Review

Halloween Movie Picks 2017

I love Halloween. One of my favorite things to do is to load up on the horror and thriller films. Below are my 2017 recommendations currently available on various streaming services. Let me know if you have seen any of these. Let me know if see any based on my recommendations. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Netflix

Train to Busan: If you only see one film for Halloween, this should be it. Train to Busan shines in the Zombie genre. Superbly acted, directed and produced, the film tells the story of a father and daughter’s harrowing train journey to reach the only city that has not been affected by a massive zombie outbreak. A real nail biter.

Korean with English subtitles.

What Happened to Monday: This is my second must-see after Train to Busan. What Happened to Monday is a dystopian thriller where overpopulation and famine have forced governments to undertake a draconian one child policy. The film follows the story of seven identical sisters living a hide-and-seek existence. Brilliantly directed and produced, Noomi Rapace is superb playing the part of seven distinct sisters. I feel this film is a severely overlooked gem.

Hush: If you loved Wait Until Dark, then you are going to love this one. Hush tells the story of a deaf woman who lives a near solitary life in the woods and fights for her life when a masked killer suddenly appears. Supremely suspenseful.

The Void: If you loved John Carpenter’s The Thing, then this one is for you. After a police officer rushes an injured man to an understaffed hospital, mysterious figures surround the building’s exterior as strange things begin to happen inside. The plot can be confusing at times, but this film made my list for its texture, visuals and throwback feel.

Death Note: Many did not like this American, live-action remake of the popular Japanese manga series because it deviated from the original. I liked it for that very reason. Why re-enact the original? I think this version has excellent texture and tone. Death Note follows Light, a high school student who discovers a supernatural notebook from a demon named Ryuk (played brilliantly by Willem Dafoe) that grants its user the ability to kill anyone whose name and face he knows. Both the American live-action remake and the animated original are available on Netflix.

The Windmill: A young woman on the run attempts to evade authorities by joining a tour of Holland’s windmills. When the bus breaks down in the middle of nowhere, she and the other tourists, who, like her, have a dark secret, are forced to seek shelter in a windmill where a legendary Devil-worshiping miller once grounded the bones of locals. They start dropping one by one in rather gruesome ways. Definitely the goriest film on this list.

Notable classics on Netflix: Children of the Corn, The Legend of Hell House, Hellraiser, Sleepy Hollow and The Nightmare Before Christmas.

 

Amazon Prime

Sleep Tight: A concierge who believes he was born without the ability to be happy decides to make everyone in his building miserable. While most of his tenants are easy to upset, one young and very cheerful woman proves herself to be a challenge in his quest to spread misery. He goes to the extremes to make this woman lose it.

Spanish with English subtitles.

Pan’s Labyrinth: Set a few years after the end of the Spanish Civil War and during World War II, Pan’s Labyrinth tells the story of young girl named Ophelia and her mother who arrive at the post of her mother’s new husband, a merciless military captain (played by Sergi López, who brilliantly embodies Franco’s fascism) who is working to suppress a revolt in the area. In the middle of this, Ophelia explores an ancient maze where she encounters a faun named Pan (based on the ancient Greek deity of shepherds and flocks) who tells her that she must complete three tasks in order to become immortal. This film is beautiful, dark and seems apposite to what is currently going on in Spain and Catalan.

Spanish with English subtitles.

Notable classics on Amazon Prime: The Oblong Box, The Blob and Pumpkinhead.

 

Hulu

The Babadook: A child’s recurrent tantrums become ominous when a creepy children’s book mysteriously appears in his room and he asks his widowed mother, “Do you want to die?” The Babadook is a snaggletoothed, black-hatted monster with the ability to inflict harm and just scare the hell out of you!

Room 237: Okay, this is technically not a horror film, but a documentary about the horror classic, The Shining (a favorite film of mine). It is so good that I had to include it on this list. Interestingly, Hulu has placed it in the “Stephen King” category, which is kind of funny because the film notes how much Stephen King disliked the film version of his novel.

Click here to read last year’s picks.

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Motown: The Musical (Review)

The first time I ever played a record on my own was in 1972, when my parents bought me a compact record player that, when closed, could not be distinguished from a suitcase.  Since I didn’t yet have any records of my own, I went to their collection and played a 45 of “Love Child” by The Supremes. On that day I became a life-long fan of The Supremes, Diana Ross and the now legendary Motown sound.Love Child 45 Record

Over the last couple of years several Broadway productions have been mounted that pay tribute to favorite singers of mine, most notably, A Night With Janis Joplin and Forever Dusty. I have been hesitant about seeing these shows because I never saw these singers live. Of course I have seen videos, but they simply do not compare to seeing and hearing someone sing live. I feel a little left out. I remember being awed by a video of Janis Joplin’s electric performance at the Monterey Pop Festival. Interestingly, someone filmed Mamma Cass Elliot’s (who was an awesome singer in her own right) reaction to Joplin’s performance and she is visibly blown away, her lips silently saying, “Wow!” I initially had mixed feelings when my sister, a fellow Motown devotee, gave me tickets to see Motown: The Musical. I wish I could have seen Marvin Gaye, Mary Wells and, of course, The Supremes live. Regardless of what I missed, I went in with an open heart and mind and was not disappointed.

Motown: The Musical explores a uniquely American institution, and its role in history.  Motown’s cultural contributions are enormous and this show bears that out.  Perhaps Motown’s greatest contribution is the way music brought people together; blacks and whites loved the music. The show does not shy away from issues like racism, segregation, poverty and war; in fact, the manner in which they are addressed felt quite germane. This was perhaps best depicted through Marvin Gaye’s timeless classic, “What’s Going On” —which was beautifully sung and performed by Jarran Muse, who magnificently captured Gaye’s sensuality, sensitivity and vocal power.

The actress playing Diana Ross, Felicia Boswell, had some big high-heel stilettos to fill. While she does not look like Diana Ross (many of the actors bore little physical resemblance to the people they were playing), she remarkably managed to capture the essence of Ross’ singing voice and, to an extent, her vibrant charisma. One of the most memorable moments is when the show re-enacts Ross’ first solo concert without The Supremes: singing “Reach Out and Touch” Boswell ventures into the audience bringing people on stage to sing with her. I have had debates with people who criticize Ross’ singing voice as weak—yes, it is not as strong as some of her contemporaries, but it is still rich, layered and vastly expressive. I have always been moved by her sincere singing in songs like “Mahogany” and “Touch me in the Morning.” Then there is Ross’ undeniable presence and star power—Boswell partially captures this, but “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing.”

One of my favorite moments was when the audience meets The Jackson 5 for the first time.  Raymond Luke, who played Michael Jackson, was nothing short of remarkable. The audience reaction was equally stunning: it was almost as if a young Michael Jackson was really up on the stage! Perhaps the most unexpected moment was when the audience meets Rick James, played with absolute bravado by Eric LaJuan Summers. All I can say is that you have to see it for yourself.

I was quite disturbed by Tracy McDowell’s attempt to recreate Teena Marie’s singing—-get a better singer or cut this song out!  Another curious moment is when Florence Ballard (Allison Semmes) begins behaving unpredictably and Berry Gordy, ( Brandon Victor Dixon) says, “The pressure of fame is vicious. Not everyone can go the distance.” I could have sworn I heard a few bars of “And I am Telling You”, from Dreamgirls, played on the piano.

The show makes good use of the stage, successfully integrating set pieces with video. The costumes were colorful without losing period authenticity.  The orchestra captured the Motown sound, making excellent use of tambourines, melodic electric bass-guitar lines, and orchestral strings.

Overall, I enjoyed Motown: The Musical and recommend seeing it. The music, singing and acting were excellent.  However, at times it feels like there is too much crammed into this show. Gordy, who wrote the show’s book, seemed determined to mention every act from Motown’s long roster. Gladys Knight and the Pips were only with the label briefly, considered second string and found their greatest success after leaving Motown.  Yet, they surprisingly make a brief appearance in this show. More than 50 songs are performed, many abridged, with the best presented in concert.

Gordy’s story is Motown’s story and both are truly notable and should be depicted onstage. However this show doesn’t quite do the story justice. Ultimately, this show is about great songs that have stood the test of time and will likely not be thought of in the context of this show.  The songs, and those who sang them, firmly stand on their own.

Playing at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, 205 West 46th Street, Manhattan, (877) 250-2929, http://www.motownthemusical.com/. Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes.