A Nightmare On Elm Street

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1984

New Line Cinema

Written and Directed by Wes Craven

Produced by Robert Shaye

I honestly do feel sorry for those of you who missed the 1980’s. Because you missed the craziest, most insane and yet most fun decade of recent American history. Especially if you were a movie fan. How else can you explain that the major cultural icon of 1980’s horror movies was a pedophile? A wise cracking rapist and murderer of children? Because when you get right down to it, that’s exactly what Freddy Krueger is. He’s a pedophile that terrorizes children before he rapes and kills them.  And I think that’s why the 2010 remake wasn’t a success. Freddy Krueger is very much a cultural icon that could only exist in a certain time and place in American history. In fact, he’s become a dream of an earlier time. Which is most appropriate for the character.

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But no…you can’t have pedophiles as the main character of your Politically Correct horror movies nowadays. Because that’s too close to Real Life. The Internet has shown us that pedophiles are everywhere and all our nerve endings are way too sensitive. And so we don’t have the distance where we can see a Freddy Krueger in a movie and laugh at his one-liners. Because we’re not that innocent anymore. We talk to the monsters everyday online.

But the original A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET from 1984 is still here and it can be watched and enjoyed as a superior example of imaginative horror. The entire NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series, along with the ‘Phantasm” movies is still my favorite horror film franchise of the 1980’s and I think it’s because I’m still fascinated by how they play so freely with what is real and what is a dream.  In A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET there’s a scene that still freezes my blood when Our Heroine Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) falls asleep in her tub while taking a bath and Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) yanks her through this tiny hole in the bottom of her tub, snatching her from the Real World into his Dream World.
nightmareonelmstreet1984-bathtubhandBecause that’s the only way Freddy can attack you. Nancy finds out from her alcoholic mother Marge (Ronee Blakley) that years ago she and a bunch of other parents in the town of Springfield took revenge on Freddy Krueger for killing 20 children. Krueger went to trial but was released on a technicality. The outraged parents burned Freddy alive. And now, Freddy has come back for revenge from beyond the grave, striking at the children of the parents who killed them through their dreams.

Nancy figures that out but it’s a futile revelation because eventually we all have to go to sleep and when the children of Elm Street go to sleep, Freddy Krueger is waiting in their nightmares with his razor bladed glove to strike and slay.1984 A Nightmare On Elm Street 013

There’s so much to like about A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET I honestly don’t know where to begin. The star-making performances of Heather Langenkamp and Robert Englund is the major draw. Upon watching this movie recently (and yes, I rewatch the entire NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series during the Halloween season and have done so for the past four or five years) I was again struck by how little dialog Freddy has. He certainly isn’t the wisecracker we get to know in later movies. This Freddy is horrifyingly committed to his mission of revenge.

This movie is also noted for Johnny Depp’s first major Hollywood role and he quite rightly has the most spectacular death scene in the movie. I’m sure he didn’t plan it that way but it’s kind of fitting that Johnny Depp in his very first major role has an over the top scene. John Saxon and Charles Fleischer (the voice of Roger Rabbit) are also here in supporting roles. In fact, John Saxon has top billing even though his role is a supporting one. Amanda Wyss has more screen time than John Saxon and she gets killed twenty minutes into the movie.

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So should you see A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET? I’m pretty sure you have and so you have your own opinion about it and I’m not here to change your mind. Only to give you my opinion and here it is: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is one of the most original and entertaining horror movies I’ve ever seen. If you’ve seen it, I hope you agree. If not, let’s argue.

Rated R

91 Minutes

 

 

 

The House Of The Devil

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2009

Glass Eye Pix/MPI Media Group

Written and Directed by Ti West

Produced by Josh Braun, Derek Curl, Roger Kass and Peter Phok

I’ve only seen three of his movies but that’s enough. Ti West is now one of my favorite directors and he definitely is my current favorite director of horror movies. People had been telling me for years that I needed to see THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL but I just never got around to seeing it. And at this same time last year, I found “The Innkeepers” on Netflix. I must have watched that movie once a day for the next three or four days. And this October I resolved to watch THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL at last. I did. And now I see why people were telling me to see it and that it was Ti West’s best movie. I’m still not sure about that. I still think that “The Innkeepers” is his best movie but damn if THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL doesn’t come thisclose.

