Goosebumps Suffers From Scripting Issues But Is Still Spooky Fun

Courtesy:  Sony Pictures Home Entertainment/Columbia Pictures

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment/Columbia Pictures

Prequels, sequels, and remakes. It seems that there is no end in sight to Hollywood’s trend of churning out prequels, sequels, and remakes. Even the biopics and “based on actual events” flicks that were once so prevalent have largely taken a back seat to all of the prequels, sequels, and remakes out there and on the way. That is not to say that they are nonexistent. But they are not as prevalent right now as the aforementioned offerings from Hollywood’s major studios. So whenever a movie that is not a prequel, sequel, or remake hits theaters it is a reason to celebrate. However in the case of Columbia Pictures’ adaptation of author R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books and FOX Kids TV series there was not as much reason to celebrate as one might hope. That remains the case now that the movie has been released on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital platforms. The movie is a fun turn-off-your brain flick that fans of Stine’s Goosebumps franchise will enjoy. It is also a nice escape from the endless stream of prequels, sequels, and remakes being churned out by Hollywood’s major studios. But it is anything but perfect. It has its flaws. They are mainly in the story’s writing. That will be discussed shortly. Its flaws aside, it still has enough positives to make it a breath of fresh air at a time when Hollywood is polluting theaters and store shelves with its endless ocean of prequels, sequels, and remakes if only a small breath.

Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s new take on author R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps franchise is a breath of fresh air in a seemingly endless ocean of prequels, sequels, and remakes that is drowning audiences and theaters figuratively speaking. That is thanks in large part to the movie’s writing. The writing team of Darren Lemke, Scott Alexander, and Larry Karaszewski crafted a story that does something few if any other literary-based movies do.  It takes Stine’s beloved family friendly horror stories and their characters, and uses them for a story that really is a tribute to Stine and his legacy in the literary world. This is important to note first because so many other movies based on books just take said books and essentially re-imagines them. On another level it doesn’t go the comic book to screen route either. So many movies based on comic books just throw a bunch of different story arcs together from different issues to make one story. Lemke and his partners don’t go that route either. It just uses Stine’s characters and stories as the basis for a story that pays tribute to said characters and stories in its own original tale. It is a story that sees Stine (played here by Jack Black—Shallow Hal, School of Rock, Kung-Fu Panda Trilogy) having to work with his “daughter” (hint: she isn’t really his daughter. That is all that will be revealed here in terms of that) and two local boys in order to get his literary monsters back in their books. The thing is that the search for the escaped monsters is caused by one of the two boys—Zach (Dylan Minnette—R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour, Scandal, Lost). This is where things with the writing become a little bit dicey.

The overall approach taken to Goosebumps by its trio of writers is in itself a major positive to this take on R.L. Stine’s beloved literary franchise. As positive as the trio’s approach proves to be for the movie’s presentation the script in whole suffers from having so many hands in the proverbial pot. Having so many hands in the pot led the script to develop some noticeable plot issues beginning with the story’s setup. If not for Zach and his friend Champ (who is randomly introduced only minutes ahead of the key scene) sneaking into Stine’s house in search of Stine’s “daughter” Hannah (Odeya Rush – The Odd Life of Timothy Green, The Giver, We Are What We Are) then the monsters might never have gotten free. That is because the whole chain of events was set off by Zach. And it wasn’t accidental either. If not for his impulsive behavior (brought on largely by teenage hormones) then the hunt for Stine’s monsters never would have happened. In other words Zach and company end up having to solve a problem that was caused by Zach in the first place. Sound familiar? Disney and Marvel studios used a similar plotline for its recent blockbuster sequel The Avengers: Age of Ultron. The Avengers had to stop a megalo-maniacal robot created by one of their own in that movie. I.E. they had to clean up a mess ultimately created by one of their own. Many of the classic creature features that were so popular in the 1950s and 60s also ended up centering on the American military having to stop giant mutant monsters that they created through their nuclear testing. Of course the military never told the populace that they caused the problem along the way. The Avengers 2 was very similar in this fashion and so was Goosebumps. Stine and company never make it known that Zach essentially caused the problem. So it goes without saying that Goosebumps’ core plot is anything but original. What’s more, as with those older movies, there is a giant, gaping plot hole in that the only ones that know the cause of the conflict are the ones that caused the conflict in the first place. Why are they the only ones that know? This has always been a sorely overlooked issue with monster movies. And it needs to be addressed by writers, studio heads, critics, and audiences alike. It is just one of the problems that weighs down this monster movie, too. There is also an issue in character introduction/development that must be addressed within the movie’s script.

