Thursday, October 18, 2018

Review: "Apostle" is the perfect October gift.

Apostle Review
I know I've famously been a little antagonistic regarding Netflix and their original cinematic content recently. For some reason, when it comes to their horror department, they are certainly making the most of it. Both "1922" and "Gerald's Game" were two of the best Stephen King adaptations in really long time. I just finished the first season of "The Haunting of Hill House" and I enjoyed it every step of the way, it was a spooky good time. "The Ritual" is a movie that should have been reserved for the theater, because it would have made somebody somewhere rich. I plan to write about "Hold The Dark" very soon, but that movie is so wonderfully strange that I am having a hard time getting my hands around. In the best possible way, I assure you.

Now we've recently been blessed with "Apostle." I am not sure if I would call it the best Netflix original horror film. But it certainly will come close. I haven't considered ranking these movies yet, but if I did, "Apostle" would rank fairly high. It is my favorite kind of horror film. You won't find any found footage cameras anywhere here. You won't find any teenagers you can't act. While there are some torture scenes, they are specifically designed to haunt and disturb you. To push the limits of what you can handle as a horror fan. They aren't trying to kill people in ridiculous ways, because for some, for whatever reason, huge amounts of blood is somehow scary. I recently watched "Jigsaw" for the first time a couple weeks ago, and while the "Saw" tradition is still alive and well, it wasn't that great of a tradition in the first place.

"Apostle" stars Micheal Sheen as a cult leader. If the temperature didn't immediately go down in your own home after reading that sentence, then you probably weren't a horror fan to begin with. I've written before on this blog about my phobia of cults. Any horror film involving a cult is enough to send me over the edge. Hell, movies about cults that aren't intended to be scary send me over the edge. Add an actor like Micheal Sheen and I might as well not sleep for the next three weeks. You better believe he's awesome too.

Let's back up a little bit. I am talking sporadically and all over the place. The film is set in 1905. Thomas (Dan Stevens) travels to a mysterious, remote Welsh island to rescue his sister. His beloved sister was kidnapped by the cult Micheal Sheen's character leads. Thomas has a dark past involving religion and he's not a devout follower by any stretch of the imagination. Micheal Sheen's character is named Malcolm. He was shipwrecked on the island with two of his first followers and he stayed alive by apparently appeasing to the island's goddess. Malcolm has got the villagers refusing to not pay the king taxes. He sacrifices animals to the island goddess for food. But like many cult leaders, he's a fraud and his crops are failing. He plans to ransom Thomas' sister for money and food and Thomas plans to stop him. 

What could have been a sweet revenge story ends up being a remarkable horror movie too. There is a scene in particular that literally forced a verbal reaction out of me. I rarely jump at boo scares, but a scare so deep that it ignites a little yelp is even more rare. There is some freaky, freaky material in this movie and I love how cold the movie plays. This is the type of horror movie I like. Mood and atmosphere reign supreme. The cinematography of the film suggests a very stark and grim tale on the horizon and it is absolutely correct.

Dan Stevens is heating up at this point to be a major star. I was on board when I caught him in the film "The Guest." I wasn't alone too. He was hired to play The Beast in last years' "Beauty and The Beast" for a reason. Pretty soon he's going to be a household name. He's very charismatic and here he does a splendid job as Thomas. He fits right into this scary world, entering the island to find his sister like walking through the mouth of Hell. He's really good.

Gareth Evans wrote and directed this film. He was the guy behind both "Raid" movies, which are a couple of wicked Indonesian martial arts films. He directed the segment "Safe Haven" in "V/H/S 2," which is one of the craziest and creepy segments in the history of that franchise. Evans is on the rise, a grand new voice in filmmaking and I think we are just beginning to see him flex his muscles.

