Monday, November 11, 2019

Review: Spoilers A-plenty in this review of "Terminator: Dark Fate"

Terminator: Dark Fate Review

The "Terminator" franchise has become a mightly vexing franchise. The third, fourth and fifth movies in this overlong franchise merely only served to continue to fold reality onto itself. They also set up movies that we were never going to see. Once one of these sequels didn't stand on the same legs that the first two films did, they would be welcomed by a new team behind the next sequel. Most of the sequels don't feel connected to the larger story, and I think as shattered timelines have become more and more apparent, where the story actually connects and disconnects has become harder to determine.

I was partially hoping that "Terminator: Dark Fate" would handle some of that. At least the best to its ability. Now, on the other side of the movie, it only throws yet another wrench into...whatever this franchise is supposed to be at this point. Is it the most entertaining sequel we've had since 1991? Yes, that much is true. I liked watching scenes in this movie. I liked how things were staged and shot. The action sequences will make love to your eyeballs, that much is certain. "Terminator: Dark Fate" is a great movie to look at, no doubt about it. But I've always thought that this franchise really revolved around three people and one machine. This is the story of John Connor, leader of the human resistance against the machines, this is also about his mom, Sarah Connor, who is working in the past to protect the future. This is a movie about Kyle Reese, who went back in time to protect Sarah from the machines killing her, which lead to him fathering John. Finally, this is the story of the T-800, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who goes on quite the journey of his own as a character. Even including what happens to him in "Dark Fate."

We are moving into spoiler territory now. There is literally no other way to discuss the successes and failures of "Terminator: Dark Fate" any further without getting into spoiler territory. So if you haven't seen it, bail out now. I hope you come back to read along after you've seen it.

In the first ten minutes of "Dark Fate," the entire story as we know it is left hobbled. Because John Connor dies in the first five minutes. We get a voice over by Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor (an actress I've missed for awhile now, if I'm being completely honest.) A different T-800 comes months after the events of "Terminator 2: Judgement Day" and kills young John Connor (still somehow looking like a young Eddie Furlong, special effects these days, man). That may seem edgy and cool to some of you, but it kind of betrays what this movie series was always about. Yes, the third, fourth and fifth sequels in this franchise were unpopular and I don't mind if we whisk those movies away like they didn't happen. But this entire franchise as a whole is about John Connor getting to the future to take the Earth back from the machines. He may never stop the coming of the machines, but he will end the war. This franchise was the Connor's story, and when you kill the golden goose in the first five minutes in an anti-climatic fashion, this begins to feel more like a perverted fanfiction.

We jump forward in time. Sarah Connor is getting old but she still kicks ass. We are introduced to some new characters. Mackenzie Davis plays Grace, a resistance soldier who comes to the present from the future, not to protect Sarah, but to protect Dani. Dani is played by Natalia Reyes, and she is apparently a leader in a resistance movement in the future who leads a revolt against an army of machines. Of course the machines don't want that to pass, so they send a REV-9 played by Diego Luna. The most lethal machine created by Legion.

Wait, what? The evil machines hail from Skynet, Shawn. Except not in this story. Grace and Dani will cross paths with Sarah, because of course they do. Grace will reveal that Skynet nor John Connor exist in Grace or Dani's future. Dani is the sole leader of the resistance against Legion, an AI that tried to take over the world. It was at this point where I had to make sure I was still watching a Terminator movie. Now, I kind of buy the idea that a new group of evil machines rise in this future. Sarah Connor makes it clear in the opening monologue that her actions in "Terminator 2" ended the timeline of Skynet, even though Skynet just kept sending back machines to kill John, which they succeeded at. If they did succeed, where did Legion come from? And if Legion is a separate entity, did they just rip-off the look and design of Skynet's terminators? Diego Luna's REV-9 is basically every main evil terminator from the first three movies put together and it shares the likeness of the terminators too, you'd think a different entity would have their own designs. I guess Skynet should have put a patent on those designs.

