Vampires, ghosts, witches, werewolves, and zombies: Fun flicks for Halloween

I’m much more a sci-fi fan than a horror fan. The “scary” movies I like are not very scary. At the theater, I close my eyes at the first few bars of that eerie piano music that tells you you’re about to watch a paranormal movie trailer.
A lot of my favorite Halloween movies are comedies. With that in mind, here are 10 of my favorite ghost, vampire, witch, werewolf, and zombie films to get you ready for All Hallows’ Eve – and to make you laugh.

  1. Beetlejuice. Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis star as a recently deceased couple who hire an obnoxious ghost (Michael Keaton) to help them scare away their home’s new tenants (Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Jones, and Winona Ryder).
  2. Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II. Who doesn’t love these goofy movies with Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson as scientists fighting supernatural entities like giant marshmallow men, balls of slime and demon gargoyles? I can’t wait for next summer’s reboot.
  3. What We Do in the Shadows. I’ve always been a sucker for vampires – I love “Interview with the Vampire,” “The Lost Boys,” and yes, even dorky “Twilight.” This mockumentary-style horror comedy, written and directed by (and starring) Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, is the story of four vampires who live in New Zealand, and it’s hysterical.
  4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Kristy Swanson was the first cheerleader/slayer and although the TV series that was based on this movie was more popular, I prefer the campy original. And it has Pee Wee Herman, er, Paul Reubens. Luke Perry, David Arquette, Hilary Swank, Rutger Hauer, and Donald Sutherland also star.
  5. Practical Magic. This witchy romantic comedy isn’t super popular, but I like it. It’s an adaptation of Alice Hoffman’s novel of the same name, and stars Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock as the nieces of witches played by Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing.
  6. An American Werewolf in London. Another classic, “American Werewolf” tells the tale of two American backpackers who are attacked by a werewolf in England.
  7. Teen Wolf. Would this silly werewolf movie have been so fun to watch if it was anyone but Michael J. Fox? I don’t think so. The new series is more serious, à la Buffy.
  8. Army of Darkness. This is the third in the “Evil Dead” trilogy, and you don’t need to watch the first two to enjoy this one. Bruce Campbell is awesome as Ash, an S-Mart employee who has been sucked into a time portal, winds up in 1300 AD, and has to fight an army of undead. “This is my boomstick!” he tells the villagers, holding up his shotgun. Good stuff.
  9. Shaun of the Dead. This Simon Pegg zombie satire has become a cult classic.
  10. Zombieland. Another great zom com, in which Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, and Emma Stone play survivors of a zombie apocalypse. An entertaining, campy adventure.

‘The Martian’ celebrates teamwork, optimism

You might think that if you were stranded on Mars, you would feel hopeless and depressed. Well, you wouldn’t if you were Mark Watney, the protagonist of Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Andy Weir’s bestseller “The Martian.”

And who else could pull off a smiling, cheery astronaut, even as he is dying on Mars, but Matt Damon? Watney rarely allows himself to let his situation get him down. He’s much too busy calculating mathematical equations to figure out how he’s going to survive until NASA figures out that he’s alive and sends someone to rescue him.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because Damon recently played another astronaut stranded on a planet, in last year’s epic space adventure “Interstellar.” (Jessica Chastain was also in both movies.)

I keep hearing this movie described as “a love letter to NASA,” and it absolutely celebrates the camaraderie, teamwork, and sense of adventure for which the space agency is known. But more than that, it is a testimony to the ingenuity and determination of one man who refuses to give up.

Throughout the movie, I couldn’t help thinking, “I would never have thought of that” and “Well, that would be the last straw for me.” I clearly don’t have the knowledge base or mental stability required to be a space explorer. I kept waiting for him to crack, but I guess they weed out all the sissies from the space program with psychological testing.

I also kept waiting for some flashback scenes of Watney with his loved ones back on Earth. They never mention a girlfriend, only his parents, and even though there are brief scenes with the other astronauts’ families, we never see Watney’s parents, even though he mentions them a couple times.

Perhaps this was to show us that Watney wants to live for the sake of living, because he has a zest for life, not because he wants to see his children grow up or because he’s made a promise to a girlfriend that he would come back, which is how this is usually done.

Or maybe, this just isn’t a movie about family. Not the blood-related kind, anyway. It’s more about the faith and trust and the love of science that bond all these people together – the stranded astronaut who says “I love what I do,” the Ares 3’s other five astronauts who have become his friends, and the entire ground crew at NASA, who are faced with making tough decisions without much time to consider the odds.