FINAL GRADE: A

Review: "Bad Times At The El Royale" is fun, post-Tarantino noir

Bad Times At The El Royale Review
Ever since the phenomenon that was Quentin Tarantino, there have been people in Hollywood constantly trying to recreate his genius. I can name probably ten movies off the top of my head between 1992 and today that have clear inspirations from the early days of Quentin's work. Anytime in Hollywood when someone or some studios see a formula that is working, there is always a push to try and recreate it. There seem to be no patients or copyrights out there and its common to see several clones of something else. Most of the time, these clones seem to fall short of what they are emulating. Like a classic movie that never needed to be remade.

"Bad Times At The El Royale" is essentially a group of well-known actors playing characters who all have a dark secret of some kind. These characters all meet at a specific spot in order to find something, and in their pursuit to find this said McGuffin, there ends up being betrayals, double-crosses and violence. All the while the characters speak, act and pose in really, really cool ways. If you can't see the parallels to both "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction" in that short synopsis, you are truly not paying attention. Sure, there is some parallels to Agatha Christie. Sure, you can even reach and see some parallels to "The House on Haunted Hill." But this movie is pretty much a reaction to the work of a specific artist. Another post-Tarantino neo-noir film.

I've normally found these movies to range from mediocre to good. When I was in high school, I sure thought "Smokin' Aces" and "Lucky Number Slevin" were awesome. But re-watching them now, they are just exercises in style and they aren't nearly as clever as they seem to think they are. With that said, I actually enjoyed myself through most of this movie. It's got a stellar cast including the likes of Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, and Chris Hemsworth. What could have easily been a movie of recognizable group of actors goofing off. But I can say all the actors give it their all and try to make it count.

What's interesting is that for a fairly simple story, its overly-long. Pacing is a serious issue here, and I do mean serious. For a slick movie about a group of people looking for lots and lots of loot, there is no reason why the movie should be anywhere close to three hours. Yes, I know both "Pulp Fiction" and "Reservoir Dogs" clock in close to that too, but Tarantino's scripts were so originally written that time would fly by. I can't say the same for "Bad Times At The El Royale." The script is pretty standard, and I know the filmmakers are trying for some juicy dialogue, but not much of it really lands. Not in the way they intend at least.

But the actors we know and love are enough to string us along unti the end. They keep things going and keep us engaged through the weak pacing. Its no "Pulp Fiction," that's for sure. But there is enough here to consider this a win.

FINAL GRADE:B

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Live Action Aladdin

The live action cash grab continues at Disney! This summer, their big non-animated remake will be Aladdin. We get a glimpse of what is to come in the teaser trailer. Of course, we don't get much. We get to see desert, lots and lots of desert. We catch Iago flying in the air. We get a skyline of Agrabah. We see Aladdin reaching for the lamp. We hear the sand tiger talking in the teaser, then the famous sand tiger himself, as a silhouette enters his mouth, the mouth closes! We also hear some familiar music in the background.

Disney remaking all of their animated favorites has been big business for them the last few years. I'd say I was annoyed, but I am shocked how many of them have landed over those that have missed. It's great that they want to reach out to a new audience, since the kids who saw these animated favorites now probably have kids of their own. It makes sense and as long as they continue to create fun-filled adventures, I am sure this cash machine isn't going anywhere.

I am very curious to see if Will Smith has anything on Robin Williams. Big shoes to fill, those are!


Review: "Goosebumps: Haunted Halloween" is an overly-silly kid movie

Goosebumps: Haunted Halloween Review

I saw and reviewed the first "Goosebumps" movie a few years ago and I could enjoy it even though it was a fairly, overly-silly Halloween movie. I can appreciate it. There really aren't many Halloween style movies that families can go to together. I remember reading some of the Goosebumps books from R.L. Stine, a kind of Stephen King lite writer. I remember for the time, some of the stuff was scary. But only scary to young adults. Stine wrote young adult fiction, so there was certain style of spooky you were getting with a Goosebumps book. Even though some of the artwork for those books still might give me nightmares if I ever bothered to look at it again.

