They’re Here

Poltergeist made TV static scary. Although Tobe Hooper’s director credit is on it, Poltergeist is very much a Steven Spielberg movie. From the down to Earth suburban family to the 80’s special effects. The problem was Spielberg’s involvement in E.T. prevented him from officially directing it. Much like Gremlins & Temple of Doom, Poltergeist was another intense film with an inappropriate PG rating (especially for that face peeling scene). As a Christian, I prefer to stay away from supernatural ghost stories. Like everything else Spielberg, Poltergeist is too much of a modern classic. It follows the carefree Freeling family. JoBeth Williams is mother Diane and Craig T. Nelson is father Steven.

Their kids are Dominique Dunne as older daughter Dana, Oliver Robins as son Robbie, and Heather O’Rourke as youngest daughter Carol Anne. Carol Anne quickly became a creepy kid with her iconic line “They’re here.” Referring to the dark spirits that have passed through the TV. The titular poltergeist haunts a single individual and is responsible for phenomenon like moving furniture. Rather than immediately leave like any sane person would, they play around with it. Giving the “Beast” enough time to kidnap Carol Anne. So now they have to consult a team of parapsychologists and a creepy little medium in order to “clean” the house. Beatrice Straight and Zelda Rubinstein continue to humanize the paranormal story.

What Poltergeist does well, is prey on several childhood fears. Thunderstorms, the closet, a scary tree, a creepy toy, and even clowns. The latter being a particularly terrifying toy clown that comes to life. Although everyone experiences varying amounts of terror, it’s Diane who gets the worst of it. Especially when she falls into a pool full of very real corpses. All this is happening because their house was built on an ancient tribal burial ground. It’s enough for them to finally move out at the end. As disturbing as Poltergeist is, the behind the scenes is just as disturbing. Supernatural movies tend to open a portal. Likely starting the so-called “Poltergeist curse.” Leading to the tragic death of multiple stars. Poltergeist is effective horror no matter how you look at it.

1. Poltergeist

“They’re here”

Followed by: Poltergeist II: The Other Side

Powell & Child

Julie & Julia brings together 2 of my favorite things; food and blogging. Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Like everyone else on Earth, I absolutely love to eat. So I thought I’d dine into a movie all about food. Other than my knowledge of famed French cook Julia Child, I didn’t know much about Nora Ephron’s final film. Julie Powell is a blogger who cooked every recipe from Child’s cookbook. Making this the very first major movie about blogging. Both are true stories and both deserve equal attention.

Julia Child, 1950’s – Like every other role she tackles, Meryl Streep is Julia Child. She matches her great height and unusually high voice. Child is American, but she puts on a proper accent that I’ve always confused for French. Everything I know about Julia Child came from my mother who enjoys cooking shows. I’d say Streep is deserving of her Oscar nod. Child’s story chronicles her life in Paris with her loving husband Paul. Child was a true pioneer who professionally pursued cooking as a woman in the 50’s. From learning at Le Cordon Bleu to publishing her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cuisine. Streep is as fun to watch as Child was during her eventual TV show…

Julie and Julia

Julia Child cooks

Julie Powell, 2002 – What I thought would be the weak link of the movie, ended up being just as enjoyable. As a blogger, it’s fun to watch something with such a focus on blogging. Julie & Julia is technically the story of New York writer Julie Powell. She works at a call center post-9/11 and shares a tiny apartment with her cat and loving husband Eric. In order to find purpose in her life, Julie blogs about her love of cooking. She admires Julia Child and decides to take on the task of cooking all 524 recipes from her cookbook for an entire year. There are problems of course, but she cooks her way through it. It helps that Amy Adams is so endearing in the role.

In conclusion, Julie & Julia makes me hungry for fine French cuisine. As well as give me hope that blogging can lead to great opportunities. Nora Ephron was great with female friendly stories and this is two for the price of one. Stars like Meryl Streep, Stanley Tucci, Amy Adams, and Chris Messina make it work. With food, love, and aspiration to offer, Julie & Julia is worth the time to dine, Bon Appรฉtit.

Julie and Julia

Julie Powell cooks

Tickle Me Elmo

The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland is the second and final Sesame Street movie. Unlike Jim Henson’s Muppets, they’re more meant for TV. I was 4 years old in 1999, so my enjoyment of Sesame Street is linked to a certain 3 year old red monster named Elmo. Although I missed the mass hysteria of Tickle Me Elmo, I do have fond memories of Elmo’s World. Years later, I understand the frustration seasoned fans must of had for Elmo.

I’ll never forget the circumstances of how I saw The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland. Since my older brother was in school, my mom decided to just take me to see it. Needless to say my brother wasn’t happy about that. Outside of a few fragments, I have next to no memories of the movie (until rewatching it). Elmo in Grouchland is done in the style of a “gone missing” story. An Elmo movie was inevitable, but your enjoyment of it depends on how much you like Elmo.