College student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) is desperate to get out of her dorm room which is pretty much used as a whorehouse by her slutty roommate. She finds a new apartment and her friendly landlady (Dee Wallace) is more than willing to waive a lot of the standard landlord/tenant business if Samantha can come up with $300 cash over the weekend. Luckily Samantha happens onto a babysitting job. It’s at a remote house some distance from the college. So far in fact that Samantha needs the help of her best girlfriend Megan (Greta Gerwig) who drives her out to the house.

Upon meeting Mr. and Mrs. Ullman (Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov) Samantha discovers that they misrepresented the job. It’s not a baby Samantha will be looking after but Mr. Ullman’s invalid mother. Mr. Ullman assures Samantha that the job entails her mostly just being in the house and keeping his mother company. Megan urges Samantha to leave but when Mr. Ullman puts $400 dollars on the table, Samantha relents. Megan leaves, promising to come back and pick up Samantha later. Let’s just say that the simple babysitting job is not so simple and that Megan does not pick Samantha up and leave it at that for now.

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Why do I love THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL so much? Okay, here’s the first reason: Ti West set out to make a movie that’s a homage to horror films of the 1970’s and 1980’s and he did it so well that halfway through I was half convinced that this was somehow a lost movie from that era he had found and slapped his name on it. He achieved that 1970’s/80’s flavor by recreating the style of movies made then by not only using only the equipment and film that would be available to filmmakers then but also using the stylistic methods used by directors of low budget slasher/horror films of that error. Ti West is one of a very few directors working today who truly understands what a grindhouse film is and make no mistake about it, THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL is very much a grindhouse film.

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Second of all, Ti West knows how to sell us the sizzle as well as the steak. He’s not afraid of letting us getting to know his characters before he does horrible things to them. I’ve spoken to people who complain that there are long stretches of his movies where nothing happens. Actually there is a lot happening. It’s called Characterization. Unlike most horror movies where the victims pretty much have signs on them proclaiming what type of character they are and in what order they’re going to get killed, in a Ti West movie there are actual characters that I grew to care about. By the time all hell starts to break loose, I was truly invested in Samantha and really wanted to know what was going to happen to her. And Ti West honestly knows how to use suspense to make a scene pay off. There’s one scene in particular that made me jump and I haven’t jumped while watching a horror movie since 2012’s “The Cabin In The Woods”

The acting in this movie is top notch. Usually in a movie set during the 1980’s actors feel the need to over compensate but Jocelin Donahue and Greta Gerwig look, act and feel like 1980’s girls in a 1980’s world. They’re wonderfully relaxed and comfortable with the hair, the clothes and the slang. And as for Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov…well, they were there, fer cryin’ out loud. So they well know how to play this material. And for a long time fan of Mr. Noonan and Ms. Woronov as I am, I knew that when they showed up in the movie things were going to go south pretty damn fast.

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So should you see THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL? Absolutely Yes. If you haven’t yet put together your Halloween movie watching list yet, put this at the top of your list. Along with Ti West’s other movies “The Innkeepers” and “The Sacrament.” “The Sacrament” is the weakest of the three but still well worth watching. But by all means, watch and enjoy THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL.

Rated R

95 minutes

 

Gone Girl

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2014

20th Century Fox

Directed by David Fincher

Produced by Leslie Dixon, Bruna Papandrea, Reese Witherspoon and Cean Chaffin

Screenplay by Gillian Flynn based on her novel “Gone Girl”

One of my favorite sayings is that all too often, Christians and married people are not the best advertisers of their own product. I have no idea if the married couple Nick and Amy Dunn in GONE GIRL are Christians but their marriage as depicted in this movie would certainly make anybody think twice before jumping the broom.

On their fifth wedding anniversary Nick Dunn (Ben Affleck) returns to his home to discover that his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is…well, gone. Disappeared. Vanished. There is some evidence that she may have been kidnapped. Nick quite naturally calls the police and an investigation is launched. The lead investigator, Detective Rhonda Boney is sympathetic to Nick but still finds it very odd that he doesn’t know what his wife does during the day while he’s working at the bar he owns with his twin sister Margo(Carrie Coon) or his wife’s blood type.

