Scarecrows (1988)

Scarecrows (1988)

Directed by: William Wesley. Starring: Ted Vernon, Michael David Simms, Richard Vidan. Runtime: 1h 23 min. Released: August 28, 1988.

I reviewed this film as part of the May Scavenger Hunt on Letterboxd, and you can find the original list here if you want to play along. The prompt for this film was No. 24, to “watch a film reference in The Cabin in the Woods. This review contains some spoilers.

I like B-horror movies as much as the next horror fan, so long as it has a point. Scarecrows isn’t one of those films with a point. A group of mercenary type criminals hijack a plane from a military base, kidnapping a pilot (David Campbell) and his daughter (Victoria Christian), forcing them to fly Mexico. En route, there’s a double cross where one of the thieves, Bert (B.J. Turner), takes the $3.5 million in cash, jumps out of the plane, and parachutes into a graveyard surrounded by a lone house and scarecrows.

Bert’s action doesn’t make sense as it’s poorly planned out, but as a concept to get these characters into the path of these scarecrows, it is not bad in set-up. Scarecrows are genuinely creepy – I would never be caught dead in a cornfield with one or even three scarecrows in the middle of the night – but this film makes scarecrows boring. The kills are simplistic and gory enough; but most of the gore comes from what these scarecrows do after the fact. Mild spoilers, but the people these scarecrows bring back from the dead are sort-of creepy. The scarecrows themselves? Hard meh. This isn’t that eventful when the mercenaries are being hunted and when they figure out how to kill these scarecrows, they’re not threatening because it’s such an easy defeat.

The rules for the scarecrows are also not well-established and how they hunt these characters. The scarecrows can imitate voices to lure these mercenaries into traps. They can also bring things back to life. They also magically disperse the money over the property so they are in little “follow the trail of money” piles. They can do so many supernatural things that it seems that director William Wesley just adds a new power when it’s interesting for the story. There’s a lack of planning that feels evident, especially when main mercenary, Curry (Michael David Simms), learns that the scarecrows are murderous. Curry jumps to the conclusion – a gigantic leap that literally can’t be measured – to the fact that these three scarecrows are actually the Fowler brothers, the owners of the home, reincarnated as scarecrows. Up to that point, we had not heard a single thing about them (unless I nodded off, which, sure, is possible) and it feels like a lazy, almost throwaway explanation for the scarecrows. It doesn’t go to any other lengths in explaining powers or Curry’s throwaway theory that maybe they’re meant to be here. There’s no rhyme or reason to this world and it’s annoying. I know I’m taking a stupid scarecrow movie a little seriously, but if the world is this small, I’d appreciate some attention to detail for it. 

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Victoria Christian, Kristina Sanborn and David Campbell in Scarecrows. (IMDb)

Other than this film being boring, the dialogue is weak. Most of the dialogue and action has the mercenaries being separated and shouting at each other over their radios and asking where everyone is. About to be killed by a scarecrow? “Where are ya, man? Where are ya? I can’t find you!” This is always to someone on the other end not answering. There’s also a weird choice made with Bert when he’s alone on the ground. His lips never move so they either filmed his action with the idea in mind that they’d just put a voice-over inner monologue later where he takes us through his thought process, or they just realized the action was so boring that it needed voice-over to tell us what he was doing. Either way, it’s strange and awkward. The dialogue elsewhere is just bad, too, as Jack (Richard Vidan) theorizes that “this place is possessed by demonic demons.” It’s not evident why they brought on three writers credited with additional dialogue, because they did not do their jobs well.

There’s little effort given to these people and they are not that likable. The dynamics of the group feel basic at best, and it’s not that exciting watching them try to recoup their money. The premise sounds like Predator but with scarecrows, and it brings the mercenaries and the large, jungle-esque property, but it only shows the scarecrows occasionally, and the sense of foreboding when we see the crosses without their scarecrow companions is creepier than when we see the scarecrows attack. The only merciless thing about this is the actual movie clocks in at about 75 minutes. We’re in and out quickly; but the trip still feels too long.

Score: 38/100

29 Days of Romance, Review #19: Say Anything… (1989)

29 Days of Romance, Review #19: Say Anything… (1989)
Say Anything... poster
IMDb

Directed by: Cameron Crowe. Starring: John Cusack, Ione Skye, John Mahoney. Runtime: 1h 40 min. Released: April 14, 1989.

In Cameron Crowe’s directorial debut, John Cusack plays the underachieving Lloyd Dobler who falls for the beautiful valedictorian, Diane Court (Ione Skye) the summer before she goes away to school to England on a scholarship. Even with Crowe’s first feature, he still had a precise voice and he shows that with how the film deals with honesty throughout.