The short and simple story is Elmo searching for his beloved blanket after being a little possessive of it and yelling at Zoe. He learns a lesson about sharing by the end. As the title suggests, Oscar the Grouch is just as important. As Elmo falls into his trash can that magically takes him to a rotten world called Grouchland. Mandy Patinkin is the cartoonish villain, Vanessa Williams is the Queen of Trash, and Big Bird, Cookie Monster, and Grover are there too. Meanwhile, Bert & Ernie talk directly to the kids. Songs are harmless, the tone is light, and Elmo in Grouchland is just fine for Elmo fans like I was.

11. The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland

Elmo dances in Grouchland

Sunny Days

Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird is the first movie to star the beloved educational puppets. Sesame Street has been on for an impressive 50 years. So everyone, including myself, grew up watching it. The show taught us to read, count, and plenty of life lessons. The great Jim Henson helped create the Muppets and all our Sesame Street friends. So a movie was inevitable. Follow that Bird is brought to you by the letter ‘B’. For the innocent 6 year old star of the movie Big Bird.

I didn’t see Follow that Bird in 1985, but I was very young when I saw it in school. After rewatching it years later, I found myself smiling all over again. Much like The Muppet Movie, Follow that Bird is done in the style of a road movie. When a bird social worker is determined to place Big Bird with a bird family, Big Bird is sadly taken away from is real family. I forgot just how diverse Sesame Street was and not just for the monsters, grouches, and animals. Sesame Street is a bit bigger, but there’s a bigger world out there.

When Big Bird’s family turns out to be a bunch of dodos, he hits the road back to Sesame Street. Meeting friendly countryside kids, truckers, and some sleazy carnival owners. Everyone on Sesame Street follow that bird in special cars just to get him back. Mr. Snuffleupagus misses his best friend, Oscar is grouchy, Super Grover suits up, Bert & Ernie take a biplane, and Cookie Monster eats anything he can. With light hearted songs, celebrity cameos, and even a Kermit cameo, Follow that Bird warms your heart.

10. Follow that Bird

Big Bird follows some kids

Sink or Swim

Waterworld is just Mad Max on the ocean, but not just any ocean. What if the polar ice caps melted and the entire world was covered in water? You’d end up with the most expensive movie made at the time since “Nothing’s free in Waterworld.” As major box office bombs go, I’ve known about Waterworld for years due to multiple Simpsons jokes. It’s one of many Kevin Costner passion projects that’s too long and self important for its own good, but that doesn’t make it the absolute worst. Although there might be a problem when Waterworld literally opens with drinking pee.

We follow the nameless Mariner (not Namor the Sub-Mariner unfortunatly). This guy’s an unlikable jerk who drifts from place to place on his intricate trimaran. He also happens to be a mutant with gills that help him breath underwater. Since Waterworld is entirely water, boats and structures are homes, while dirt, paper, or plants are valuable. Since a world like this (however feasible) isn’t practical, everyone wants to get to the fabled Dryland.

The Mariner reluctantly brings the alluring Helen and her talkative surrogate daughter Enola along since the latter possesses a map to Dryland. They just have to deal with jet ski riding terrorists called Smokers lead by an over-the-top one-eyed Dennis Hopper. Regardless of its reputation, I didn’t hate Waterworld. Though it does get ridiculous with all over the place performances, unexplained world building, and a confused tone. I guess I just like the idea of Waterworld more. An all water action packed world with boats instead of cars could’ve been really good in someone other than Costner’s fins. Waterworld wanted to swim, but it sank instead.

Waterworld

The Mariner and Helen evade Smokers

Chariots on Fire

Ben-Hur (2016) is what happens when you try to remake a classic. After 4 previous adaptations of the 1880 novel, there’s just no way to improve upon the 1959 Best Picture winner. But the 2010’s saw a beautiful resurgence of Biblical faith based movies. So I was cautiously open to the idea. Then I got nervous the more Hollywood it ended up looking. Just like with Noah, the material isn’t handled with enough care. Ben-Hur (2016) is more concerned with a brotherly relationship between Judah Ben-Hur and Messala. Jack Huston doesn’t have Charlton Heston’s presence. While Messala’s dedication as a Roman is given far too much attention to the point he barely feels like a villain. Or maybe it’s just Toby Kebbell’s sympathetic portrayal.

