghostly encounters on the set.

For Norman, it all began one night when his dogs were uncharacteristically barking at the end of his bed, seemingly freaking out over nothing. Then Norman opened his eyes. Standing over him was the specter of a man in a suit. Not only did it creep him out, it turned him into a believer. The supernatural shenanigans continued for Norman and his crew, building to a crescendo on the final day of production, as pipes burst throughout the house, setting the production back by a day.

After all of this, Norman and the crew soon came to the realization: “The House gets what it wants.” And thus the film’s tagline was born.

The title house of Corey Norman's horror film "The Hanover House."

The title house of Corey Norman’s “The Hanover House.”

It’s fitting, considering how “The Hanover House” is a cerebral journey from the minds of Norman and his wife, Haley, who are both passionate horror fans with a firm grasp on how to succeed in the genre.

“The horror movies I generally associate with the most always have characters and protagonists you come to care about,” Corey Norman said in a recent interview. “We’re all about building up those characters, and really getting you inside their head, and slowly letting the horror kind of creep in once you’re hooked on these characters.”

The idea for “The Hanover House” was conceived not long after Norman lost his father to cancer. The film stars Brian Chamberlain as Robert Foster, who returns to the town he grew up in for the funeral of his estranged father. As he leaves the funeral, he gets into a car crash that kills a little girl. He runs to a nearby farmhouse for help, knocks on the door, and is greeted by his dead father, baiting him to come into the house. Once he steps inside, Robert fights for his survival and is forced to face his inner demons as he attempts to get out of the house alive.

“I was actually driving to Fright Night [Film Fest] in Louisville, it was like two in the morning, and I was thinking about [my dad]. I was sad. I lost my dad, but you know, he would have been proud to be here,” Norman said. “But at least we had a good relationship. And I thought, ‘man, I wonder what it would be like to lose a loved one and not have a good relationship. What would you say?’”

Once the idea was in place, an actor Norman had worked with handed him the house on a silver platter. It was perfect. Huge, haunted, and they had the homeowner’s permission. Then came the writing and rewriting, the Kickstarter campaign to raise funds, and at the end of 2012, Norman and his crew began the haunt-filled 14-day shoot.

While many low-budget horror flicks succumb to the allure of cheap blood and gore effects, Norman’s beliefs are a little different. On top of a strong cast of characters, Norman summed up his philosophy on scaring people by following the lead of Alfred Hitchcock: “It’s not the act itself that scares people. It’s that tension, that climax, that build-up that’s important. I think that is pivotal. I also think you want to leave a lot up to your viewer’s imagination. I love implied action.”

Matthew Delamater stars in Corey Norman's "The Hanover House."

Matthew Delamater stars in Corey Norman’s “The Hanover House.”

Beyond Hitchcock, Norman, is obsessed with Stanley Kubrick, as every filmmaker should be, citing “The Shining” as one of his greatest influences. He also has an affinity for John Carpenter (“Halloween”), Tobe Hooper (“The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”), old-school Wes Craven (“The Last House on the Left”), and he has a deep, deep admiration for “House of the Devil” helmer Ti West.

“In fact,” Norman said, “’House of the Devil.’ I made everybody on my crew watch that before we shot. I said, ‘All right Mr. D.P. [Director of Photography], here are the types of shots we want to go for.”

So will Corey Norman someday be mentioned in the same breath as the masters of horror he’s studied his entire life? I suppose that depends on whether or not the House gets what it wants.

“The Hanover House” will premiere at the Saco Drive-In’s Dead at the Drive-in film festival at 9 p.m. Friday, May 9, and 10:45 p.m., Saturday, May 10. Norman’s short film “Natal” will also premiere those nights. For more on “The Hanover House,” visit thehanoverhousefilm.com, or find “The Hanover House” on Facebook. For more on Dead at the Drive-In, visit deadatthedrivein.com.

