‘Ouija’ Wastes Your Time ; ‘St. Vincent’ Worth Your While for Murray Alone

ouija

MOVIE REVIEW – ‘OUIJA’

MOVIE INFO

In Ouija, a group of friends must confront their most terrifying fears when they awaken the dark powers of an ancient spirit board. Stiles White directs the supernatural thriller that is produced by Platinum Dunes partners Michael Bay, Brad Fuller and Andrew Form (The Purge, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th) alongside Blumhouse Productions’ Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity and Insidious series, The Purge), Bennett Schneir (Battleship) and Hasbro. (c) Universal

Rating:
PG-13 (for disturbing violent content, frightening horror images, and thematic material)

Genre:
Action & Adventure , Horror , Mystery & Suspense

BY Adam Fedelman
www.hollywoodchicago.com

Out of respect for the filmmakers and actors, I don’t walk out on films. I hold true to that even when I know in the first 10 minutes the film’s not for me. Perhaps the second act could surprise me. Maybe the whole film is a flop but it redeems itself with shock and awe in the last 5 minutes.

But let’s be honest: As much as you can tell yourself you’ll walk into “Ouija” with an open mind, it’s impossible to have high hopes about this latest “horror” film in a tiresome string of formulaic attempts. You’re not expecting Oscar-caliber performances and that’s why these kinds of films can get away with casting no one you’ve ever heard of.

This time, Olivia Cooke takes center stage. You might remember her if you saw this year’s sci-fi flop “The Signal” with Laurence Fishburne. She looks like a younger Rose Byrne. Frankly she’s literally the one thing – person or otherwise – that remotely nears something that is even somewhat passable in this major bomb of an 89-minute film. Clocking in at 85 minutes too long, this simple, formulaic, safe, riskless, going-nowhere story could have been told just in 4.

In truth, 4 minutes is generous. I’ll sum it up in one paragraph that takes you 20 seconds to read.

“Hollywood newbies cast in amateur horror movie from famous producers for acting credit to build resume. No time to develop story or budget for quality filmmaking. The script has actors artificially pretending to be scared over a poor excuse for a plot device – a board game – that delivers no real fear. Furthering said weak plot device, the film will devolve yet again into ghosts from the past who desire reconciliation while offering literally not a single thing new to the genre.”

As many films don’t dare to be original and they instead often “borrow” from others, I find accidental humor in one of this story’s most ridiculous steals. Remember the 2013 film “Mama” with Jessica Chastain from the creator of “Pan’s Labyrinth,” which, by the way, I didn’t hate and I still periodically like to whisper “mama” in a creepy voice in the middle of the night? Well, “Ouija” pretty much has the same ghostly villain, but they rename her “Mother”.

With a tagline like “Keep telling yourself it’s just a game,” the film’s propaganda fails to convince you it’ll be anything but the flop it is. Translation: It literally is just a game and the film is trying too hard to make a movie of itself where none exists.

Not once did I bat an eye or jump out of fear – I mean not once, and yes, I was counting – but three times I did laugh when someone next to me jumped. He felt embarrassed because he was probably afraid of meeting his in-laws or trying his new detox regimen instead of something scary that actually happened in this film.

Even more of a grievous offense, this film does nothing new. The aforementioned ghost reconciliation story has been Hollywood’s addiction for longer than I’ve been alive. We’ve seen eyes glaze over white when the human is taken over by a nefarious spirit. We’ve also seen the stitched-up mouth, which this film so desperately weaves into its core to attempt to instill fear.

While I don’t like to point fingers, it’s time to. Unknown actors Olivia Cooke, Daren Kagasoff, Ana Coto, Douglas Smith and the brief role by Shelley Hennig aren’t to blame here. Nor is the more experienced Lin Shaye, who yet again plays the batshit crazy lady – or not? – just as she has recently in “Insidious” and “Insidious: Chapter 2”.

I don’t even blame first-time director Stiles White, who has historically only worked in special effects (“The Sixth Sense,” “Jurassic Park III”). White once again wrote the failed script for “Ouija” with Juliet Snowden after they bombed writing another poor horror film together in 2012 known as “The Possession”. Clearly these two need to stop working together, but let’s call a spade a spade.

While we typically think of actors or writers/directors as the cause for a film’s implosion, “Ouija” – and so many horror films like this recently – fails because of its producers. The list is long and includes Snowden, but I blame the influence of Michael Bay and Brian Goldner – who critics love to pan for “Transformers” – and Jason Blum. Blum’s Blumhouse Productions has been a part of nearly every horror film of late.

With 74 producer credits to his name and being involved in all of the “Paranormal Activity,” “The Purge,” “Sinister,” “Insidious” films and so many more, his repeat involvement is part of the reason new Hollywood horror films have nothing new. Andrew Form and Bradley Fuller are “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” guys.

James Moran is another “Paranormal Activity” chap, Rick Osako is an “Insidious” and “Sinister” dude, Phillip Dawe is “Sinister” and “The Purge,” Couper Samuelson is “Insidious” and Bennett Schneir is a newbie from “Battleship” who doesn’t fit the rest of this mold and is thrown in for giggles.

Why do I make a point of listing out these 11 producers and their credits? Because Hollywood needs to stop reusing and financing them to work together. It’s easy to recycle a cast and crew who already has a comfort together and has a history of making money at the box office. Just because it’s easy, though, doesn’t mean you should. In fact, that’s exactly what Hollywood shouldn’t do any more – starting right now. But it won’t, which is why we’re continuing to be so disappointed.

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st vincent

MOVIE REVIEW – ‘ST. VINCENT’

MOVIE INFO

Maggie (McCarthy), a single mother, moves into a new home in Brooklyn with her 12-year old son, Oliver (Lieberher). Forced to work long hours, she has no choice but to leave Oliver in the care of their new neighbor, Vincent (Murray), a retired curmudgeon with a penchant for alcohol and gambling. An odd friendship soon blossoms between the improbable pair. Together with a pregnant stripper named Daka (Watts), Vincent brings Oliver along on all the stops that make up his daily routine – the race track, a strip club, and the local dive bar. Vincent helps Oliver grow to become a man, while Oliver begins to see in Vincent something that no one else is able to: a misunderstood man with a good heart. (C) Weinstein

Rating:
PG-13 (for mature thematic material including sexual content, alcohol and tobacco use, and for language)

Genre:
Comedy

Bill Murray is #1 reason to see ‘St. Vincent’

By Steve Crum
www.crumonshowiz.blogspot.com
St. Vincent is owned by its star, Bill Murray, from start to finish and extending into the closing crawl. (The latter is referenced later in this piece.) Without him, the seriocomedy would lose its crux. Murray’s delivery and deadpan demeanor ignite director Theodore Melfi’s screenplay and thus the entire film. It is a delightful occasion when Murray appears in any movie, but a starring role like his Vincent MacKenna character here is extremely satisfying.

There is a flip side to my Murray gushing, in that the screenplay is very familiar. One needs only to reference 2008’s Gran Torino, and hone in on Clint Eastwood’s central character, Walt Kowalski. Walt and Vincent are grumpy, antisocial bachelors who cuss and drink too much. Both are war veterans—Korea for Walt, Vietnam for Vincent.

Both movies involve a codger reluctantly befriending a boy neighbor, and eventually becoming a surrogate father figure. (This development is telegraphed in the St. Vincent trailer.) A similar plot dates back to 1934’s Little Miss Marker, based on a Damon Runyon story. In that movie, a crusty criminal (played by Adolphe Menjou) is paired with a moppet played by Shirley Temple.

It was remade as Sorrowful Jones, a 1949 Bob Hope flick. In 1980, the title reverted to Little Miss Marker, starring Walter Matthau as the rascally guy who befriends a youngster. Over the years, each star has put his own spin on the lead character. Bill Murray follows suit, and greatly succeeds.

In St. Vincent (explaining the title would be a spoiler), Murray’s Vincent is about as unfriendly as one can get. He has a stripper girlfriend, Daka, played with sleazy aplomb by Naomi Watts. She is more so a lady of the night because he has to pay her for sex. Outside of trips to the horserace track, Vincent rarely crosses paths with fellow humans, preferring to hole up in his cluttered house and drink to unconsciousness. When his new neighbors immediately impose on him by via tree damage, Vincent is livid.

Enter Melissa McCarthy, toned down to nearly non-comedic, a recently divorced single parent of middle schooler Oliver (terrifically played by Jaeden Lieberher). Her new job keeps her late the first day. That and Oliver being bullied at his new school play out with the boy having to knock on Vincent’s door for help. Ah, the not so beautiful start of a relationship encompassing humor and heartbreak.

There are complexities to the plot involving a nursing home, pregnancy, the bank, and Catholicism. OK, so maybe it is not that much like Little Miss Marker after all. For sure those other movies lack Bill Murray.

Despite an extremely trite and sappy conclusion, St. Vincent works.

Be sure to stick around for the unique credit crawl. It features Murray’s Vincent in a non-verbal bit which is better seen than described.

 

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