My Two Cents: READY OR NOT

Ready Or Not

Directed by Matt Bittinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett

Starring: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Andi McDowell

Fox Searchlight

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By show of hands, who here enjoys a rousing game of hide and seek? If I was to bet, I would say that at some point in our childhoods, we have all played. For children, everything is about fun and games; tag, duck-duck-goose, and the aforementioned hide and seek. Count to one hundred then come and find me. Like I said, these are kid’s games. Now, what if, as an adult, you were thrust into a night of a deadly game where you had to hide to save your life, and if you were found, you’d be killed? This is the situation that the new film from Matt Bittinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, Ready Or Not, presents to us.

Grace (Samara Weaving) is a lovely bride-to-be, marrying into the wealthy and eccentric La Domas family. The family, being rich, are skeptical as to Grace’s intentions. The La Domas Empire was built on the backs of board games and playing cards. Think Milton-Bradley or Parker Brothers. With this being said, it is only fitting that the family “welcomes” Grace into the fold with a wedding night game of chance. Unfortunately for Grace, she selects the wrong game; hide and seek. Thus begins a night of survival for the newlywed, as she must make it until dawn without being found.

Going into Ready Or Not, I had no real expectations. I saw the trailer for the movie a couple times, and thought it looked interesting. We decided to check it out, and will grab you right away with its back-handed charm. The characters are all jaded and untrusting, which makes them, as odd as it sounds, relatable. The family is dysfunctional and cagey, which is the case in a lot of people’s experience. The idea of someone having to survive the night until dawn, being hunted by lunatics is not original by any stretch, but the execution here is almost perfect. The dark humour and sarcasm contained in the dialogue is biting and beautiful, and the distain these characters show for one another adds to the humor and paranoia. Also, as an added bonus, there are outbursts of violence that will satisfy your bloodlust and your sense of amusement. The final ten minutes of the film are wild, and the creators do not skimp on the violence and gore. This was a welcome touch in a year that has been less than generous with good horror movies. Ready Or Not is a fun film if you take it for what it is. It may have even slid into my list of favorites so far in 2019. If you want to be entertained for ninety minutes, Ready Or Not is a game worth playing.

T.

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JOHN CARPENTER LOVEFEST

Why John Carpenter Is My Favorite Director

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The Maestro in Action

Many directors have a distinct style. When directors carve out their own niche, for the most part, the men behind the lens gain notoriety. Great examples of this are Martin Scorsese, with his quick cut, narrated crime capers. Quentin Tarantino, who uses dialogue and ultra-violence to give his stories life. There is also, my personal favorite director; John Carpenter. From the time I was a boy, there is something about Carpenter’s films that hook me. The ingredients he uses to cook up his films fit perfectly with my movie pallet. For this reason, I would like to tell you why John Carpenter is my favorite movie director.

Simplicity   There is one common thread through Carpenter’s work; survival. From Assault On Precinct 13 to Ghosts of Mars and everywhere in between, a fight for survival against an evil force is the main theme throughout. This makes for his films to be unsettling, intense, and simple. Babysitter versus madman, scientists versus alien, or truck driver pitted against evil sorcerer. You get the picture. A simple plot. Good versus evil. Everything right down to Michael Myers expressionless white mask is uncomplicated. This makes a plot like an escaped mental patient stalking babysitters in small town Illinois seem plausible, organic, and more terrifying; it could happen to anyone. Simple is good. Carpenter does it well.

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The Soundtracks   If you were to take away the haunting synth-based soundtrack from the previously mentioned Halloween, what are you left with? You have footage of a man walking around the dark with a knife. This is not nearly as effective as the same footage armed with the iconic theme of the film. Carpenter’s soundtrack scores and themes are very effect in drawing out the tension and action. The main title from his 1980 ghost story The Fog is my personal favorite. The music is creepy in all the right places. Carpenter still continues to tour, performing his vast collection of synthesizer music. His Anthology and Lost Theme albums are amazing.

The Villains   All great stories have a great protagonist. John Carpenter’s films have a wide arrange of monsters and bad guys. From a possessed 1957 Plymouth Fury named Christine, to a whole island filled with violent criminals in Escape From New York, Carpenter villains run the gamut. The Shape, also known as Michael Myers has even become a pop culture icon since he first appeared in 1978. Perhaps his best creature is the parasitic alien that jumps from host to host in The Thing. This is Carpenter’s best film, and it is party because the alien is convincing and pretty damn cool. A great movie monster goes a long way in telling a great story.

