Movies

Big Hero 6

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2014

Walt Disney Pictures/Walt Disney Animation Studios/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams

Produced by Roy Conli and John Lasseter

Screenplay by Robert L. Baird, Dan Gerson and Jordan Roberts

Based on “Big Hero 6” by Man of Action

The funny thing is that Patricia and I weren’t planning on seeing BIG HERO 6 today. Our initial movie of choice was “Nightcrawler.” But in between the time we made that decision and when we actually got on the road to head for the movie theater a couple of things happened. Nothing major or life threatening, I assure you. But it was a couple of things that indeed were bummers and kinda put a hurt on the good mood we were in. So instead of “Nightcrawler” I suggested we go see BIG HERO 6 instead as I figured that a light-hearted, family friendly superhero movie would do much more to lighten our mood than a dark and nourish crime drama.

Now I’m not going to say that we came out of the theater holding hands singing “A Whole New Word” but I’d have to say we made a good choice in seeing BIG HERO 6. It’s bright, colorful and most of all, fun to watch. Yes, it does have some heavy moments of darkness but it makes sure to balance them with moments of triumph and joy.

In the futuristic city of San Fransokyo, Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) is a 14 year old whose brain power is off the chart. He’s already graduated high school and makes money hustling suckers in underground robot fights, beating larger and fiercer robots with his rather goofy looking littler robot. Hiro’s older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) who is even more brilliant than Hiro, takes him to The Institute of Technology to show him how his intellect can be used in more productive ways. Professor Callaghan (James Cromwell) is Tadashi’s mentor and offers Hiro a challenge to come study at the Institute.

Hiro also meets Tadashi’s friends: Fred (T.J. Miller) who plays the Institute’s mascot. GoGo Tomago (Jamie Chung) a hyperathletic adrenaline junkie whose specialty is electromagnetic energy that she’s applying to building better and faster bicycles. Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.) is a laser expert who despite his hulking appearance is actually quite gentle and slightly on the neurotic side. Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) is a chemical genius in the tradition of great old school mad scientists.

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Hiro does indeed apply to the school, presenting his latest and greatest invention: microbots. They’re hordes of tiny robots that can link together to create anything the user can imagine, thanks to a mental link via a headband. Hiro is admitted to the Institute but his achievement is blackened by an unexpected tragedy. One that he chooses to deal with by secluding himself from Tadashi’s friends and his Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph) Hiro’s interest in life is reawakened by two major events. The first is his discovering his brother’s greatest invention: Baymax (Scott Adsit) an inflatable healthcare robot who immediately adopts Hiro as his patient.

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The second event is Hiro learning that his microbots, which he had thought destroyed are being used by a mysterious man in a kabuki mask. The masked man has some sort of vendetta against Krei Tech, a technological company experimenting with teleportation. Hiro upgrades Baymax with battle armor and a memory chip that teaches Baymax karate and goes after the masked man. His first attempt fails miserably but after upgrading GoGo, Wasabi, Honey and Fred to give them superpowers based on their areas of technical expertise, the six of them become a superhero team determined to find out who the masked man is and why he’s bent on destroying Krei Tech.

big-hero-6-team-disney-1024x576BIG HERO 6 is an origin story, yes, but I wasn’t bored because this is a team I’m not familiar with and characters I don’t know. Even though it’s based on a Marvel comic book (and so I suppose it can be considered part of the MCU) the characters in the movie differ greatly from the ones in the comic.  And it’s not a terribly complicated origin story at that. I wish we had time to get to know more about the other characters but this movie is all about Hiro and Baymax and their relationship. Not that that’s a bad thing. Baymax is a wonderful character whose motivation stems from his being programmed to help others and if healing Hiro of his psychological wounds means that Baymax must allow himself to be weaponized into a high-flying, rocket-fist powered fighting machine, then that’s what he’ll do. But after going through all the trouble of creating such interesting and visually striking characters such as GoGo, Wasabi, Honey and Fred, I did want to see and know them better. We do get to find out something truly surprising about Fred that gets the biggest laugh in the movie and like any other Marvel movie, you’ve got to wait until after the end credits for it. But it’s worth it, trust me.

