The Witches of Eastwick (movie review)

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Sukie (Michelle Pfeiffer), Jane (Susan Sarandon), and Alex (Cher) are three lonely friends who can cause stuff to happen when they’re together, like make it rain on a boring school assembly. It seems like their mutual wish for a man is granted when a mysterious wealthy stranger breezes into town. All three fall for Daryl (Jack Nicholson), and all three date him simultaneously. Too late, they realize there’s something seriously evil about him (he’s in fact the Devil) and stop seeing him. But he won’t let them go that easily.

The movie is a comedy, but there’s a lot of creepy stuff going on, like Daryl making Sukie’s nemesis Felicia (Veronica Cartwright) uncontrollably vomit cherry pits. Her husband’s ambivalent feelings about her make his reaction chilling. There is also a fairly suspenseful scene when the ladies cast a spell on Daryl, and he returns home furious.

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I can’t decide if this movie is feminist or misogynistic. There seems to be a strong womyn power vibe, for example the ladies’ ability to do magic because of their powerful female bond. Then there are Daryl’s impassioned speeches to Alex (about how men are insecure and constantly “trying to put their dicks into everything”), to Jane (about how men are threatened by women and are motivated by “fear of losing their hard-on”), and to Sukie (about how amazing it is that women can give birth to babies and make milk to feed them). Yet before Daryl shows up, they spend a goodish amount of time griping about how they want a boyfriend; when he appears, they each hop into bed with him the first time they met him. Then they fight over him. But they come back into their power when they decide to cast a spell to send him away, and in the end don’t need him.

Something that amuses me about the movie is that it’s rated R, but somehow there’s no nudity. There are sexual situations and a whole lot of crude language, but the movie is surprisingly chaste when it comes to the sexual acts themselves. The camera cuts away before showing anything more graphic than Daryl finding his three paramours waiting for him in his bed. I first saw the film at age ten, a much younger age than I should have, and much of the innuendo went over my head, like Daryl having deep scratches on his face after his first meeting with Jane.

The film is dear to my heart, and not just because of nostalgia. Check it out if you’re in the mood for a dark, raunchy comedy. Star Wars fans, take note that the score is by John Williams.

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Wishcraft (movie review)

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Brett (Michael Weston) is a nerdy high schooler with a crush on Sam, a popular girl with a jock boyfriend. His life changes seemingly for the better when an unknown benefactor gives him a wishing totem (a “bull pizzle”). He wishes that Sam would be his girlfriend, which she does. But he wonders if she likes him for him or for his pizzle. Meanwhile, a serial killer is on the loose, and it’s up to Brett and his pizzle to stop it.

I first watched Wishcraft because I was curious to see a movie with Meatloaf and Zelda Rubinstein (a seriously underused actor)—I also kinda like Michael Weston. But as movies like Racing Stripes prove, a good cast does not necessarily good watchin’ make. This movie puts me in the mood to gripe. I can’t remember how I reacted the first time I watched Wishcraft, but this time I couldn’t wait for it to be over. It’s cheesy without even trying to be scary. It would have worked better as a murder-free comedy. Then I would have avoided it entirely. Bumpers is a last name that belongs in a comedy. So do heroines who say things like, “Why do we have to study World War II?” I hate movies when the protagonist has no motivation to pursue the heroine besides her appearance. Sam is dumb as a post, but Brett insists, “She’s just going through a superficial stage. It’ll pass.” It bugs me that for some reason the actors’ faces look powdery. I have a hard time buying Weston as a nerd—he’s Hollywood pretty—maybe with a pair of glasses or a bad haircut. I hate Brett’s best friend Howie—he’s aggravating beyond the typical sidekick. Someone also thought it was a good idea that there be a death by bowling ball. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for something corny and awful.