The rest of the movie is just Sarah, Dani and Grace throwing everything at this evil robot that just keeps coming. The action is thrilling enough, and the women do a good job making the audience believe in this world. Grace is also a cyborg, so you can expect some really cool action scenes involving her character. But most of the movie is just these women trying to get to safety, away from a character that is nearly impossible to kill. Until they meet Carl.

The whole reason Sarah crosses paths with Dani and Grace is because she is receiving encrypted messages warning her of incoming terminators from the future. Because Grace is a cyborg she can trace where these messages are coming from, which leads to Carl. Guess who Carl is? Carl is the T-800 who killed John years ago. Played once again by Schwarzenegger. Somehow, even though he's a machine, he is aging. Also, because his purpose was to kill John and that purpose was fulfilled, he served no other use to Skynet so he's just...chilling in our present. So he acted like a real human, adopted a family and...get this...he grew a conscience.

I think this is a fascinating idea that is executed mediocre as fuck. I like the idea that machines would evolve passed their programming. I like the idea of a machine trying to understand humans, trying to get itself to think and behave like us. That could have lead to a Terminator movie unlike any other. The way its executed in this movie makes it come off like a plot convenience, instead of something they will explore in detail. It works as the bridge to get Schwarzenegger across, so he can start shooting guns and blowing things up. Because he's lived with humans and pretended to be one for years now, he understands us better, therefore he's sorry for killing John and now that's enough for our main characters to trust him so that he can help them fight REV-9.

Would you be surprised if I told you that they brought back the T-800 just to kill him all over again?

While I am glad the actors all came to play and how its very nostalgic to see Hamilton and Schwarzenegger together again. I am not sure there is enough here for a homerun out the ball park. The movie presents some interesting ideas, but only uses them because the plot requires them, not to tell a deeper story. At this point, time as folded so much on itself that these movies aren't making much sense anymore. This is becoming more discombobulated than Fox's "X-Men" movies. I don't mind jumpstarting this franchises and starting from a new point, but if you are going to ignore and erase EVERYTHING that came before and EVERYTHING that makes this story what it is, then it will soon enough not look like Terminator anymore. All the cool action and all the special effects and all the fun one-liners won't make the fans happy again.

FINAL GRADE: C+

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Review: "Doctor Sleep" is the best Stephen King adaptation in years

Doctor Sleep Review

Its really been no secret since I started writing this blog how much I love Stephen King. Even though I like him very much as an author, I think any fan of his can at least partially agree that Hollywood never really figured out his adaptations. Great adaptations of his work are few and far between, and most of his best adaptations aren't even for his horror stories. There have been plenty of good ones, but those that really endure? I wouldn't say many.

One of the best adaptations of his work was Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining," and it feels a little ironic to say that, because the way Kubrick made that movie, its really not an adaptation. In the straight structured way we think of. Sometimes, I feel like directors won't adapt a story or make a remake...they make REACTIONS to things. Stanley Kubrick is a reaction to Stephen King's "The Shining." Its got the spine of King's book, but Kubrick grew some nuts and made a movie that said, "you know, here's how I would improve the story." That may make Kubrick sound conceited, but I don't mean it to be. Anytime somebody goes to make a movie, they have a chance to say something. I find it captivating when a director chooses to add criticism in something they are merely adapting.

Stephen King wrote "The Shining" in 1978. Kubrick's movie came out in 1980. If you didn't read the book or see his movie or if you even missed the 1997 mini-series, here's the breakdown. Jack Torrence is a recovering alcoholic that is trying to make ends meet. He takes the job of a winter caretaker for the Overlook Hotel which closes every winter. He takes his wife Wendy with him along with their son Danny, who has a variety of powers; mind reading, seeing events from the past and future, stuff like that, these powers are called "The Shine." Danny soon finds out that the Overlook Hotel is haunted, which amplifies his powers to the point that the hotel is dangerous for both him and his family.

