Friday, October 16, 2015

Goosebumps [2015]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-II)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars) (3 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (K. Walsh) review (G.Kenny) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

I have to admit that I went quite skeptically to Goosebumps [2015] (directed by Rob Letterman [wikip] [IMDb], screenplay by Daren Lemke [IMDb], screen story by Scott Alexander [IMDb] and Larry Karaszewski [IMDb] based on the wildly popular children's books [GR] [Amzn] of R.L. Stein [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]).

And the first 10-15 minutes which setup the film were NOT great:

Teenager Zach (played by Dylan Minnette) and his mom, Gale (played by Amy Ryan) move back to Gale's small hometown back in Delaware (from NYC...) a year after her husband's / Zach's dad's death.  Zach, pulled out from his high school to a new one, has to make new friends in a new, "quainter" environment.  It turns out that there's a teenage girl named Hannah (played by Odeya Rush), who lives next door, 'cept he's still not gonna know anyone when he starts school there (in the middle of the school year) 'cause she's being "home schooled." 

Things IMHO got decidedly creepier when it becomes clear she's being homeschooled by her rather intense / "off" dad (played by Jack Black), (where's her mom?) who he seems to spend a lot of time "protecting her" by yelling at her and whoever (by chance) would come close her (like Zach).

Once when the yelling coming from Hannah / her dad's house seems particularly bad, Zach even calls the police.  When the two Mayberry-like cops do show up, this sets up (for me) the most problematic line in the whole film:  Hannah's dad, explains to the two rather clueless cops responding to the call that he was simply playing a tape quite loudly on his sound-system, and asks them: "Are you here to harass me simply because I'm an audiophile?"  Yes, one of the cops hears pedophile and tries to arrest him but she's stopped by the other cop who heard him "correctly."  STILL I FOUND THIS EXCHANGE UNBELIEVABLY CREEPY ... and CERTAINLY NOT WORTH any "joke" to be found there...


It turns out that Hannah's dad is R.L. Stein or perhaps "R.L. Stein" (a fictionalized version of himself) who, like the actual R.L. Stein [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb], was a wildly successful "children's scary book writer."

Stein explains to Zach as well as Zach's nerdy tag-along friend named "Champ" (played by Ryan Lee) who Zach's made in these first few days at his new high school, that when he (Stein) was young, he himself was very, very nerdy, and eventually closed in on himself and started to write, BUT he got to be SUCH A GOOD WRITER that the MONSTERS that he created STARTED TO BECOME "REAL" ... So he had to keep them, these "Demons" of his, "under lock and key" (locked inside his books).

Well, Stein's introversion "issues" begin to explain why Stein had no wife (and why Hannah had no mother ...) and perhaps even his behavior towards Hannah his daughter.  He really was closed in on himself, even if apparently quite successful as a writer.  (I still found all this worrisome, but at least it began to be understandable now ...).

BUT as one STARTS TO "understand" the dad, a new problem occurs:

Some of his "demons" / "monsters" that have been "locked-up in his books," are accidently "set free" by the inadvertent actions of Zach and his friend.  SO ... soon the entire previously "sleepy little town" is being assaulted by a truly _remarkably diverse_ set of monsters (coming from R.L. Stein's books), led by an truly inspired and now _goofily_ creepy / evil ventriloquist's dummy named "Slappy" (voiced again by Jack Black).  Honestly, "SLAPPY" "STEALS" THE FILM and one REALLY wants to ... ;-).

Anyway, much ensues as Zach, Hannah, "Champ" and Hannah's dad try to round-up and put all those "monsters" / "demons" back into their books.  Much of this is indeed very funny / quite inspired.

There is however a creepiness in the film's first 15 minutes that's hard to let go of.  I did, finally, and did enjoy much of the film.  But is it an excuse for domestic violence, or ... even worse?  I do hope not, but I do raise the question ...   

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