One of many sloppy changes made to this reimagining. Esther has a bigger role, but her marriage to Judah is hastier. Judah’s enslavement is less of an accident when Jewish “zealots” are involved. His mother & sister are taken away, but he’s barely motivated by seeing them again. The galley battle that follows, feels inconsequential without rescuing a Roman. It’s clear that they care more about building everything around the chariot race. Morgan Freeman distracts with a larger portrayal of chariot trainer Sheik. You can’t really go wrong with the race in any interpretation, but it is talk heavy. The CGI is more distracting in the galley scene.

Ben-Hur (2016) tries to preach forgiveness in the end, but I wish it was supported by their portrayal of Jesus Christ. They make the mistake of showing Jesus in the most casual way possible. No weight is given to the water scene without an unseen presence. By the Crucifixion, I felt like Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus would have worked better in his own movie, instead of this mediocre one. It doesn’t help that Ben-Hur’s mother & sister’s leprosy feels like an afterthought. Ben-Hur could have been a major success like its predecessor if only they stuck to the scripture.

Ben-Hur

Ben-Hur rides his chariot

Remake of: Ben-Hur (1959)

The Great Chariot Race

Ben-Hur is one of the last great Biblical epics from classic Hollywood. Since there was a silent version of the 1880 novel released in 1925, that technically makes it a remake. One of the greatest remakes of all time. Since Ben-Hur was such a magnet for records, milestones, and cinematic firsts upon its release. In fact, Ben-Hur is one of my mom’s top favorite movies she’s ever seen. It was released in her birth year, 1959 (hence why I’m reviewing it on her birthday). I always knew I needed to see Ben-Hur, but the 3 hour & 44 minute runtime was daunting.

My lifetime knowledge of the Bible and seeing the silent film helped me to familiarize myself with the story. So I barely felt the extended runtime. Granted the length does include an overture and intermission. Ben-Hur was by far the biggest movie made at the time. Sets were the biggest ever built, props & wardrobe were in the hundreds, actors & animals were in the thousands, and all were established a year in advance. That’s not even factoring in the three month shooting of the great chariot race. I wish Christian epics like Ben-Hur still had this level of dedication. It’s a miracle everything came together so well…

Ben-Hur

Ben-Hur rides his chariot

Ben-Hur is the same story told in the novel and silent film, but changes were made in places. Most were done to increase the length and dramatic weight. Now characters are more complex with better character development. When you wanted a great Bible epic, you called Charlton Heston. It already worked so well in The Ten Commandments. It’s mostly the reason why Heston is one of my mom’s favorite actors. Since he appeared in so many of her childhood films. I value him too, so it increased my appreciation of Judah Ben-Hur. His life as a wealthy Jewish prince in Jerusalem is given more attention. Along with his close friendship with childhood friend turned Roman tribune Messala. You can really see the anguish between them, as they know they can’t be friends anymore. The ways of the Romans turn Messala towards evil. While Ben-Hur remains faithful to his Jewish people. His relationship with freed slave Esther is given more weight as well.

Ben-Hur is betrayed by Messala after an accident and separated from his mother Miriam & sister Tirzah. He fights back a bit more, but that’s not enough to save him from enslavement aboard a galley. The large scale rowing is just as grand as the battle that follows. Miniatures were used in that scene and I couldn’t tell the difference. Heston’s Ben-Hur is a bit more vengeful in his quest to return home. He’s adopted by the Roman Consul after he saves his life and a promising chariot racing career follows. Hugh Griffith received just as much admiration for his role as Judah’s spirited chariot sponsor. It’s only after thinking his mother & sister are dead that he pursues his vengeance against Messala. When in reality, Esther is the only one who knows they have leprosy. The most isolating disease anyone could get at the time.

The chariot race is one of the most epic climaxes ever filmed. The grandeur was so big that an ultra wide screen was needed. The race is fast paced excitement with very real danger. Racers flipped off their chariots, horses run into each other, and Messala popularized the bladed wheel method. He also cheats when he starts whipping Ben-Hur. The race may be won, but his family is still missing. What makes Ben-Hur truly important is the parallel between Judah and Jesus Christ. As a Christian, I of course recognize every important moment. From the Nativity to the Sermon on the Mount to the Crucifixion. Every scene filled me with emotion without ever seeing my savior’s face. My favorite scene will always be Jesus giving a thirsty Ben-Hur water. The Roman’s awestruck reaction is a nice touch too. The encounter drives Judah, but he does struggle with faith at first.

Esther listens to the Sermon, so she’s the one who encourages her husband’s step towards Christianity. They take his mother & sister to the heartbreaking Crucifixion where Judah returns the favor of water. My mom cries every time a miraculous rain storm cures them of their leprosy. Ben-Hur is truly a wonder to behold years later. So much detail was put into the multitude of sets. It may have been a massive film to complete, but William Wyler pulled it off. It helps that he was a Jew that understood the importance of the material. Despite its enormous budget, Ben-Hur became the second highest grossing film of all time. Encouraging it to win a record 11 Academy Awards. Best Picture, Director William Wyler, Actor Charlton Heston, Supporting Actor Hugh Griffith, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Special Effects, Film Editing, Music, and Sound Recording. The only Oscar it didn’t win was for Screenplay. Ben-Hur remains one of the grandest cinematic achievements of all time.