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Awesome, but not worth the pain

The Wicker Man (2006) (movie review)

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Police officer Edward (Nicolas Cage) has been contacted by his ex-girlfriend Willow, who tells him that (a) he has a daughter named Rowan and (b) she’s missing. He heads down to Summersisle, a small island in Puget Sound, to find her. He runs afoul of a strange matriarchy of wannabe pagans who are having a hard time with their crops. After the unfriendly locals tell him either that Rowan doesn’t exist or that she’s dead, he’s left to wonder who’s lying. He begins to suspect a connection with human sacrifice and the failing crops, and the truth is more horrible than he could have imagined.

I don’t often like remakes, and initially I was dead-set against this one. I had fond memories of the original, and this film, while having many similarities, is inferior. However, I watched the remake and the original together recently, and I may have changed my mind. I was all set to label Neil LaBute’s The Wicker Man as an unnecessary remake, but now I’m not sure.

1973’s The Wicker Man concerns a Scottish island dominated by Lord Summerisle; it’s not a matriarchy, which eliminates some of the misogyny of the remake—the theme there seems to be that woman hate men and are irrational yet crafty, while men are good and strong. Then again, the women in the remake are powerful and dignified, while in the original they spend much of their time naked—but it doesn’t seem to be a patriarchal culture. In the remake, Edward punches a couple of women; I’m not sure if I should be offended or gratified that he is treating them like equals.

Another aspect I considered is the corniness factor, which both films have in spades. The original has the singin’est villagers you ever did see—they’re constantly breaking into a musical number. The remake has a haunting score by Angelo Badalamenti (best known for his work in David Lynch movies, and also Cabin Fever). The original has corny dialogue, but much of it is transferred over to the remake. wicker man1My favorite unintentionally funny moment from the remake (the unrated version) is when the baddies maliciously break Edward’s legs and he yells “Don’t move me!” My second favorite: “Not the bees! Aaaah!”

As a former Wiccan, a feature of both films that stands out to me is the portrayal of paganism. The original shows many real aspects of Wicca, such as the maypole, jumping over a flame, and love of nature. I understand Wiccans tend to hate this movie, and I don’t blame them—who wants their religion falsely associated with ignorance and sacrificing children? The townsfolk in the remake encompass less recognizable bits of Wicca; the only thing that I see is Sister Summersisle’s triple-moon necklace (though it shouldn’t be three crescents, but two crescents and a circle to represent the waxing, waning, and full moon).

All gripes aside, the original is just that: original. The remake can copy the shocking ending and add more violence, but it’s still just a copy. However, both films are creepy, disturbing, and well-acted (Cage does the best he can with the goofy material). Despite the corniness, both pose the possibility of modernity and patriarchy being detrimental: sure the townspeople are crazy, but they work hard for what they have and Summerisle (and Summersisle) is undeniably peaceful. In the end, I recommend both films together—check them out if you’re in the mood for suspense and kids in creepy masks.

White Zombie (movie review)

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The movie Rob Zombie’s original band was named after. Couple Madeline and Neil are about to be married in the West Indies. Alas, Madeline’s friend Charles wants her for himself, and enlists the help of Legendre (Bela Lugosi) to make her a zombie. (Not a flesh-eating zombie, but the Haitian kind that tend to become peoples’ slaves—Legendre’s zombies work in a sugar mill.) Charles realizes too late that zombies don’t make the best conversational partners, and decides to change her back. But Legendre has his own plans for her.

It’s 1932, so there are a lot of aspects of the film that modern viewers may be annoyed by. The special effects are less grand than today (though there is a neat shot of Legendre’s eyes superimposed on Madeline and Neil’s carriage). The sound is terrible on two levels: because of the wear and tear of time and also errors like birds that are heard squawking but have their beaks closed. The editing is also poor at times, with characters moving around inconsistently. And of course it’s predictable. To boot, according to the Netflix synopsis of the movie, it was made in eleven days.

