The Hills Have Eyes

How do you follow up on a directorial debut like Last House on the Left, the film whose posters warned you to “To Avoid Fainting Keep Repeating … It’s only a Movie?” If you’re Wes Craven, you load a van with equipment and young stars, head out to the Arizona desert and film, The Hills Have Eyes, starring an all American family that “didn’t want to kill, but didn’t want to die.” All advertising hoopla aside, it’s fun to settle back and watch what passed for horror in 1977. The film hasn’t aged well in some respects – the blood looks like red paint and the actors, for the most part, are too green to be believable. Still, there’s a spooky charm to it all as we watch the strange cannibalistic desert dwellers stalk the All-American vacationers hiding out in their comfy trailer home. You won’t have to remind yourself it’s only a movie, but if you cut the film some slack for being almost 40 years old you’ll have some late night movie fun. Be sure to check out the extras, both for the interview with Craven about making the film and the fascinating interview with star Michael Berryman about why he looks the way he does. 3 ½ stars

 

 

Approaching the Unknown

It takes a special kind of person to volunteer for a one-way ticket to Mars, and actor Mark Strong not only makes that kind of person believable, but sympathetic in ways you won’t imagine until you sign up, meaning push play on your DVD player, and take the ride with him. In the film Strong plays William D. Stanaforth a scientist who has made the trip to Mars possible because he has developed a technology that can turn soil into potable drinking water. It won’t matter if the Red Planet is made of dry, red dust; he can use his machine to not only survive, but to start a colonization movement of earthlings to Mars. Of course, something goes wrong along the way – in fact several things go wrong – and we get to watch how a man like Stanaforth reacts when faced with problems that nobody can solve for him. Try not to be too judgmental; chances are you couldn’t do any better. 3 stars

 

 

 

The Legend of Tarzan

Along with capturing the look and feel of what it must be to live in the jungle and be raised by apes, this film from director David Yates, director of the last four Harry Potter moves, does a fantastic job of recreating the feeling of an old fashion adventure movie. There’s a clearly defined hero, a mustachioed villain, a cause effecting the planet and a damsel who, although she find herself ‘in distress’ during the movie is strong enough to stand up to the bad guys because she knows her man won’t stop until she is free. It would almost be corny if it wasn’t played out so well on both sides of the camera. Alexander Skarsgård makes a good hero, whether he’s suited and booted as Lord John Clayton r stripped down and shirtless as the Lord of the Jungle. Samuel L. Jackson is OK as the American sidekick who tags along on the adventure, and Christoph Waltz is impressively sleazy as the bad guy out to enslave the natives in the name of his European King. The big surprise of the movie is Margot Robbie (The Suicide Squad) who gives the screen a Jane who is a strong female character who is more than able to take care of herself, especially when she partners with her husband to fight for a just cause. 3 ½ stars

 

Breaking a Monster

Co-written and directed by Luke Meyer (New World Order), this documentary follows the career path of a trio of 12-year-old inner city kids -- Alec Atkins, Malcolm Brickhouse and Jarad Dawkins – and their brief brush with musical fame as the band Unlocking the Truth. The reason for getting so much attention record executive and music managers is simple: they’re young black kids who play heavy metal music/ In other words, they are a musical oddity that everyone wants to take advantage of before the oddity wears off. It’s pretty clear from the start that their talent isn’t developed enough for all the hoopla surrounding them: the band has one song, Monster, that they play throughout the show and while it may have the feel of a metal song, it’s doesn’t sound near good enough for the record deal they sign (mainly because the lead singer, guitarist Malcolm Brickhouse isn’t a good singer. In the end, the film feels like a cross between The Emperor’s New Clothes and Spinal Tap: No one has the courage to tell the band the truth. 2 ½ stars