Ben-Hur

Ben-Hur rows the galley

Remake of: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ

Glory of the Ages

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ is the story of faith, revenge, and triumph over adversity. Ben-Hur is a tale known for generations. Ever since the book was published in 1880, then adapted as a 1907 short. Like many, I was only familiar with the most famous adaptation. Until I sought out the silent 1925 original. Which is just as impressive in its own right. I learned the story of Ben-Hur by watching this version.

Judah Ben-Hur is a wealthy Jew betrayed by his childhood Roman friend Messala. Separated from his mother & sister, Ben-Hur vowed revenge. As he survived working on a slave galley, was adopted by its Roman admiral, grew as an athlete, and fell in love with Esther. The centerpiece of the story will always be the great climactic chariot race. I don’t know how they pulled it off back then, but it sure does hold up now. The sequence even features a who’s who of classic Hollywood stars in background roles.

Ben-Hur’s story is pure fiction, but it’s paired up with the reality of Jesus Christ. As both stories are done in tandem with Jesus as an unseen presence. These parts are extremely easy to follow since I know the tale of the Christ by heart. The moments they cross paths are pivotal with Jesus giving a thirsty Ben-Hur water and Jesus healing the sick before his crucifixion. Like the tagline says, every Christian outta see it. I’ve gotten used to silent films and the color isn’t always black & white. Scenes from the Bible are in Technicolor. As difficult as it may have been to film, Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ remains an epic first step.

Ben-Hur A Tale of the Christ

Ben-Hur rides his chariot

Hang Me in the Morning

3:10 to Yuma (2007) is a remake done right. Especially for a classic 50’s western. The difference was a grittier R rated tone with more realistic depth added to characters. James Mangold has so much western influence in his movies, that I’d be surprised if he never directed one. His direction helps it stand out in an era with far less gun toting cowboy adventures. My initial interest came from my mom. Since she was a big fan of Russell Crowe and wanted to see how a remake would work out.

Although I had the chance to see it on its own, I’m glad I saw the original first. Brilliant non-American Hollywood hotheads Christian Bale and Russell Crowe play Dan Evans and Ben Wade respectively. They’re both perfect choices that play off each other well. Dan’s struggling drought stricken family life is shown in a bit more depth. With the addition of a leg he lost in the war and more of a role for his eldest son played by Logan Lerman. Wade may be a bad man, but he’s still a romantic who loves his momma.

Really it’s his much more ruthless posse lead by a rougher Charlie Prince played by Ben Foster who incites the most violence. 3:10 to Yuma is the destination for Wade and far more men see that he gets there. Most of whom die on the unforgiving trail. When they make it to the hotel, Dan’s son stands in for his wife and helps out a bit on the nail biting path to the train. It’s a much less happy ending, but one with an honorable character turn. 3:10 to Yuma uses its time just as effectively.

3:10 to yuma

Dan Evans (left) escorts Ben Wade (right)

Remake of: 3:10 to Yuma (1957)

The Rancher and the Outlaw

3:10 to Yuma brings us only the best from the old west. Appropriately beginning and ending with a folksy tune to set the mood. 3:10 to Yuma is a classic tale of a rancher and an outlaw. The rancher is Dan Evans played by Van Heflin. A struggling family man with a wife and two boys dealing with a devastating drought. The outlaw is Ben Wade played by Glen Ford. A charismatic criminal with a romantic streak who rides with his posse of outlaws.

Their paths cross when Wade shoots two stagecoach men and swipe Dan’s horses. When found out and arrested, Dan reluctantly agrees to transport Wade to the 3:10 to Yuma for a ranch saving price along with a small band of men. Dan and Wade are complete opposites at constant odds with one another, but they do form a bit of a mutual respect while hiding out in a hotel. Especially since Wade isn’t such a bad guy. Dan knows how to handle a gun, so he’s perfect to make the dangerous trip while avoiding Wade’s men.

Everything leads to the titular train and it’s worth the nail biting climax. I don’t watch westerns often, but I always appreciate a simple story like this. Understandable considering it was based on a short story from a pulp magazine. Although color was slowly taking over in the late 50’s, 3:10 to Yuma is more effective in black & white. With plenty of great dramatic shots of a smokey Arizona. 3:10 to Yuma uses its time wisely.

3:10 to Yuma

Dan Evans (left) moves Ben Wade (right) along