As can be expected, there is some racism (though actually all the zombie slaves and even Madeline’s maid is white), from the stereotypical superstitious carriage driver to Neil’s speculation of what happened to Madeline: “Surely you don’t think she’s alive? In the hands of natives? Oh no, surely better dead than that!” It also gets pretty melodramatic, with a dash of overacting, particularly by Lugosi. zombie1There is a creepy moment or two; there’s one barrel-chested guy who makes a convincing zombie, with his blank expression and wide, dead eyes. There’s also the scene when Legendre is turning Charles into a zombie, which entails a slow paralysis. He uses the last of his strength to put his hand on Legendre’s arm, by way of pleading. Legendre reminds Charles he refused to shake hands with Legendre once, and continues what he’s doing. And on the plus side, since it’s so old, it was actually original in the period it was made.

My question: is zombie labor really worth it? Sure they work long hours for free, but they’re extremely slow and increase work-related incidents exponentially—like the zombie in the movie that falls in the sugar mill. I know I don’t want to eat zombie sugar. Anyway, check it out if you think one or two powerful scenes outweigh a heap of issues.

Whispering Corridors: Memento Mori (movie review)

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Korean movie. Min-ah is a teenager at a girls’ school who finds a journal written by her classmates, couple Shi-eun and Hyo-shin. Their relationship has been a bit rocky because Hyo-shin slept with their teacher Mr. Goh, and they broke up. Shortly after, Hyo-shin kills herself, and returns to take her revenge on the whole school.

The film is unpredictable, which is refreshing, but at times it can be a bit confusing. For example the opening sequence, which shows Hyo-shin and Shi-eun tied together and apparently committing joint suicide. Meanwhile, there’s some jibber-jabber by a voiceover about girls dying. The first time I watched it, I assumed that Shi-eun and Hyo-shin were dead when Min-ah finds their diary—they aren’t. Neither the drowning nor the accompanying dialogue is explored later in the movie, though someone mentions in passing that girls have been dying a lot lately. Also baffling is the cadre of teenage girls who are difficult to tell apart, since they’re all thrown at us at once and don’t initially do a lot to distinguish themselves. There are Ji-won (short hair) and Yeon-ahn (ponytail), friends of Min-ah (longest hair), Hyo-shin (hair down to her earlobes) and Shi-eun (bobbed hair).

It’s hard to see this film and not compare it to the original. I’d say the previous film has a much clearer vision and themes than its sequel. This film similarly takes place entirely at the school, but the teachers are a lot less vicious and often absent from the classroom. As near as I can tell, there were no gay undertones or overtones in the original film. wc2I don’t know much about Korean culture, but I don’t think being gay is celebrated, given the schoolgirls’ disgusted reaction when Shi-eun and Hyo-shin go public with their relationship by kissing in the classroom, which also prompts a hearty slap from their instructor. Shi-eun avoids Hyo-shin afterward, seemingly out of shame. Which isn’t to say it’s all a bleak picture; there are some endearing moments between them, like when Hyo-shin says, “I heard church bells when I first saw you.”

It’s entertaining, with complex and interesting characters. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for something heartfelt and thoughtful.

Whispering Corridors (movie review)

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Korean movie directed by Ky-heong Park. According to its theatrical trailer, this is the movie that started the “Asian horror revolution” (now that’s a movement I can get behind!). Eun-yung is a new teacher at the private girls’ school that she once graduated from. She’s haunted by the memory of her friend Jin-ju, who died at the school nine years ago—shortly after Eun-young, prompted by mean teacher Mrs. Park, snubbed her. Meanwhile, outcast Jae-yi has made friends with popular girl Ji-oh. Eun-young notices parallels between their friendship and her friendship with Jin-ju, and when people who have mistreated the two girls begin dying off (starting with Mrs. Park), Eun-young wonders if Jin-ju has returned.