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Due to the fact that Amy is something of a celebrity thanks to her parents having written a highly successful series of children’s books whose main character is an idealized version of their daughter, her disappearance becomes national news. And that’s when things really start going wrong for Nick. The intense media scrutiny misinterprets his seemingly unemotional responses as being suspicious behavior. Details about financial troubles comes to light. Nick outright lies about some important aspects of their marriage and that brings him under the microscope of Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle) a Nancy Grace clone who begins ranting and raving on her show about Nick’s “obvious” sociopathic behavior and accuses him of killing his wife. And soon Nick finds himself arrested for Amy’s murder. His only allies: his faithful, loving sister and Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) a high-powered defense attorney whose specialty is defending accused wife killers.

Now, I can’t in all good conscience continue to describe the plot because halfway through, GONE GIRL becomes another movie entirely and it’s important that you discover the how and why of that for yourself. But all the way through it’s an interesting movie depicting a marriage that was doomed from the very start because both parties went into it thinking of it as a fantasy they could keep fueled by sex and cutesy-poo games. Once financial and family obligations begin mounting up they soon discover what marriage is really about. And neither one of them is ready for it.

While I’ve always felt that Ben Affleck is a better director than actor, I always enjoy seeing him on screen and watching him work. He has to walk a fine line here in that he has to make us interested and care about Nick even when we’re watching the growing mountain of evidence that indicates that yeah, maybe he did kill Amy. It’s not an easy job to do but Affleck pulls it off, I though. I can’t really say much about Rosamund Pike’s performance other than to say it has to be seen to be believed and I do not exaggerate when I say that. Those of you who have seen GONE GIRL know what I’m talking about.

The acting honors in this one has to be shared between Carrie Coon and Tyler Perry. First off, it helped me believe that they were brother and sister as Affleck and Coon do indeed look like they could be brother and sister. Maybe it’s just me but I hate movies where we’re told two actors who look nowhere near alike are supposed to be related. Carrie hits just the right notes in playing a strong, yet despairing sister who desperately wants to support her brother even though he may be a murderer. And Tyler Perry is simply fun to watch playing a Johnnie Cochran style lawyer who is the best at what he does. Perry catches so much heat for other aspects of his career that people forget he can act when he’s challenged to do so and steps up to the plate admirably here.

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For a movie that deals with such emotional issues, David Fincher directs GONE GIRL in a very clinical, emotionally detached manner. As a contrast to such grimy characters and their story, this is an extremely clean and beautiful looking movie. It could have done with a little dirtying up. And clocking in at 2hours and 45minutes its way too long. Hollywood has told similar stories just as good in only 90 minutes.

So should you see GONE GIRL? If you’re a fan of the work of David Fincher, I’d say yes even though I don’t think this is his best movie. It certainly doesn’t begin to come close to generating the suspense and tension of “Seven” “The Game” or “Zodiac” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “The Social Network” are certainly more fun to watch. But the acting is superb, the story interesting and if you don’t mind immersing yourself for 2hrs and change in the darkest, most twisted screen marriage since “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?” then by all means, go see and enjoy.

Rated R

149 Minutes

The Equalizer

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2014

Village Roadshow Pictures/Escape Artists/Columbia Pictures

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Produced by Todd Black, Jason Blumethal, Denzel Washington, Alex Siskin, SteveTisch, Mace Neufeld, Tony Eldridge and Michael Sloan

Screenplay by Richard Wenk

Based on the CBS TV Show “The Equalizer” created by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim

Back in the bad old days of the 1980’s, a TV show such as “The Equalizer” was a slam dunk hit. Taking place in a New York City that was much darker and certainly more dangerous than the New York City of today, “The Equalizer” starred the highly respected and talented British actor Edward Woodward as ex-black ops specialist Robert McCall. McCall retires from “The Company” and takes up residence in Manhattan. Seeking to reconcile with his now adult son and atone for the dirty deeds he did as a covert operative, McCall puts an ad in all the major newspapers: “Odds against you? Need help? Call The Equalizer. 212-555-4200” As The Equalizer, McCall puts his considerably dangerous and lethal skills at the service of those innocent people who for some reason cannot get help from the authorities.

The reason the show became a hit? Because with crime being as rampant as it was during the 1980’s, many felt that an real-life Equalizer was exactly what the city needed. And make no mistake; sure he was middle aged but Robert McCall was a Bad Ass. In fact, The Equalizer was the Bad Ass that other bad asses called when they needed help. And to go along with his Bad Ass self, The Equalizer had an equally Bad Ass Theme Song:

The film version of THE EQUALIZER is a very loose adaptation of the TV show in that our main character played here by Denzel Washington is also named Robert McCall and he too worked for an ultra-secret government espionage agency as a covert operative. And he helps out ordinary people who need extraordinary help. But while watching THE EQUALIZER I couldn’t help but think that the current superhero movie boom is affecting even action thrillers as this movie is put together like a superhero origin movie.

When we meet Robert McCall we see he spends his days living and working at a Home Depot clone called Home Mart in Boston. He can’t sleep most nights so he hangs out in the neighborhood diner, reading the classics and drinking tea. It’s during these nights that he meets and become friends with Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz) a young Russian prostitute.

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A savage beating at the hands of her pimp puts her in the hospital. McCall visits the pimp to try and buy Teri out of that life and let’s just say negotiations do not go well. What McCall is unaware of is that the pimp was a member of the Russian Mafia and its godfather Vladimir Pushkin (Vladimir Kulich) sends his enforcer, Teddy (Marton Csokas) to handle the situation. And in a frighteningly short amount of time McCall finds himself not only at war with the Russian Mafia but also with the corrupt cops on their payroll. It seems as if the odds are against McCall but then again, he is The Equalizer, right?

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The plot isn’t exactly the most original but let’s be honest: we’re not going to see this movie because we’re looking for a wildly original or innovative spin on the Action Thriller. We’re going to see Denzel Washington play a Bad Ass who kicks much ass. And that’s precisely what we get. Washington has played much more complex, layered characters in other movies so we know he can. The Edward Woodward Robert McCall had more depth than Washington’s but again, there’s not a lot of depth called for here and Washington doesn’t give McCall any more than needed. We get subtle little hints as apparently McCall has some form of OCD and that he was once married. But at the same time, Washington doesn’t allow any of that to get in the way of what he’s delivering.

I was disappointed that Chloe Grace Moretz didn’t have more scenes with Washington as her role is little more than an extended cameo. Her character is here to jumpstart the plot and get McCall involved with the Russian Mafia and that’s it. Marton Csokas radiates real menace as Teddy and there’s a wonderful scene where McCall confronts Teddy in a restaurant and even while he’s being the personification of evil, Teddy is being polite and even respectful toward McCall. Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman have Blink-And-You’ll-Miss-Them extended cameos as former colleagues of McCall’s he visits for information.

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The direction by Antoine Fuqua is solid and stylish. Some may say a little too stylish but I didn’t mind as it gave the movie a distinctive look from say, the “Taken” movies which also has a middle-aged hero pounding the piss outta the bad guys. It’s a nice touch that McCall doesn’t really become The Equalizer until the end of the movie where we finally see that classic ad being used, but in a modern way. All they left out was the theme song which would have made the final scene of the movie perfect.  THE EQUALIZER is not a complicated movie at all. It’s as simple as a peanut butter & jelly sandwich and just as enjoyable. Don’t go into it expecting a “Training Day” or “2 Guns” and you’ll be just fine. Enjoy.

Rated R

131 Minutes

A Walk Among The Tombstones

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2014

Universal Pictures

Directed and Written For The Screen by Scott Frank

Produced by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher, Tobin Armbrust and Brian Oliver

Based on the novel “A Walk Among The Tombstones” by Lawrence Block

 I was about an hour into A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES when it hit me that I was watching a period piece. And it hit me with real surprise because the movie takes place the 1990’s before The Internet, home PC’s and cell phones really became indispensable and integral components of our daily lives. And the thing is this: I remember the 1990’s. I was there. I lived through the 1990’s and I can’t rightly call a movie a period piece if I actually lived during that period, can I?

But yes, A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES is indeed a period piece because it takes place in the 20th Century and we are now in the 21st. But it’s not just the lack of modern technology that makes this movie a period piece. One of the characters, a street urchin named TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley) upon finding out that Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson) is a private detective demonstrates that he’s familiar with Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. And Matthew Scudder is very much a literary grandson of those two classic P.I.’s

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Matthew Scudder, once a NYPD cop, left the force due to an accidental shooting he was involved in while drunk. He’s now sober and maintaining his sobriety while working as an unlicensed private detective. As he puts it to his prospective client, drug trafficker Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens) “I do favors for people. And in return they give me gifts.” The favor Kenny Kristo wants Scudder to do for him is to find his wife who has been kidnapped. In return Kenny will give Scudder the gift of $20,000.

