Fright Night, One Day, Sarah's Key, Another Earth, Hobo with a Shotgun 



If you weren't around in 1985 to enjoy it, the original Fright Night is worth a Netflix rental, thanks to its fleet-footed approach to the vampire genre and a lovely performance by Roddy McDowall as Peter Vincent, a late-night horror-show host who helps teenage hero Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) defeat the bloodsucker (Chris Sarandon) who lives next door.

The new souped-up version, also called Fright Night, isn't bad as far as these needless remakes go. It's for the most part well cast, contains some slyly wicked scenes that equal anything in the original, and expands some of the characters in interesting ways. It's a shame, then, that the movie botches its version of Peter Vincent, and even more unfortunate that the third act is a furious mishmash of unsatisfying plot developments, unexceptional confrontations and, depending where and how it's viewed, 3-D blurriness.

On the plus side, 22-year-old Anton Yelchin (Chekov in the Star Trek reboot) is believably conflicted as the teenage protagonist, Toni Collette nicely fleshes out her role as his mom (the part in the original was a nonentity), and Colin Farrell is aces as Jerry, the suave, sexy vampire who prefers tight T-shirts to billowy capes. Changing the setting to a Las Vegas suburb, where transient neighbors aren't as likely to be missed should Jerry elect to sup on one, is also an inspired move.

Yet Peter Vincent (named in '85 as a tribute to horror legends Peter Cushing and Vincent Price) is no longer a poignant figure -- a fading actor-host with nothing but memories -- but has instead been reconfigured as a boozy Vegas magician (played by Doctor Who's David Tennant) who (insert eye roll here) sports a Batman-esque past that largely leads to the late-inning shenanigans.

Given this character's British accent, flowing mane, boozy disposition and initial air of insouciance, it's a wonder they didn't bypass Tennant altogether and just send the limo to pluck Russell Brand off the Arthur set.



The title of the film One Day refers to July 15, though in truth, it refers to over two decades worth of that date. Beginning on July 15, 1988, when Brits Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) graduate from college, attempt a one-night stand and then decide to remain lifelong friends instead, the picture checks in on the lives of the pair every July 15 through the present day. It's a high-concept gimmick that could go either way, and this one ends up parting straight down the middle.

Emma starts out gawky, reclusive and toiling in obscurity, while Dexter is confident, charismatic and famous. The ensuing years impart the expected A Star Is Born career switcharoo, but the focus is mainly on the personal lives of these two best friends and whether they'll eventually decide if they should become romantically entwined or if they should even be buddies anymore (as Emma notes during one of Dexter's obnoxious phases, "I love you, Dext; I just don't like you anymore").

Considering director Lone Scherfig's previous film was 2009's excellent An Education -- one of the best films of recent years -- it's impossible to consider the frequently choppy One Day anything besides a disappointment. Still, that's not to say it's a total washout: The movie nicely captures the whiplash collision of youthful optimism with strenuous reality, and Hathaway and Sturgess are fine together and even better in their individual scenes.

I would be even easier on the film if it wasn't for the last-act tragedy, a grotesque and clumsy development that's less a logical procession of the story and more a shameless stab at multiplex manipulation and pandering.



Wartime complicity takes center stage in Sarah's Key, an involving drama about a woman who reawakens a nation's shame as she tries to piece together a mystery buried in the past.

Based on Tatiana De Rosnay's novel, this stars Kristen Scott Thomas as Julia Jarmond, an American journalist who decides to research the the Parisian apartment that's been in her husband's family since some time during World War II. She soon learns that the previous occupants were the Starzynskis, who like many other Jews were rounded up by French officials in collusion with Germany. As Julia tries to discover the fates of the Starzynski family members -- particularly Sarah, who was a child at the time -- flashbacks allow us to track the events that transpired during and after the war.

It's almost a given that the flashback scenes involving Jewish persecution are more weighty -- and thus more involving -- than the contemporary sequences in which Julia primarily bickers with her husband (Frederic Pierrot) over her unexpected pregnancy. And I wish more time had been dedicated to the intriguing question of whether it's always best to keep history alive or whether it's desirable in some instances to allow it to lay dormant.

Yet the movie offers a unique angle on a familiar tragedy, and the performances by Thomas and especially Melusine Mayance (as the young Sarah) are key to the picture's success.



In one of those cinematic chicken-or-the-egg conundrums, viewers are left to wonder what came first to the folks who wrote Another Earth: a storyline that led to a Twilight Zone-ish ending, or a Twilight Zone-ish ending that led to the story preceding it? After all, the film's final shot is such a fanciful gotcha moment that it's easy to believe writer-director Mike Cahill and writer-star Brit Marling conceived it before anything else and then figured it was brilliant enough to overshadow any shortcomings. Hardly.

Another Earth begins with the discovery of another planet in our solar system that's just like ours. Here on our Earth, however, promising MIT student Rhoda Williams (Marling) has just been released from a jail stint for having killed innocent people -- a small boy and his pregnant mother -- in a drunk-driving incident. Rhoda goes to the home of the survivor, composer John Burroughs (William Mapother), to apologize, but she loses her nerve and, without revealing her identity, instead becomes his housecleaner and, eventually, lover.

The movie's small-scale story about redemption is meant to dovetail with its larger one involving the newly discovered planet, but it's an uncomfortable fit, with the more fascinating aspects of the tale taking a back seat to the rote patterns of its rocky romance. As for that ending, it raises some obvious questions that are presumably answered on that other Earth, but watching it on this Earth doesn't make it any more satisfying.



Rutger Hauer is the show, the whole show, and nothing but the show in Hobo with a Shotgun, a throwback that, for all its bloodletting and supposed shock value, feels comparatively conventional and tame.

A nod to '70s grindhouse, '80s Troma, and any era's Death Wish-styled vigilantism, Hobo -- the second film in the new Back Alley Film Series (go to www.backalleyfilmseries.com for details) -- finds Hauer delivering a deeply committed, even moving, performance as the title vagrant, who lands in a town ruled by a tyrannical madman known as The Drake (Brian Downey).

Disgusted by the violence he witnesses and feeling protective of a battered prostitute (Molly Dunsworth) he takes under his wing (in a relationship similar to the one between Chaplin and Goddard in Modern Times, complete with dreams of suburban bliss), the hobo decides that it's up to him to make this town respectable -- via shotgun, obviously.

Hobo with a Shotgun automatically taps into the cathartic pleasure of seeing scumbags go down -- whether it's a sadistic videographer or a pedophile in a Santa suit -- but get past the organ grinding and crimson cascades and there's very little of the go-for-broke zaniness that defined, say, Troma's The Toxic Avenger or even a Corman caper like Death Race 2000. And as far as grindhouse homages are concerned, last year's Machete easily chops this one down to size.




More by Matt Brunson

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    • Oct 19, 2016
  • Review: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
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    Niceties have fallen by the wayside for this dreary sequel, which seems to exist for the sole purpose of serving as a vanity project for its aging star (who also produced).
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  • Review: The Accountant
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    Smart movies tend to avoid offering obvious patterns, imbecilic narrative coincidences, and imploding third acts. Unfortunately, The Accountant isn’t that smart.
    • Oct 11, 2016
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