On the level of what it offered, the first "Goosebumps" movie was lots of fun. Sure, it was a silly, silly movie, but there was stuff for people of all ages. It was also a movie stocked with nostalgia if you were a fan of this series as a kid. I thought it might be story suicide to actually make R.L. Stine a character in the movie, but it fit the context of the story. The first film was a celebration of all things Goosebumps. I was hoping this sequel would continue that celebration for another October month.

Much like its predecessor, "Goosebumps: Haunted Halloween" is a very silly movie. If you are wondering if its sillier than the first, I am actually not sure. Its been so long since I've seen the first film that I can't remember most details, but if I had to guess and based on my memories, its about as silly as the first film. In fact, had "Goosebumps" never came out, you wouldn't really know this is a sequel. This feels like an entirely different adventure, with "Goosebumps" as a brand name. None of the main characters from the first film are back here, and Jack Black's R.L. Stine is sadly sidelined for at least half the movie. I actually rather liked Jack Black the first time around, Black is good again, I just wish he came out to play more in this one. 

Anyway, it would almost feel like this "Goosebumps" franchise might be an anthology series, but they do mention the events from the first film. There is some business of getting Stine's creations back into the books. I am not sure why so many professional critics are coming down hard on this one. Yes, I am disappointed that we didn't get more Jack Black. Yes, its essentially the same movie as last time. But these are family movies. They provide a little something for everyone. I may even agree that the first one provided more and this is more kid-oriented than the last movie. But there is still an ability to entertain, even if those being entertained are your little ones. There are still moments where adults will laugh out loud with their children.

Slappy the ventriloquist dummy returns, being a break out villain in the first film. I love how Mick Wingert voices him sounding like Mark Hamil's Joker from "Batman: The Animated Series." Jeremy Ray Taylor from "IT" does a good job in the lead role and there is a huge host of recognizable actors, such as Chris Parnell and Ken Jeong and Wendi McLendon-Covey, but all are totally under-utilized. This movie mainly focuses on its younger cast, and its honestly hit or miss as far as performances go. I try not to beat up to hard on child actors, but when they are front and center, they got to sell the movie and that can be difficult with no-namers. 

Overall, I'd say if you got buddying horror fans at home and you want to take them to something Halloween related without traumatizing them, "Goosebumps: Haunted Halloween" is your best bet. It's fun, its got some funny material, and its friendly enough for the children. I may not be as over-the-moon as I was years ago, but its a just follow-up.

FINAL GRADE: B-

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

James Gunn reportedly writing and directing "Suicide Squad 2"

James Gunn has been a subject of interest in Hollywood since summer. He was abruptly fired from Disney and Marvel over ten year old Tweets which centered around rape and pedophilia. Before you get outraged all over again, let me tell you that these Tweets were brought up before "Guardians of the Galaxy" starting shooting in 2014. He apologized for them. He recognized that the Tweets were in bad taste and that he's matured in ten years, as do most people. Still, pressure from Conservatives led to his release from Marvel.

Bad move, Marvel. Bad move. Now we know why, DC has scooped up Gunn. At first, it was said he would direct and write. It has since been confirmed that he will definitely write "Suicide Squad 2." Which honestly seems like a perfect fit for Gunn. It also looks like we will be getting a pretty decent "Suicide Squad" movie, especially if Gunn ends up directing this thing.

I ain't gonna make this a political screed, because that just isn't my style. But man, Marvel. BAD MOVE. I can't wait to see what Gunn brings to this table. I hope and pray that DC realizes who they have and they allow Gunn the freedom to tell the story he wants to tell. DC has been putting shackles on many of their filmmakers, which has lead to bad word-of-mouth and modest (at best) box office returns. Allow Gunn to hit this one in the face!

I can't wait to buy this soundtrack!