Are you a Maine filmmaker? Joel Talks Movies is interested in talking to you about your work and upcoming projects. If you’re interested, email me at joeltalksmovies@gmail.com.

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Movie Review: ‘Escape Plan’

In theaters

“Escape Plan,” written by Miles Chapman (story and screenplay) and Jason Keller (screenplay), directed by Mikael Hafstrom, 115 minutes, rated R.

It’s 2013, and somehow there’s a movie currently in theaters starring both Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. And it’s not called “The Expendables. Or “The Expendables 2.”

… Or “The Expendables 3.”

The film is called “Escape Plan,” starring Stallone as Ray Breslin, a professional jail-breaker who is contracted by the Federal Bureau of Prisons to test maximum security facilities. They put Breslin behind bars, and he finds the gaps in the system, using limited tools such as wads of toilet paper and chocolate milk cartons a la MacGyver, to spring himself free.

He has a business partner, Lester Clark (Vincent D’Onofrio, who hams it up), who handles the money while Breslin does the dirty work. Also part of the team is a technology expert named Hush (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) and Abigail (Amy Ryan), whose specialty is never really defined.

After another one of Breslin’s successful, cunning escapes, the team is approached by CIA agent Jessica Miller (Caitriona Balfe) for a job worth $5 million. The problem is that the facility in question is a highly illegal, immoral Gitmo-style fortress holding international criminals with whom countries don’t want to deal. It also has been built based on Breslin’s own book. In other words, no one can break out of it.

Against the advice of Hush and Abigail, Breslin reluctantly agrees to the deal, under the condition that he has a code in case things go wrong. But before he even enters the prison, things go wrong, as Breslin is abducted in an unmarked van, drugged and taken as a common prisoner without any of the requested safety provisions, and without any knowledge of his location. There’s no question about it, Ray Breslin has been set up.

While at the facility, he befriends Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), and together, the two begin to explore their limited options for escape, forming an alliance against the iron fist of the institution’s warden, Hobbes (an odd and entertaining Jim Caviezel).

Before getting to the heart of “Escape Plan” – its two stars – I’d be hard-pressed not to mention that director Mikael Hafstrom makes the most of this situation, as he has in past films such as “The Rite.” In between the preposterous loopholes in the prison system and Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s wisecracking, Hafstrom creates an elaborate, strangely open-concept jail where inmates are confined in stacked-up glass cubes like bugs captured for the amusement of some young boy. With the guards dressed in black from head to toe, faces hidden under simple Halloween masks, the atmosphere Hafstrom creates will bring to mind ’80s sci-fi cinema.

But ultimately watching Stallone and Schwarzenegger play off one another just feels unnatural. There’s humor in their interaction, some of which is deliberate, much of which is not. It’s a paradox: The casting of these two hall-of-fame action stars past their prime gives “Escape Plan” much of its character, yet it also sets some serious limitations. In that sense, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend “Escape Plan” to anyone other than die-hard ’80s and ’90s action fans.

Grade: C+

Follow me on Twitter @JoelCrabtree or find me on Facebook.

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Blu-ray/DVD Pick(s) of the Week: ‘Before Midnight,’ ‘The Conjuring’

This week on Blu-ray and DVD, we drop back into the lives of Jesse and Celine (Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy), and I use the phrase “drop-in” because “Before Midnight,” the final film in Richard Linklater’s trilogy, is another fascinating intrusion into a segmented, pivotal point in the relationship of these two.

We return to Jesse and Celine nine years after “Before Sunset,” at the end of a summer vacation in Greece, where age and reality begin to catch up to our once-young lovers who met on a train in Europe 18 years ago. But it’s more than just age that wears on these two, as Linklater and company casually bring you up to speed on what you missed during the last nine years, starting with a set of twins and a bitter divorce.

As Jesse longs to be part of his son Henry’s life in Chicago, feeling inadequate over his absence in much of his life, Celine reads deep into her partner’s emotions, foretelling the beginning of the end of their relationship.