This all leads us to "Doctor Sleep," a book that Stephen King wrote in 2013, which was sequel to his 1978 book "The Shining." Its a story that follows Danny Torrence, who is now an adult and who uses his powers at a hospice home to calm those who are about to die. Eventually a connects with a teenage girl named Abra who has some of the strong "Shine" powers of her own. This catches the attention of a cult called The Tied Knot, they are a group who may or may not have Shine powers, but they feed of people who do, and its giving them quasi-immortality. They intend to go after Danny's new friend Abra, and Danny plans to do whatever he can to make sure they don't.

The 2013 book may be a sequel to King's 1978 book, but "Doctor Sleep" the movie is a direct sequel to Kubrick's "The Shining." Much like Kubrick's original movie, don't plan on this sequel being very faithful to the original book. It is a movie that very much embraces the style of Kubrick's movie, without ripping it off completely. The way The Newton Brothers use pieces of the original score from "The Shining" and blending it into their new cold-blooded score is amazing. The way director Mike Flanagan recreates the 1980 feel of the first film in a couple of flashback scenes is monumental. It looks like you are watching the original movie, just with different actors. But lets talk about those different actors. Alex Essoe only appears as Wendy Torrence in a few scenes, but she does an incredible Shelley DuVall impression. Remember how Shelley's voice went up when she was acting hysteric in "The Shining?" Essoe does that perfectly. There are actually a couple of examples of old characters coming back from the original Shining, played by different actors, that is just jaw-droppingly awesome. But I don't want to give away all of the movie's secrets. Just know its a movie like this that proves all that current James Dean bullshit is just that...bullshit.

Ewan McGregor and Kyleigh Curran have a wonderful rapport as Dan Torrence and Abra. There is an easy chemistry that they develop from the beginning. They are total strangers to each other, but the movie gets us to buy their quick friendship and allows us to care about them. Because when Rebecca Ferguson shows up as Rose and brings the freaky Tied Knot around, things get creepy in a hurry. Ferguson has been building a strong filmography in just a few short years, and this is one of her best performances yet.

The movie builds a genuine unease over the course of its long running time. It never feels boring, it never feels like its stalling. Its scary in moments, its very creepy throughout and its delightfully weird in moments too. It features everything you'd really want from a Stephen King adaptation and it does so with ease. Mike Flanagan really dug deep to make this thing a profound adaptation and he mostly does an incredible job.

FINAL GRADE: A

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Review: Netflix's "The King" is an intense history lesson

The King Review

Its a curse the rate Netflix releases original content, because its really easy for good stuff to get lost. I want people to check out "The King." Its got a great cast, some good cinematography. I am not exactly sure just how historically accurate much or any of the movie is. I know its based on a William Shakespeare play, so take that what you will. But hey, when can historical accuracy really play into many of these movies?

Produced by Brad Pitt's Plan B studios, "The King" tells the story of the rise of King Henry V and his campaigns in France. Ben Mendelsohn plays King Henry IV, and at the beginning of this movie he's this smarmy guy obsessed with war. He plays King Henry IV with all the smarmy glee that we've seen Mendelsohn muster over the last few years now. His own allies challenge the need for war and getting what they deserve for helping him, but King Henry isn't interested. Eventually his allies turn on him, and a drunk, burly Prince Henry V (Timothee Chalamet) steps in to stop the bloodshed, in a one-on-one fight with the other commander.

As King Henry IV's health begins to decline, Prince Henry V is usually absent. He has never agreed with his father on how to rule, and he's been well aware of the deceit that clouded IV rule. Henry V doesn't want that title, he doesn't want to rule, though circumstances will eventually lead him to do so. Eventually the two things Henry V wanted to stay away from, war and deceit become shining definitions of his own rule.