The major issue with Goosebumps’ story is its setup. It is a setup that presents an age-old plot hole which reaches all the way back to the creature features of the 1950s and 60s. It’s just one of the problems that weighs down this script. Another major problem with this movie’s script lies in the introduction of Zach’s friend Champ (Ryan Lee – Super 8, This Is 40, Trophy Wife). Zach is randomly introduced in a school assembly scene about a quarter of the way through the movie. This comes after Zach had told his mother Gale (played by Amy Ryan – Birdman, Gone Baby Gone, Escape Plan) that he didn’t want anyone knowing that he was the new kid at the school where Gale was the new vice principal. Now if he didn’t want anyone knowing he was the new kid, how did Champ know at the assembly that Zach was the new kid? There was no background offered on this within the context of the movie’s script or in any bonus material. That makes this very much a problematic plot hole especially being that the two just happen to get along and cause the very problem which sets up the movie’s central story line. Again, it is just one more of so many problems presented in the movie’s script. There is one more problem—a dual-part problem—that must be addressed. That problem lies in the relationship between Zach and Hannah.

The central story line behind Goosebumps’ and the random introduction of Champ into the story are in themselves a couple of very problematic issues with the movie’s script. They are not the only issues that the movie’s script presents either. The relationship between Zach and Hannah is one more problem that must be addressed. That is because it actually presents three major issues that cannot be overlooked. The first problem lies in the pair’s relationship. The high school, puppy-love scenario is anything but original in the horror movie genre. The boy next door falling for the girl next door, who is herself in grave danger is one of the most overly used story elements in the world of horror movies. In other words, it is yet another unoriginal aspect thrown into the movie. Moving forward in the script, the story’s final scene presents its own problem. The scene in question won’t be revealed for the sake of those that have yet to see the movie. But needless to say it plays back into a statement made by Hannah earlier in the movie in regards to her revelation about her identity. Considering the revelation and that final scene it essentially negates everything that had developed between the pair. This includes the related issue of Zach even searching for Hannah early on when he thought something had happened to her. Since she was obviously in the house when he and Champ went looking for her, how could she have not heard them in the basement in the first place? Why did it take Zach and Champ getting into Stine’s study for her to find them? One would think that this would have been addressed before script went to screen. If she had stopped them early on they might have never made it to Stine’s study and in turn caused the problem that led to the movie’s central story. It all comes full circle. And being all tied together, all of the noted issues with the movie’s scripting show why three heads are not better than two and for that matter that two heads are not better than one. Luckily for viewers, for all of the script’s problems those problems don’t make Goosebumps entirely unwatchable. The movie’s special effects department does its part to make the movie watchable as do some of the cast members.