Scudder’s investigations put him on the trail of two truly monstrous psychopaths who have hit on a novel idea: they kidnap the wives and daughters of drug dealers knowing full well that the dealers can’t go to the police or FBI for help since that would expose what they do to the authorities. But as Scudder digs deeper into the case he discovers that this pair are more interested in killing their victims than the million dollar ransoms they demand.

Film Title: A Walk among the Tombstones

I never realize how much I miss this kind of story until I see it on screen. All the fun has gone out of being a private eye as now all they have to do is know how to work a computer. Matthew Scudder does it the old fashioned way. He does legwork. He goes to the library and uses a microfiche (Hah! Go ahead and Google that!) He asks questions and interacts face to face with people. And instead of taking DNA samples he uses his brain coupled with his years of experience and the instincts he’s developed to find the kidnappers. It’s quite the performance from Liam Neeson. I know people who saw the trailers for this and dismissed it as another variation of “Taken.” Trust me, in tone, in story and most importantly, in character this is nothing like Neeson’s “Taken” movies. I liked how the Matthew Scudder character doesn’t angst over his alcoholism. It’s part of his personality, yes, but it doesn’t define him. It was responsible for a tragic mistake in his past but he’s stepped up to do something about it so that it doesn’t happen again.

I really enjoyed the supporting cast in this one. Mainly because most of the faces were not familiar to me and so I wasn’t watching the actors playing these roles. I was watching the characters. Acting honors in this movie go to Boyd Holbrook as the drug addicted brother of the drug trafficker. He and Scudder bond over their mutual addictive problems and he turns out to be more pivotal to the plot than you would think at first. Brian “Astro” Bradley is also very good as TJ who bonds with Scudder due to his interest in detective fiction and wanting to be a detective himself.

And living in Brooklyn I naturally loved that the movie was filmed here. Some of those same streets that Scudder walks on I’ve either walked on myself or driven down. My tax guy used to have an office right across the street from the graveyard that figures prominently in a suspenseful and tense hostage/money exchange. Unlike a TV show like “The Strain” which goes out of its way to insist that it’s taking place in Brooklyn but never shows me a recognizable street or landmark, A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES is very clear that it’s a New York movie and lets you know it with every shot.

So should you see A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES? Absolutely. It’s way better than “8 Million Ways To Die” the 1986 attempt to bring Matthew Scudder to cinematic life. Jeff Bridges did his best in the role but was sabotaged by the direction of Hal Ashby. Brilliant as he is, Ashby was the last director in the world who should have been directing a hard boiled P.I. thriller. And Scudder is such a New York character (New York City itself can be said to be a supporting character in the Scudder novels) that moving him to Los Angeles just seemed wrong.

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But A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES never goes wrong from start to finish. In a lot of ways it’s a refreshing throwback of a movie, one full of rock solid performances and a story to match. Don’t wait to see this one on DVD or Netflix. Go check it out while it’s still in the theater. Enjoy.

Rated R

113 Minutes

No Good Deed

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2014

Screen Gems

Directed by Sam Miller

Produced by Will Packer and Lee Clay

Executive Produced by Idris Elba, Taraji P. Henson, Aimee Lagos, Lindsay Williams, Gleen S. Gainor, Ellen Goldsmith-Vein and Rob Hardy

Written by Aimee Lagos

I’ve always said that true racial equality will be established in this country when black actors/filmmakers can make romantic comedies and generic thrillers as badly as their white counterparts. That’s not to say that NO GOOD DEED is altogether a bad movie. Matter of fact I was pleasantly surprised at how much of a good time I was having watching it. I was never scared for the safety of certain characters or worried that the movie wasn’t going to play out exactly the way it did. But it sure was entertaining to watch.  But here’s the thing: it’s actually a movie where the ethnicity of the characters have absolutely nothing to do with the plot. Seriously. The racial make-up of four of the main characters could be switched and have no effect on all on how the situations in the movie play out. Because in NO GOOD DEED the black characters make the same dumb mistakes white characters do and have done in similar movies that have been made for the past forty or fifty years. But since two of the main characters are played by Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson and they play their parts so well, we’re committed to seeing how this By-The-Numbers home invasion thriller plays out.