For me, part of what makes these films such a joy to watch are Hawke and Delpy, who are at home as Jesse and Celine. Everything from their banter to their deep-cutting accusations or philosophical whimsy is 100 percent natural, and in turn it makes you, the viewer, comfortably part of this often uncomfortable conversation.

For me, there are few things better in life than a personal story that on the surface seems so simple, yet it speaks volumes. Not only does “Before Midnight” provide us with some of the best writing of 2013, it’s also one of my favorite films from the year.

Also out on Blu-ray and DVD this week is James Wan’s throwback haunted house film “The Conjuring.”

“Based on a true story,” a claim made by many horror films, “The Conjuring” is set against the wonderfully creepy New England autumn, where the Perron family looks to settle into an old, spacious farmhouse. Of course, this one carries secrets and spirits, as any good old farmhouse should. As Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor) suffers mysterious bruising, and haunts begin to make their presence known to the children of the house, Carolyn and Roger (Ron Livingston) call in paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga) for help.

Their analysis? It’s bad.

Having the distinction of being rated R simply because it’s too scary, “The Conuring” was practically gifted a marketing campaign by the MPAA, but it also had a lot to live up to. For the most part, it succeeds.

Against my better judgment, I’ll go on the record to say that James Wan is a master of timing in horror, despite his failed sequel to “Insidious,” which hit theaters in September. “The Conjuring,” however, is an example of what happens when Wan gets it right. Audiences have been trained to anticipate a jump or scare in a horror film based on music cues or previous trends. Wan, however, delivers his scares a beat ahead or behind, completely throwing you out of your comfort zone and keeping you on your toes. It’s like a roller coaster of horror, sending you down 80-foot drops when you least expect it.

“The Conjuring” generates those kind of scares that run deep and stay with you – the kind that only come along once every five or 10 years, if you’re lucky. It’s also tons of fun for anyone who likes to be scared.

What are you watching this weekend on DVD or Blu-ray? Let me know by commenting below, send me your opinions on Twitter @JoelCrabtree, or find me on Facebook.

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Movie Review: ‘Carrie’ (2013)

In theaters

“Carrie,” written by Lawrence D. Cohen (screenplay), Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (screenplay), Stephen King (novel), directed by Kimberly Peirce, 99 minutes, rated R.

Now is the perfect time to revive Stephen King’s “Carrie,” the cautionary tale of the repercussions that may follow when teenagers push their peers too far. With awareness of bullying at an all-time high, and the proliferation of social media enabling youths to take their teasing, gossiping, cruelty and intimidation to a whole new level, the moral of “Carrie” is arguably more relevant now than it was in the 1970s. But Kimberly Peirce’s retelling is lazy, losing its sense of purpose while running through the motions we’re all too familiar with.

This time around, Chloe Grace Moretz stars as Carrie White, the socially awkward Maine teen who has the latent gift of telekinesis. Her inept behavior around classmates stems from being raised by an abusive, mentally disturbed mother, Margaret (Julianne Moore), who keeps Carrie on a short leash. Margaret uses religion as a mask for her true problems, fabricating passages from the Bible as a means to keep her daughter scared of the outside world.

The catalyst for this tale’s supernatural side is the now-infamous girls locker room scene, where Carrie gets her first period. Not knowing what’s happening to her, she pleads for help from her classmates, who in turn throw tampons at her, filming it on their phones while she stumbles on the shower floor crying. Though traumatic for Carrie, her coming of age also brings her telekinetic abilities to the surface.

The perpetrators are reprimanded, and while one of Carrie’s tampon-tossing foes, Sue (Gabriella Wilde) seeks redemption, another, Chris (Portia Doubleday) seeks revenge, blaming Carrie for her suspension from both school and prom. Sue asks her sympathetic boyfriend, Tommy (Ansel Elgort), to take Carrie to the prom to boost her self-esteem and to also ease her own conscience. Chris, on the other hand, aims to make prom night something to remember for Carrie in all the worst ways.