There are a number of problems with Goosebumps in regards to its script, as noted. As a matter of fact there are even more problems than just the trio that are listed here. For all of the problems posed by the movie’s script, they are not enough to make the movie a total loss. There actually are some positives other than just the writers’ overall approach to the movie. Another of those positives is the work of the movie’s special effects department. The special effects department is to be applauded for its work in bringing to life Stine’s monsters. From Slappy the dummy to the abominable snowman to the giant praying mantis and the evil gnomes every one of the monsters resurrected for this movie look outstanding. It is obvious that they are computer generated. But even in being computer generated those behind their creation went to painstaking efforts to make them not look like just another bunch of computer generated creatures. To a certain point their design throws back to the monsters of the old creature features from the 1950s and 60s. This is especially the case with the blob and the mantis. It is obvious not just in their design but in how they move, too. Little elements like that make them all the more believable and enjoyable to watch as they wreak havoc on the town. Being so believable makes them all the more enjoyable to watch, yet again exhibiting why the work of the movie’s special effects department proves to be so important to Goosebumps’ presentation. It is not the last notable positive involved in this movie. The cast’s work in front of the camera is just as notable as that of the special effects department.

The approach taken to Goosebumps in regards to its overall story and the work of the movie’s special effects department are both key to the movie’s presentation. While both elements are important in their own right to the movie’s presentation they are not the only notable positives. The work of the cast is just as notable as the movie’s other positives. This is especially the case with Jack Black. Black is billed as the movie’s lead. But in watching the movie he is in reality more of a supporting character even playing the famed children’s horror author. The lead roles belong to his younger counterparts. Black shows throughout that he understands this and never tries to take over any of the scenes, opting instead to let his younger cohorts have their time in the spotlight. What’s more audiences will note that the buffoonery for which he is commonly known is nearly nonexistent in his portrayal of Stine. That is not to say that he doesn’t have a few moments in which that side of him comes out. But even when they do they are few and far between. Rather Black takes his experience and centers it in a way that gives his humor a drier, more focused presentation. For those that have ever seen the real life R.L. Stine interview, this means that Black’s portrayal of Stine is pretty close even with his occasional moments of goofiness. On a related note Ryan Scott Lee is just as entertaining as Champ. In all honesty it could be argued that he actually outshines Minnette with his portrayal of the high-strung and somewhat neurotic Champ. One can’t help but laugh as he pleads with Minnette about going into Stine’s basement versus being Zach’s lookout. He easily could have hammed it up in this moment. But instead he nailed the moment. And when he saves the girl from the werewolf later in the movie his momentary hesitance, while small, shows great character growth. For that he is to be applauded just as much. Of course Minnette is entertaining in his own right as he plays the hormonally challenged Zach. Audiences won’t be able to help but laugh at his portrayal at least somewhat because of the number of male leads that have been so much like Zach in other horror movies. Minnette never overdoes it in his portrayal. But he does just enough to make it clear that he is poking some fun at those male characters. His work is just one more way in which the work of Goosebumps’ cast proves to be just as important to the movie as that of the movie’s special effects department and its writers for their overall approach to the story. Even with the number of problems with the movie’s script the overall approach to the story still sits as a key element to the movie’s presentation. And together with the work of those both in front of and behind the camera the movie proves in whole to be good, spooky fun for the whole family.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and Columbia Pictures’ new Goosebumps feature is an interesting new take of R.L. Stine’s literary franchise. That is because it presents an approach unlike most other movies based on literary works. Yes, it presents a number of problems in its scripting. But luckily those problems, while glaring, are not enough to make the movie completely unwatchable. That is because the work of the movie’s cast and its special effects makes up for the script’s various problems. In the end the movie proves that while it might have flopped at the box office (it hemorrhaged money right from the get go in terms of ticket sales, and only got worse from there) it is still a movie that anyone familiar with the Goosebumps franchise will agree is good, spooky fun that is worth at least one watch if no more. It is available now in stores and online on DVD and Blu-ray/DVD combo pack.

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

The Haunting Hour Volume Six Offers Audiences Even More Scary Fun

Courtesy:  Shout! Factory/The Hub Network

Courtesy: Shout! Factory/The Hub Network

The sixth and latest volume of episodes from R.L. Stine’s hugely popular series, The Haunting Hour offers four more frightful tales of terror for viewers off all ages.  And it’s not the end for fans of the hit series, either.  Volume Six brings home even more episodes from the series’ second season just in time for the start of the series’ fourth season.  Volume Six is another fright-filled joy for viewers not only because it continues the tradition of offering wonderfully fright-filled stories, but also because it carries on the traditions established throughout the series’ previous volumes.  From the disclaimer encouraging parents to be parents and watch the show with their kids to including young well-known guest stars, it’s all here once more, making Volume Six one more must have for any kid and kid at heart.

The Haunting Hour Volume Six brings to viewers four more episodes from the series’ second season.  And just as with Volume Five, the first of those episodes is split into two parts.  The episode in question, titled “Creature Feature” is also one of the best from this set.  This episode sees a young classic film buff named John (Joel Courtney—Super 8) discovering that sometimes it isn’t just a movie.  He discovers this after being accidentally pulled into one of his favorite classic B-flicks at a haunted drive-in.  The twist comes when he escapes the movie.  It turns out that the movie was much more real than he or even his friends could have imagined.  In another of the season’s best episodes, the show’s writers pay homage in their own way to Rod Serling’s classic series, The Twilight Zone in “Brush With Madness.”  This episode sees teen comic book aficionado Corey (Dylan Minnette–Awake) getting to meet his favorite comic book artist, Allan Miller (Mackenzie Gray) at a comic book convention.  After being blown off by Miller, Corey takes Miller’s brushes, which leads to an ever more tense fight to stay alive.  These two stories are just a couple of examples of the scary fun offered up by R.L. Stine in Volume Six of The Haunting Hour.  There is much more in the remaining episodes that audiences will enjoy.  And it’s not the only reason that parents and kids alike will enjoy this latest release.

Volume Six is just as impressive as the series’ previous releases because it continues the traditions established in said compilations.  One of those traditions is the inclusion of a straight forward disclaimer before each episode.  The disclaimer states in no uncertain terms that the show may not be suitable for children under the age of seven, and that young viewers should only watch the show with their parents.  This is a polite yet straightforward way of telling parents that they need to step up and be parents, rather than just leave their kids to watch anything.  They need to take an active role in their children’s lives and make their own decision on what they think their children should watch.  This is a standard established from early on by The Hub network.  And it is good to see that those behind the show have continued it six volumes in.

The inclusion of a polite yet straightforward disclaimer at the start of each episode is an important part of the whole presentation.  It’s not the only important part of the whole.  Also continued in Volume Six is the tradition of bringing in famous young celebrities in select episodes.  This time out, Super 8 stars Joel Courtney and Riley Griffiths guest star in two of the compilation’s best episodes.  Also on board this time out are Julia Benson (SGU: Stargate Universe) and Dylan Minnette (Awake).  While some younger viewers may not recognize all of these names, parents are more apt to know who they are, thus helping to encourage parents to take an active role in their kids’ lives and watch the show with them.  Along with the disclaimer before each episode, it’s one more ingenious way to get parents to get involved in what their kids are watching.  For that, those responsible for bringing the guest stars for these episodes are to be commended.  Those behind the show as a whole are to be commended.  Not just for these brilliant methods, but for crafting four more episodes full of fright-filled for the entire family.  Volume Six is available now in stores and online and can be ordered direct from the Shout! Factory store at http://www.shoutfactory.com/node/217799.  More information on this and other shows from Shout! Factory and The Hub Network is available online at http://www.shoutfactory.com, http://www.facebook.com/shoutfactoryofficial and http://www.hubworld.com.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

The Scary Fun Keeps Coming In The Haunting Hour Volume Five

Courtesy:  Shout! Factory/The Hub Network

Courtesy: Shout! Factory/The Hub Network

The fifth volume in author R.L. Stine’s spine tingling series, The Haunting Hour is another spine tingling compilation that is just as much scary fun for kids as it is for adults.  Right from the outset of each episode, parents will be smiling thanks to a small but important addition.  That addition is a disclaimer about just how scary each episode can potentially be depending on a viewer’s age.  From there, kids and parents will enjoy watching all four episodes included in this compilation (one of the episodes is split into two parts) because of how scary they are.  As an added bonus, parents will appreciate the episodes because of the lessons that are taught in such subtle fashion.  All said and done, The Haunting Hour Volume Five is one more wonderful and wonderfully scary addition to any young horror fan’s collection.

