Saturday, February 11, 2017

But I Digress... Tell Me A Scary Story

By Cat

As we all know, there’s a long process for films to undergo between that spark of inspiration and instigation on part of a director, writer, or producer and the finished product that graces big and small screens alike. Some projects never quite get out of “development hell” for one reason or another. 

My spotlight, today, is one project that I’m going to cheer on from the far sidelines and cross everything I can in hopes of lending luck that it makes it to a theater or streaming service near me. 

The Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book trilogy by Alvin Schwartz and hauntingly illustrated by Stephen Gammell were a treasured staple of my youth. The controversial children’s books, published between 1981 and 1991 were a few of my favorite Scholastic purchases, ever, when I was in school. They’re still available, today. I picked up a set for my daughter a few years ago.

This collection of stories became a cultural touchstone of a generation; read at countless sleepovers and inspiring many a harrowing dare. I still get the creeps when facing a bathroom mirror in the dark. Just saying.

Illustration preceding the story Oh Susannah! in Book 2

The books graced the top of blacklists and bans for many years – and now Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy, Pacific Rim, The Strain) wants to turn them into a movie. The announcement of his intention to helm a Scary Stories movie came in January 2016. If anyone’s going to be able to pull this off successfully, I believe Del Toro can do it. 

Image collage from article on filmschoolhooligans.com

He has proved himself to be the master of the dark and macabre, yet at the same time capable of shades of levity and light. He was at the directing helm for movies such as Mimic (1997), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), and Crimson Peak (2015) after all. Wearing his Executive Producer hat, he’s given us projects such as Splice (2009), the nightmare inducing Mama (2013), and even Rise of the Guardians (2012). 

I think my favorite source of nostalgic nightmare fuel is in good hands here.

Many details are yet unclear regarding this project. There haven’t been any announcements as to whether or not this will focus solely on the first book, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1981); or if the scope will include concepts from More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1984) and the endcap of the trilogy, Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones (1991). 

What we do know, is that CBS Films is involved and that the screenplay writing job has passed hands at least once. Currently, Dan and Kevin Hageman (Hotel Transylvania, The Lego Movie, Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu) are the writers tapped to tackle this daunting task. 


The trilogy is an anthology, of sorts, compiling many tales, poems, and even songs from folklore and the old tradition of passing worldly advice to younger generations through cautionary stories via spoken word. There are many unsettling tales, a few absurd ones, and the books are peppered with instructions for the reader on how best to scare the pants off their audience. The titles were literal – these stories were meant to be told aloud. I’m interested on how that aspect is going to translate into the movie and what arching plot will tie the tales together. 

From the first book, alone, I can think of at least five stories that would make excellent choices. Tales such as The Thing, The Haunted House, Cold as Clay, The Girl Who Stood on a Grave, and The Wendigo would all be interesting as cinematic treatments. Though, some of my very favorites grace the pages of the other two books. 

Illustration for story Wonderful Sausage in Book 2

Of course, some of the stories in these books have already been represented on the big screen before. This is largely because Schwartz pulling from folklore crosses into the territory of urban legend that we all love to scare ourselves with. Tales such as The Hook and High Beams have been covered in such movies, while Wonderful Sausage is shades of the tale of Sweeny Todd, most recently adapted via the movie Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007). I’ve also seen both versions from 1979 and 2006 of When A Stranger Calls; which pretty much verbatim use the story The Babysitter

Collage from horrorfinds.com

I’m hoping that Del Toro and the Hageman brothers steer clear of the stories that have been “done before” and aim for others within this rich and creepy nightmare landscape. My other fervent wish for this project is that they stay true to the surreal and terrifying imagery that Gammell’s artwork added to these tales. The illustrations in these books have haunted me more deeply and far longer than any of the stories contained between those pages. 

This project is one to definitely keep your eyes peeled for in the future and we wish it all the best through its process moving forward towards realization.


Just for fun, here's a video of Del Toro giving a bit of a tour of his "Bleak House" which he also calls his "man cave." A single room or a few items on the walls here and there wasn't enough to fuel his creativity and inspiration in his personal space, so he bought a house to stash all of his collectible goodies in.