And most of all, it’s about optimism in the face of adversity – a quality we should all aspire to.

What to watch while you’re waiting for ‘The Force’

I keep hearing about this new movie that’s coming out in a few months – ‘The Force Awakens’? Or something like that. I guess it’s a sequel to those Star Wars movies. People are getting excited about all this new merchandise from the movie. I don’t really know much about it.

I’m kidding, of course. I’m super excited about the new movie too. But can we please admit that Star Wars fever has gotten a bit out of control when someone is selling Han Solo frozen in carbonite Pop-Tarts? And they aren’t edible – they are made out of resin. And they cost $30. For a replica of a Pop-Tart.

I think we need to take a few deep breaths and put the Star Wars frenzy on hold until Dec. 18. Then we can dress up like stormtroopers and camp overnight for tickets. Like normal people.

In the meantime, there are dozens of great sci-fi flicks to watch while you wait for the new film. Here are some of my favorite outer space adventure movies:

All the Star Wars movies. If you can think of nothing else but Star Wars, just have a Star Wars marathon. Again. My husband and I grew up with the original trilogy, so those are our favorites. And they are better, let’s face it. But we watch all of them, because as you know, you can never have too much Star Wars. Although you can definitely have too much Star Wars memorabilia. And you can definitely have too much Jar Jar Binks, so maybe stay away from that one.

All the Star Trek movies. I love what J.J. Abrams did with the last two Star Trek movies, lens flares and all. If you’re not a fan, you’re probably worried about what he’ll do to George Lucas’ legacy. But if “Star Trek” and “Star Trek Into Darkness” are any indication, I think “The Force” will be awesome. If you’re a huge Trek fan, you could boldly go where probably others have gone before and binge watch all 12 of the Trek movies. But that would be like, 24 straight hours of movie watching, which would be, um, illogical.

“The Fifth Element,” Luc Besson’s wacky outer space action flick is one of my all-time favorites. Bruce Willis is perfect as Korben Dallas, a futuristic cab driver who ends up rescuing a beautiful alien (Milla Jovovich) sent to save their planet. Ian Holm is great as priest Vito Cornelius, and Gary Oldman, as always, is the perfect villain. “You’re a monster, Zorg,” the priest tells him. His deadpan reply: “I know.”

“Moon” is an underrated movie starring an underrated actor, Sam Rockwell. Rockwell is always to fun to watch, whether he’s playing a two-headed alien in “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” or the alcoholic coach of a high school girls’ basketball team in “The Winning Season.” In “Moon,” Rockwell plays Sam Bell, an astronaut nearing the end of a solitary three-year job mining helium-3 on the moon. If you haven’t seen it yet, go see it. Right now.

The Alien movies. I really don’t like scary movies, or monster movies, so I will admit the first time I was coerced into watching these movies, I was less than thrilled. But after repeat viewings, they grew on me. Sigourney Weaver is a total badass. Enough said.

“Starship Troopers.” Loosely adapted from the Robert A. Heinlein novel and directed by Paul Verhoeven, this satire is campy and smart at the same time. Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards and Neil Patrick Harris star as military recruits tasked with fighting a war on Bugs. Giant Bugs. This is one of those guilty pleasures that comes on TV and you can’t help but watch it again.

“Gravity.” Watching Sandra Bullock and George Clooney float around in space sounds boring, but it’s so not. It’s a suspenseful, inspiring story, and I loved it. “Gravity” was written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, who also wrote another one of my favorite movies, the dystopian thriller “Children of Men.”

“Interstellar” had mixed reviews but I thought it was amazing. Matthew McConaughey leads a team of astronauts who travel through a wormhole to search for a new planet after Earth’s resources have been depleted. It’s one of those movies you need to pay attention to, like “Inception” (also written and directed by Christopher Nolan). You can’t just go to the bathroom and then come back and say, “What did I miss?” It’s also almost three hours long, but I was so absorbed in the movie, I didn’t notice.

“Guardians of the Galaxy.” The film adaption of the Marvel comic book was a huge hit, and deservedly so. A cocky Han Solo wannabe, a green-skinned warrior woman, a simple-minded brute bent on revenge, an alien that looks like a tree, and a genetically engineered raccoon team up to save the galaxy; it seems like there were a thousand ways this could have gone wrong. The plot is predictably cheesy, but the movie is saved by the cool ’60s and ’70s soundtrack and a wry sense of humor. It turns out that “Guardians” is a comedy. I can’t wait for the sequel. Let’s just hope no one makes a Groot Pop-Tart.