Archive for the ‘Martin Donovan’ Category

MOVIE: The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)

July 28, 2009

About two years ago, I saw a documentary on the Discovery Channel called A Haunting in Connecticut (2002).  It was about a teenage boy with cancer whose family thought they had gotten lucky when a rental house just five minutes from the hospital became available cheap.  After months of many-hour drives to and from the cancer ward, they signed the lease no-questions-asked and moved right in, despite the fact finances were tight and it meant splitting the family up (Mom and kids moved into the rental, Dad stayed behind to work and only came out on weekends).   As it turned out, financial problems and cancer were about to become their most minor of concerns.  Cuz that rental house?  Was such a bargain because it A) used to be a funeral home, and therefore B) was haunted.

Despite the cheesiness of that description, I actually rather enjoyed this two-hour documentary.  So, when I heard the same tale was being turned into a scary movie, I was kind of excited to see it.  I love ghost stories, and this one was pretty creepy even when acted out by unrecognizable TV extras.  Polish it up a bit and throw in Martin Donovan and Virginia Madsen as the Campbell family parents, and heck, we might really be in for something kind of good here.

Now, for the record, I watched this movie in the most perfect setting imaginable — well, wait, I guess the MOST perfect setting imaginable would’ve been an actual haunted funeral home (sahweet!).  But certainly it was the NEXT most perfect setting imaginable.   We had just bought a new tent for a camping trip and I decided to pitch it in the backyard two weekends ago and sleep in it.  For kicks.  So, there I was, alone in a tent in the dark, surrounded by the sound of unidentified animals scampering through the crackling branches of the trees and the periodic rustling of leaves.

And, of course, the gentle whirring of the fan in my laptop, which I had in the tent with me running off an extension cord.  Because what is camping without wi-fi, I ask you?  It’s not the Stone Age anymore, hippies.

In any case, I settled in.  It was dark.  It was spooky.  I was all set to be scared.  I hit play and. . . LORD HAVE MERCY!  THE TERROR!!  THE HORROR!!  THE. . . oh wait, that was just the incident with the big bug in my tent.  The movie?  Not scary at all.

I never know who to blame for stuff like this, so I’m going to go ahead and blame the director and the two guys who wrote the screenplay (Peter Cornwell, Adam Simon, and Tim Metcalfe, respectively) because while they may not have been in charge of everything that went wrong with this picture, they were still the three most responsible, at least from where I sit.  So, here’s the thing — Les Trois Stooges took everything that was effectively unsettling about the original Discovery Channel documentary and replaced it with all the same dumb stuff we’ve seen 86 gazillion times.  And then, just in case we’d only seen them 85 gazillion times, they made sure to punctuate every scary moment with a harpy-inspired shriek from a  violin.  As if to say, “HEY, GUYS, YOU GOT THAT THAT WAS ONE OF THE SCARY PARTS, RIGHT?”

Yeah, dudes, we got it.

By overdoing all the ghost stuff, to the point of gotta-look-away grossness (eyelids: no!), they turned this movie into a ridiculous ew-fest instead of an entertaining eek-fest.  There is nothing scary about grossness — it’s just gross.  And what really bugged me is that they made changes to the original story that could’ve been improvements if they’d committed to them.  In the documentary, Matt (the teenager with cancer) and his little brother share the basement room, and both of them see things during the night.  In the movie, though, Matt lives down there alone.  And because he’s also in the middle of an experimental treatment for his cancer, we start to wonder for a while whether or not the ghosts are truly out there in the real world, or simply flitting around in his brain right next to a big metastasizing tumor.  Then everybody else started seeing them too and the intriguing part of the suspense was lost.  And yes, they were making a “true story,” so they had to make the ghosts real to the whole family, blah blah blah.  But they changed a lot of other stuff, ostensibly to “improve” it, after all, and you know what would be truly scary?  If you were being haunted by ghosts that were only in your own head.  If the terror was just as real, the experiences just as visceral, but it wasn’t really there.  Isn’t that one of everybody’s biggest fears?  Fear of madness that goes that far and has its source in something completely out of your control?

Damn, that would’ve been an interesting picture.

This one, not so much.

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Genre:  Horror
Cast:  Martin Donovan, Virginia Madsen, Elias Koteas, Kyle Gallner, Amanda Crew

MOVIE: Wind Chill (2007)

October 25, 2007

I watched this movie under the absolute, most-perfect horror-movie-watching settings imaginable — in a dark room, from 10pm to midnight, on a Saturday night, completely alone. And I have no idea if that contributed to the film’s success for me, but I sure did end up enjoying this one, even though it wasn’t the “scary” parts I actually thought were good.