But I Digress... is a weekly column for trustthedice.com that can't be pinned down to just one thing. It's Cat's celebration of tangents, random references, and general fan geekdom that both intertwines with, revolves around, and diverges from our movie-review core. In homage to the beloved Brit comedians, we want to bring you something completely different!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (2015) - Foreign Film Friday


Number Rolled: 27
Movie Name/Year: Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (2015)
Tagline: None
Genre: Action, Drama, Romance, Bollywood
Length: 163 minutes
Rating: TV-14
Production Companies: Rajshri Productions
Producer: Ajit Kumar Barjatya, Devaansh S. Barjatya, Kamal Kumar Barjatya, Kavitha Barjatya, Rajat A. Barjatya, Rajkumar Barjatya, Ruchi Ajit Barjatya
Director: Sooraj R. Barjatya
Writer: Sooraj R. Barjatya, Aash Karan Atal
Actors: Salman Khan, Sonam Kapoor, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Deepak Dobriyal, Arman Kohli, Swara Bhaskar, Aashika Bhatia, Deep Raj Rana, Manoj Joshi, Sanjay Mishra, Samaira Rao, Anupam Kher, Prem Khan, Suhasini Mulay, Sameer Dharmadhikari, Lata Sabharwal, Karuna Pandey, Brijendra Kala, Vishwa Mohan Badola, Mukesh Bhatt
Stunt Doubles: Adam Horton, Peter Pedrero, Calvin Warrington-Heasman

Languages
Speech Available: Hindi
Subtitles Available: English, Chinese, French, German, Spanish

Blurb from Netflix: While recovering from an assassination attempt four days prior to his coronation, a stern prince is replaced by a joyful and generous doppelganger.


Selina’s Point of View:
This movie was three fucking hours long. I need to check run-times before I watch. A while into the film I thought to myself, “Damn, this feels like it’s been going on forever and I don’t think I’m near the climax.” So, I checked to see how far in I was. An hour and eight minutes… and I had roughly two hours to go. Holy hell.

I don’t even like watching fantasy-based three hour movies. I get antsy.

That was my only issue with it, though.

This film was more like what I expected from Bollywood than the last Hindi film we watched. There were lots of colors, flashy sets, music numbers, and a fable-like tale being told. In fact, it felt a bit like a live-action Prince and the Pauper story.

One of the things that made this incredibly long film watchable, was the main characters. Salman Khan (Lai Bhaari, Phata Poster nikhla Hero, Veer) and Sonam Kapoor (Khoobsurat, Raanjhanaa, Aisha) were both great, in different ways. Khan had phenomenal comedic timing. He almost always got a chuckle out of me. Whereas Kapoor was so enchanting that I couldn’t take my eyes off her while she was on screen.


I really enjoyed this film. In fact, I believe I had such a negative outlook on Bollywood films because they’d never been described to me properly. If I had to describe the genre to someone else, I’d call it a kind of opera. The music is meant to hold the majority of the story and the dances seem to be where the chemistry between the characters truly comes into play. The only reason it looks over the top to Westerners, is because we’re used to the popularity of darker colors and more toned down sets. Culturally, the opposite seems to be the norm for Bollywood.

Perspective. It’s a hell of a drug.

If anything, I’d say our last Bollywood film – while more normal to me and Cat – is quite toned down for its genre.

In the end, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo was a very long film… but it had a hell of a pay off at the end and I don’t regret taking the time to watch it. I will remember it fondly.


Cat’s Point of View:
I was excited to see this movie come up for our Foreign Film Friday. It didn’t disappoint in the least.

Just to get this out of the way; I’ll tell you that this film stomped all over my subtitle pet peeve – but only at first. I got so into the movie that it bugged me less and less as time went on until I just didn’t think anything of it at all. The words were placed over the movie, but they seemed to have a little shadowing to separate from the background. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

Like I said, however, I got far enough enmeshed in the movie that reading along became second nature. I found myself paying more attention to what was going on in the scenes. There were a few cultural references that I didn’t understand due to lack of general knowledge such as folklore and festival days. The film gives enough context to keep the uninitiated from being horribly confused, at least.

This movie was a more traditional Bollywood than the last we watched. There are song and dance numbers sprinkled throughout the whole movie. Each instance of such had story purpose and felt like it flowed together smoothly with the rest of the scenes rather than falling into the trap of seeming like random flash mobs were happening.


The lead roles in this film were also apparently Bollywood royalty. Salman Khan (Son of Sardaar, Jai Ho, Sultan) has been a leading man for many years and has worked on several occasions with Sonam Kapoor (Mausam, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Neerja), whom was his costar in this movie. Their chemistry was spot on and that likely had a good deal to do with a comfortability with each other.

I am happy to say that while this wasn’t the most original concept, the tale was told well and it was endearing. I love the vibrant colors so often present in this culture. Some of the set pieces were absolutely stunning. Overall, the film was a visual feast.

I would definitely recommend this movie to anyone wanting to get their feet wet with Bollywood, and I wouldn’t even mind watching it again.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – None
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 48%

Netflix’s Prediction for Selina – 2/5
Selina’s Trust-the-Dice Score4/5

Netflix’s Prediction for Cat – 3.5/5
Cat’s Trust-the-Dice Score4.5/5

P.S. Extra scenes during the credits.

Movie Trailer:

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Jenny’s Wedding (2015)


Number Rolled: 40
Movie Name/Year: Jenny’s Wedding (2015)
Tagline: Family is worth fighting for.
Genre: Drama
Length: 94 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Production Companies: MM Productions, Merced Media Partners, PalmStar Media
Producer: Stuart Brown, Michael C. Cuddy, Mary Agnes Donoghue, Kevin Scott Frakes, Gail Levin, Michelle Manning, Myles Nestel, Lauren Selig, Raj Brinder Singh, Nick Thurlow, Alex Wake, Todd Williams, Lisa Wilson
Director: Mary Agnes Donoghue
Writer: Mary Agnes Donoghue
Actors: Katherine Heigl, Tom Wilkinson, Linda Emond, Grace Gummer, Alexis Bledel, Sam McMurray, Diana Hardcastle, Matthew Metzger, Houston Rhines, Cathleen O’Malley, Betsie Devan, Hollis McCarthy, Alex Wake, Greg Violand, Seamus Tierney, Kenya Gest, Hildy ‘McGillicuddy’ Johnson
Stunt Doubles: None

Languages
Speech Available: English
Subtitles Available: English

Blurb from Netflix: When Jenny plans to marry her girlfriend, she decides it’s time that her family, who doesn’t know that she’s a lesbian, finally learns the truth.


Selina’s Point of View:
Let me preface this by saying: I live in a big city. I’ve lived in Brooklyn, New York for all of my life. It’s an incredibly tolerant area where different kinds of people are concerned. When I came out to my mother as bisexual, her response was, “Oh, I know that.” And then we went out for mousse.

On Foreign Film Friday I often discuss cultural differences and how sometimes those differences can go over a person’s head if they’re not familiar with the area a movie was made it. I rarely mention the cultural differences between the big city and small suburbia. It’s insane just how different culture can be from city to city in the same country – or even the same state.

There’s a lot of small suburbia culture in this film that just flies far enough over my head that it might as well be the movie we watch for Friday. The concept of everyone in a city knowing everything about one family’s business is completely ridiculous to me. I don’t even know the names of the neighbors I share a floor with in my building. I wouldn’t know if one of them was getting married or if their parents had died in a horrific plane crash. I certainly have NO clue what their sexual orientation would be. Not that I would care what they did in their bedrooms anyway.


On the same note, if I had married a woman instead of John, nothing my family did or did not do would have been different. My cousin still would have officiated. My uncle still would have flown in from Australia to give me away with my mother. No one would have cared that my partner didn’t have penis. Even my grandmother, if she had still been alive.

What that means is that I can’t really relate to ANYTHING in this film. Not the culture of the setting, not the personal conflict. Even so, I was 100% invested in every word, every argument, every tear that the actors brought to the screen.