It’s also a film that feels very real-world. The romance does not feel sugar coated. There are iconic moments like the stereo scene, but even that scene was not sugar coated. This is my first time seeing this film (okay I’ve said this with almost every review so far this February, so that’s no surprise) and I’d always assumed that the stereo scene was a big plea for her affection and she came out of the house and he swung her around and they kissed, or something.

But this isn’t John Hughes or Nicholas Sparks, so it’s not that kind-of movie, and the cheesy romance fan in me was kind-of bummed that’s not how it happens. Instead, Lloyd just stands there as Diane just turns over in her bed. It’s still a great scene as the shot of Cusack with the stereo over his head playing Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” is an iconic and beautiful shot, and I’ve seen it and homages it to it countless times even before seeing this film.

This wasn’t the type of movie I was expecting, and I think that’s a funny thing: Having expectations for a classic film but Say Anything… surprised the heck out of me. It surprised me because of how deep its story felt and how human its characters felt.

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Ione Skye and John Cusack in Say Anything… (IMDb)

As far as the romance goes, the chemistry between Cusack and Skye is strong and natural and I feel like I say that about every movie couple – especially this month and if I had a shot for every time I’ve put it in a review this month I’d be on my third bottle of tequila – but I mean it about them. Cusack has charm as the bumbling every-man and Skye is great as the valedictorian who doesn’t know how beautiful she is.

A big surprise for me here was seeing Lili Taylor, who I really just know as the matriarch in The Conjuring. It’s funny seeing her so young here and I didn’t even recognize her until the party where Lloyd takes Diane for their first kind-of date. Taylor also has an interesting character as Lloyd’s friend, Corey Flood, who gives relationship and life advice as she simultaneously sings songs about a lost love she knows is not good for her. She’s a strong sidekick.

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John Cusack and Ione Skye in Say Anything… (IMDb)

The aspect of the film where my expectations were met had to do with its comedy – I’d assumed it would be a funny film, and it has a lot of good comedic moments. Truthfully, I can’t remember any of the laughs, but I remember laughing. The one enriching aspect of this film is the fantastic John Mahoney as Diane’s father James, a nice guy we like from the start.

He’s an important figure in Diane’s life and Crowe uses the relationship of Diane and her father and the relationship between Diane and Lloyd to display honesty and dishonesty with equal effectiveness. The pairing of these two relationships was utterly fascinating, and the sub-plot of James being investigated by the IRS leaked into the main storyline. I was still very interested in the romance, but before I knew it I was getting equally as invested with the father-daughter relationship. I think an effective plot like this that feels so naturally in the overall story is why Cameron Crowe is such a great writer and director, and we’ll just give him a pass about Aloha.

Score: 80/100

29 Days of Romance, Review #15: Footloose (1984)

29 Days of Romance, Review #15: Footloose (1984)

 

Footloose poster
IMDb

Directed by: Herbert Ross. Starring: Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer, John Lithgow. Runtime: 1h 47 min. Released: February 17, 1984.

I’ll discuss some spoilers in this review, but I feel like I’m the only person who hadn’t seen this.

Released 36 years ago today, I don’t think Footloose has aged well. In the no-fun-town of Bomont, Utah, rock music and dancing has been banned by the town council and Reverend Shaw (John Lithgow) to protect the town’s teens.

Their logic is that they’ll only lead to drugs, alcohol and fornication. A city teenager, Ren (Kevin Bacon), moves to town and shakes things up with his rebellion, while also falling for the local reverend’s daughter, Ariel (Lori Singer).

Ariel was the biggest problem for me. Her recklessness and rebellion against her reverend father got old fast. She puts her life in danger on two occasions, getting nearly flattened by a semi-truck and then nearly run over by a train. Writing this review, I’m realizing it’s so she can feel how her brother felt when he died (in a car accident) but the scenes are weak without that context.

Rock music and dancing aren’t the problem with this town when teens are reckless like Ariel. Singer plays her fine, and Ariel started to win me over by the end when she stopped needing to get her father’s approval, and I liked the loss of her brother developing Ariel and her father. I found her dull for the most part and didn’t feel any chemistry between her and Kevin Bacon.

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Dianne Wiest and John Lithgow in Footloose. (IMDb)

Before I get to Bacon, Shaw and his wife Vivian (Dianne Wiest) are the best characters here. Lithgow plays his role well and his arc is good, as he feels like he has to carry the weight of the town on his shoulders. Wiest is the highlight as Vivian for me. The scene where she speaks up to Shaw because he doesn’t see the bigger picture is the strongest scene. “You can lift a congregation up so high they have to look down to see heaven,” is a great line. Their scenes are engaging drama.