Colin Evans (Idris Elba) is a man who has…how shall I put it?…very serious issues with women. He’s the main suspect in the disappearance of five young ladies but there was no proof to put him away. What he was put away for was manslaughter, having killed a man in barroom brawl. Denied his parole he escapes while being returned to prison, killing two guards in the process.

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He then shows up at the home of Terri Granger (Taraji P. Henson) whose husband Jeffrey (Henry Simmons) is away for the weekend. Terri has tried to explain to her husband how badly she needs some adult company as she gave up her career as a lawyer to be a full-time stay at home mom, taking care of the infant Sam and young daughter Ryan.  It’s a plea that falls on deaf ears. But her best friend Meg (Leslie Bibb) offers to come by for a girls night and is surprised to find Colin there. Terri explains that Colin had a car accident and is waiting for a tow truck. It doesn’t take long before Terri thinks that maybe there’s something really wrong with her unexpected houseguest. Little things like the phone lines being cut…all the knives in the kitchen knife set block disappearing…and then Meg herself disappearing…

If you’ve been watching movies as long as I have then there’s not a single blessed thing in NO GOOD DEED that is going to surprise you. Well, maybe one thing that I wouldn’t dream of giving away. But on the whole this is a pretty standard thriller that is elevated by the performances of Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson. Who must have had some kind of deal with the cameraman as I cannot remember the last time I’ve seen a movie where the leading lady had so many gratuitous butt shots. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. But if you go see the movie, count the number of times you get a shot of Ms. Henson’s derriere for apparently no reason at all and then tell me I’m wrong.

The game of cat-and-mouse between Elba and Henson is highly interesting just on the strength of their considerable acting ability. Elba does curiously stimulating things with the conversations he initiates with Henson that appeals to this attention deprived woman.  I gotta admit that I watched in grudging admiration how this seriously deranged man is able to be charming and personable enough to be able to talk his way into this woman’s house. A woman who due to her background should know better than anybody else why you should never let a stranger into your house.

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Once the ante is upped and all the pretense between them dropped the movie then really gets going in an unexpected direction that will have you wondering exactly why the Idris Elba character is doing the things he’s doing but here comes that plot twist and the one “Ah-HA!” in the entire movie.

So should you see NO GOOD DEED? If you go see it, trust me that you’re not going to see it for deep characterization. The movie is a wonderfully lean 84 minutes which means that there is absolutely no fat on it at all. There’s just enough characterization to keep the movie’s plot going and that’s all the movie is: pure plot. Not that that’s a bad thing. A McDonald’s cheeseburger is designed to be a McDonald’s cheeseburger and no more. So it’s stupid to complain that it’s not a White Castle murderburger. If you want a White Castle murderburger then go to White Castle. NO GOOD DEED is designed to be an entertaining time waster, no more, no less. So don’t go in expecting it to be “Night of The Hunter” or “Wait Until Dark.”  But what enriches it and gives it an extra shot of adrenaline are the performances of Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson and they do their jobs exceptionally well and made this one worth my time and money.

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Rated PG-13

84 Minutes

The Idolmaker

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1980

UNITED ARTISTS

Directed by Taylor Hackford

Produced by Gene Kirkwood and Howard W. Koch, Jr.

Written by Edward Di Lorenzo

Original Music by Jeff Barry

There were a lot of great performances in 1980. Robert DeNiro took home the Oscar for Best Actor in “Raging Bull.” John Hurt, Jack Lemmon, Peter O’Toole for “The Stunt Man” and Robert Duvall were also nominated. Great actors and great performances all. Now while I’m not suggesting that Mr. DeNiro didn’t deserve to win what I am saying is that it was downright criminal that Ray Sharkey wasn’t even nominated for his white-hot performance in THE IDOLMAKER. Most people remember him as Sonny Steelgrave in the TV series “Wiseguy.” But me, I’ll always think of him as the rock and roll promoter Vincent Vacarri. Apparently somebody did see him in THE IDOLMAKER because he won the Golden Globe that year for it. Ray Sharkey tragically died at the age of 40 but he left behind some truly wonderful performances. For me, THE IDOLMAKER is at the top.

