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Movie reviews: ‘Haunted Mansion’ delivers the ride’s mild happy haunts



Twenty years ago Disney brought one of their popular theme park rides to cinematic life with the horror-comedy “Haunted Mansion.” Eddie Murphy played a realtor who valued money over family, until they all get trapped in the mansion and learn valuable life lessons. Despite some laughs and near non-stop oddball action, it flopped at the box office, and even Murphy admitted, “it wasn’t good.”

The ride, however, has remained popular, and now, two decades along, Disney is attempting to bring the scary attraction back from the dead on the big screen.

Set in New Orleans, “Haunted Mansion” stars Rosario Dawson as single mother Gabbie. On the search for a new life with her young son Travis (Chase Dillon), she’s looking for a home she can turn into a bed and breakfast. Her search comes to an end when she finds a rundown mansion that suits their budget. It needs a deep clean and some de-cobwebbing, and looks like no one has lived there for years (“lived” being the operative word) but the price is right.

“This place isn’t as warm as I hoped,” she says to Travis, “but I need you to give this place a chance. This is our home now.”

When things start going bump in the night, however, it soon becomes apparent why the mansion was such a bargain.

“This house is dripping with souls,” says the Hatbox Ghost (Jared Leto). “But there’s always room for one more.”

To combat the home’s malevolent spirits Gabbie brings in a ragtag crew of ghostbusters, priest Kent (Owen Wilson), the highly Yelp rated French Quarter psychic Harriet (Tiffany Haddish), paranormal tour guide Ben (LaKeith Stanfield), and tetchy historian Bruce (Danny DeVito).

“I should warn you before you step into the house,” Gabbie says, “this could change the course of your entire life.”

“I’m not afraid of a couple ghosts,” says Ben.

“You say that now,” Gabbie replies ominously.

“Haunted Mansion” evokes the iconic Disney ride, keeping the thrills family friendly and the jump scares that have been part of the theme park experience for decades.

What is new is the emphasis on grief and loss. Both Ben and Travis are stinging from the recent deaths of loved ones, and while it feels wedged in, their shared anguish gives the movie an emotional undercurrent it would not otherwise have.

Stanfield, in his first outing as the lead in a big family film, delivers laughs while also serving as straight man to the broader performances of Haddish, Wilson and DeVito. The movie, which gets off to a slow start, but finds its feet when the supporting cast of misfits shows up.

Before it becomes awash in CGI and spectacle in its last act, “Haunted Mansion” has kind of an old-fashioned feel that falls in line with the old-school vibe of the ride. It delivers the ride’s mild “happy haunts,” some Easter Eggs for fans and quirky, character-based humor that binds it all together. It doesn’t offer the same kind of thrills as the theme park attraction, but it is a massive improvement on the original film, and could be a good introduction to horror for younger viewers.


By the mid-1990s Beanie Babies, the heart-tagged, soft plush toys with names like Princess Bear and Bubbles the Fish, were not only collected for the fun of it, but also as a financial investment. The world’s first Internet sensation, the rarest of the $5 stuffies could fetch upwards of $500,000 in the collector’s market.

Before the Beanie consumer craze bubble burst, a lot of people got rich, including creator H. Ty Warner, the subject of “The Beanie Bubble,” a new true crime movie starring Zach Galifianakis and Elizabeth Banks, now on Apple TV+ and in select theatres across Canada.

Loosely based on real events and adapted from Zac Bissonnette’s book “The Great Beanie Baby Bubble,” the film zips back-and-forth between the 1980s and 1990s to tell the story of the three unsung heroes largely responsible for the success of the Beanie Babies.

The story of greed, betrayal and power begins with Warner (Galifianakis), a college dropout looking for the next big thing. He found it with the Beanies, plush toys with cute names, under-stuffed for maximum “pose-ability.”

“Genius,” he says with more than a hint of self-congratulation in his voice, “is one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent presentation.”

The cute toys are not, however, an immediate hit. Enter the real focus of the story, executive Robbie (Banks), Ty’s love interest Sheila (“Succession” star Sarah Snook) and innovative tech genius Maya (Geraldine Viswanathan). Here the film splinters, telling the tale of how these three women in three timelines, helped fuel the thermonuclear success of the Beanie Babies.

In each case Warner lured these talented women into his orbit, only to deny them the profits and power their work generated.

“Ty will tell you he did it all,” Robbie says. “Which is as crazy as believing stuffed animals are gold.”

Structurally, this breezy look at the inequity women experience as part of the American Dream, is occasionally confusing as the broken timeline jumps from decade-to-decade, seemingly randomly. But the intercutting between storylines does effectively emphasize Warner’s ongoing abuse, and paints a vivid portrait of how his narcissism shaped not only his life and career, but the lives and careers of those around him.