The acting, all across the board, is phenomenal. But lets start with Robert Pattinson, because his career has been a gold mine of performances recently. He plays a French Prince that tries very hard to intimidate Henry V to keep him out of France, even though France supposedly challenged him. Pattinson's work in this movie is unreal, I can't explain it any other way. He's got a crazy French accent, and while I have seen and understand criticism that has been floating around the accent, I dug it. He giggles and he acts like a total madman. I love that there still naysayers out there regarding his Batman role. Because recently, no two roles of his have been alike. "Good Time," "The Rover," "The Lost City of Z," "High Life," "The Lighthouse," and now this. No two roles are alike and he's building a very unique filmography here.

Joel Edgerton, always reliable, gives a splendid performance as Falstaff, a character that has shown up in a couple of Shakespeare's plays. He's quite good. Jared Harris. Thomasin McKenzie. Dean-Charles Chapman. These are some actors who we recognize and all do to-notch work here. Within the wonderous sets and backdrops, this is another one of those time machine movies that work really well.

It does feel a little long at almost two and half hours. There is a slow stretch of film before it really gets to the good stuff. There is also an epic battle scene, but also one of those scenes where you can't figure out who is on whose side. It seems like everything is a lead up to the final five to ten minutes, and that is what made the movie something of note. No matter what we try to do, living in a world of monarch's brought out the worst in people. Sometimes becoming what we don't want to be was unavoidable. I don't know how much of it is real, I'm sure there was plenty there that was for show. At the end of the day, "The King" is gritty entertainment.

FINAL GRADE: B

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Review: Eddie Murphy hasn't been this alive in decades in "Dolemite is my Name"

Dolemite is my Name Review
Who remembers early Eddie Murphy?

I know that may seem tough because Eddie Murphy, up until a few weeks ago, hadn't been himself in decades. That's not hyperbole, that is simply fact. Eddie Murphy in his early prime has not been the same Eddie Murphy we saw throughout the 2000's and even most of the late 1990's. Eddie Murphy in the early 1980's, had a special type of hunger as a comic. He mastered the type of humor that wasn't just funny, he was dangerous. That dangerous hunger would eventually filter into Eddie Murphy's movie roles and his skits on Saturday Night Live. There is a humor to Eddie Murphy movies from the 1980's that is just uniquely his. He was literally one of those guys who couldn't be matched by any other comic actor at the time.

Then suddenly the dream died. Some say he turned into Elvis, some say he he got into his own head. I have no idea. But in the middle of the 1990's, Eddie Murphy simply stopped being Eddie Murphy. When he started to sign on for family comedy over family comedy over family comedy, it seemed as if he can clipped his own wings. Did he seriously vanish so far up his own ass that he forgot who he truly was? At the dawn of the 2010's, Murphy simply disappeared, only coming out to occasionally voice Donkey in a random "Shrek" movie. Gone was the unique humor and the dangerous vibe of his laughs and in was a period of time where he was playing simple variations of the same person. When he showed up for the 40th anniversary of Saturday Night Live, he seemed like all he wanted to do was quickly get off the stage that it was staggering to watch, and he wasn't even on for very long.

I didn't think we'd ever see real Eddie Murphy again. But hey, I've been wrong in the past and I was wrong again. "Dolemite is my Name" is Eddie Murphy revitalized. This is the first time in decades where Eddie Murphy is wide awake, and the result is a movie full of a zany yet inspirational energy. There is a method to the madness that is so addicting to watch. This is a movie that made Eddie himself again, and its just one of them any highlights of the film.

"Dolemite is my Name" tells the true story of how comedian and actor Rudy Ray Moore made the film "Dolemite." It made me laugh a bit because just around the time "Dolemite is my Name" appeared on Netflix, "Dolemite" from 1975 starring the real Rudy Ray Moore made its way onto Amazon Prime. "Dolemite" is a blaxploitation movie, a sub-genre that was big throughout the 1970's, movies by black Americans, starring predominantly black Americans. The genre sustained much controversy, as the movies were usually crime dramas and it depicted blacks as criminals in many films. But the sub-genre is celebrated because these were the first movies in which black actors were the leads. Not the sidekicks, not the villains, not the comic relief, they were the leads.