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Something interesting about the film is that it’s a bit teen angst-y, but not in a whiny John Hughes way. The movie highlights how brutal school can be. The girls have a massive workload and are pressured to have perfect grades and to make the school look good. The instructors verbally, physically, and even sexually abuse the students. The entire movie takes place at the school, which emphasizes how much of their lives are devoted to working hard and studying (and we as viewers are stuck at school with them). Even when Jae-yi and Ji-oh are hanging out, they’re on school grounds. Ji-oh sees Mrs. Park’s corpse, and deals with the shock by painting a picture of the event, explaining that sometimes “school is a horrifying place.” Accordingly, her teacher Mr. Oh destroys the painting and calls her a “psycho.”

Often while watching any foreign movie I feel a little culture shock. I also experience what I think of as WAOTS (what an odd thing to say) moments. This movie has more of those than most. There’s the amusing: [about fellow student Jung-sook] Ji-oh: “…she’s possessed.” Jae-yi: “Possessed?” Ji-oh: “You know, by the study demon—one with a low I.Q., though.” Then there’s the bemusing: “It’s not that I don’t want to call the spirits with you. It’s just so childish that I don’t want to do it anymore.” And my favorite: “You can’t call it suicide just because she hung herself.”

All jabs aside, this is one of my all-time favorite horror movies. It’s a tense, compelling watch. The acting is decent and the special effects are great. It’s a little predictable, but you have to give it points for originality, since after all it’s the Che Guevara of Asian horror. Long live the revolution!

When a Stranger Calls Back

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As with When a Stranger Calls, this one concerns a babysitter (Jill Schoelen) menaced by a scary guy (only this one comes to the door, making a liar of the title) who won’t leave her alone, even returning five years later to hassle her in college. Julia is assisted by Jill (Carol Kane), the girl from the original, who—conveniently enough—is a counselor at her college. The two of them, with the help of John (Charles Durning), the detective from the first movie, try to catch the stalker. A depressed and freaked-out Julia shoots herself, and the guy sets his sights on Jill. And he has lots of nifty tricks that Jill hasn’t seen before.

This movie more than meets my sequel criteria—it exceeds them. The writer and director of the original, Fred Walton, returns to again write and direct, and not just one but two actors from the first film reprise their roles. It directly follows the storyline from the original, and keeps the same logic. In many ways I like it better than the previous film, which after the terrifying first fifteen minutes or so, gets rather dry and boring. The stalker may kill people, but his social life, which makes up the bulk of the plot, is dull. This one keeps the action going, but not in a cheap way, like with jump scares. I’d say this villain, William, is creepier, too, with his ability to throw his voice and paint himself into a wall.

I also enjoy Jill’s transformation into a woman who refuses to be a victim. She and Julia are curious characters for a horror movie; they don’t get naked or even wear skimpy clothes; they don’t cower, and they don’t have men. Julia could actually be construed as gay, if you want to go with ’90s stereotypes—she has a mullet and dresses like a lumberjack. stranger calls1Even her sleepwear is an oversized sweatshirt. When she mentions the possibility of being a relationship, she doesn’t use a masculine pronoun; she says, “A person who maybe has someone.” She spends a lot of time at Jill’s place, and Jill’s husband from the first movie is out of the picture. Of course they’re both traumatized women who have trust issues—I’m just saying.

I do have a couple of issues with the movie, mostly the notion that William can be outside and sound like he’s inside, and vice versa. I like how enigmatic and interesting his character is (for example performing in a nightclub with a dummy that has no face), but I don’t see how these glimpses into his life relate to his other hobby of killing children and stalking people. But overall, it’s good watchin.’

I first saw this at my friend Hope’s 12th birthday slumber party. She had already seen it, and made much of the scene when Julia is making tea, but turns the burner off. A few minutes later, Julia runs to the kitchen to turn off the shrieking teapot, the assumption being that she’s not alone in the house—the man at the front door is actually inside with her. It’s a scary scene, and it has stuck with me for the last eighteen years, and not just because of the nostalgia factor. Check it out if you feel like watching a creepy home invasion movie—it’s great for slumber parties.