We all know how this story ends, with a high school gymnasium full of pigs’ blood and human blood. So what really matters for this remake is what comes before that ill-fated prom, and here it’s a bore. Screenwriters Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa compose their “Carrie” as though it’s expected to live in the shadow of Brian De Palma’s 1976 film (also written by Cohen), sucking any life and originality out of the film.

“Carrie” also has no sense of what bullying is like in 2013, and in that regard the film mirrors its predecessor, which depicted bullying nearly 40 years ago. Social media is thrown into the mix only once, and its placement feels forced, as though it’s merely an attempt to make the film seem modern by filmmakers and writers who have little comprehension of everyday teenage life.

There are some moments that work between Moore and Moretz, both of whom I really admire as actresses. Watching their broken, unsettling relationship with a twisted sort of love at its core is where you’ll find the most sympathetic moments of “Carrie.” A blood-soaked Moretz also has fun with her superpower-fueled massacre, making quick, jerky motions to accompany a vacant expression painted on her face. It’s much more theatrical and animated than previous incarnations of Carrie White. In these moments, she’s like a young woman possessed.

Unfortunately, Kimberly Peirce’s remake of “Carrie” is rather uninspired, and in the end, it just misses the point.

Grade: C-

Have some thoughts on the “Carrie” remake? Let me know with a comment below, find me on Twitter @JoelCrabtree and on Facebook.

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DVD/Blu-ray Pick of the Week: ‘The Stranger’

This week, Kino Lorber released a remastered edition of “The Stranger,” a tight political thriller from 1946, which also happens to be the third feature film directed by Orson Welles.

Welles also stars in “The Stranger” as Charles Rankin, a college professor whose life is a facade, created to protect his true identity: The Nazi mastermind Franz Kindler. Hiding out in America until the next war, which he believes is inevitable, the foundation of Kindler’s lies begins to crumble on his wedding day when he receives an unexpected visit from his former cohort Konrad Meinike (Konstantin Shayne). Sure enough, following Meinike is a war crimes detective named Wilson (Edward G. Robinson), who sees past Kindler’s guise.

Convinced Rankin’s the man he’s looking for, Wilson slowly puts the pressure on him, as well as his new wife, Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young). Without evidence, however, Wilson has to gradually feed Rankin enough rope to hang himself, but is it enough to best the crafty, manipulative war criminal?

The film doesn’t hold its cards particularly close to its chest, revealing bits and pieces of the story throughout rather than saving them to build the mystery. There’s no swooping, jaw-dropping reveal here, but it’s smartly structured in a way that keeps you involved, as you watch the battle of wits unfold between Wilson and Kindler. It’s a game of high-stakes chess. Or checkers, perhaps.

Welles is brilliant, as usual, in front of the camera as well as behind it, and if you haven’t had the chance to see “The Stranger” yet, I’d highly recommend picking up this release from Kino.

Follow me on Twitter @JoelCrabtree, or find me on Facebook.

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The Grand in Ellsworth to hold third annual LGBT Film Festival

Thure Lindhardt and Zachary Booth star in “Keep the Lights On,” screening at 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, at The Grand in Ellsworth.

This weekend, the LGBT Film Festival celebrates its third year at The Grand in Ellsworth with a new theme to inspire hope, building on the previous years when the festival highlighted the “It Gets Better” movement and “Sharing the Stories.”

“This year we come to another theme that could be applied to almost any year ‘Celebrating Diversity,’ said Robin Jones, director of film programming at The Grand. “The hope in each film is being celebrated as much as the LGBT community and that celebration has been there from the first year.”

This year, the festival will screen three movies all in one day, beginning at 4 p.m. Oct. 19 with Ira Sachs’ “Keep the Lights On,” which premiered at 2012′s Sundance Film Festival, and as Jones explained, has parallels to last year’s film “Weekend.”