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They Live (1988)

The Anti-Hero   John Carpenter’s films also have another common theme; the anti-hero protagonist. Anti-hero, by definition, is “a central character in a story, movie, or drama, who lacks conventional heroic attributes. Carpenter’s heroes do not wear capes, drive fast cars, or fit into any typical hero mold. Look at these characters, for example. Snake Plisskin is a convicted bank robber who sent into a crime infested Manhattan to save the U.S. president. In Big Trouble in Little China, Jack Burton is hard-living truck driver who battles a sorcerer. For the Kurt Russel hat-trick, whiskey drinking anti-social helicopter pilot McReady battle the alien that invades his Alaskan science outpost in The Thing. Nada, the drifter in They Live and Dr. Loomis, Michael Myers psychiatrist are also examples of Carpenter’s unconventional good guys.

Genre Crossover   Blending genres is something that can make a compelling story. John Carpenter is the master of blending horror and science fiction together to make great cinema. Look at films like The Thing, They Live, and Village of the Damned. All great horror films with some science thrown in for good measure. His use of aliens and Martians is pretty much a Carpenter trademark. Humor is also something the director does well. It is usually subtle, but in a movie like Big Trouble, the laughs are right on the surface. Starman is a blend of sci-fi and romance. I think you get the point I am trying to make. The man is a damn good writer and filmmaker.

 

My Top Five John Carpenter Movies:

  1. The Thing
  2. Halloween
  3. Escape From New York
  4. The Fog
  5. They Live / Big Trouble In Little China

T.

My Two Cents: SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK

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Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark

Directed by: André Øvredal (Troll Hunter)

Starring Zoe Margret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush

CBS Films, Entertainment One (2019)

Based on the book written by Alvin Schwartz

While I was growing up, there were not a lot of horror books and shows made for kids and preteens to enjoy. It seemed everything in the nineteen seventies and made for the horror genre was geared towards adults. The nineties kids had plenty of horror –lite to enjoy. That generation had Are You Afraid Of The Dark? And the Goosebumps books to jump-start their horror obsession. By the time these arrived, I was already desensitized from watching movies like The Exorcist and The Shining at a young age. No starter horror for me. I jumped in headfirst. Today, kids can be exposed to horror without being scarred for life. This is where Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark falls into place. The main characters are all younger teenagers, and the frights are far more palatable and less gruesome.

Scary Stories is the tale of a group of teens growing up in Middle American during one of the most tumultuous times in U.S. history; the late 1960’s. On Halloween night, the gang visits a mansion, which according to legend, is haunted. The family that lived in the home had many dark secrets, including a hidden away daughter that lived a secluded, tortured existence. The kids take a book that once belonged to the daughter, and this begins a series of fateful stories being written into the book by a ghostly presence. These stories begin to happen in real-time, and the group must face their fears to save their lives.

Scary Stories is definitely meant for a teenage crowd, but also has enough to keep adults interested as well. Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape Of Water) co-wrote the screenplay, and if you are a fan of the directors work, you know there will be some wild imagery and creative monsters in the movie. I found the political and social references of the time set a dark tone for the story, although most of the younger viewers won’t understand them. Subtle humor is injected for a good counter balance the intensity of some scenes. All in all, I enjoy my horror with a little more violence, bloodshed, and of course, nudity. After all, I am a horror veteran. Scary Stories, however, would be a very nice jumping point for someone who is new to the genre, or feels like upping the game from light fare like Goosebumps.

T.

 

Daily Tonality: Song of the Day 02/07/2018

February 07, 2018

Today’s Daily Tonality is brought to you by fond memories.

buckowenspromophoto4Buck Owens – Act Naturally (from the single Act Naturally, 1963) Buck Owens has the best country music name, ever. If your name is Buck, what do you call your backing band? The Buckaroos, of course. My grandparents used to have a modest collection of country records when I was a kid. I didn’t care for the majority of them, but two artists stuck out. Johnny Cash and Mr. Owens. There is just something about his brand of country western music that differs from most. Don’t ask me what it is, because I can’t explain. Just listen to his stuff and you will see. His music has a very lovely effect on me. It always makes me nostalgic for my childhood, as well as remembering my grand folks fondly. Sometimes you just have to shut up and let the music do the thinking for you.

Fun fact – There is rumor (probably true considering the crazy life he led) that my granddad, Jim, was a roadie for Buck Owens during one of his western Canadian tours back in the day. I would have loved to ask him about it, but he passed before I was given this information. If it is a true story, I hope Jim and Buck shared a laugh or two.

T.

My Favorite Films of 1991

Ninety One was a good year at the cinema. Here is a run down of the five I enjoyed the most.

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5) Point Break (Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, starring Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, Gary Busey) I love a good heist movie, and this is one of my favorites. A young Keanu plays Johnny Utah, an FBI agent who goes under cover to infiltrate a band of rogue surfers who may also be bank robbers. Patrick Swayze plays the antagonist, but plays it really cool. Point Break has a really good cast: Gary Busey, Lori Petty, and John C. McGinley also star. It has a total 90’s feel, and even has a guest spot by members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. This film is a good waste of a couple hours.

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4) Boyz n The Hood (Directed by John Singleton, starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Lawrence Fishburne, Ice Cube) This inner-city drama is a sobering reminder that every action has a consequence. Boyz is a coming of age story about the struggles of growing up in a dangerous community, raised by single parents, and just trying to stay alive. Cuba Gooding Jr. and Ice Cube are amazing as friends growing up in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles. The movie captures the racial and economical tension the city endured in the early 1990’s. A very serious tone and some gritty performances make this must watch.

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3) Cape Fear (Directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Robert DeNiro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, Juliette Lewis) This beauty is Scorsese’s vision of the 1962 Cape Fear that starred Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum. Both versions are based on the John D. MacDonald novel of the same name. I have watched the majority of Robert DeNiro’s films, and I have to say that his portrayal of ex-con Max Cady is in my opinion, his best. He plays a smart, cunning, intimidating, and savage man obsessed with getting “revenge” on his defense attorney, played by Nick Nolte. This is how a thriller should be made. DeNiro is far and away the best part of the film, and the Max Cady character should be considered one of the greatest movie villains of all time.

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2) Silence of the Lambs (Directed by Jonathan Demme, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster, Ted Levine) Silence of the Lambs was released on Valentine’s Day in 1991. That would have been a hell of a date. Based on the Thomas Harris novel, this almost flawless film is an example of all aspects of a movie coming together brilliantly. Besides the 1986 film Manhunter, Silence of the Lambs was the first mainstream introduction to Dr. Hannibal Lector. I don’t think I need to tell you what he is about. Sir Anthony Hopkins nails the character, and gives us the chills with his portrayal. Jodie Foster is amazing as the naïve rookie FBI agent assigned to interview Lector. The character of Jame Gumb (aka Buffalo Bill) is a turbo creep, and created many moments that are still relevant in pop culture. This film spawned a bunch of prequel/sequels, and a television, show which deserved a much better fate than it received. From top to bottom, Silence of the Lambs is about as much bang for your buck you can get out of a film.

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1) The Doors (Directed by Oliver Stone, starring Val Kilmer, Meg Ryan, Kyle MacLachalin) The Doors movie is not the best movie on this list, but it is my favorite. Around this time in my life, I was obsessed with Jim Morrison. The music, the lifestyle, the debauchery, it all spoke to me. This film basically put all the things that I imagined into something that I could visualize. My friend Brian (also a huge Doors fan) and I probably watched the VHS every weekend for months. It was a ritual. It was a time and a place in my life that I enjoyed. Val Kilmer was the perfect choice to play Morrison. He looked and sounded so much like the “Lizard King”, that he did the majority of the singing in the film. Director Oliver Stone is a master at capturing a certain time period, and the 60’s come to life in this movie. The Doors is also a tribute to Jim and Pamela Courson’s devotion to each other, even as dysfunctional as their relationship was. That is my kind of love story. This is my favorite movie of 1991, as well as my favorite music biography turned film. It showcased the defiance of a tortured artist, which is the way I thought I felt as a 16 year old dumb kid.

T.

List: Top Five Favorite Professional Wrestlers of All-Time

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a mark for professional wrestling. I started watching when I was eight or nine years old, and I was instantly hooked. I was a comic book kid and the World Wrestling Federation was like a real life comic. The battle lines were drawn. Good versus evil. Mastermind managers like Bobby “The Brain” Heenan using his stable of goons to carry out his diabolical plans on the good guys like Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior. Storyline “foreigners”, like the Iron Sheik and turncoat traitors like Sgt. Slaughter waging war against the flag waving patriots like “HacksawJim Duggan. What a time to be alive. Over the years, professional wrestling has changed. The actual in-ring action is more dynamic and daring, and the illusion of good guy/bad guy has all but faded. WWE (former WWF) runs wrestling shows on three nights awake, and pay-per-view events once or twice a month. The WWE Network is a subscription-based place where you can watch basically whatever past and present events you desire. To be fair, there is an over-saturation of WWE programming. It was special when I was a kid. Waiting for a long time for an event to happen was half the thrill. Now you can just turn on the television and there it is. There are still over the top characters, but for the most part, the veil of “kayfabe” (the portrayal of events and stories in the industry as being “real”) does not exist. I still watch wrestling when I can, and I still love it. I do admit that not a lot of today’s “sports entertainment” stars capture my imagination like the ones I grew up watching in the 80’s and early 90’s. At the risk of making myself come across as a total nerd, I present to you a list of my top five favorite professional wrestlers of all time. This was a very hard list for me to narrow down to five performers, so I will include a few honorable mentions. Starting at number five and counting down…

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5. Owen Hart The King of Harts” spent most of his life wrestling in his older brother Bret’s shadow. Maybe the most underrated wrestler of all-time. I grew up going to Stampede Wrestling in Calgary, and Owen was always the top good guy. He was by far the superior Hart family wrestler in ring, and could put on a spectacular match with a broom if he had to. He Passed away in 1999 after falling from the ceiling at a WWE pay-per-view event after his harness rigging failed. Owen would have been world champion in the not so distant future if it weren’t for the accident. The heel you love to hate, but also loved because of his skill and charming “confidence”. Owen took his character and ran with it. He made it fun to cheer him on.

 

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4. Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels “The Showstopper”. “Mr. Wrestlemania”. “HBK”. Whatever nickname he went by, he is probably my favorite in-ring performer. He was an artist in the ring. Shawn Michaels delivered high spot after high spot. He could sell and put over his opponent as good as anyone. His “finishing” move, “Sweet Chin Music”, was as good a finisher as anyone had. It was a side super kick to his opponents face, and ninety-nine out of one hundred times, looked very convincing. HBK probably has more classic matches than any wrestler alive besides maybe Ric Flair. Shawn Michaels was cocky, confident, and handsome. Michaels and Triple H created one of the most popular groups in wrestling history in Degeneration-X. He could deliver a good interview and make you love him or hate him from sentence to sentence. Michaels took pride in his performances, and love him or hate him; you were satisfied after watching him wrestle.

 

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3. Nature Boy” Ric Flair To be the man, you have to beat the man!” There is not a wrestler, past or present, who could deliver a performance on the microphone like Ric Flair. He boasted about his abundance of women, money, limousines, watches, suits, parties, and most importantly, world heavyweight championships. Animated, stylish, devious, and intelligent are some of the words I could use to describe the character Ric Flair portrayed for forty years. “Naitch” was also a brilliant ring general, making it seem he was strategically using wrestling and cheating simultaneously to win a match. In my opinion, Flair was the first true anti-hero in wrestling. Even in his career twilight, he gave legitimacy to wrestlers like Triple H, Randy Orton, and Batista. His retirement match against Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania XXIV was classic and still one of my favorite matches. As he used to say “men want to be him, and women want to be with him”. After sixteen world titles, countless bloody matches with the likes of Dusty Rhodes and Sting, The Nature Boy is the most respected and emulated performer of all time. WOOOOOOOO!