Dolemite is a character Moore created, he's a smooth-talking, bad attitude having pimp-with-a-heart. The movie depicts his outrageous adventures and misadventures  as a tough-as-nails guy. Oh, and all of his women know kung-fu. Because of course they do. This movie was made at the height of the grindhouse era. The movies didn't have to make sense as long as they were entertaining. I watched "Dolemite" before watching "Dolemite is my Name" and it certainly enriched the experience.

Its amazing stacking Murphy next to Moore because Moore had a bigger stature. But there is no denying that Murphy definitely becomes the character. Murphy's usual sharp wit on full display here, as if he was born to play Rudy Ray Moore. The film opens with a great scene where Moore is trying to get a Disc Jockey (played by Snoop Dogg) to play certain songs and its not going well. We meet Rudy Ray Moore at a very desperate time in his life and its amazing how quickly the movie paints this picture without falling to cliche like a crutch. When Moore says "I don't have anything anybody wants" he means it and we feel it.

Eventually Rudy Ray Moore does find his step. That one thing we all want to find, that one foot in the door. Then more steps are taken past the door and forward and forward until Moore has carved his own version of the American Dream for himself. The movie may feel structured like similar movies, but the unrelenting humor throughout and the amazing work by Murphy keep you engaged. I am also baffled that such a sincere and inspiring movie had the word "motherfucker" spoken at least 400 times. Murphy is working with a great cast, including Keegan Scott-Key, Wesley Snipes, Craig Robinson, Chris Rock, Mike Epps and great discovery in Da'Vine Joy Randolph. The look and sound of 1970's Los Angeles is mesmerizing. 

The thing is though, the special effect is Eddie Murphy. I've missed and oh yeah, he's back. Hopefully here to stay.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Thursday, October 31, 2019

31 Days of Halloween: Entire collection

All of my 31 Days of Halloween write-ups all together. All the horror movies I chose at random to write about this October.

1. The Last Exorcism

2. Suspiria 2018

3. The Last Man on Earth

4. Evil Dead

5. The Rocky Horror Picture Show

6. Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978

7. Blade II

8. Carrie

9. Nightmares in Red, White & Blue

10. Black Christmas

11. Sleepaway Camp

12. Psycho

13. C.H.U.D.

14. Anna and the Apocalypse

15. Monster Squad

16. The Ritual

17. Scary Movie

18. Scary Movie 2

19. The Haunting 1998

20. Rosemary's Baby

21. Mad Monster Party

22. Cloverfield

23. Coraline

24. Zombieland 2: Double Tap

25. Evil Dead II

26. The Birds

27. Jaws

28. Candyman

29. Demons

30. Shaun of the Dead

31. The Ring

31 Days of Halloween: "The Ring" 2002

When I think back on middle school, I don't think there was another horror movie that was more talked about than "The Ring." Hell, when I think back on the 2000's at large, I don't think there was another horror movie that was more talked about.

I was behind the curve on "The Ring," which was something I wasn't used to. Even as a budding film geek that I was in middle school. I had an internal notorious feeling toward the movie. All of my peers at seen the movie and it was all they seemed to talk about. I didn't see the movie for the first time until it came on video. I always tried to see beforehand, but I just never got the opportunity. But I heard how scary it supposedly was. I remember I had one friend who told me that when I eventually see the movie, he gave me three rules. Don't watch it alone, don't watch it at night and don't watch it in the dark.

One day during spring break, the movie landed in my mailbox via Netflix (remember when Netflix used to do that??). My parents were both at work, and I was curious as hell. I remembered what my friend told me. In was in the middle of the afternoon, it was a bright, sunshiney day, my whole house was lit up like a Christmas tree. I would only be breaking one rule. I quickly threw the disc into my player. Was it really as scary as everyone said it was? While I was pretty freaked out after that first viewing, I was obsessed with it. I loved every moment of it. I began talking about it to anyone who would listen. I told my mom about it, I told my dad about it. I was so smitten with it that I had my dad watch with me a second time that night. So I had watched the movie twice the first day it came to my house.