When I saw Katherine Heigl’s (Knocked Up, Grey’s Anatomy, The Ugly Truth) name in the cast section for this film, I wound up with a very distinct idea of what I was about to watch. Clearly it was going to be some romantic comedy where she giggles and her co-actors all look like they’re fighting the stomach flu to act with her.

That was NOT what I got in the slightest. Netflix really threw me off by labeling it a comedy – because it was definitely not that.


Heigl wound up doing a phenomenal job here. All the actors did. Even with the cultural gap between my knowledge and the plot of the film, I was submerged in every moment. I choked up when the characters did. I cringed when the time was right. My heart broke with a mere look.

I was impressed with the entire film in general.

One of the characters, played by Sam McMurray (Cristela, A Little Help, The Mod Squad), uttered a line near the end of the film that was very simple but so intensely enlightened that I think it might be one of my favorite quotes from a movie ever. It’s not something I’ll reference often – I don’t have much cause in my personal life for it – but it’s one of those quotes that has the ability, when heard in context, to change a person’s outlook and life.

This was a great film. I’ll be watching it again in the future, and if any of my friends have the kind of issues the main character had in this movie, I’ll be recommending they have their parents watch it.


Cat’s Point of View:
I don’t think I was exactly prepared for this movie. At a glimpse, it seemed to hint at some sort of dramedy, with maybe a dash of romance. This was certainly not so easily predicted. There was much more drama than comedy or other elements – and very little actual romance.

This film ran roughshod over all of my ‘feels.’ Yes, I cried. I’m a crier when it comes to emotional moments in books or movies. Though, the kicker is that I have to be invested enough in whatever the media is. The fact that I had to take some time to clean the salt off of my glasses is a big positive in this film’s favor.

I suppose that shouldn’t really have been too much of a surprise coming from the same writer whom penned the screenplay for Beaches (1988). (I refuse to acknowledge they remade that for television this past year. Is nothing sacred?!) The writer in question, Mary Agnes Donoghue (Deceived, Paradise, White Oleander), also directed this movie. Considering the last film she’d been at the helm of was in 1991, I’d say this story had an important message for her to convey.


I enjoyed the cast. I can’t find fault in any of the performances. I do wish, somewhat, that they’d utilized Alexis Bledel (Sin City, The Good Guy, Parts Per Billion) a little more. At the same time, it may be just as well because the focus of the movie is really on Katherine Heigl’s (Side Effects, Killers, The Nut Job) character. It might have muddied things a bit to try and expand that role.

In spite of my eyes leaking during my viewing and the occasional emotional gut-punch, I really enjoyed this movie. I would have no problems recommending it or even watching it again.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 14%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 33%

Netflix’s Prediction for Selina – 3.5/5
Selina’s Trust-the-Dice Score5/5

Netflix’s Prediction for Cat – 2.5/5
Cat’s Trust-the-Dice Score4/5

P.S. Scenes and pictures during the credits.

Movie Trailer:

Monday, February 6, 2017

Gridlocked (2015)


Number Rolled: 28
Movie Name/Year: Gridlocked (2015)
Tagline: Only one way out…
Genre: Action
Length: 114 minutes
Rating: R
Production Companies: Hackybox Pictures, Gridlocked Entertainment, High Star Entertainment, North Hollywood Films
Producer: Geoff Hart, Mike Hattim, Marino Kulas, Louie Maisano, Bruno Marino, Jenna Mattison, Vincenzo Varallo, Bill Viola Jr.
Director: Allan Ungar
Writer: Allan Ungar, Rob Robol
Actors: Dominic Purcell, Cody Hackman, Stephen Lang, Trish Stratus, Danny Glover, Vinnie Jones, Saul Rubinek, Richard Gunn, Steve Byers, James A. Woods, Romano Orzari, Dwayne McLean, Derek McGrath, Judah Katz, Linda Goranson, Jim Codrington, Stephen Bogaert, Paul Amos, J.P. Manoux, Ben Mulroney
Stunt Doubles: Marie-Eve Beckers, Kevan Kase, John MacDonald, Chris Mark, Louis Paquette

Languages
Speech Available: English, French, Spanish, Italian, Chinese
Subtitles Available: English, Traditional Chinese, French, Italian Spanish

Blurb from Netflix: An embittered cop is tasked with baby-sitting a spoiled actor, but the two must learn to fight together when they run afoul of a group of mercenaries.


