My Amityville Horror Opens Tomorrow

Tomorrow, My Amityville Horror opens in limited theaters and arrives on VOD. If you are lucky enough to have this flick coming to your town in the near future, get out and see it. If not, order that bastard on your favorite VOD platform – it is not to be missed.

I caught this flick in September as part of the programming at Fantastic Fest and really REALLY enjoyed it. It tells the story of the Amityville haunting from the mouth of one of the now-grown children who experienced it – Danny Lutz. It is the first time Danny has spoken publicly about these events, and once you see the film, you will understand why – the month spent in that house (however the events transpired) has followed him and impacted his life for almost 40 years.

If you are a horror nerd with an interest in haunted house stories, this film is for you. If you are a doc fanatic with an interested in human stories, this film is for you. If you are both, there is no excuse for you to miss this. It is a truely fascinating story, which, while it doesn’t draw any definitive conclusions about the events that went down at 112 Ocean Avenue, gives an insightful look into the impact that they had on at least one of the people who lived there.

From my DVD Shelf: Smashed

So college. In addition to the tried and true (or only sort of true, but we like to believe it) crap about educating you and building you a better future and preparing you for adulthood, is also sort of a hedonistic Disneyland, where you are given all of the freedoms of being an adult, but only like a tenth of the actual responsibilities. Which is why pretty much everyone walks away from the experience with their own tome of drunken debauchery stories.

My husband had a roommate his freshman year whose entire purpose in life was to pledge whatever douchebag frat his father had pledged (Delta Delta Gamma Assclown, or whatever the hell it was). This was his entire reason for attending a university. So as pledge-time came around, he threw himself into it, heart and soul. Drunken debauchery every night. One of these nights culminated in him stumbling into the dorm room, trashed and completely unresponsive, sitting down, unzipping his pants, and hosing down the entire room in piss. But hey, it was college.

One semester, my husband managed to drink his entire financial aid check before the semester even started. And somehow managed to scrape together the money to stay enrolled that term. Yay college!

You may be wondering, at this point, why none of these drunk stories are mine. My college drunk stories typically began with me imbibing some disgusting, lame-ass girlie drinks (typically flavored with ungodly things like pineapple rum), and later vomming them up. They weren’t very exciting or charming stories, even as they were happening.

The point of all of this is that sooner or later, we move into adulthood, and the debauched behaviors of our youth have to be left behind. There comes a point pissing all over your room or drinking all of your money away ceases to be a charming tale of the shit you got into back in the day, and starts to become evidence that you aren’t managing the stakes of adulthood as well as everyone was hoping.

This is one of the central themes of Smashed. Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie (Aaron Paul) are a couple still heavily in the grip of the party lifestyle that they have known since high school ended. Going to bars every night, getting shit-faced and then waking up and gutting it through a massive hangover in order to face the day is the order of business. It’s always been the status quo, and they have never really had any reason to question it or consider that it might not be the lifestyle for them any longer. But a few incidents have led Kate to consider the notion that maybe this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, and that it might be time to make some changes. So, with the support of a co-worker, she starts down the path to sobriety.

While the plot of Smashed hits the familiar beats of the alcoholism movie, it does so while presenting a lot of issues that typically aren’t covered in similar films. Sure, we see the pledge to get better, the initial struggle, the successful period, and then the totally expected relapse. That’s all kind of a given. We also see what happens when the sober character finds herself out of place because she is the only person in her life making the change. Nobody likes to be the only sober person at the drunk party (literally and figuratively). We get to see how Kate explores her new-found health while nobody in her immediate circle is very supportive of the choices that she has made. We experience the conflicts that arise between herself and Charlie, still heavily in the throws of the partying lifestyle. The two characters, once completely in step with one another, are now in completely different places in life. Issues that had previously been swept under the rug, come to light and have to be dealt with, and brand new ones arise.  Smashed explores the bumps on the road to sobriety that we don’t often see in film. It focuses on what happens when you are ready to change your life, but your life isn’t necessarily ready to change with you. That it isn’t always as simple as making the changes; you sometimes have to weather the swells that results from making them in the first place.