“Instead of a weekend in London, this takes place over a 10-year period in New York, from the late nineties to the late 2000′s, covering a number of hot-button issues that one particular male couple faces,” he said.

“Keep the Lights On” will be followed at 7 p.m. by Jeffrey Schwarz’s “I Am Divine,” a documentary that looks into the life of transexual pop icon Harris Glenn Milstead aka “Divine.”

The festival closes with “Camp Beaverton: Meet the Beavers,” a documentary by Ana Grillo and Beth Nelsen about the only all women, trans-inclusive, sex positive theme camp set within Burning Man, and week-long annual festival held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. The film is for mature audiences and begins at 9 p.m.

“We had such a great success last year with the combination of the great 2011 American contemporary drama film ‘Pariah,’ about a 17-year old African-American teenager embracing her identity as a lesbian, and the late-night ‘mature audiences only’ show from Portland’s sex-positive, queer-positive troupe The Dirty Dishes Burlesque Review,” Jones said, “why not screen a film that somehow combines these experiences?”

So how will this year’s festival stack up to previous years?

“We always aim for doing better than the year before, but, seriously the real aim reflects The Grand’s mission statement: ‘To enrich the lives of people in Downeast and Eastern Maine by presenting diverse, unique, high-quality programs that provide entertaining, artistic, educational and social experiences,’” Jones said. “If one person sees the LGBT community as a group of people with similar hopes, dreams or sees something in this world they’ve never seen before, or if one member of the local LGBT community sees that someone in another country has a similar story they can relate to, or basically if anyone walking through The Grand’s doors during the festival has a great time, that’s success.”

This year’s festival, Jones said, would not exist without the support of the theater’s board, the LGBT community, and Grand staff member Kristie Billings, who found two of the films, “I Am Divine” and “Camp Beaverton.”

Tickets for individual showings are $7, $6 for seniors and students, and $5 for Grand members. For more information, visit grandonline.org.

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Movie Review: ‘Captain Phillips’

In theaters

“Captain Phillips,” written by Billy Ray (screenplay), Richard Phillips and Stephan Talty (based upon the book “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea”), directed by Paul Greengrass, 134 minutes, rated PG-13.

Paul Greengrass is one of those rare directors so good at what he does – frenetic, unsteady action thrillers best exemplified by the latter two Jason Bourne movies and “Green Zone” – that anything remotely in the same vein is merely labeled imitation. Though not a documentarian, Greengrass could also be described as a journalist of sorts, infusing his fiction with current political affairs, and recreating defining moments of our times, as seen in “United 93” and, despite recent controversy, his latest film “Captain Phillips.”

Based on the high-profile 2009 hijacking of the MV Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates, “Captain Phillips” stars Tom Hanks as the film’s title character, Capt. Richard Phillips, a family man from Vermont helming the freighter around the horn of Africa to Kenya. With the escalating number of piracy cases, Phillips is fully aware of the risks that come with navigating the unarmed merchant ship around the Somali coast, yet he and his crew cautiously continue on their route.

Their most feared scenario becomes reality, however, as Phillips and his crew spot two skiffs quickly approaching their vessel, and as Phillips’ notes: “They’re not here to fish.” Though the pirates’ efforts to board the ship are thwarted on their first attempt, one of the boats returns the next day, with four armed pirates (Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed and Mahat M. Ali) vehemently pursuing the merchant ship, and ultimately boarding it.

Greengrass works best with his characters under extreme pressure, drawing off the raw, authentic emotion that comes from that. He’s a magnet for stories that move like an out-of-control locomotive, picking up momentum with every scene toward a finale that is imminent, definitive, and more often than not, unsettling. In typical Greengrass fashion, it’s a thrill to watch “Captain Phillips” unfold before your eyes, lighting a fire inside you while keeping you arrested for the 134-minute duration.

Shortly after the film’s release, the authenticity of Phillips’ portrayal was brought into question by some of the crew. As with all Hollywood productions based on true events, audiences have grown savvy enough to take these stories with a grain of salt, whether it’s “Argo,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” or “Captain Phillips.” But does it diminish the integrity of the movie?