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The animation in BIG HERO 6 is nothing less than amazing. Maybe it’s because I don’t go out of my way to see a lot of computer generated animated movies and so I’m not jaded by the movement and detail. It’s still magical to me to simply look at. And it’s helped immensely by the kind of superhero story I love: the characters become superheroes because they honestly want to help people and make the world a better place. And if they can have some fun while doing it, why not? No, BIG HERO 6 is no “Guardians of The Galaxy,” the other big Marvel movie of 2014 and it wisely doesn’t try to be. It’s got its own brand of superhero fun. One well worth seeing. Enjoy.

102 Minutes

Rated PG

 

Interstellar

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2014

Syncopy/Lynda Obst Productions/Legendary Pictures/Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros.

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Produced by Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan and Lynda Obst

Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan

You know how I’m always BMWing about how most Science Fiction Movies made in recent years really aren’t Science Fiction Movies? That they’re actually Action or Horror movies in disguise and that the Science Fiction elements are just there to provide an excuse for bigger guns and bigger explosions? Well, you won’t make that mistake with INTERSTELLAR. From start to finish this is a Science Fiction Movie that isn’t interested in trying to give movie goers a rollercoaster ride. And for those movie fans who constant mantra is “When I go see a movie I just want to turn off my brain” you need to maybe go see “Big Hero 6” then. INTERSTELLAR is a movie made to engage the intellect and make you think. If you turn off your brain when you see this movie then you’ve wasted your money. Now, that’s not to say it’s all that good either but nobody can say that Nolan and his crew didn’t go all out to try and give us a “2001: A Space Odyssey” for this generation.

Sometime in the near future the Earth has apparently become one big dust bowl. Corn seems to be the only thing that will grow (one nice visual gag has a family sitting down to eat a meal where the half dozen dishes are all made from corn) and soon Earth will be unable to feed humans at all.

Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former NASA pilot/engineer who is now a farmer. He hates farming but Earth needs farmers more than it needs pilots. That is until Cooper finds a secret NASA installation led by an old mentor of his, Professor Brand (Michael Caine) Brand tells Cooper that they’ve discovered a wormhole orbiting Saturn. NASA’s scientists believe that extra-dimensional aliens have deliberately placed the wormhole there for them to find new worlds that humanity can live on (then wouldn’t it make sense to have placed the wormhole closer?) and they need Cooper to pilot an experimental spacecraft through the wormhole. On the other side are potentially habitable planets that are being surveyed by members of The Lazarus Mission. It will be the duty of Cooper and his team to confirm the viability of those planets.

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This news doesn’t sit well with Cooper’s daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) as time will move differently for the explorers than it will on Earth. But Cooper has his duty and so he leaves Earth with his intrepid team. Professor Brand’s daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), a respected scientist in her own right. Physicist Dr. Romilly (David Gyasi) geographer Doyle (Wes Bentley) and the multi-purpose artificially intelligent robots TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) and CASE (voiced by Josh Stewart) Their quest will take them to a strange new galaxy with worlds both weird and wonderful. But just as much as there is to marvel at, there is also death and despair. The quest to save humanity will not be an easy one and there must be sacrifices to insure that future.

INTERSTELLLAR is not going to be a movie for everybody. It doesn’t have fistfights every few minutes or spaceship chases/battles. The conflicts here are mostly cerebral and fought between intellect vs. emotion. That will cause some to perceive INTERSTELLAR as slow moving and I have to admit I was one of them. This also isn’t a movie that’s going to take the time to explain everything to you. You’ll just have to take a lot of the science on faith and that’s okay by me. As long as the characters sound like they know what they’re talking about, that’s good enough for me.

But INTERSTELLAR is not all about the hard science and grandeur of space. The heart of the story is the relationship between Cooper and Murphy and how it binds them despite the gulf of space and time separating them. And the acting of Matthew McConaughey and Mackenzie Foy convinced me of the depth of their relationship. Once Jessica Chastain takes over as an older Murphy there’s more intensity to the character but I think I preferred Mackenzie Foy’s characterization. Anne Hathaway and John Lithgow along with two actors that really surprised me when they popped up (Topher Grace and Casey Affleck) provide their usual solid work in supporting roles.

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What didn’t I like about the movie? Despite the fact that the Earth is dying, nobody seems to really be all that upset about it. Matter of fact, everybody seems to have accepted it really well. And we’re really not shown much of a disaster outside of a few dust storms. Despite all the family drama going on, the movie never engaged me on an emotional level. It’s a visual feast, especially if you see it in IMAX as I did but emotionally I just couldn’t get invested in the characters and the often dull dialog they had to work with. The third act just didn’t feel right to me as there were just too many things happening that seemed pulled out of a hat and for a movie that up until then had prided itself on its hard science it suddenly took a left turn into the kind of time travelling jiggery-pokery “Star Trek: Voyager” used to resolve it’s stories.

But it’s ambitious and I always respect a filmmaker who goes out on a limb to do something different and give us a personal vision. It’s not my favorite Nolan movie (that honor goes to “Inception” which for me so far is his best movie) but it is worth seeing just on the basis of its spectacle and grandiose desire to be a movie with more of a purpose than just selling popcorn.

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165 Minutes

Rated PG-13

 

John Wick

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2014

Lionsgate/Entertainment One Films/Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by Chad Stahelski

Produced by Basil Iwanyk, David Leitch and Eva Longoria

Written by Derek Kolstad

Those of you who are dog lovers should be advised that there is a fairly graphic murder of a dog in JOHN WICK. I feel obligated to mention this because while many of you have no problem going to see a movie where human beings are machine gunned to pieces, stabbed, blown-up, incinerated and otherwise killed in all sorts of horrible ways, you would have a stroke right there in the theater seeing a dog get killed on screen.  But you should also know that the title character more than gets revenge for the murder for his dog. Does he ever. JOHN WICK has one of the highest body counts I’ve seen in an action movie recently. In fact, considering all the property damage, killings and general mayhem John Wick (Keanu Reeves) commits during the course of the movie you kinda understand how one of the bad guys feels when he screams out just before taking a bullet in the forehead; “It was just a @#$%^& DOG!”

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But it wasn’t “just a dog.” That’s the point. It was the last gift given to John by his late wife Helen (Bridget Moynahan) as a way to help him cope with his grief. She knew she was dying from cancer and arraigned to have the dog delivered to him after she was gone. The dog, named Daisy is a victim of a home invasion committed by Iosef Tarasov, (Alfie Allen) would be Russian gangster. John had an altercation with Iosef at a gas station earlier as Iosef wanted to buy John’s vintage 1969 Mustang. Iosef and his two cohorts break into John’s house, steal his car and kill Daisy.

Turns out that John Wick is well known to Iosef’s daddy, Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist) who is a Real Russian gangster. In fact, he’s the head of the New York branch of the Russian Mafia and he tells his idiot son that he wouldn’t be where he was if it wasn’t for the lethal abilities of John Wick. “You make him sound like The Boogeyman,” Iosef sneers.

“He’s not,” his father replies. “He’s the guy you send to kill The Boogeyman.”

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Viggo tries to talk John out of killing his son but he might as well try to reason with a tsunami. John proceeds to tear through Viggo’s men with a frightening, cold-blooded precision, upping the stakes of the game until Viggo has no choice place a $2 million bounty on John’s head. A bounty that attracts the attention of two of his old friends: Marcus (Willem Dafoe) and Perkins (Adrianne Palicki) assassins whose skills are just about equal to John Wick’s…

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Besides the high-octane shootouts and truly suspenseful hand-to-hand combats, JOHN WICK really delightedly me with its suggestion of a larger world outside of the movie that we were watching. A world where professional assassins and contact killers operate under an extraordinary code of rules that if broken mean instant death. Krugerrands in this world aren’t just gold coins. They’re mystical talismans that open secret doors and act as passports and letters of transit. One of the most fascinating concepts in the movie is The Continental, a New York hotel that apparently caters only to assassins. Owned by Winston (Ian McShane) and managed by Charon (Lance Reddick) The Continental is fascinating enough to deserve a movie of its own.

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Besides the actors already mentioned we’re also got John Leguizamo, Dean Winters, Clarke Peters, Kevin Nash and David Patrick Kelly showing up in what are essentially glorified cameos with the exception of Winters, who plays Viggo’s right hand man and gets more mileage out of a running gag about his inability to understand Russian than the gag deserves but he makes the payoff worth it. And I like Keanu Reeves a lot as an action star. Always have. I really don’t understand the hate for him as he’s always impressed me as a guy who has no pretentions about what he does. He makes movies for a living and he does it the best he can. And he does a great job here. He understands that in an action movie it’s his job to be the calm center and let the action revolve around him and that’s just what he does.