Galifianakis steps away from his trademarked broad, awkward comedy to play Warner with a certain amount of pathos. That innate sadness, usually masked by a loud bravado, brings some humanity to the character, and prevents him from feeling like an un-filmed subplot from “Horrible Bosses.”

He is the catalyst for the action, but the real story here is one of resilience. The three female characters are discriminated against and struggle for credit and recognition, but each draw on a deep well of determination to create the lives they want. It’s a success story, but not just of the Beanie Babies. The real successes here are Robbie, Sheila and Maya who discover their agency.

“The Beanie Bubble” isn’t a business story. The phenomenal success of the stuffed animals is the engine that keeps the story moving forward, but this is really a character-driven tale about people who find a way to balance the inequity in their lives.


“Prisoner’s Daughter,” a new drama starring Kate Beckinsale and Brian Cox, and now on VOD, is a story of a father, a daughter and second chances.

When we first meet one-time Las Vegas showgirl Maxine (Beckinsale) she is a broke single mom, with a deadbeat ex-husband named Tyler (Tyson Ritter) and Ezra (Christopher Convery), her sweet-natured teenage son. Despite never having paid alimony, Tyler, an abusive addict, wants more control over Ezra’s life. Ezra, meanwhile, is bullied at school, and in need of epilepsy medication Maxine can barely afford.

Maxine’s father Max (Cox) has, by his own admission, been in jail “more times than I care to remember,” but has left his violent ways in the past. “I’m not that guy anymore.”

Max is about to be released from prison on compassionate grounds, after a twelve-year stretch. Diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, he will be discharged if, and only if, he lives with Maxine and Ezra in their small home.

Maxine, still stung by her father’s abandonment years ago, reluctantly agrees but on one condition.

“You pay me rent,” she says. “You’re a tenant, that’s it.”

She wants nothing to do with her dad. For her, this is a business deal that will help her pay mounting bills.

As Max settles in, he putters around the place, doing some long-needed repairs, teaching Ezra how to handle himself on the playground and calling in favors from his shady friends. With just months left to live, he is searching for reconciliation and redemption.

“I know none of this will make up for who I was, or what I did,” he says to Maxine, “but let me be your father for once.”

“Prisoner’s Daughter” has many predictable elements as the ex-con father and his extended family find a new way to be a family, but Hardwicke’s delicate world building, as she presents the stark realities of Maxine’s life, and her efforts to atone for the mistakes of her past and point Ezra on the right track, bring great humanity to the tale.

Audiences expecting Cox to reprise his “Succession” role may be disappointed. Cox does let the old bull run free, bringing an air of menace to Max, but here the performance is tempered by tenderness. He’s a man plagued with regret, trying to unravel the tangled knots in his relationship with Maxine. The connection he builds with Ezra, even when he is teaching the youngster how to fight, is also shrouded in warmth.

Max is tough, but Maxine has a different kind of resolve. Beckinsale gives the character a backstory, a history of abuse that has toughened Maxine, and given her a sense of determination to survive at all costs. She does so with a steely brand of humour, and a great deal of sincerity.


“North of Normal,” a new coming-of-age movie now playing in theatres, tells the unlikely, but true story of Cea Sunrise Person from her off-the-grid beginnings in the wilderness of Alberta and British Columbia to the runways of the fashion world.

Based on Person’s 2014 memoir, “North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Counterculture Family, and How I Survived Both,” the movie jumps in time between Cea’s upbringing in the flower power 1970s and her reunion, after a long break, with her free-spirited mother Michelle (Sarah Gadon) in the 1980s.

The story begins in Kootenay Plains, Alberta on a commune run by Michelle’s father “Papa Dick” (Robert Carlyle). Convinced that the “wilderness would solve all their problems,” the older man is a messianic figure firm in his rejection of the outside world. Michelle is 15 years-old and pregnant with Cea, later played by River Price-Maenpaa as a child.

Cea’s (played as an adolescent and teen by Amanda Fix) life changes when Michelle, after an endless stream of boyfriends, moves them to the city to be with her latest beau. Thrown into a strange new world, Cea relies on Papa Dick’s philosophy—“Never give in to fear.”—and forges a new life, and security, for herself on the high fashion runways of New York and Paris.

“I’m not going to hang around and wait for the world to give me a good life,” she says. “I have a good face, and I’m going to use it.”

The long, strange journey through Person’s unconventional life is brought to life in a heartfelt, yet somewhat conventional film. Gadon embraces her character’s warmth, but also her unpredictability. Michelle isn’t a good mother, but she is Cea’s only support system, and their thorny bond is nicely wrought—warts and all.

“North of Normal” is a simple movie about a complicated relationship. It avoids most of the melodrama that could have flavored the story, although a hair cutting scene comes close, instead, choosing to allow the fine acting to reveal the hidden emotional scars of mother and daughter. 


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