Vincent ‘Vinnie’ Vacarri is busting his hump trying to break into the rock and roll business during the 1950’s. Rapidly approaching 30, he’s working as a busboy in his brother’s restaurant by day and haunting the clubs by night trying to find that Next Big Act that will jumpstart his career. Vinnie’s mother (Olympia Dukakis) wonders why Vinnie doesn’t just record his own songs. Vinnie tells her he’s too old and doesn’t have the heartthrob looks to be a teen idol and that’s what the industry and the public wants. Sure, Vinnie is talented but he doesn’t have IT.

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Vinnie goes to a club one night at the urging of his friend, saxophonist Tomaso DeLorussa (Paul Land) to watch his band play. Noticing that Tomaso gets the crowd jumping and jiving more than the band’s lead singer, Vinnie convinces him to become a singer. Vinnie teaches him how to move on stage and changes his name to “Tommy Dee.” Under Vinne’s undeniable genius at marketing, Tommy Dee becomes an overnight teen sensation. Vinnie’s street smarts and know-how of the industry attracts the attention of Brenda Roberts (Tovah Feldshuh) the editor of ‘Teen Scene’ and not just in a business way, if you get what I mean.

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Tommy Dee rises like a rocket to the top of the charts and the higher he goes, the more unmanageable he gets. Part of it is rebellion against Vinnie’s near maniacal need to control every aspect of Tommy Dee’s life. Vinnie tells his songwriting partner Gino Pilato (Joe Pantoliano) that they need a backup. Vinnie finds it in Guido (Peter Gallagher) a busboy working at his brother’s restaurant. It doesn’t phase Vinnie in the least that Guido can’t sing or dance. Vinnie’s convinced he can take this no talent kid and teach him how to be a superstar on stage. By now, it’s obvious to Gino, Brenda and Tommy that what Vinnie really wants to do is have somebody he can turn into a sort of avatar so that he can vicariously live out his own unfulfilled dreams of being a star through him. It’s a destructive streak just as poisonous as any drug or alcohol addiction and one that Vinnie is sadly oblivious to.

The thing that sets THE IDOLMAKER apart from other movies of this type is that usually we see it through the eyes of the star. This movie we see through the eyes of the guy who makes the stars what they are. And the thing is that Vinnie is damn good at his job. Maybe too good. Especially with Guido who he renames Caesare and through shrewd manipulation of the media turns the kid into a superstar before he even sings a note.

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Ray Sharkey is backed up by some really excellent supporting players that don’t seem to be working that hard at making an impression on the screen but they do. I’ve already mentioned Olympia Dukakis, Joe Pantoliano and Tovah Feldshuh. Keep your eyes open for Marcia Brady herself, Maureen McCormick, who does a really good job playing a surprisingly sleazy reporter specializing in covering teen idols. And the movie wouldn’t work if we don’t buy Paul Land and Peter Gallagher as the teen idols and they sell it. Tommy Dee is an egotistical but likeable jerk we sympathize with for his just wanting to enjoy the success he never really asked for or sought. He doesn’t have the lofty goals that Vinnie has. He just wants to have a good time. Guido is a scared, insecure kid who simply can’t believe he can get out on stage and perform. But he does. Man, does he ever. Peter Gallagher gets the movie’s show-stopping song; “However Dark The Night” and it’s worth waiting for. And speaking of songs, pay attention to “Ooo Wee Baby” playing during the opening and closing credits. It’s sung by Darlene Love who plays Danny Glover’s wife in the “Lethal Weapon” movies. It’s a nice touch to have her vocals in this movie as she was one of Phil Spector’s artists and sang lead on the #1 hit “He’s A Rebel”

The movie is based on the career of rock promoter and manager Bob Marcucci who discovered and promoted Frankie Avalon and Fabian. Mr. Marcucci served as technical advisor on this movie and perhaps that’s another reason why the story and performances are so strong. There’s a solid stream of truth straight down the middle all the way from beginning to end that’s undeniable.

So should you see THE IDOLMAKER? Absolutely. The songs are actually the movie’s weak link as with the exception of “Ooo Wee Baby” “However Dark The Night” and “I Believe It Can Be Done” they’re pretty disposable teen pop tunes that don’t stick to your brain. It’s the story and the performances that sell the movie and worth seeing just on that basis alone. Especially that really terrific Ray Sharkey performance I can’t praise highly enough. Enjoy.

Rated PG

117 Minutes