Selina’s Point of View:
By about ten minutes in I knew everything I had to know about this film. I could pitch the storyline almost scene for scene. The beginning, wasn’t even very good either… so I figured I would hate it. In fact, I kind of wanted to hate it. It’s was one of the most recipe film I’ve seen… but I actually enjoyed it.

The fight scenes were well choreographed, the acting was pretty good and, the best part, the film didn’t take itself too seriously.


If the writers/director had taken the film too seriously, this would have been an awful movie. Instead, they kind of poked fun at the recipes they were using and I wound up doing some laughing here and there. That laughter wasn’t at the movie, either, but with it. In fact, the characters endeared themselves to me through the humor and I became invested.

This is one of those movies that’s proof that not all recipe films are garbage. Just because someone is using some well-known tropes, doesn’t mean they can’t do something interesting with them.

Although there was definitely nothing ground-breaking about Gridlocked I was still very entertained by it and I do believe I’d watch it again.


Cat’s Point of View:
The ‘babysitter cop’ angle is not a newcomer to the screen. Given, there are different variations of it that stretch across a wide range of subgenres such as cop plus kids, cop plus out of town cop, and what we have here with the cop plus celebrity. A lot of them tend to blend together a bit; and then you have the occasional diamond in the rough like the hilarious Pacifier (2005), Rush Hour (1998) or the hit TV series Castle (2009-2016).

I’m not sure that this movie hit a bar high enough to be considered a standout in this particular theme, but I certainly enjoyed it.

Just yesterday, I was talking with a friend about the new Fox Lethal Weapon (2016-) reboot series, and the various casting. I had to chuckle a moment when I realized that Danny Glover (Beyond the Lights, Dirty Grandpa, Monster Trucks) was actually in this movie. There’s a nod to his Lethal Weapon (1987) roots which had me laughing at a rather inappropriately timed moment because I caught the reference.


I was really impressed with this cast, actually. There were some real heavy hitters mixed in. I’ve said before that Stephen Lang (Sun Belt Express, In The Blood, Isolation) is an epic choice for an intense badass – especially if the role is a villain. He doesn’t disappoint here.

Vinnie Jones (The Condemned, Escape Plan, Galavant) has been an action favorite of mine since 2000, when I saw him in both Snatch and Gone in 60 Seconds. He has remained a busy man since then, and adds a little more of that ‘authentic mercenary’ feel to his role in this movie.

Dominic Purcell (Prison Break, Ice Soldiers, Elimination Game) can always be counted on for a broody and intense performance, which was right up this film’s alley. His work in the superhero shows on the CW has shown a little more of his lighter range while still reinforcing his vibe as someone more hardcore. Of course, it's actually more than a vibe. In his fight scene with Jones, he was actually suffering from food poisoning and insisted on pushing through to complete the scene himself rather than call for a stand-in.


I was surprised to learn that Cody Hackman (Just for Laughs, Tapped Out, Hidden in the Woods) has a martial arts background. I appreciate his performance here more as the pampered celebrity on a court mandated ride-along; because he really dialed back in his own fight scenes. He came across as the action movie actor who knows just enough from fight choreography experience to stay alive.

Trish Stratus (Fully Loaded, Royal Canadian Air Farce, Bounty Hunters) handles her role here fairly well, also. I know some easily discount ‘sports entertainers’ when it comes to action roles; but while she is no Dwayne Johnson (The Tooth Fairy, Snitch, San Andreas) she held her own. This was only her second non-WWE production that wasn’t a wrestling character cameo.

Is the movie fairly predictable following the recipe? Yes, it is. Did I care? See, that’s the important part. I actually wouldn’t mind watching this one again and it’s an easy recommendation. 

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – None
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 41%

Netflix’s Prediction for Selina – 4/5
Selina’s Trust-the-Dice Score3/5

Netflix’s Prediction for Cat – 4/5
Cat’s Trust-the-Dice Score3.5/5

P.S. Some scenes during the credits.

Movie Trailer: