Is there such a thing as a successful remake anymore? After seeing Fright Night the answer is (surprisingly) a resounding “Yes.” Craig Gillespie’s shiny reimagining of the 1985 kitsch classic is very much its own movie but like any good spawn it doesn’t forget where it came from.
The film’s plot is not born of a novel concept. Las Vegas teenager Charlie (Anton Yelchin) is doing just fine. He managed to shake his nerd image he’s got a hot girlfriend (Imogen Poots) and he even puts the de facto cool kids to shame on occasion. Life’s pretty great until he meets the neighbor: Jerry (Colin Farrell). People are disappearing and Charlie’s old friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) has a theory: Jerry’s a vampire. Armed with only the vampirical evidence doled out by Criss Angel reincarnate Peter Vincent (David Tennant) Charlie is forced to defend himself his mother (Toni Collette) and his girlfriend from the silver pointy clutches of Jerry the vampire’s endless blood-lust. And a suspenseful hilarious time ensues.
Fright Night is successful in large part because it keeps things simple. Charlie: good. Jerry: 16 shades of blood-curdling evil. Game set match. It’s scary and gory with a dash of humor – essentially a good old-fashioned senseless horror flick with a glossy big-budget cover. It’s cleverly self-aware and expends great effort to lend a sense of quality to something that promises to be nothing more than a bloody slasher flick. But the bottom line is that it works.
And the cast is big part of that. Farrell’s bloodsucker is the antidote our Twilight-riddled generation so desperately needs; this is what vampires are supposed to be. His twitchy growling yet somehow seductive vampire successfully strikes a precarious balance along the sexy-scary line and while the role doesn’t demand a great deal of Farrell's talent he’s fully committed to his psychotic relentlessly violent character and the result is deliciously despicable.
As for our band of plucky good guys Yelchin is perfectly adequate as our hero. He’s likeable he’s trustworthy and he holds his own amongst onscreen presences that threaten to drown him – Mintz-Plasse Farrell and Tennant are tough acts to outshine. Collette is generally wasted – anyone could play her part but she does what she can with the material she’s dealt. Poots really shines here; it’s almost surprising that she’s able to bring such much power to the typical girlfriend role but she manages to make her character more than just a love interest. But of course the one man who stands above the entire cast is Tennant who’s all but eliminated from the trailers for the film. The former Doctor Who star jumps into the mainstream as Peter Vincent Las Vegas performer and vampire expert extraordinaire and every minute he’s onscreen is comedy gold. His timing delivery stature and expressions are all pitch perfect. His performance alone is worth giving Fright Night two hours of your time.
Of course Gillespie makes some very stark choices with the film. The dark scenes are almost too dark; it takes a few scenes to adjust to the lighting much like being suddenly shut in a dark room. And while it’s probably not great for anyone’s ocular health it really heightens the element of fear. Then there’s the element of 3-D which is thoroughly used throughout. At first it borders on schlocky but when the vampy action gets going everything from blood to holy water to fire comes bursting out of the screen and lends an enjoyable but decidedly B-movie flair to the whole ordeal.
While the story wheels out of control leans heavily on ridiculously convenient solutions and generally has only two goals – fear and bloodshed – the film itself is so much fun that those elements don’t really matter. If you’re looking for something to stimulate your intellect run like hell from this movie but if you want two hours of unadulterated messy creepy fun look no further than Fright Night.
Dinner for Schmucks is based on a French film but don’t hold that against it. Its similarities to Le Diner de Cons Francis Veber’s 1998 farce about a group of cynical publishing executives who host a weekly “dinner for idiots ” are primarily conceptual. To make it suitable for American audiences director Jay Roach (of Austin Powers and Meet the Parents fame) and screenwriters David Guion and Michael Handelman safely cleansed their big-budget adaptation of any smoking philandering “mean-spiritedness ” or any other icky behavior that might make some of us Yanks uncomfortable. Whew.
Preeminent straight man Paul Rudd (Role Models I Love You Man) plays Tim an ambitious young investment banker on the verge of joining the elite ranks at his firm. But in order to be fully inducted into the executive inner circle he must first participate in a peculiar ritual called the “Dinner for Winners ” a monthly event hosted by his boss Lance (Bruce Greenwood) to which each attendee is charged with bringing a high-functioning dimwit for the rest of the guests to ridicule. More than just a company tradition it’s an opportunity for high-climbers like Tim to prove their mettle in an area crucial to the success of stereotypically cutthroat businessmen: exhibiting callous disregard for those who exist on the fringes of society. Needless to say attendance at the dinner is not optional.