JOHN WICK is the latest entry in what I perceive as a return to the 1980’s Action Movie. We’ve had a lot of them lately. The “Taken” movies. The “Expendables” movies. The “Raid” movies and there’s a handful of others such as Sylvester Stallone in “Bullet In The Head” and Keven Costner in“Three Days To Kill.” Like those films, JOHN WICK is a B-Movie with an A-Movie budget and cast and it worked for me. It’s got a basic plot that’s just enough to get the movie going and once it does it served up enough full tilt boogie action to satisfy the action junkie in me. It’s stylish and just a little bit surreal. Highly Recommended.

101 Minutes

Rated R

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare

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1991

New Line Cinema

Directed by Rachel Talalay

Produced by Michael De Luca, Michael N. Knue, Robert Shaye and Aron Warner

Screenplay by Michael De Luca

Based on a story by Rachel Talalay

Based on character created by Wes Craven

By the time we get to FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE, Freddy Krueger has been around for eight years now and he’s simply no longer scary at all. How could he be? By this time Freddy has appeared in rap/music videos, hosted his own horror anthology TV show and his face appears on lunch boxes, kid’s pajamas (which shows you how loopy merchandising can get back as Freddy Krueger is a killer of children) T-shirts, coffee mugs, shot glasses, tote bags, bumper stickers, oven mitts in the shape of his famous bladed glove…I think you get the point. By 1991 Freddy Krueger had been marketed up the yin yang and Robert Englund is appearing on award shows and talks shows as Freddy joking and clowning, breakdancing and riding skateboards. So when you no longer take a horror icon seriously anymore, what’s left to do? Turn him into a live action cartoon, that’s what.

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Peter Jackson wrote an unused screenplay for this movie in which Freddy Krueger was now perceived by teenagers as not being a threat at all and treated as a joke. In fact, his script had kids taking sleeping pills just so they could go into the dreamworld and beat up on Freddy. That would certainly have been better than what we got in FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE which for most of its running time is more Looney Tunes than Wes Craven.

Set ten years after the end of the previous film, we’re told that Freddy Krueger has killed off every last child and teenager in Springwood, Ohio and the remaining adults who still live there have pretty much gone insane from grief. Let’s face it, that’s a pretty depressing opening for the movie as what’s happened is that clearly Freddy has won. None of the battles, sacrifices and deaths of the characters in the previous movies have meant a thing because ultimately, Freddy got what he wanted. But now he needs to get out of Springwood and he needs one more very special child to do so. That child just may be John Doe (Shon Greenblatt) who wakes up in a youth shelter with nothing but caffeine pills and an old newspaper clipping of a missing woman named Loretta Krueger.

John comes under the care of case worker Maggie Burroughs (Lisa Zane) and dream specialist Doc (Yaphet Kotto) who also work with other troubled teens such as Carlos (Ricky Dean Logan) who was physically abused by his mother so badly he lost his hearing one one ear. Spencer ( Breckin Meyer) is a pothead. Mainly to piss off of control freak father. Tracy (Lezlie Deane) uses boxing and martial arts as a way of controlling the rage stemming from the sexual abuse she summered at her father’s hands. Maggie herself has her own issues in the form of recurring nightmares about Springwood and that, along the article John Doe suggests to her that they should take a trip to the town to get some answers for both their problems. Carlos, Spencer and Tracy hide in the back of the van and all of them end up in Springwood where Freddy awaits with the secret of who the final Springwood child is and reveals his master plan to escape Springwood and kill more children because as he puts it in the movie’s only chilling line: “Every town has an Elm Street…”

This is the one that everybody remembers mainly because of the cameo appearances by Elinor Donahue, Johnny Depp, Alice Cooper (as Freddy Krueger’s abusive stepdad) Tom Arnold and Roseanne Barr (who are billed in this movie…no lie…as ‘Mr. and Mrs. Tom Arnold’) and it’s a shame because Lisa Zane’s (Billy’s older sister) performance is really good and deserves to have a better movie to be in. She, Yaphet Kotto and Robert Englund are really the only performances to watch out for as they commit to the material and give it all it’s worth. Even though here Freddy Krueger is definitely a cartoon character (the scene where he kills Spencer by video game is cringe worthy) Robert Englund is obviously trying his best to work with what he’s got.