Ever since its inception years ago, the ratings system used for television shows has come under a lot of fire.  It has come under fire because of its inconsistencies and ambiguous nature.  So the inclusion of a disclaimer at the beginning of each episode is an important addition to the compilation.  The disclaimer spells out in no uncertain terms that some of the included episodes may be too scary for some younger viewers.  And rather than just using the standard “parents discretion is advised” line, the people behind the show took another road in telling parents and children that they should watch the show together.  Believe it or not, this is HUGE.  It’s saying without saying that parents need to be more involved with their children and be parents.  It’s saying that parents need to see what their kids are watching so that they can make a responsible decision on what they think their children should or shouldn’t watch.  All parties involved in making this happen are to be highly commended for this subtle yet at the same time blatant statement.

Having been told that they should watch the show with their children, parents and children will both appreciate the scares and chills offered in each episode.  Even parents will have to admit that even in Volume Five, there are some scary stories, starting with the two-part episode, “Scary Mary.”  This episode sees young Hanna (Eva Allen) and her friends learning the dangers of peer pressure.  It all starts when she and her friends decide to play what they think is a harmless paranormal based game called “Scary Mary.”  It just so happens that the game is just like a certain paranormal game that some people try to play in real life, which is just as dangerous and should not be attempted.  It also plays on a very real belief about the paranormal linked to mirrors and spirits.  Anyone with any understanding of the paranormal will appreciate that inclusion.    The set’s second episode, “Swarmin’ Norman” teaches another valuable lesson to young viewers.  It teaches the lesson that revenge is a dish best served cold.  On top of that it teaches about the dangers of getting power hungry.  It offers both through the story of a young boy named Norman (Bobby Coleman) who learns that he can control insects after being bullied one time too many.  He had great power.  But he didn’t use it responsibly.  The result was quite deadly to say the least.  These episodes are just a couple of examples of why parents will love to use The Haunting Hour Volume Five this Halloween for their children’s Halloween parties.  Of course, there is still another reason that this set is such a scary joy.  That reason is the guest spots.

The people behind The Haunting Hour have made a tradition of including young well-known guest stars to help drive the show’s popularity.  The episodes culled for Volume Five are no different.  This time out, Frankie Jonas (Jonas L.A.), Liam James (The Killing), Dakota Goyo (Real Steel), and Jean-Luc Bilodeau (Kyle XY) make appearances.  Goyo stars as a young boy named Josh on a flight sharing a seat with a ghost that only he can see.  The problem is that the ghost in question is trying to get away from the Grim Reaper, who is also on board the flight.  Liam James and Frankie Jonas share the screen in the set’s closing episode, “Pumpkinhead.”  And Jean-Luc Biloddeau guests in the set’s opening episode.  This continued inclusion of younger stars will definitely help to bring in younger viewers.  And together with the aforementioned factors, the total presentation that is The Haunting Hour Volume Five turns out to be another welcome addition to any young horror lover’s home collection.  It is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered direct online from Shout! Factory’s online store at http://www.shoutfactory.com/node/217796.  More information on this and other releases from Shout! Factory and Hub Network is available online at http:/www.shoutfactory.com, http://www.facebook.com/shoutfactoryofficial, and http://www.hubworld.com.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Taz-Mania Season One Volume One Another Welcome Unearthing From Warner Home Video

Courtesy:  Warner Home Video

Courtesy: Warner Home Video

Warner Brothers has largely started off 2013 in successful fashion.  Its only major missteps so far this year have been its DVD and Blu-ray release of Hats Off to Dr. Seuss and Tiny Toon Adventures Volume 4.  Save for those two problematic releases, Warner Home Video has largely seen more success through the first two quarters of the year.  Now Warner Home Video has started off its new quarter by catching its footing in the first half of Taz-Mania Season One. Taz-Mania Season One Volume One is one of many candidates for the best children’s DVDs and Blu-rays of 2013.  That’s because unlike the company’s previous missteps, this release gets almost everything right.  The only downside to this set is something that has plagued many of its releases so far this year.  And that will be discussed later.