I had little interest in Ren and Ariel. Kevin Bacon’s fine as Ren, but the teens’ side of things is often uneventful. Until it gets to the point where they plan a secret dance, there was a lot of time killing like Ariel’s abusive boyfriend Chuck Cranston (Jim Youngs) challenging Ren to the ultimate display of masculinity: A classic game of chicken using huge tractors. I think this is what makes it feel like an ‘80s movie because it’s so ridiculous as it plays to “Holding Out For a Hero” by Bonnie Taylor. This is the point that I understood the appeal of Footloose and conceded that it’s simply not for me.

At least after dancing gets unbanned, the displays of masculinity can be dance battles. The screenplay by Dean Pritchford handles Chuck weakly as Ariel starts spending time with Ren and they forget all about Chuck. When they remember he’s a character, they bring him back to beat up Ariel and then bring him back for a fight at the end.

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Lori Singer and Kevin Bacon in Footloose. (IMDb)

The screenplay generally makes a habit of bringing characters into the film and forgetting about them, even with Ariel’s friend Rusty (Sarah Jessica Parker) who disappears for like 40 minutes. The fact that Ren is given a hard time for being the new kid seems realistic. He deals with the oppression, and the town’s rules, in a healthy way with a workout dance to Moving Pictures’ “Never.”

I’m giving this film a hard time, but I had some fun during this. I liked the scene where Ren, Ariel, Ren’s friend Willard (Chris Penn) and Rusty went to a different town to dance. It was lively when they play the titular song (“Footloose” by Kenny Loggins) and Rusty wanted to dance. This was also the first scene where the teens felt authentic. My main question of this scene is why Ren thinks it’s unbelievable that Willard can’t dance when dancing has been illegal in the town for six years. Speaking of Willard dancing, the montage of him learning to dance is charming.

Some of the dance scenes are fun, but I found most of the drama boring. I felt like a kid at the beginning of the film sleeping in Church. I don’t like the film, but the soundtrack is an absolute classic. Every song on the soundtrack bops and my feet were tapping a lot during this. It’s just a shame that the story never reaches that same greatness.

Score: 50/100

 

 

 

 

29 Days of Romance, Review #13: When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

29 Days of Romance, Review #13: When Harry Met Sally… (1989)
When Harry Met Sally poster
IMDb

Directed by: Rob Reiner. Starring: Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher. Runtime: 1h 35 min. Released: July 21, 1989.

When Harry Met Sally… feels like a different breed of romantic comedy and I think that’s why I loved it so much. There’s never that annoying miscommunication or misunderstanding that keeps the couple apart in this and that’s the thing that annoys me the most about romantic comedies. I think this works best for me because it feels refreshing, and I know this came out in 1989, but this is my first time watching it.

Harry and Sally are kept apart because they don’t like each other, after spending a road trip from Chicago to New York together after graduation, and then meeting again five years later. They’re friendlier then but both romantically involved, but when they meet again another five years later they become friends and stay friends throughout because they think sex would ruin their friendship. They’re perfect for each other, but the threat of sex is in the way.

Nora Ephron’s screenplay is just brilliant here and the dialogue makes the comedy flow so well and makes their friendship and chemistry feel so stellar. I think the fact that a lot of the dialogue is based on the friendship between Rob Reiner and Billy Crystal makes it feel even more authentic. Reiner’s direction here is also great.

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Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally… (IMDb)

The observations of relationships and hypothesis that men and women just can’t be friends is portrayed well here and it’s an interesting discussion throughout. Billy Crystal plays the cynical Harry so damn well and he’s effortlessly hilarious. This is somehow the first Meg Ryan film I’ve seen.

Okay, well I’ve seen Anastasia but this is the first time I’ve seen her in a live action film and so this is what I’ve been missing all these years. I fell in love with these characters in general but Meg Ryan is just so endearing here and that classic orgasm scene is one of the funniest scenes I’ve seen, and the “I’ll have what she’s having” line is the cherry on top. The pair has to be one of my favourite movie couples, and Crystal and Ryan work flawlessly together.

I don’t know what else to say about this one other than it’s a lighthearted romantic comedy that’s perfect for what it sets out to be, and also has strong supporting performances from the late Carrie Fisher and the late Bruno Kirby. The film just has no shortage of charming moments, especially when Harry and Sally dance on New Year’s and realize it feels right and they could be more than friends but are still spooked that sex would ruin it, and it’s fair because it’s a lovely friendship. But what happens throughout this is just perfect and this is my kind-of romantic comedy.

Score: 100/100