As with his previous films, Greengrass uses his characters here to speak beyond what’s on screen, digging into the mindset of our captors, as well as the origins of this era of Somali piracy, and problems plaguing the Third World. There’s also a very real fear here, as the crew of the Maersk Alabama come to terms with what lies ahead for them. In that, there’s a lot of truth to “Captain Phillips.”

Perhaps this film has fewer parallels to “United 93,” and is more akin to “Green Zone,” an exaggerated fictional Iraq war story with its feet firmly planted in reality, but its head in the Hollywood clouds. Despite any sort of controversies that have arose, “Captain Phillips” is another strong outing for Paul Greengrass.

Grade: A-

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment, let me know on Twitter @JoelCrabtree or find me on Facebook.

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DVD/Blu-ray Pick of the Week: ‘I Married a Witch’

Just in time for Halloween, The Criterion Collection has released Rene Clair’s 1942 supernatural screwball comedy “I Married a Witch,” a love story whose satire and wit still ring true more than 70 years after its initial release.

The films opens at a witch burning in late-1600s Massachusetts, where a young witch named Jennifer (Veronica Lake) and her sorcerer father, Daniel (Cecil Kellaway), have been found guilty. Of course, these two are indeed guilty of witchcraft, and have the magical powers to prove it. Bitter over her burning, Jennifer casts a spell upon her accuser, a Puritan named Johnathan Wooley (Fredric March), cursing him to have a miserable marriage. And so will his children, and his children’s children, and so on.

While the Wooley family line fails to find true love over the centuries, the spirits of Jennifer and Daniel are kept trapped underneath an oak tree to hold their evil spirits prisoner, until the 1940s, when a lightning strike frees the duo.

It’s here we meet the latest Wooley, Wallace, a politician running for governor of Massachusetts, who is set to marry the wealthy, bratty daughter of his primary political backer. With revenge on her mind, resurrected Jennifer conjures up a potion to make Wallace fall in love with her, so that she can deny him and crush his heart. But the plan backfires, and Jennifer drinks the concoction, falling head over heels for Wallace Wooley.

“I Married a Witch” is a lighthearted alternative to the scares, jumps and carnage that generally come with most Halloween film fare. Here, the dialogue is sharp and amusing, impeccably delivered by Lake and March. Veronica Lake is perfect as the mischievous Jennifer, playing well off March’s buttoned-up Wooley. Clair has fun with the visual queues, winks and nods to black magic cliches (think black cats and pointy hats), creating a charming picture ideal for this time of year.

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Movie Review: ‘Bad Milo’

In theaters and on demand

“Bad Milo,” written by Benjamin Hayes and Jacob Vaughan, directed by Vaughan, 85 minutes, rated R.

Stress can lead to any number of ailments, both physical and mental. From heart disease to sleep disorders, when you begin to buckle under life’s pressure, and are rendered incapable of managing it, bad things tend to happen.

Take Duncan (Ken Marino), for instance, the protagonist of “Bad Milo,” the latest film from Jacob Vaughan. Duncan’s anxiety comes from several sources: His boss (Patrick Warburton), puts him in charge of layoffs while the investment firm he works for is investigated for unlawful business practices; his mother (Mary Kay Place), pushes for grandchildren; his girlfriend (Gillian Jacobs) wants to start a family; and he’s never known his deadbeat father.

What at first appears to be common, yet intense, gastrointestinal problems turns out to be much greater. And the polyp discovered in Duncan’s colon? It’s actually a lumpy, ferocious creature with tiny daggers for teeth, who has taken up residence inside Duncan. Milo, as it comes to be known, is a manifestation of Duncan’s pent-up stress, and is now a part of him. When Duncan becomes unable to handle stress, Milo unleashes himself, putting a bloody end to the root cause of Duncan’s discontent.

