Skeletor and Angelina

Of what consequence are you now? These people, this world, they are nothing - the universe is power, pure unstoppable power - and I am that force, I am that power.

New today at the Institute
Blournal Entry - Suicide Pools (Adult Swim)

Joke of the day: The teacher wrote on the blackboard: "I ain't had no fun in months," then asked the class, "How should I correct this sentence?"

Little Johnny raised his had and replied, "Get yourself a new boyfriend."

Just for fun: scroll back up and look at that Skeletor picture. Is he sitting on a pumpkin or a giant hair ball?


[The "scary" movies I review this Halloween are all alternative in the fright department. However, I have in years' past reviewed some suitable scary movies I wanted to let you know about. The first (SKELETON KEY) would be fine if your tweenage son/daughter (mostly daughter) wanted to have a slumber party. The second (TAKING LIVES) is definitely R, for adults (well, 16 should probably be fine), and marks the first time I ever say Angelina Jolie in anything that didn't make me want to wretch. Since then I've come around on her a bit, and looking back, that movie could be why I did.]

[You know, another thought I just had: I need to start doing my 3-pronged patented movie-review Ratings again. Yeah!]


What’s good: The acting. Even (especially?) Kate Hudson, whom I generally loathe. Plus, her hair looks fantastic. The filming is often inventive (read: camera angles) as well; quite stylish. And the old Southern Manor is always a fun setting.

What’s bad: Sometimes the filmmaking is quite lazy, but this may not bother anyone not familiar with logistics. They try too hard to put Kate in ”black” situations, and the creepy intensity falls away a bit until the end.

Suspension of Disbelief: Uh, we’re talking a scary film here, and not just a slasher flick. Definitely an 8.5.

Genre Grade: I think the scary movie genre has advanced enough that we need to subdivide it out. I call SKELETON KEY PG-13 scary. Back in the day Hitchcock was the Master, as all films were PG, but in modern times, I think THE RING offered the biggest chills without any blood/gore. By that standard I give THE SKELETON KEY a B-

Objectionable Material: There’s no gore here or language, and really very little violence. You do get to see one fourth of Kate Hudson’s left breast, but the only objectionable part to that is that there should have been a lot more. Women might object that Kate’s hair always looks fantastic even in the humidity of the Louisiana rainy season.

Who can handle it? I would think teenage girl (13) and up is fine. There’s nothing to keep you awake nights here.

Amazing Ending? I think you might be able to figure out where SKELETON KEY is going, but that is by no means a criticism. After the jaw-droppingly stupid ending of last year’s touted SAW, this ending looks like a masterpiece.

Pantheon Percentile: I’m of the opinion that very few scary films truly stand the test of time. However, I can see girls watching this at a slumber party years from now (Or at least, I’d like to see them doing that.) 50.

A horror film tries to do three things; come across both fun and creepy, deliver the scares, and these days, have a whale of an ending. Good acting rarely enters into it. THE SKELETON KEY is definitely creepy, has some pretty good jumps, and the ending…I’ll get to that in a second. Surprisingly, it is the acting that is several notches above what you’d expect.

Kate Hudson plays Caroline, a hospice-care nurse with Daddy issues. She gets a job caring for Ben (William Hurt), and old man who is dying after a stroke. Violet (Gena Rowlands) is quite upset that the love of her life is going to die soon.

SKELETON KEY introduces us to the world of hoodoo (not to be confused with voodoo), and plays on our knowledge of what a haunted house film might look like. The story more-or-less adds up, once it’s over and you think it through, and though at times things are a bit forced, there are some fantastic performances here, and some good creepy scares. As for that ending (and other particulars), see the all new expanded side panel. One other note: for all its trifling nature, SKELETON KEY does ask a very good question, dealing with the power of evil that is only powerful if it is believed. I would love a more ambitious project to tackle this conundrum.

[See original review post here]


The story of how I came to watch TAKING LIVES is almost as interesting as the movie: I was in the video store talking to Starla, and somehow the subject of Angelina Jolie came up. Anyone who knows me knows I simply loathe that woman. She just…creeps me out in every movie I ever see her. Well, Starla carries a torch for Angelina, and was quite upset at me, and so to make her happy (Hyperion has a rule to never piss off people who serve me food or get me videos), I rented TAKING LIVES as a peace offering.

