Tag Archives: Jackie Earle Haley

Movie Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

As a kid, my older sister tormented me with her video rentals, most of which were horror movies.  And of all the movies we watched, the one that was etched into my memory more than any other was A Nightmare on Elm Street (and its many sequels).

So of course, I was very excited about this new “reboot” of the franchise, especially with one of my favourite actors, Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen, Little Children, Shutter Island) playing Freddy Krueger.  Haley, while maybe not a physically imposing guy, has the uncanny ability to unsettle audiences with his creepiness, and I was sure he’d make a terrific Freddy.

The verdict?  Not great — one of those remakes that could have been a lot better, but on the bright side, could have also been far worse.

A Nightmare on Elm Street follows a familiar plot line to just about every other movie in the original franchise — a bunch of kids being terrified in their dreams by the horribly burnt, knife-fingered Freddy Krueger, except that if you die in your dream, you die in real life.

There is some attempt to make the story more compelling by inserting Freddy’s origins into the plot, and tying that to the central characters in the film to create a “mystery” that needs to be solved.  Not to say it worked, but at least they tried to give the characters an additional motivation to just simply staying alive.

The intention this time was to make Freddy more frightening as opposed to the wise-cracking, almost comical Freddy that he evolved into during the latter part of the original franchise.  This new Freddy is all malevolence and anger, though there is still a part of him that likes to toy with his victims.  For the most part, I think this is a welcoming aspect of the film, especially because Haley is so magnificently frightening, even without his make-up!

Speaking of Haley, I must say that he only half-worked as Freddy.  He did whatever he could with the character, but maybe it’s because I’m so used to the Robert Englund version that Haley’s version just didn’t quite feel right — like it was a poor man’s rip-off version of the real Freddy or something.  Englund’s prominent nose and impressive frame is replaced by Haley’s flatter nose and smaller frame, and even though they wore the same outfit and had the same burns (though Haley’s were more “realistic” thanks to improved prosthetics and CGI), it still took me a while to adjust.

I’m not sure if it would have been a good idea, but I would have liked to have seen them give Freddy a slightly new look — perhaps keep the burns and knives on the fingers but do something else with the rest of his outfit.  It would be destroying an iconic look but I felt like seeing something fresh rather than recycled.

What I liked about the film was that you didn’t really get a sense of who the main character(s) were right from the start, so you had a sense that anyone could die at any moment, or that perhaps this or that character may escape death for a while.

On the other hand, I do have two main gripes about the film (in addition to all the smaller gripes about the lack in logic I can forgive).  First, I hated how they telegraphed when a character was in a dream.  Almost every single time, it was bleeding obvious.  Doesn’t all the fun stem from the audience’s uncertainty as to whether a character is dreaming or not and their inability to tell the difference between the dream world and the real world?  Instead, we are basically told “he/she is dreaming now!” and we prepare ourselves for a Freddy’s appearance and/or a gruesome death.

Secondly, there was little innovation and originality in the deaths.  I think they simply recycled some of the better deaths from the original franchise and stuffed them in.  However, I wanted to see something new and creative, something unexpected and more shocking than just Freddy doing his thing with those fingers.

As for the young cast (ie apart from Haley), I actually don’t think they did too terrible of a job.  Kyle Gallner (The Haunting in Connecticut, Jennifer’s Body) is a veteran of these types of films now and he brings an uneasy presence to the screen — the clear stand out.  The others, Rooney Mara (Youth in Revolt), Thomas Dekker (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) and Twilight hunk Kellan Lutz were all solid — but Katie Cassidy delivered one of the most irritating performances of the year as Kris.  Nothing against her personally but she just tried too hard.

Apparently, A Nightmare on Elm Street has done well enough at the box-office for talks of sequels to be in the works.  I just hope that if they do continue this franchise, they be a little more innovative and creative next time, and not just try and cash in on the popularity of the original.

2.5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Shutter Island (2010)

I've already used the poster with Leo's mug in another post, so I decided to go with this one, which I actually like a lot more

[Note: I was supposed to read the book first, but I couldn’t wait.  Reading the book now.]

Shutter Island.  Based on the book by Dennis Lehane, award-winning author of Mystic River.  Directed by Martin Scorsese, Academy Award winner for The Departed (and director of such classics as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas). Cast includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Max von Sydow, and one of my favourites, Jackie Earle Haley.  Been looking forward to seeing it since I first heard about the production in 2008. Expectations: sky high.

So how was it?

Very good, but ultimately not the masterpiece I had been waiting for.

The story follows DiCaprio’s Teddy Daniels, a US Marshall summoned to Shutter Island in 1954 to investigate the disappearance of a patient at Ashcliffe, a mental hospital for the criminally insane.  A ripper of a premise, and you don’t even have to wait to see the island to know you’re in for a eerie, frighteningly atmospheric time.

Shutter Island is a wild, fantastic ride.  It’s one of those mysteries where you have to question everything that happens.  Naturally, in a mental hospital, you’d have to.  Why are people acting so strangely?  What secrets are being kept at Shutter Island?  Who can be trusted?  Just what the crap is going on?

You get that a lot when watching Shutter Island.  Scorsese has intentionally created a very disjointed, fragmented film that keeps the audience as confused as Teddy Daniels.  Flashbacks, dreams and visions come and go.  Words and actions consistently don’t make much sense.  Clues and red herrings are mixed in everywhere.  It was weird.  I even started questioning my own sanity by the end of the movie!

So no doubt, it’s a good film, but it was a bit too over the place for my liking.  I was intrigued but also increasingly frustrated as the movie progressed, and I never got into it emotionally like I thought I would.  And the ending, while well-executed, was not totally unexpected.  That said, I did like the last scene, especially the haunting final words.

Can’t complain about the performances though.  Leo is still awesome, Ruffalo is great, Gandhi is solid, and Rorshach (the new Freddy Krueger!) is still terrific as always.

3.5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Watchmen (2009)

I had been importing my short Flixter entries for all my movie reviews up to now, but I thought if any movie deserved a full review, it would be Watchmen, possibly the most anticipated movie of the year for many (unless Harry Potter 6 or Transformers 2 is more your thing).

Disclaimer: I will preface this review with two comments: (1) I am going to stick to my convention of not revealing much about the plot or what happens in the movie; (2) I have not read the Watchmen graphic novel yet (thought it might ruin the movie experience if I read it beforehand).

watchmen-poster

Watchmen (2009)

Director: Zack Snyder

Main cast: Malin Ackerman (Silk Spectre II), Billy Crudup (Dr Manhattan), Matthew Goode (Ozymandias), Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian), Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl II), Carla Gugino (Silk Spectre I)

Rating: USA: R, UK: 18, Australia: MA

Running time: 163 minutes

4 out of 5 stars

Watchmen is likely to be one of the most unusual films you will ever see.  It’s about superheroes, but it’s not your typical superhero movie.  Most of the superheroes don’t display any obvious supernatural abilities (which really just makes them people who like to fight crime and have costume fetishes).  It’s often difficult to discern who is good or evil, right or wrong.  Probably all of the main characters exhibit some form of mental disorder at varying levels of seriousness.  In a sense, they are the anti-superheroes.

As I said, I don’t like to reveal the plot for those that don’t want to know about it (but I assume most people who go to see it have a rough idea).  All I will say is that the story takes place in an alternate historical version of 1985, during the peak of the US/USSR Cold War.  This becomes clear in the opening sequences.

However, to some extent, it doesn’t really matter what the plot is about, because at its heart, Watchmen is a character movie.  The story is told in non-linear form, jumping from character to character and revealing their back stories through flashbacks.  There is a central line in the plot, a mystery waiting to be solved, but the focus is firmly on the characters – who they are, how they became the way they are, their personal struggles, their fears, desires, motivations and ambitions.  At the same time, there is this constant undercurrent about the nature of human beings, and in particular, their capacity (or lack thereof) for understanding and compassion.

The Watchmen graphic novel (by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins) first came out between 1986 and 1987, which explains the setting.  For many years, it was regarded as unadaptable, and after seeing this film, I got a sense of why that may have been the popular opinion.  It’s a shame that the movie was not made closer in time to the graphic novel, because the story reflects many of the contemporary anxieties of the American public of that period.  Many of those anxieties are still relevant today, but they have evolved (in the wake of 9/11) and the impact is not quite the same as it would have been.

Directing and Screenplay

Director Zack Snyder and writers David Hayter (who wrote the original script) and Alex Tse (who kept the best elements but amended much of it) should be commended on bringing Watchmen to life at last.  As I haven’t read the graphic novel, I cannot comment on how good the adaptation was, but as a standalone film, it was very good, though not great.  The difficulty may lie with the running length – at 163 minutes, it is very long for a superhero movie (though not as extraordinary as it would have been a few years ago) – but at the same time, you get a strange feeling that there was much more of this bizarre world yet to be explored.  Perhaps the director’s cut, which is supposedly 191 minutes (and coming out with the DVD), will be a more complete picture for those that want to see more of it.  For some, I imagine 163 minutes is already too much.

Acting

rorschach
Haley as Rorschach was amazing

The importance of the acting in a film like this cannot be understated.  For the most part, the actors in the lead roles delivered believable performances that traversed a plethora of emotions.  The clear standout would undoubtedly be Jackie Earle Haley as the freakish yet intriguing Rorschach, the best character by far.  You’re already impressed with him when he wears a mask that obscures his entire face.  You then become even more amazed when he takes off the mask.  Truly brilliant.

Not far behind is Patrick Wilson (Haley’s co-star in the magnificent Little Children), an extremely underrated and underappreciated actor who plays Nite Owl II, a slightly overweight and awkward social misfit.

If there is a weak link, it would have to be Matthew Goode’s Ozymandias.  While he may fit the bill physically (tall, lean and traditionally handsome), he doesn’t quite exude the charm and presence needed from the character.  Not to take anything away from Goode’s performance because it was adequate, but if you have to pick on someone it’s him.

Violence, Sex and Special Effects

Given the classification ratings for Watchmen, it’s not surprising that there is an abundance of incredibly bloody and gruesome violence (as well as ‘normal’ violence), a bit of sex and nudity (both real and assisted by special effects) and some coarse language (though not as much as I expected).  I’m glad they made this film for adults rather than worry about the classification and go for a toned down version that simply wouldn’t have worked.

The fight scenes were superbly choreographed – smooth, crisp and whole, thankfully avoiding the rapid cut scenes that have plagued action films of late.  And from the guy who directed 300, I would have expected nothing less.  On the other hand, Snyder didn’t shy away from some of the more frightening scenes either, displaying the pain, gore and blood in all its glory.

As for the special effects – they were good, but certainly not groundbreaking.  They did a fairly decent job with Billy Crudup’s Doctor Manhattan, but there were times when you could easily spot things that were completely computer generated (not that you would expect them to build the real thing).

Conclusion

On the whole, Watchmen was very very good – but it fell considerably short of the masterpiece some it expected to be.  It may seem unfair, but you cannot NOT compare the film to its source material (or at least its reputation if you haven’t read it), which is considered by many to be the greatest graphic novel of all time.

There were some absolutely brilliant sequences littered throughout this movie, but it was more scattered than consistent.  Those expecting an all-out action flick might be disappointed because there are quite a few ‘dull’ character development moments in between.  I assume there will probably be 4 broad classes of reactions to Watchmen: (1) loved the graphic novel and therefore loved the movie; (2) loved the graphic novel but felt the film did not do it justice; (3) haven’t read the graphic novel and now want to after seeing the film; (4) thought it was weird and stupid and didn’t get it.

I put myself in the third category.