"When a Stranger Calls" ...Send it to Voicemail


Hopefully, the recent trend of remaking every somewhat popular horror movie from the 80s has runs its course (but I highly doubt it).  The originals are so iconic and timeless that any attempt at a remake or "reboot" is doomed to fail under its own pressure to recapture its past glory.  But for some movies like "When a Stranger Calls (1979)" a remake is just what it needs, but would anybody go an see it?

The original film has a few memorable lines and a great opening twenty minutes, but after that, it falls completely flat into a boring, drawn-out mess.  So this new remake does the most logical thing.  Just take that great twenty-minute opening and stretch it out into an 87-minute feature, update it for today's generation and market it to teen girls.

Camilla Belle stars as Jill Johnson, a teenager who is being grounded for going way over her cell phone minutes and now must babysit to pay off the bill.  She gets a job at a wealthy Doctors mansion way out in the middle of nowhere.  He has an indoor aviary (birds) and koi pond for cryin' out loud.  So she is left to watch two children who are asleep in an upstairs bedroom.  The life in maid Rosa is also around somewhere.  Jill roams the halls of the ultra-modern estate when the phone rings.  Nobody is there.  It rings a few more times, a man breathes and hangs up.  The man then calls and asks her if she has checked the children, one of the infamous lines from the first film.  Although here its only used as a call back to the original film.  After chasing some noises and shadows Jill is freaked out and calls the police, but they can't do anything unless he threatens her, then they can trace the call.  During another call, Jill asks the man what do you want? "Your Blood, all over me" Ahhh, creeper!  She also finds out that he can see her.  Eventually, a trace is done and the policeman calls back with some shocking news.  One of the best scary lines of all time. "The calls are coming from inside the house".  Needless to say Jill sort of loses her mind, but being the good babysitter she goes upstairs to save the kids.  Jill and the crazy man have a brief battle, and we find out what happened to Rosa.  Then the cops arrive leaving Jill with a case of crazy-itis.

The remake is a whole lot better than the original but as I mentioned before that's not really saying much.  Camilla Belle is a good looking actor, but just doesn't seem right for this role, she is more suited to dramas than horror.  Carol King played the original Jill Johnson as was alright in the little time she was on screen.  Maybe the third time would be the charm, who wants another remake?

"The Quiet" Looks to Make Some Noise


"The Quiet" is a pulpy noir-ish drama that goes into some queasy taboo shattering places all while seeming like an surreal game.  Jamie Babbit directs this story of a deaf mute girl named Dot (played by Camilla Belle) who is forced to live with her God parents after the tragic death of her father. 

Dot joins the Deer family with Paul, Olivia, and their teen daughter Nina.  A small family with big secrets.  Paul (Martin Donavan) is a successful architect, while Olivia (Edie Falco) is a interior decorator.  Nina, played by Elisha Cuthbert, is your typical over privileged teenager, who manipulates her parent to get what ever she wants.  Dot is quite the opposite, she is every bit the tom boy.  She is an outcast at high school not only because she can't hear and doesn't talk, but because she doesn't give in to all of the phony high school culture bullshit.  She is just herself, but far from perfect.  Nina and her best friend Michelle are both cheerleaders and "cool" kids, but like all of the character in the movie are putting up a front to hide a painful truth.

*Spoiler Territory Ahead*

Dot awakes one night and wanders down to Nina's room but Paul is in there with her and he's not helping her with her homework if you catch my drift.  Dot runs back to her room and back to bed, wondering what to do with this new information.  Olivia is in denial about a lot of things in her life and medicates with sleeping pills and pain killers.   She tries to be a wife and mother, but is just not there.  On another night Paul comes into Dot's room while she is sleeping and confesses to her that he is a sick man in need of help. A number of times people confess their deep dark secrets to Dot knowing that she can't hear, or can she?  Dot plays the piano and while thinking she's alone curses when one the strings break.  Nina sees this and now can manipulate her just like she does her father.  Dot can also see how Nina is suffering in her situation but that would mean giving up her secret and she is not ready for that yet.  Her deaf mute charade is her way of grieving the loss of her own father who she was very close with.  She blames herself for his accidental death and also see this as a sort of punishment.

In the cafeteria, knowing Dot can hear, Nina lays out a plan to get rid of her dear ole dad once and for all.  Nina's cry for help doesn't land on deaf ears, so to speak.  Things don't go as planned so Nina goes to Plan B.  This doesn't last very long and sends Paul into a rage. Dot comes to the rescue while Olivia stands motionless as usual, but this event breaks the nasty cycle and finally allows her to take some sort of twisted responsibility. "Lies keep us safe from the truth" but in time will turn you into a shell filled with nothing but denial and self hatred.  "The Quiet" is a lot deeper than what appears on the surface all while being entertaining and somewhat dangerous.