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But it’s scenes like this and where he shows up as The Wicked Witch of The West that neutralizes the good ones such as where he replaces Carlos’ hearing aid with one that amplifies his hearing to the the point where the dropping of a handful of nails sounds to poor Carlos like explosions going off in his head. That’s the old sadistic Freddy we used to know and love at work there. Or the one where Carlos is dreaming he’s opening up a road map and it keeps on opening and opening and opening until he’s suffocating from the road map filling up the entire back of the van.

And it’s surprising to me that Rachel Talalay directed this one in such a slapdash silly manner as she’s been associated with every “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie from the beginning as a producer. One would think that she would know the character inside and out and come up with a truly knockout “last movie” in the series. But she obviously was more interested in the getting to the 3D sequence that is the climax of the movie complete with “dream demons” that supposedly explain Freddy’s supernatural powers and were undoubtedly pulled outta the same hat George Lucas got his “midichlorians” to explain The Force.

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FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE is the one movie I would truly point at as being the real clunker of the series. I can only recommend it being watched if you’ve already watched all the other movies in the series already. Fortunately, despite the title, it wasn’t the last and the next two Freddy Kreuger movies would more than make up for this one.

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89 Minutes

Rated R

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

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1988

New Line Cinema/Heron Communications/Smart Egg Pictures

Directed by Renny Harlin

Produced by Robert Shaye and Rachel Talalay

Screenplay by Brian Helgeland and Scott Pierce

Story by William Kotzwinkle and Brian Helgeland

Based on characters created by Wes Craven

 Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER is that bad of a movie. It is a disappointing movie in a lot of ways but that’s because it had to follow the grand slam home run that was “Dream Warriors.” Let’s face it, “Dream Warriors” is one hell of an act to follow. THE DREAM MASTER is nowhere near as bad as “Freddy’s Dead” but I’ll take “Freddy’s Revenge” over THE DREAM MASTER any day.

We catch up with the surviving Dream Warriors: Kristen (now played by Tuesday Knight) Joey (Rodney Eastman) and Kincaid (Ken Sagoes) who have apparently been released from treatment at Westin Hills and are now attending high school, getting on with living normal lives. At least Joey and Kincaid are. Kristen is still returning to the dreamworld, obsessed with the notion that Freddy Krueger is still alive and well somewhere in the dreamworld, still after them. Joey and Kincaid quite sensibly tell her that she may in fact herself cause Freddy to come back if she keeps on looking for him.

Kristen reluctantly agrees and concentrates on rebuilding her life. And she’s got a good one. She’s got a new BFF, Alice (Lisa Wilcox) Sheila (Toy Newkirk) a brainy black girl, Debbie, a tough chick (Brooke Theiss) who looks out for Sheila and she’s even got a boyfriend, Alice’s brother Rick (Andras Jones.)

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Turns out that Joey and Kincaid were right as Freddy does indeed return to resume killing of Elm Street children. Once he finishes off the last of the Dream Warriors he turns his razor bladed glove on Alice and the others. But before Freddy killed her, Kristen was able to pass on her powers to Alice. Now, whenever one of her friends is killed by Freddy, Alice gains their abilities. How? Don’t ask me. THE DREAM MASTER isn’t big on explaining much of anything but we’ll get to that in a bit.

The movie eventually comes to a showdown in the dreamworld between Alice, now powered with the various abilities of her friends and her brother (Rick’s martial arts skills, Sheila’s intelligence and Debbie’s greater strength thanks to her avid weightlifting) and Freddy.

Let’s get what I didn’t like out of the way first so I can end this review on as upbeat a note as I can, okay? First of all, killing off Joey, Kincaid and Kristen is such a downer that I can’t express it. I mean, in “Dream Warriors” these characters earned their victory over Freddy Krueger and deserved to live their lives in peace. To bring them back in THE DREAM MASTER only to kill them off so coldly and callously is a kick in the ass to the integrity of all the characters in “Dream Warriors” who gave their lives to fight and finally defeat Freddy.

Having said that, I gotta admit that I always knew that if Joey was gonna get it, it would be from chasing a chick. And Kincaid’s next to final scene always gives me chills as he’s in a junkyard that as the camera pulls back we see it apparently covers an entire planet, screaming to the sky over and over; “Freddy’s Back! Freddy’s Back!”