Tim believes he’s found the ideal dinner guest when he literally runs into Barry (Steve Carell) a clumsy bespectacled IRS employee whose great passion in life involves staging elaborate dioramas with taxidermic mice. Several of Barry’s exquisitely strange creations dubbed “mouseterpieces ” are depicted in the film’s opening sequence which proudly nods to the intricate quirk of Wes Anderson. (Its soundtrack even apes his musical tastes playing an obscure song from a legendary rock band: the Beatles’ Fool on the Hill a melancholy little number that cost a paltry $1.5 million to license.)
That’s where the comparisons to Anderson’s work end. As a director Roach’s greatest asset has always been his ability to assemble a group of talented comic actors and hand them the reigns trusting that they’ll produce enough funny material for him to sow together into a relatively cohesive piece. It’s what fueled Roach’s better works like the first Austin Powers flick and it’s ultimately what saves Dinner for Schmucks from falling victim to the director’s less admirable qualities namely a penchant for contrived and predictable situational humor an over-reliance on cheap physical and sight gags and a general disregard for plot and pacing.
Carell has carved a lucrative niche for himself playing charmingly oblivious goofballs of varying levels of competence and he earns every dime of his reported $15 million paycheck in this film. Rudd’s character for all his caustic wit isn’t nearly as manipulative or amoral as his French counterpart; we never truly believe him capable of deliberately humiliating an innocent like Barry even if he does drive a Porsche.
But they labor heroically to make the most of their suboptimal comedic circumstances forming an amiable intermittently hilarious odd-couple dynamic as Tim struggles to contain the chaos wrought by Barry. That combined with the efforts of Jemaine Clement and Zach Galifianakis both sublime in supporting roles are what ultimately what elevate the film above its meagre material. These are guys who could send us into hysterics reading a grocery list which in this case would constitute an upgrade over the Dinner for Schmucks screenplay.
Although actor/screenwriter Mike White writes with hilarious wit for his comrade in comedy Jack Black--in films such as School of Rock and Orange County--he is also becoming a master at the slice-of-life dramedy. With The Good Girl he expertly gave us a bored married woman stuck in a nowhere job trying to capture a little happiness. Now with Year of the Dog he hands us the ultimate sad sack Peggy (Molly Shannon) who is practically inseparable from her beagle Pencil. Life is uncomplicated and safe with her beloved pet an excuse she uses to great effect in order to avoid human contact as much as possible. But Peggy's world comes crashing down when Pencil meets a mysterious demise in the neighbor's yard. Shattered Peggy isn’t sure where to turn to fill the void. Friends family and co-workers try to distract her but in the end she emerges from her loss with a newfound sense of what will make her happy in the world. Molly Shannon huh? The SNL alum has generally been relegated to kooky sidekick roles after her disastrous (but somewhat guilty pleasure-ish) starring vehicle Superstar. But who knew she had the chops to pull something like this off. She’s perfect as the lonely downcast Peggy who has completely resigned herself to living with her dog as her only companion. Shannon gets to show off her wacky side in certain moments--like when she “adopts” about 20 dogs and lets them run all over her house--but the actress plays the majority of her role with restraint and great subtlety. Also quite good is Peter Sarsgaard as a fellow dog lover who starts off as a potential love interest for Peggy but ends up disappointing her like all the other humans in her life. His character’s unassumingly sweet and charming personality still wins you over even when he’s being a jerk to Peggy. Someone needs to give him an Oscar. In supporting roles there’s John C. Reilly as a blowhard and hunting enthusiast who lives next door to Peggy (and could be the reason Pencil died in the first place); Thomas McCarthy and Laura Dern as Peggy’s concerned but rather uptight brother and sister-in-law; and finally Regina King as Peggy’s saucy workmate just trying to give her friend a little excitement. Kudos all around. Mike White also tries his hand at wielding the camera for the first time with Year of the Dog--and much like his minimalist writing style he keeps the action fairly simple and focused. He seems to love the one-on-one scenes with his characters sitting across from each other--either in the living room at a lunch table or a desk--oftentimes with filled with long uncomfortable (or sometimes very comfortable) silences. Static yes but White obviously realizes his movies are more about what’s being said (or not being said) than the visuals. He also shows a real talent in guiding his actors to pitch-perfect performances--a very important part of being a good director. Of course not a lot happens in Year of the Dog which can be a drawback to indie movies of this ilk. It could be considered a giant bore-fest if you can’t connect with people who love their pets way too much. But if you can settle in and really listen to White’s quirky but ultimately realistic view on life as its dealt out you’ll really enjoy this stellar effort from the burgeoning filmmaking talent.