Oh and if Dave Bautista gets cast in this, please let him play King Shark!

http://www.aintitcool.com/node/81094

Monday, October 8, 2018

Review: We are "Venom?" I guess. Sorta.

Venom Review
As a movie lover and a comics lover, there can be a tremendous amount of inner conflict and inner turmoil when Hollywood decides to make these books a reality. I feel like I am constantly reminding myself to disconnect as a comic book fan for these movies. I don't think its particularly fair, even though I have been guilty in the past, to base my entire movie review around "oh, in the comics this character is this, or this character did that." Not everybody who buys a ticket to see a movie has read the comics. I see comic book fans all up in arms constantly, declaring that this superhero movie or that superhero movie is "the worst movie ever made," simply because the X-Men line-up isn't the original, or one character didn't get their powers like that, or they don't look right, or they leave too much out. Comic fans can't wrap their heads around that every move a filmmaker makes is to make a movie that appeals to the mass audience, not just the niche comic audience. Superheroes wouldn't be the big business they are right now if filmmakers only appealed to a small fraction of the movie going public.

With that said, I have learned to live in world where I am getting a "Venom" movie that is totally disconnected to Spider-Man. They reimaged Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) as a character, they've partially reimaged how he comes about getting attached to a symbiote, an organic, alien parasite that attaches to a host and controls them. This is not the hundredth percent Venom from the comics, but I don't care. I find it weird how I hold on to certain comic continuity but not to others. I guess because Hollywood can go so far to the extreme that its not the character at all, just read up on what J.J. Abrams planned to do with Superman back in 2002. I wouldn't say that the "Venom" movie playing in theaters right now is so stray that it doesn't feel like the same character. This is certainly Venom all right, so that is at least a good thing.

I went in with the lowest of low expectations. On the other side, I feel "Venom" is a mixed bag. I like Tom Hardy, but I feel if he were given a better script, he could have been great. I like Jenny Slate, but she was barely given enough to do here. I like the special effects and the crazy headgame going on with Eddie Brock internally once his body is infected with a symbiote alien, I just wish it served a better movie. For long stretches of the film, the movie is kind of a mess. It's tonally stunted. It tries hard to be funny, but usually comes up short. It tries to be light-hearted, even though Venom is the absolute worst light-hearted character. There are stretches of the film that are just, well, boring. No matter what I think of the character, Venom is a terrible, terrible PG-13 character. How can a character that leaves dead bodies everywhere and spouts on about tearing people's heads off be stuck in a PG-13 movie?

Like I said, I like Tom Hardy. I think he could have been a classic Venom. But as I said, he needed a better script. I have discovered that Tom Hardy can't do everything. Eddie Brock is a reporter with lots of fans, and he takes on a story about the Life Foundation, that may be doing some shady shit in the name of science. Brock is trying really hard to expose them, but it gets him fired. Still, a scientist of Life Foundation Dora Skirth (Slate) gets Brock secretly into the facility to report on the Foundation. A piece of an alien symbiote latches onto Brock, and he becomes Venom. Eddie Brock is a somewhat timid and not-so-tough character, two qualities that Tom Hardy lacks. When he tries to talk in a scared, high-pitched voice, it just comes off unnatural.

The Life Foundation is run by Carlton Drake, played by Riz Ahmed. I discovered Ahmed on HBO's "The Night Of," where he plays a young guy who gets in the wrong place at the wrong time. He also plays a rebel in "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," and he plays a bright, energetic man who believes in the rebellion. There are things that Ahmed can't do either. He can't play a villain. He's got too sweet of a face for a villain. He can't carry the range to come off dangerous or even snobby. He's supposed to be this sometimes intimidated, vile figure. Ahmed never comes close to making the audience feel that way.

Michelle Williams plays the typical love interest, and that's too bad that this was the only avenue they chose to take with her character. Sure, she's instrumental near the end of the movie, but she's pretty much just a love interest. There is some really good special effects in the movie. But the ending will possibly frustrate some viewers who are getting sick of two people with similar powers having a big fight at the climax of the movie. The film accumulates to a CGI symbiote monster fighting another CGI symbiote monster. If they make more of these movies, its just going to be CGI symbiote monsters fighting other CGI symbiote monsters. I am not sure what traction this can get as a franchise and I think it has a good chance of getting stale really quick.

Early reports stated that the film was 2005 "Catwoman" bad, I am not sure its on that level. But it is for sure a very ho-hum, dragging experience. It's got some pretty good to mediocre performances and some stellar special effects work. The action scenes never live up to the promise the movie makes. I think the movie could have benefited from a better script, somebody who really loves the character. When two slippery liquid monsters are beating each other up with abnormally long tongues, and its the most boring fight in comic book movies, that's a problem. "Venom" is a PG-13 rated movie that wanted very badly to be an R-rated movie, and it shows. We are living in a comic book adaptation golden age, so making movies this mediocre shouldn't be happening at this point. 

FINAL GRADE: C-

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Spiderman: Enter The Spider-Verse trailer

Our friendly neighborhood Spiderman may have had an undesirable fate in "Avengers: Infinity War," but anybody who knows comics knows that we will see Spidey again. Plus, the next year or so is going to be a big for the webhead. He will appear in "Avengers 4" then following that film next year, we will get his sequel "Spider-Man: Far From Home." If any of you have a PS4, I hope you've been enjoying the video game. This holiday season though, Spider-Man is going to the animated world.

I am really excited for this movie. It will be exciting to see how they handle all these Spider characters. In the comics, Spiderman went on adventures with other Spider-men (and Spider-Women) from all over the multiverse. I hope they can do a good job with it, because its looks awesome.

Plus, Spider-Ham!


Review: "White Boy Rick" prevails with great performances, using a mediocre script

White Boy Rick Review
The story of Richard Wershe Jr. is surely an interesting one. He's a Detroit boy who evidently did crime with his father. To say he grew up hard would be a large understatement. At the age of 14, he became the youngest FBI informant ever. He sold drugs for the FBI in order to get closer to the users and other criminals of the city at the time. He was eventually abandoned by his handlers and sentenced to prison.

I've seen dozens and dozens of crime movies. I've seen the rise and fall of men who thought they were kings. I've seen several crime movies based on a true story. I love the genre, its always been one of my favorites. With that said, it seems like all of these movies are constructed the exact same. We see an early crime spree. We see a criminal go down. We see their way out through police or a law enforcement organization. We see them go in deep undercover, of sorts. We see suspicion with their friends and family. We see them get in too deep and over their heads. We then see how it all crumbles, or sometimes how it simply resolves. "White Boy Rick" heads to this formula, and it never waivers. Even if you don't know the story of Richard Wershe Jr. (and I will admit that I had never heard of this guy) you've seen this movie. That is the most disappointing thing about it. Even in 2018, we haven't figured out a way to approach the crime genre in a more creative, suspenseful way.

"White Boy Rick" hits homerun after homerun in the acting department. Richie Merritt plays Wershe and he's literally a revelation. Merritt makes you believe in the story being told. He sounds like he's from Detroit. He looks like he grew up hard. He's got a demeanor that doesn't compare to anybody else. He's got the goods to carry the movie on his shoulders and he's a young kid too. I hope this movie might peak high enough for Oscar buzz, because Merritt deserves the merit (pun totally intended). Matthew McConaughey plays his father, and its McConaughey. He's great all the time, and he's great here. The rest of the central cast includes Bruce Dern, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rory Cochrane, Brian Tyree Henry, RJ Cyler and Jonathon Majors, all of whom are excellent.

I just wish that they had a script that wasn't so straightforward. There are couple gem moments and couple times where I laughed out loud. But those moments are few and far between. The movie plays out just as you'd expect it to. Because its so straightforward, it ends up being fairly boring and routine. Not what I was hoping for. But some decent performances may make me think about this more than usual.