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Tuesday Knight as Kristen is a disappointment in the role but it’s not her fault. Patricia Arquette made such an impact as the character that I feel that if they couldn’t get her back (allegedly she wasn’t even asked to return) they should have just left the character alone. Rodney Eastman and Ken Sagoes bring a lot of energy to their roles for the brief time they’re in the movie and it’s welcome as the crew of young actors in THE DREAM MASTER are nowhere near as interesting or vibrantly memorable as the cast of “Dream Warriors” Oh, they give it their all and I commend them for their work but they just don’t command my investment into their characters. I was tickled pink to see Brooke Bundy return as Kristen’s slutty mom, still shouting “Andale! Andale!” at her stressed out daughter.

But the major flaw of the movie is its refusal to explain anything. Freddy Krueger returns because…well, simply because he’s needed to return. But at least it’s done in a truly memorable fashion with Kincaid’s dog urinating fire on Freddy’s bones. The movie never bothers to explain exactly how Kristen passes along her power to Alice or how that enables Alice to absorb the abilities of her friends when they die. Some cockamamie rhyme about The Dream Master is pulled out of nowhere and that along with Freddy looking at his own reflection (?) enables Alice to defeat him.

But remember how in my review of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” I mention how the series was different from the “Halloween” and “Friday The 13th” series in that the producers, writers and special effects people tried to do something different in each movie? Well, the dream sequences and visuals in this one are exceptional. The one scene that still freaks me out, out of all the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies is the one where Debbie is turned into a cockroach and trapped inside a roach motel. There’s the scene where Kincaid’s dog pisses fire on Freddy’s bones. Yeah, it’s goofy as hell but damn if it don’t work, somehow. There’s the scene in a movie theater where gravity goes berserk and Alice is pulled into the movie she’s watching. And the conclusion has the souls of Freddy’s victims fighting their way out of his body, ripping him to pieces in the process. It’s a doozy of a sequence, heightened greatly by Linnea Quigley’s contributions to the scene. Don’t worry…you’ll know her when you see her.

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So how does A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET: THE DREAM MASTER stack up against the others in the series? As I keep on emphasizing and will maintain: it’s not that bad an entry in the series. It just has the misfortune to follow the movie that is generally regarded as the best sequel of the franchise. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the production values (which are actually damn good, btw) the visual effects or Robert Englund’s performance here as he fine-tunes Freddy’s wisecracking one-liners. And the direction by Renny Harlin is professional and peppy as Harlin knows how to keep a movie moving. But the fate of the Dream Warriors and the uninspired characters doesn’t make this one of my favorites in the series.

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And instead of a trailer, here’s one of the best examples of just how goofy things were back in the 1980’s. By this time Freddy Krueger had become such a pop culture star that he appeared in a video rapping alongside rap superstars The Fat Boys! Enjoy!

 

93 Minutes

Rated R

 

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

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1987

New Line Cinema/Heron Communications/Smart Egg Pictures

Directed by Chuck Russell

Produced by Robert Shaye

Screenplay by Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner, Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell

Story by Wes Craven and Bruce Wagner

Ask any fan of the “A Nightmare on Elm Street” series which is their favorite movie out of all of them. I think I am safe in saying that they’ll answer with A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS. Hell, I know people who don’t like the series and you couldn’t pay them to watch any other movie in the series but they’ve seen and they like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS. It’s the “Wrath of Khan” of the series in that it’s the one just about everybody agrees is the best of the sequels and it’s the one everybody will claim as their favorite. No other Freddy Krueger movie would have such popularity with critics and audiences alike until “New Nightmare” came along years later.

And the reason for the popularity and the success is easy to understand when you take into account the talent involved. You’ve got Wes Craven returning to the series to write the screenplay with Frank Darabont who after this went on to write the screenplay for the remake of “The Blob” and after that wrote and directed “The Shawshank Redemption” “The Green Mile” and “The Mist” Chuck Russell also helped write the screenplay for this and went on to direct “The Blob” “The Mask” “Eraser” and “The Scorpion King”

Then in front of the camera you’ve got Heather Langenkamp returning to the series. Joining her you’ve got Patricia Arquette and Larry Fishburne who even this early in their careers turn in crackerjack performances. Add to that Craig Wasson who had proved himself as an actor to watch in movies such as “The Boys In Company C” “Ghost Story” and “Body Double” as well as an exceptionally strong supporting cast of young actors led by the wonderful Jennifer Rubin and yeah, it’s no surprise at all why A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS is as good as it is.

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Dr. Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson) works in a special wing of the psychiatric hospital Westin Hills where he treats adolescents who share the same phobia about falling asleep and dreaming, claiming that there is somebody in their dreams trying to kill them. The patients are: Joey (Rodney Eastman) who has been so traumatized by his dreams that now he refuses to speak. Kincaid (Ken Sagoes) a tough kid with serious attitude issues and anger management difficulties. Taryn (Jennifer Rubin) who is not only fighting her dreams but her drug addiction. Will (Ira Heiden) who was so terrified of his dreams he tried to commit suicide. The attempt failed but left him a cripple. Jennifer (Penelope Sudrow) is an aspiring actress whose arms are covered in cigarette burns as that’s her chosen method of fighting off sleep and Philip Bradley Gregg) a sleepwalker.  Dr. Gordon is assisted in caring for these kids with the capable help of Dr. Sims (Priscilla Pointer) and the orderly Max (Larry Fishburne) They’re joined by Kristen (Patricia Arquette) who also tried to commit suicide and nobody will listen to her story that it actually was Freddy Krueger who made her try to kill herself.

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Nobody until Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) comes to the hospital. Now a dream therapist herself, Nancy discovers that Kristen has a psychic ability to bring people into her own dreams and Nancy realizes that this may be a way to finally destroy Freddy. Especially when in a shared group dream induced by hypnosis, each member of the group discovers they have what amounts to a superpower while in the dream world. After the frightening deaths of two of the group, the survivors decide to, in the words of Kincaid himself: “go kick that motherfucker’s ass all over dreamland.” It’s a brutal and vicious battle to finally destroy Freddy Krueger not only in the dream world but in the real world as well as while Nancy and the kids are fighting Freddy on one front, Nancy’s father (John Saxon) and Neil Gordon in the real world have to find Freddy’s bones and properly bury them in order to truly be rid of him for good. It’s a battle not all of them will survive.

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There’s so many good things about DREAM WARRIORS I could easily go on for another fifteen or twenty thousand words describing them. We get the hideous origin of Freddy Krueger; “the bastard son of a hundred maniacs” The dream imagery in this one is especially memorable. There’s the scene everybody remembers where Philip is manipulated by Freddy like a puppet by means of his own blood veins which Freddy has stripped out of his body. There’s the scene where the kids discover their dream powers. The scene where an ordinary room transforms into a blast furnace with the kids trapped inside. The snake monster with Freddy’s head that tries to swallow Kristen alive.

This is also the movie where Freddy starts with the one-liners and for the first time we see him actually psychologically manipulating, terrorizing and torturing his victims in their dreams before killing them. Whereas in the first two movies he just went about the business of killing with the single-mindedness of the shark from “Jaws” in DREAM WARRIORS we see that the game of cat-and-mouse is just as important to him as the actual kill.

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The acting in this one is just perfect and I really can’t say honestly that there’s a bad performance in this one. The standouts for me include Larry Fishburne, of course, who makes the relatively minor character of Max memorable in every scene he’s in. Nan Martin as Sister Mary Helena/Amanda Krueger who has a chilling, riveting scene where she describes the circumstances of Freddy’s birth. And of course there’s Jennifer Rubin who besides being nuclear hot also makes every scene she’s in snap, crackle and pop with the characterization of Taryn as a living exposed nerve ending. The crew of young actors are all quite good as well and never overplay their scenes or for a minute do anything less than convince you of the reality of their situation.

Can you tell how much I like this movie? And I really do. Unlike “Freddy’s Revenge” which moseyed along and took its time to get where it’s going, DREAM WARRIORS fast-steps like a man late for work. It moves with a purpose and confidence that none of the other movies that came after it would have until we come to “New Nightmare” Make no mistake about it, when it comes to the sequels; A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS is the true jewel in the crown. Enjoy.

96 Minutes

Rated R

A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge

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1985

New Line Cinema/Heron Communications/Smart Egg Pictures

Directed by Jack Sholder

Produced by Robert Shaye

Written by David Chaskin

Based on characters created by Wes Craven

When discussing the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series with others, the question always comes up as to just why has this movie franchise managed to still be popular and successful even after so many years. Fans of the franchise such as myself faithfully rewatch the series every Halloween and it’s continually picking up new fans who weren’t even born when the series was in the theaters.