"The Ballad of Jack & Rose" Hits All the Right Notes


Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the greatest actors of his generation.  His talent, craft, and commitment to his roles are second to none. Nominated for Best Actor five times by The Academy Awards taking home 3 golden trophies.  For "My Left Foot (1990)", "There Will be Blood (2008)" and "Lincoln (2008)".  One of his lesser-known roles was in the small independent film "The Ballad of Jack & Rose (2005) Directed by his wife Rebecca Miller.  It's a story about the relationship between a father and daughter living off the grid on an island off the east coast.

Camilla Belle plays Rose the tomboyish teenage daughter who has spent her entire life on the island, sheltered from the rest of the world.  Her mom had left the family when she was only five years old and has grown up alone with her father all these years.  Jack is the last remaining holdout of an old hippie commune on which they live, unable to let go of the past and his strong ideals of how a society should behave.  It's1986 and land developers are starting to infiltrate his sacred island, his battle is mainly with Marty Rance (Beau Bridges).  For Jack this means War, but his declining health and lack of support make it an impossible task.  Nobody can stop progress.  The future will come whether you like it or not.

With Rose getting older, about sixteen or so, Jack is forced to think about the future and what will
happen when he dies.  He starts to feel guilty for keeping Rose away from modern society and what will happen to her when she's on her own.  Jack does go to the mainland now and then to shack up with Kathleen (Catherine Keener), a single mother of two teen boys, who is currently living in her mother's basement.  They've known each other a while but their relationship has never too serious.  To hopefully benefit Rose, Jack pays Kathleen to quit her job and move her kids to live with him on the island.  Jack's "experiment" is a bumpy road and awakens feeling and emotion that will change all of them.  Rose's emotional state becomes a little erratic, to say the least, as Kathleen has now taken over most of Jack's time, this causes her to lash out and rebel in some extreme ways.  Not to mention the introduction of two teenage boys.  Rodney, is a self-conscious and sensitive guy who is questioning his sexuality, while Thaddeus is a skinny womanizing rebel, played by Paul Dano, who also stars opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will be Blood".  Jack is surprised and shocked by what he see's in Rose and has to confront the fact that nothing lasts forever and that he has to let her go and experience the world, even if she might get hurt along the way.  Operating on a budget of 1.5 million, this is a prime example of how a strong story along with strong actors can make a great film.  

"Insidious: Chapter 2" Takes you into the Further


You can see my review of the original "Insidious"
*This review Contain Spoilers from both movies*

Director James Wan, the creator of the "Saw" Franchise, had quite the summer in 2013.  His two films were released about a month apart and both made over $100 million.  With "The Conjuring" being the biggest hit of the summer and launching yet another horror franchise.  "Insidious Chapter 2" although not as successful as the original still will see many more Chapters.

Unlike a lot of horror sequels "Insidious: Chapter 2" has the entire cast back and continues the story of the Lambert family and their battle with the ghosts, spirits, and demons that lurk in the further.  The further being a purgatory-like place for evil spirits looking return to the land of the living.  The first film saw their son Dalton become lost in the further and now it his father Josh (played by Patrick Wilson) who must escape.  The sequel definitely has it's inventive and creative good points, but its flaws are a little more visible than they were in the first film.

After the events of the first film, the Lambert family is now living with Josh's mother (Barbara Hershey), hoping the worst is behind them they try to resume their lives.  The plot is heavy on backstory with Josh's experiences with the Further as an 8-year-old boy and the origins of his nemesis the bride in black.  Back in the present, more strange happenings continue to frighten his wife Renai (Rose Byrne).  Josh also has been acting strangely and not really himself.  After a few scary incidents she contacts the paranormal hunters from the first film Tucker and Specs, one of them played by scriptwriter Leigh Whannel.  These two morons almost single-handedly destroy the film with there terribly cheesy one-liners and hammy acting that stopped any tension as soon as they appear.  We find out that the real Josh is trapped in the further, while his earthly body is being taken over by a serial killer named Parker Crane, who also has some pretty shocking ties to the bride in black.  The group of ghost hunters and his family have to battle some pretty nasty forces to get him back.  The medium Elise (Lin Shaye) is back, but only as a helper in the further, as she was murdered at the end of the first movie.  She gave the paranormal hunters the credibility it needed in the original and is sorely missed here.

In a bit of creative genius while Josh tries to escape the further the filmmakers manage to work in and explain a lot of the noises and scenes from the first film from a different perspective.  All while making it relevant to this film and not just used as filler as a lot of other movies do.  The creepy scares are still there and its a very accomplished sequel but still not as good as the first.  A third film the series is guaranteed with the final scene being ghost Elise, Tucker, and Specs visiting a new family and her staring into a corner of the house, her mouth wide open "Oh my God" Indeed.