The problem with Whodunit Thrillers is that most serious scriptwriters and filmmakers don’t create them, and those who do aren’t inventive, creative, or talented enough to give us genuine twists and turns. Instead, they rely on surprises for surprises’ sake that make no sense, and “Gotcha!” camera work. TAKING LIVES tries a different road.

Watching the “Making Of” documentary, you get the sense that the filmmakers think they have many twists in store for us. Don’t be fooled. It’s fairly obvious early on what’s happening, and the red herrings don’t do much to distract from the obvious. However, the atmosphere and style of TAKING LIVES, as well as the characters, are more important than in most flicks of this genre, so the experience doesn’t suffer. The plot has a few too many holes, a couple of parts are cliché or tacked on, and the ending is preposterous.

All that written, I shocked myself by enjoying TAKING LIVES very much. I did so for the following reasons:

The style and atmosphere are quite cool. There are some genuine jumps, but you know they’re coming (and jump anyway), so that’s playing fair. Some of the camera work was unique in building dread (or false dread), and that impressed me. The ending was crazy, yes, but you almost have to give thrillers (or, hell, movies in general) a pass on this. Creating a great ending is by far the hardest part of making a movie, and for one like this it’s even harder. The best you can ask for is that they don’t go totally cliché, or if they do, at least try to go over the top. In this respect, TAKING LIVES is a notch above ordinary.

The scenery is fresh. Montreal (or in this case Quebec City filling in, but it’s not like any non-BLOQer can tell the difference, so no worries) is a beautiful place, and the city is used effectively so you get the sense they are really there.

The characters are the best part of the film. Oliver Martinez plays a pissed off cop, and gets to do his sexy accent. His part (a police officer who resents having an expert brought in to help with a murder) is a bit by-the-numbers, but with a couple of shocks that made me sit up and take notice. Kiefer Sutherland and Ethan Hawke are both fantastic, inhabiting their characters with menace or vulnerability, or both; as required. In a small part, Gena Rowlands is simply awesome, and I fell in love with her, even though she’s 150 years old. Seriously: this woman needs to be on the A-List for meaty supporting roles.

And then there’s Angelina Jolie.

Dammit—and I hope you respect the tongue-curdlingness it takes for me to write this line—she was so good. From the trailers it looks like Jolie is the tough-genius cop who can play with the big boys and beat them at their own game. However, while there is a touch of that in the script, Jolie gives her Illeana (which just rolls off the tongue sexily) an affect I’d never seen before in this type of role. I don’t even know how to describe it. Illeana is quirky, but not a Johnny Depp quirky for quirky’s sake weirdness; just who she is. She’s tough, but quiet and watchful more than brash. She is a bit obsessive, and does weird things like lying in graves, but it seems okay.

As for her obsessiveness, there is a slight implication that Illeana is enjoying the bloody crime photos more than she should be, if you follow me. Even that is kind of erotic rather than creepy, and this is Angelina Jolie, who freaks me out just standing there!! Also—and this has to be the first and hopefully last time I mention this subject in a review—her makeup is fabulous. This seems like a silly point, but I’ve always found Jolie’s coloring to be off, either trashy-slutty or over-exposed, but here it is soft and flawless, accentuating her features.

Finally—and this is not the first or last time I mention this in a review—the unrated version contains a sex scene worth writing home about (well, maybe not my home, where I’d get an earful from my mother, but somebody’s home). Yeah, yeah; I know: an adult male likes seeing a beautiful woman in a sexy scene; alert the media, but I just can’t iterate enough how Jolie normally makes my skin crawl. That I watched the scene twice (or so) should speak volumes to its effectiveness. (Special note: if you’re in a hurry, this scene appears 1:15 into the movie.)

So, in spite of my best intentions, I enjoyed TAKING LIVES. While not a flawless piece of filmmaking (some day I’m writing a whole column on why crime people don’t turn on lights when entering a room that a suspect used to or might still be in), for a genre piece TAKING LIVES delivered the goods.

And now Starla will never shut up.

[See original review post here]

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