Me, I think it’s because unlike other franchises such as “Halloween” and “Friday The 13th” which pretty much told the same story over and over and over again, one movie after another, the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies honestly tried to do something different with every new entry in the series. Whether it be in terms of actually advancing the terrifying story of Freddy Krueger or doing special effects work that really were outstanding and cutting edge at the time (the scene with the chick who gets turned into a cockroach and crushed in a roach motel in “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master” still freaks the shit outta me) the creative folks involved truly did try to do something different with each movie. The “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies don’t become one big blur as other franchises where it gets hard to remember what the plot of different movies were. You name a specific “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie to somebody and I’m willing to bet that they can pretty accurately describe what the plot was.

And that brings us to A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE which truly is about as different a horror movie you’re going to find. Why is it different? First, there’s Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) himself. For some unexplained reason, Freddy has decided to manifest himself in The Real World instead of safely killing Elm Street kids in their sleep. To this end he’s picked Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton) as his host body. Jesse’s family have moved into the former home of Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp doesn’t appear in this one, though. We don’t find out what she’s been doing until the next movie, “Dream Warriors”). Jesse takes Nancy’s old room for his own and immediately begins having dreams of Freddy Krueger who demands that Jesse kill for him. Jesse even finds Freddy’s old razor bladed glove in the basement of the house and his girlfriend Lisa (Kim Myers) finds Nancy’s old diary in his closet.

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While Jesse struggles to understand what’s going with him with the help of his friend Ron (Robert Rusler) Lisa does research into the background of Freddy Krueger and the series of mysterious killings that took place on Elm Street five years ago.

And now here’s where the movie goes off into the direction it’s best known for: the homoerotic subtext that supports most of the movie. I myself think that the movie’s director and writer messed things up when they had Freddy plainly be seen by other people as they had a pretty interesting psychological angle going, with Freddy representing Jesse’s repressed homosexual feelings for Ron. There’s two scenes in the movie where it could be interpreted that Jesse has had sex with men and unable to deal with this aspect of himself kills them and blames the killings on Freddy, hallucinating that he sees him. Want more evidence? There’s a great scene where Jesse is making out with Lisa at a pool party and suddenly panics due to Freddy manifesting himself in Jesse and he breaks it off, running to Ron’s house, sneaking into his room in the middle of the night. Ron gets in the best line in the movie here: “Now let me get this straight…she’s waiting for you in the cabana. And you wanna sleep with me.”

Not enough for you? There’s the high school gym teacher that is killed in a pretty blatant S&M fashion after he encounters Jesse in a gay bar. Most of the victims Freddy terrorizes and/or kills are men. Mark Patton himself in interviews lays claim to being the first male Scream Queen and he gets my vote. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie where the lead male role does so much screaming. In fact, most of the men in this movie are ineffectual, with Jesse’s father Ken played by Clu Gulager leading the way. This cat is so much of a brain dead blockhead he borders on being a sitcom dad. It’s the women in this movie who are level-headed, sensible and have steel in their spines. Taken just on that level of traditional male/female roles in horror movies being reversed and the homoerotic subtext, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE makes for intriguing viewing.

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But how does it rate purely as a horror film? I liked how the movie takes its time introducing the characters and making sure we know who’s who and what they’re all about before the mayhem starts. I don’t think it’s anywhere near as violent or as blood-soaked as some of the later films. But it manages to showcase a couple of really nice sequences. The major one being the scene where Freddy tears his way out of Jesse’s body. And the pool party scene is redeemed by that terrific shot of Freddy haloed in flame proclaiming to the terrified teenagers; “You are all my children now.”

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But you really can’t get around the fact that when you look at the movie objectively, it’s not a Freddy Krueger movie. Supposedly Freddy has exactly thirteen minutes of screen time. In a movie that runs eighty-seven minutes, that’s not a lot. The movie’s not about Freddy Krueger at all. It’s about a young man confused and conflicted about his sexuality with Freddy as a supporting character in his own movie. Now some may call this the weakest “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie but me, I’ll still take A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE over “Freddy’s Dead”

87 Minutes

Rated R