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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Polter-lite

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Thursday May 28, 05:51 pm
This remake of an iconic ‘80s horror is… passable

 Poltergeist

Cineplex

2.5/5

Let’s be clear right from the start: 1982’s Poltergeist was a wonderful horror movie. 2015’s version is not.

But let’s also be fair — unlike so many other tepid to terrible horror remakes, updating Poltergeist was far from a bad idea. It was definitely a movie that could benefit from modern gadgetry, and which could also work with updated social concerns.

Sadly, this Sam Raimi-produced remake is a half-baked one. There’s an effort to update both present concerns and poignancy by introducing issues like the mortgage crisis and the high unemployment rate in the U.S., but both end up amounting to nothing as the film settles into predictable grooves.

It’s not that Poltergeist 2015 is as bad as its lack of promotion by the studio suggests, however; it’s just… decent, which is a fairly damning thing to say about any horror movie, much less one based on a film as iconic as this is.

After getting laid off from his job, Eric Bowen and his young family are forced to relocate to a cheaper home, in a rundown development near an electric plant. The area is pretty desolate for a suburb, due to multiple foreclosures.

That sucks — and then things escalate from uncomfortable to scary very quickly. The neighbourhood was built on top of a burial ground, and the Bowens’ house is a portal to it. Unfortunately for the family, the younger daughter can communicate with the dead — and they badly want her to guide them out of purgatory.

There are some immediately noticeable cosmetic changes from the original: the cemetery is no longer an indigenous one, and all the family names have been changed (likely due to the unfortunate events that surrounded the original cast, including two untimely deaths). Yet the movie doesn’t have the nerve to give the new story its own rendering.

Rather than up the ante, this new Poltergeist doesn’t come up with new scares, it merely remixes the old ones (dead bodies floating back to the surface) or just multiplies them. In the original there was a single, unassuming clown doll that was unbelievably creepy. Now there are four terrifying-looking ones, and they’re a bit ho-hum. It’s hit and miss, overall.

But director Gil Kenan (Monster House) does get a couple of things right. The adult Bowens are suitably fed up and not all that great at parenting, yet they’re very much into each other, and Sam Rockwell (Moon) and Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married) fully inhabit their roles, in spite of being written as stock characters. The kids are too cute by half, and while the little girl lacks Heather O’Rourke’s haunting quality, the middle child makes up for it.

The movie remains on track until the last third, when the mandatory paranormal investigators show up. (The Bowens sidestep calling the cops.) The perennially misused Jared Harris (Mad Men) doesn’t seem particularly invested, and his team is completely forgettable.

As per usual, the 3-D factor adds very little to the proceedings and the gimmick alone doesn’t justify the remake. Since the original, there have been so many Poltergeist knock-offs (The Conjuring, Insidious, Sinister, to name just a few recent ones) that there’s no way this effort could feel fresh. Luckily, the tale remains entertaining — so while the remake won’t be memorable, there’s a good time to be had here.

Maybe not good enough to pay to see it in theatres, however.

 

Lambert & Stamp

Broadway

3/5

One of the smartest decisions made at the 2012 London Summer Olympics was to pick The Who as headliner of the closing ceremonies — a band so quintessentially British they feel like they were distilled in a lab.

There’s a reason for that, and Lambert & Stamp shines a light on the guys who put the band together and steered it during their most successful decade.

Originally, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp were more interested in film than in music, until The Who practically fell into the duo’s lap as they were trying to shoot a documentary on them.

With no knowledge of the record business but a keen eye for talent, the producers handed the artistic reins to Pete Townshend, while social-engineering the band’s fanbase. Lambert further defined The Who’s operatic tendencies by introducing the blue-collar guitarist to classical music.

While the band flourished under the pair’s unorthodox management style, Lambert began to fall apart in the early ‘70s, a victim of a life of excess and some serious emotional baggage. The breakup was rough, and there were casualties.

Because Lambert and Stamp fancied themselves new wave filmmakers, first-time director James D. Cooper has access to ridiculous amounts of footage of the band’s early days. And all the survivors of The Who’s wild ride are on hand for testimonies in hindsight. Some of the info is fascinating: Roger Daltrey and Townshend are to this day filled with regret over Keith Moon’s passing, and Pete can’t help feeling betrayed by the increasingly erratic Lambert in his later days.

Weirdly, Stamp (the film’s main interviewee) gets the shortest shrift, as the undeniably fascinating Lambert eclipses him even from beyond the grave.

While The Who gives Lambert & Stamp a reason to be, the documentary is disciplined enough to stay with the main subjects. (Keith Moon and John Entwistle’s deaths are only briefly addressed.) This may put off general audiences, but this is more a “deep cuts” than a “greatest hits” kind of movie.

 

Far from the Madding Crowd

Roxy (opens Friday 29)

3/5

Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg is a hard man to label. He’s responsible for the best Dogme 95 movie ever, The Celebration (1998), but it took him 14 years to make something of similar quality (The Hunt), with a lot of crap in between

Now he’s back with a competent, even-keeled adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic Far from the Madding Crowd. Set in Victorian England, Madding Crowd is the rare feminist novel of the period written outside the realm of Jane Austen, courtesy of the consistently bleak Hardy (Jude the Obscure, Tess of the d’Urbervilles).

Hardy wrote a few strong female characters, but none compare to Bathsheba Everdene (the inspiration for Katniss of The Hunger Games), the strong-willed owner of a sizeable farm. Bathsheba (Carey Mulligan) has a mind for business and no time for romance, but this doesn’t prevent three eligible bachelors from pursuing her: the farm’s foreman (Matthias Schoenaerts, Rust and Bone), a wealthy neighbour (Michael Sheen) and a callous military man (Tom Sturridge).

For all her worldliness, Bathsheba screws up her love-life at every turn, causing considerable pain to those around her. Yet, this is a woman marching to the beat of her own drum, so who’s to say whether she’s wrong or right?

The obvious point of comparison is the 1967 film version of the same novel, starring Julie Christie and Terence Stamp. Mulligan comes out on top in the battle of Bathshebas, as the stunning Christie appears too precious for the rough-and-tumble set-up. Sturridge isn’t as lucky against Stamp, whose magnetism was at his peak in the late ‘60s.

It also feels strange that the production values of the version made over 40 ago years seem vastly superior to the new film. Then again, it’s probably currently harder to get investors for a superhero-free period-piece than it was back in the day.

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