Not knowing who to turn to, Duncan seeks the help of a loony therapist (Peter Stormare) with the hopes of controlling his stress and keeping Milo where he belongs.

If “Bad Milo” sounds a little out there, let me reassure you that it certainly is. Finding inspiration in creature features from the 1980s, such as Joe Dante’s “Gremlins” or Stephen Herek’s “Critters,” Vaughan strikes a tone that matches the absurdity of the story. Coupled with this off-beat homage is a quick, dry sense of humor that is in line with the brand established by Mark and Jay Duplass (“Jeff Who Lives at Home,” “Baghead”), executive producers on this film.

Of course, as any film about a murderous monster grown in someone’s bowels would, “Bad Milo” digs deep for some of its laughs, relying on a few rather shameless gags that will work for the right audience. With that said, there also is a straightforward message here that never gets lost – a warning to all of those who let the day-to-day emotional strain build up, and bury it instead of facing it.

Equally important, however, “Bad Milo” is silly, gross, mildly gory and occasionally funny.

Grade: B-

Follow me on Twitter @JoelCrabtree, or find me on Facebook.

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Movie Review: ‘Gravity’

In theaters

“Gravity,” written by Alfonso Cuaron and Jonas Cuaron, directed by Alfonso Cuaron, 90 minutes, rated PG-13.

“Gravity,” the latest from acclaimed “Children of Men” director Alfonso Cuaron, lifts you up to the most solitary space imaginable, where the film sets up sequence after sequence of pure, relentless tension, creating arguably the most teeth-clenching, nail-biting experience ever to hit the big screen. And that’s no easy feat.

“Gravity” stars Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer working her first space shuttle mission alongside a small crew that includes Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), a veteran astronaut who regales the team and NASA’s Houston space station with his anecdotal failures in life, where the punchline is generally at his expense. There’s a reason he’s up here, 600 kilometers above Earth, away from the human population.

But Stone has her own reasons to escape the world. Her 4-year-old daughter died in a freak schoolyard accident, and she hasn’t yet come to terms with the loss.

While repairing the shuttle on the eve of Kowalski’s retirement, Houston warns the team of a cluster of debris on course to crash into the spacecraft. Sure enough, the debris swiftly swoops in, ravaging the shuttle, leaving Stone and Kowalski the sole survivors of the mission without a craft to carry them. They’ve also lost contact with Houston.

Facing impossible odds, Stone and Kowalski devise a Hail Mary survival plan to use Kowalski’s jetpack thrusters and a series of spacecrafts within a reasonable radius as stepping stones back to Earth. The barriers are endless, and with every victory an even greater challenge arises, as “Gravity” pushes its characters, and its audience, way over the edge.

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the anxiety “Gravity” generates that on very rare occasions you almost forget the incredible technical achievements that are constantly right in front of you.

Since James Cameron’s “Avatar,” we’ve been waiting for a film to wow us using 3-D technology – a movie where the innovation actually adds a new dimension to the film, and not just lighten our wallets for a few gimmicky special effects pops. With the camera perpetually moving slowly around its setting and characters, Cuaron fully uses the backgrounds and foregrounds to enhance the 3-D experience, raising the bar and creating a cinematic spectacle unlike any I’ve seen before. When it comes to 3-D, this is what we’ve been waiting for.

But for a 3-D movie to truly succeed, it has to have substance behind all the visual “oohs” and “aahs.” Here, the story serves as a rather heavy-handed allegory for the hopelessness one feels after the death of a loved one. There’s a loneliness and emptiness Stone manifests, as seen in her location of choice, and the struggle she faces is a reflection of her emotional state.

There are several moments when giving up seems like the easy and logical option, though an epiphany happens upon her that keeps her fighting. In a moment of clarity she realizes she must endure. After all, without finding the will to live, “Gravity” wouldn’t mean much of anything.

Grade: A

You can follow me on Twitter @JoelCrabtree, or find me on Facebook.

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