I seemed pretty jazzed up until the moment I tried to sleep. Then I couldn't sleep. Creepy images from the film kept slipping into my memory, and I was unable to shake them loose. I did not sleep at all that night. I tried several times, but Samara and her crazy creepy mother made sure I did not. When the sun rose the next morning, I took that Ring DVD, put it back in its Netflix sleeve and marched it right back to my mailbox.

The movie wasn't just a sensation for horror fans. It did fairly well at the box office. It was a critical success, something that didn't happen a lot that decade for horror films. I think why the film was so successful was for many reasons. First, it was nice to have a horror movie that was actually scary. It seemed for much of the 1990's, the horror genre took a break. Yes, we got stuff like "The Sixth Sense" and "The Blair Witch Project" sneaking in but it was a dead-end for horror for the most part. So it felt fresh in the early 2000's to see something that was actually scary.

In more ways than one, "The Ring" was structured like a normal horror film at the time. It didn't feel or look like a typical mainstream horror film entry. Where were all the teenagers who can't act? Where were all the unlikable characters who make dumb decisions? Where were all the cheap thrills and buckets of blood? "The Ring" wasn't made for that, it was made to scare the absolute shit out of you and that's exactly what it did. The characters in the movie weren't dumb, they were proactive trying to save themselves and save the ones they love. The characters were relatable, they seemed like normal people, they didn't make dumb decisions. So when their lives were in peril, it mattered much more. Plus, Naomi Watts is an amazing actress, one of my personal favorites, and she really sold the thing.

The movie had near perfect cinematography, it had great music, and Rick Baker's make-up? Dear god. I can't even think about it. I don't want to think about it. It gives me chills thinking about it. There are always a bunch of little things that make a movie work and when those small things are all adding up, it can make the movie even more amazing.

"The Ring" also just feels like an assault. It worked on alot of people because it showed us things that even most horror movies don't dare. Children dying? Nope. And the scene with the horse is truly unforgettable.

"The Ring" is always going to have a special place in my heart, no matter what.

31 Days of Halloween: "Shaun of the Dead" 2004

Rom-Zom-Com. That's what "Shaun of the Dead" is. A Rom-Zom-Com.

It's the first of its kind, and we really haven't seen anything like it since.

What is a Rom-Zom-Com? Why, its a romantic zombie comedy of course. Its a movie that is tremendously funny, sincerely sweet and bloody disgusting all in equal measure. This is a romantic comedy that I can truly get behind. Directed by Edgar Wright, who gave us the likes of "Hot Fuzz," "At World's End," "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World" and "Baby Driver," "Shaun of the Dead" is also a movie I love very, very much.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have collaborated on a few movies with Edgar Wright and they always create some spectacular results. Pegg plays Shaun, who is just another Joe Schmoe in this world trying to make it. Shaun's best friend is Ed, played by Frost, they live in a flat together and spend lots of time together as buddies. The thing is, Shaun has been in a committed relationship with a girl named Liz for awhile now. She's ready for more and she's not sure Shaun is ready for more, though. They break up, and Shaun is heartbroking. All the while the early stages of a zombie apocalypse is happening all around them.

There are some great gags hidden in every inch of this movie. I have always been interested in what happens in the time when the zombies begin to take over to the point where these movies usually start, at the tail end of things. One of my favorite openings to any movie is Zack Snyder's "Dawn of the Dead," which ironically came out the same year as "Shaun of the Dead." It's both scary and exhilarating watching the world unfold into madness in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. "Shaun of the Dead" does something similar, just in a very funny way.

Fighting zombies with vinyl? Classic. Finding refuge in a pub? Funny. Fighting the undead to the sound of Queen? I love the scene. It's clear that Edgar Wright has soaked many comedies, zombie films and yes even romances to so gleefully poke at them the way he does here.