The movie opens with a young woman (the characters are never named, so I’ll just call her “Girl,” played by Emily Blunt from The Devil Wears Prada) in a college lecture ignoring her professor and texting her friend. It soon becomes clear she’s about to head home for the holiday break and that she needs to bum a ride from someone or else she’s going to be stuck ridin’ the Big Gray Dog. Her texty friend suggests she check the ride board, so she does, and lo and behold, there’s a guy (“Boy,” played by Ashton Holmes) from her class who is going to the same town. They agree to drive together and share the cost of gas and promptly head out for the five hour drive later that afternoon.

It fairly quickly becomes clear to the audience that Boy is madly in love with Girl and has set this whole thing up, but it takes Girl a little longer to figure it out. When Boy stops for gas, and then takes the next exit off the freeway and into the snowy wilderness, Girl is understandably freaked out. Boy explains he wanted to woo her with the scenic route, but she’s still pretty wigged. This state of mind is worsened when a car appears out of nowhere and promptly runs them off the road. Whoopsie!

Long story short(er), they’re now stranded in the middle of the snowy nowhere in the dark, with no supplies and very little gas left with which to heat the car. Annnnnnd then the ghosts start showin’ up. . .

Now, the ghostly elements of this story (focused around a dead cop, played by the always-gorgeous Martin Donovan, who used to kill people along that stretch of road and is still trying to do so from the grave) are about as scary as your average episode of Supernatural (which is to say, not very). What I liked about this film, though, was the interaction between Boy and Girl, which I found authentic and engaging. It’s not easy to make an entertaining movie about two people stuck in a car, and yet the director and two actors really managed to pull this off (in my opinion, anyway).

Despite a few quibbles with it that I won’t get into, I truly enjoyed this flick and can definitely see myself watching it again some day. Is it brilliant? No. Is it scary? Not really (though it has a few decent BOO! moments). But if you watch it in the dark on a stormy night, you may find yourself sinking all the way into its story, a sensation I rather enjoy, myself.

Recommended!

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Genre: Thriller/horror

Cast: Ashton Holmes, Emily Blunt, Martin Donovan

MOVIE: Weeds: Season Two (2006)

September 6, 2007

Once again, I have to say, this is one of the funniest (and also saddest) television shows of all time (it’s on Showtime, by the way). I loved Season Two, in no small part because they kept Martin Donovan around for the whole thing (though, alas, based on what happens in the final episode, he must not be back for Season Three? Wait, don’t answer that! I have to wait for the DVD!), but also because the characters really began to grow into their roles, and the relationships between all the various family members started to get more intense and realistic. In short, the show really grew up this season, and yet still managed to stay incredibly funny in some ridiculously entertaining and juvenile ways (frankly, everything that comes out of Justin Kirk’s mouth (Andy Botwin on the show) just makes me snicker like a 14 year-old — he’s awesome).

I did have a few problems with this season, however, and, ironically, most of those had to do with . . . Martin Donovan. He’s a tremendous actor and I have been absolutely mad about him for as long as I can remember (one of the greatest crooked smiles of all time, I must say, and how could you NOT fall in love with his Ralph Touchett in Portrait of a Lady? I die every time I see him in that movie — from drowning in my OWN DROOL. It’s quite embarrassing. And also, messy.). For further evidence of his gorgeousosity, please see photo to right.

I rest my case.

(Incidentally, you may have noticed his old Boyfriend write-up is, shall we say, “very succinct.” This is because he was one of the first ten actors ever featured on the site, before I was archiving the write-ups! Alas!)

However, and I think this was more a problem with the script than with Marty himself, his character’s change from sweetheart to monster was unbelievably abrupt — it didn’t feel real, and that made the whole ending of the season really hard for me to process. It went from blissful joy (well, sort of) to holy-shit in what felt like split seconds to me (possibly because I watched all 12 episodes in two days and they’re only 30 minutes long each, so the whole season went by in a flash), and I didn’t have time to digest the changes in Martin’s character before he was already kind of out of the picture.

In any case, this series, about a recently -widowed soccer mom who turns to pot dealing to support her family, is absolutely, hands-down one of the funniest shows I have EVER SEEN, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Kevin Nealon and Elizabeth Perkins were making me pee my pants with the giggles this season, and the whole show is getting more intense and more grown-up with each passing episode. It’s brilliant — check it out!

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Genre: TV series (comedy/drama)

Cast: Mary-Louise Parker, Martin Donovan, Kevin Nealon, Elizabeth Perkins, Romany Malco, Justin Kirk, Tonye Pattano