FINAL GRADE: C

Review: "Three Identical Strangers" is an emotionally-draining, eye-opening experience

Three Identical Strangers Review
Being the movie fan that I am, I will give anything a chance. That includes documentaries. I'm talking about theatrical documentaries, a good documentary can allow the audience to travel to some of the strangest parts of our world and discover stories we would never believe are non-fiction. It's amazing just rich our world really is, and the stories each and every one of us have. It blows my mind even further that there are seven billion of us sharing this planet as we speak, and learning everyone's story and their interests would be a dizzying roller coaster. Every once and awhile though, documentaries take us to corners of the world we wished we didn't see, and just as we can have a fun surreal experience, we can have a cold and cruel experience as well.

"Three Identical Strangers" is a documentary about the true story of David Kellman, Robert Shafran and Eddy Galland. The movie begins with Shafran recounting his first day moving into a Community college in New York. He feels weird because everyone is really nice to him, and just about everybody he comes in contact with refers to him as Eddy. He eventually connects with someone who tells him that he looks like Eddy Galland, a student who transferred to a different college at the end of last year. When Shafran discovers that he shares a birthday with Galland, they had to meet. They soon find out that they were born on the same day and adopted out of the same agency. They are identical twins. Their story makes headlines, and soon enough they are contacted by a David Kellman. Kellman also shares the same birthday, born at the same time and adopted out of the same agency as the other boys. It's evident, the boys are identical triplets.

For a long stretch of the movie, the focus is on this massive discovery for these three young men, and it changes their lives forever. They go on several talk shows together. Their story hits several newspapers. They cameo in a Madonna music video. Not only does their bizarre story attract attention, but the boys themselves grow close. They party together, they chase women together, they begin to share an apartment. You can't help but to laugh and relish in the crazy coincidence that landed on these boys and in the early moments, the movie really racks up the charm and the goofiness of the situation.

Its when the boys decide to find their birth mother where the story takes a hard left turn. Suddenly, the movie becomes not very funny at all.

I don't know how many times I have mentioned this on my blog, but I was adopted. It is kind of obvious if you've ever seen my family pictures. My older brother is adopted too and its clear. He's well over six foot with thin hair and I'm roughly 5'9 with thick hair. My brother and I both got the best case scenario with our adoption. We have parents that have shown us everyday how loved and valued we are as people. Our adoptions were closed adoptions and we don't know a whole lot about our families at all. Our parents have always been open about our adoptions and they've been willing to disclose any information they could if we asked for it. In "Three Identical Strangers," imagining my family purposely not getting key information about my adoption or my brother's adoption sent a chill down my spine. And knowing the reason why such information was classified hit me hard with a terror more sinister than any horror movie in recent memory.

I'm going to be coy here, explaining what happened once the boys and their families started digging into the agency that got them adopted. Because I don't want to spoil anything for anyone. Tim Wardle has carefully constructed a fairly massive story and has done so with real tension and heartbreak. He does a really good job with the story's tonal shifts. Like I said above, there is a silly energy to the first half of the film, then things downshift ever so slightly once the boys get comfortable together and remember that they have separate lives from one another. How difficult it can be to share your life with other family is investigated. Then, once the film really descends into the adoption agency and their birth mother, complete horror. You won't be able to fathom just how dark our world really is and just how shitty some people are.

 I think because I am adopted myself, this movie pushed a button in me that effected my emotional center. But I don't want that to sound like this movie is only for one audience. I think anybody anywhere can get something out of this. It's a harrowing discussion on the nature vs. nurture debate and it will have many discussing just how far we should go in any direction in the name of science. I also think audiences are not going to be able to believe this incredible true story, especially as it gets crazier and darker as the movie wears on. "Three Identical Strangers" is a hard-hitting and draining experience, and also one of the year's best films.

FINAL GRADE: A