 

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2. “Hot Rod” Rowdy Roddy Piper The first true “bad guys” I gravitated towards when I was a kid, Roddy Piper was a true bad ass. He made being a jerk seem cool. It is the biggest shame in wrestling that he was not put over Hulk Hogan for a world title run. Piper did so many “heinous” acts in the WWF that fans lost their minds. His “Piper’s Pit” segments where the best bits ever. He was a six foot two man, but still insisted on having a bodyguard; “Cowboy” Bob Orton. No matter whom Piper was interviewing, he was always smarter and made them seem stupid by using his cleverness. The natural progression of wresting is for bad guys to turn good, and good guys to turn bad. When “Hot Rod” finally made the transition to fan favorite, it cemented his legacy as a legend in the business. Piper never stopped wearing a kilt and never stopped kicking ass and taking names. His starring role in John Carpenter’s sci-fi horror film They Live is one of my favorite protagonist characters ever. Roddy Piper was a true character. Rest in peace, Hot Rod.

 

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1. Randy “Macho Man” Savage Over the years, you hear stories from his peers about Randy Savage being a touch mentally unstable and eccentric. I assume that you would have to be to achieve the level of cool that the Macho Man achieved. Everything he did in the ring looked real, like he hated his opponent and wanted to cripple him. His interviews always had a touch of insanity that gave Savage a level of intensity that still has not been reached by anyone. His feuds with Ricky Steamboat, Hulk Hogan, and Jake Roberts are legendary. He even let a real live cobra bite him for a television spot. Second to Hulk Hogan, I believe Savage is responsible for the surge of popularity in wrestling in the 80’s. If I was going to build a wrestler from the ground up, Macho would be the prototype. He had the look, the style, the gimmick, the skills, and charisma to be the best. Not to mention his valet (and real life wife), the lovely Miss Elizabeth. A real Beauty and the beast story, and maybe one of the first instances where a wrestlers personal life spilled over into the façade of professional wrestling. All of this very much fascinated me as a kid. Still to this day, I suffer from the Macho Madness. Dig It!

 

Honorable Mention: Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff, Triple H, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Chris Jericho, “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith

T.

My 2 Cents: Molly’s Game

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Molly’s Game (2017)

Directed by: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner
Distributed By: Entertainment One (Canada)
Run Time: 120 Min.

Being a Canadian, I had never heard the story of Molly Bloom. Molly Bloom is a former competitive skier turned high-stakes underground poker game “facilitator”. For seven years, she hosted celebrities, athletes, and rich businessmen each week in Los Angeles, and then moving the game to New York. Eventually. Members of the Russian mob became involved in the games, which in turn attracted the interest of the FBI. In 2013, two years after Bloom last hosted a game, she and a number of other people were arrested and charged with illegal gambling, sports betting and racketeering. Molly’s Game is alleged true story based on the book of the same name.

This is the first film I went to see in 2018. I had some pretty high expectations because of the writer/ director’s history of spinning a good yarn. Aaron Sorkin is a master at taking a true story and turning it into great film. He is the man who wrote Moneyball, The Social Network, and A Few Good Men. Molly’s game is his directorial debut. It is a hell of directorial debut. The movie clocks in at about two hours and twenty minutes, but it does not seem to be that long at all. Great pacing, interesting characters, and the narration makes the film fly by.

The acting is also great. Jessica Chastain is the main star of this film. She carries the load. Along with her voice over narration, her portrayal of Molly Bloom made me instantly love the character, and encouraged me to learn more about the real person. Chastain is also one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood, and she looks amazing throughout the whole movie. Molly’s attorney, Charlie Jaffe, is played by actor Idris Alba (The Dark Tower). The chemistry is good and their one on one scenes are the best parts of the film. Kevin Costner, Michael Cera (Scott Pilgrim) and Graham Greene (Dances With Wolves) also play small but important roles.

Beyond the reasons I have stated, there are a few other reasons why I found Molly’s Game to be very entertaining. I am a sucker for a movie about or involving poker. Rounders (Matt Damon, 1998) is one of my favorite movies, and Casino Royale (Daniel Craig, 2006) is the best Bond movie. Secondly, I am a sucker for a movie about common people who catch a break and become rich. Wolf of Wall Street (Leonardo Dicaprio, 2013), Joy (Jennifer Lawrence, 2015), and Citizen Kane are good examples of these films.

I will probably see over fifty plus films at the theatre in 2018, and I have a feeling that come the end of the year, Molly’s Game will be in my top five. If you enjoy an intriguing story with a good balance of emotion and danger, please check out Molly’s Game.

T.