Winstead is amazing. This is really an incredible performance, and I hope she has many more like it. Kate is a very well-rounded character. Winstead avoids the easy route of giving the character the Jekyll and Hyde effect when showing the drunk and sober personas of Kate’s personality. All personality traits are well-integrated into a very dynamic character. That, coupled with the very challenging and emotional moments, make for an captivating performance.

And Aaron Paul as Charlie is perfect as her counterpoint. In the beginning, when they are both heavy drinkers, they are a young, fun-loving couple. But then as Kate sets down the path of a sober lifestyle, it begins to affect the life they have known together. Paul does a great job of conveying his frustration with his new circumstances without coming off as a one-sided character. A lot of the success of this film and its story comes from how it is written and acted to make nobody the bad guy. It’s easy to see how the friction these characters are dealing with would naturally come about – nobody is the villain here.

Smashed hit DVD and Blu-ray yesterday, and I highly recommend you check it out. The familiar plot and a couple of weak moments in the script were overshadowed by the amazing work of the cast and an interesting look at the unexpected impact that making lifestyle choices can have. It is a fascinating study of aspects of alcoholism and sobriety that are often overlooked.

Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

I went into Oz The Great and Powerful mildly excited. I was mostly excited to see the new Sam Raimi flick. I was sort of interested in a new story about Oz, but hesitant at the same time. I have never read Baum’s books, but I know enough about them to know that the land of Oz is vast and has a ton of untapped story potential. But at the same time, potential that many have been hesitant to tap, given the almost religious esteem in which MGM’s classic The Wizard of Oz is widely held (including by me).

This story opens on Oscar (nicknamed “Oz”) (James Franco), a shyster magician in a traveling sideshow who dreams of greatness, yet is just sort of a scheming douchebag.  A magical twist of fate (and a tornado, obviously) transports him from Kansas to the Land of Oz. Upon crashing his hot air balloon, he meets the witch Theodora (Mila Kunis), who tells him that he is the wizard who will fulfill the prophecy that will free Oz from the grip of the evil Wicked Witch (landing him the throne and the massive treasure of Oz in the process). Oz then embarks on  a journey to face not only the wicked witch, but to live up to the expectations of the residents of Oz and become the man he has always dreamed of being.

It seemed that this film had all of the right pieces, but for whatever reason, they didn’t come together very well. The FX work was beautiful, for the most part, and the 3D was a lot of fun. Raimi knows how to use 3D to his advantage and gives the audience a fun ride. His fingerprints were definitely on this film, and I enjoyed seeing his presence here. And I loved that the transition from Kansas to Oz saw not only a change from black and white to color, but also a change in aspect ratio, allowing the scene to open up before the audience’s eyes. It was a great touch.

But the script was problematic. Oz isn’t a short movie, and I was really starting to feel it at a couple of different points in the story. The second act, in particular, was terribly uneven. Most of it really dragged, but there were a few pivotal moments that just felt rushed, and would have carried a great deal more weight if they had been allowed to develop more naturally. Once the third act was finally underway, bringing with it our great battle for Oz, things got much more interesting and I was enjoying myself.

Franco is decent in the role of our reluctant hero, but never great. He gives Oz a dopey, likeable quality, but never goes far enough into making him feel like a complete character. And a strong protagonist is essential to this type of film, because we need to feel the transition when he finally mans up and stops being a tool and starts being the hero everyone expects him to be. Here, we just sort of watch it happen – we never buy it. And he never has a compelling interaction with any of his co-stars. In the scenes between Kunis and Franco, they may as well have been acting on separate stages and then digitally composited together during post. There was just no chemistry between the two of them.

Oz The Great and Powerful is definitely a film made for a younger audience, and I don’t fault it for that. If I was seven, I would probably have had a great time. But it’s not one of those films that crosses over and brings enough bite to transcend that boundary and make it equally appealing to an adult crowd. It didn’t find it to be a total waste of time, but I didn’t find myself leaving the theater excited by what I had just seen. If you go, I highly recommend seeing it in 3D though. Raimi uses the technology well, and if you’re going to sit through over two hours of Oz, it’s way more fun when things start flying at you.