Taz-Mania Season One Volume One is a welcome release from Warner Home Video.  This relic of a bygone era is one more example of everything that made not only children’s programming great, but also television in general.  As audiences will see in Season 1.0, Taz-Mania made both children’s programming and television in general so great because unlike the cartoons that pollute television’s channel lineups today, it’s a cartoon that even today families can watch together.  That’s thanks first and foremost to the show’s writing.  The show’s writing is witty and clever.  It’s taut enough that adults won’t feel like they’re being dumbed down.  At the same time, it offers just enough comedy for even today’s younger viewers to find themselves laughing.  The constant fights between Taz and Molly are something to which both adults and kids alike can relate, and thus at which adults and kids alike can laugh.  And Taz’s constant adventures with his fellow characters are just as enjoyable.  Viewers of every age will love watching Taz go diving for undersea treasure with Digeri Dingo, facing off against Francis X. Bushlad, and even taking on a part-time job in hopes of getting his own motorcycle.  There’s even a heartfelt story telling how Taz first got his pet, Dog the turtle.  If it doesn’t pull at a viewer’s heartstrings, nothing will.  There is so much more that audiences will enjoy from this first half of Season One.  This is just a taste of what kids and kids at heart can expect from this set.

The witty, clever writing of Taz-Mania makes it a great addition to any Looney Tunes fan’s library regardless of whether one is seeing it for the first time or for the first time again.  It’s just one part of the show’s success.  The animation style is another plus to this modern classic cartoon.  So many of today’s “cartoons” are cartoons in the loosest sense possible; those that are at all.  For the most part, most of today’s kids programming is dominated by CGI created shows and live action fodder for tweens and teens.  Those rare hand-drawn cartoons that are left have been spit-shined.  Taz-Mania is the exact opposite.  Its more “rough” animation style is a throwback to the classic days of animation.  It doesn’t have the finely defined borders and background designs of so many of today’s cartoons.  It really serves to help Taz-Mania develop its own identity, even among other cartoons from its era.  In its own right, one could even argue that Taz-Mania’s animation style is a direct throwback to the golden era of Looney Tunes.  That makes this double-disc set even more worth watching regardless of one’s age.

The writing and animation in the first half of Taz-Mania’s debut season are both big factors in the show’s success.  There is at least one more factor to consider in determining whether Warner Home Video’s people have succeeded with this latest release.  That factor is the double-disc set’s packaging.  The packaging is by and large, a success.  It follows the same formula that has become the norm for multi-disc box sets.  Both of the set’s discs are placed on their own spot inside the standard size DVD case.  As with any other set packaged in this fashion, it protects the discs from scratching and in turn, increases their longevity.  The discs themselves are the only real downside to the entire set.  Anyone that has picked up any previously released sets from WHV this year will notice that the people at WHV have not put a whole lot of thought into appeal on the discs.  Sure, there are designs on both discs.  But both discs are splashed in a single, flat tone.  It would have been nice to see a full color design rather than something that looks like someone took a paint brush and ran it right over a bunch of clear designs.  This is a minor issue.  But it still plays a part in the overall picture.  This might be as simple as a cost-cutting measure.  If so, it’s understandable.  Otherwise, this is something that the people at WHV will hopefully fix with any of its upcoming release. The double-disc set is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered direct online from the WB shop at http://www.wbshop.com/product/tazmania+taz+on+the+loose+season+1+part+1+1000303587.do?sortby=bestSellers&from=Search.

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.