Wednesday, December 4, 2019

No Time To Die Trailer



Was I fan of "Spectre?" Nope, I was not.

BUT. The James Bond franchise has been very up and down. Yes, it has. So what I hope is that Daniel Craig will end his tenure with all barrels blazing. It certainly looks like he might.

There looks to be an all-star collection of the characters we have come to know and love throughout his time with the character. Jeffrey Wright is appearing as Felix Leiter, Ben Whishaw as Q, Naomi Harris as Moneypenny, Ralph Fiennes as M, Christoph Waltz as Blofeld and Lea Seydoux returns as Ms. Swann. Of course, Bond is getting pulled out of "retirement" for about the billionth time during Craig's run.

Rami Malik's bad guy seems interesting. Lots of juicy dialogue. But honestly, what is it about disfigured villains in these Bond movies?

I just hope this is a fun one for Craig's apparent last outing.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Black Widow trailer



Well, this has been a long time coming.

Black Widow has been pretty much the spine of the Avengers for years and it seems a little wild that we are just getting around to a stand-alone adventure with her. Especially given where she ends up after "Endgame." But hey, I will take what I can get. I hope that despite this being a prequel, that some of the characters introduced in this movie will stick around to some capacity. I really hope that Marvel isn't planning on blowing Red Guardian and Yelena Belova on one movie. Especially since they got David Harbour and Florence Plugh to play them.

"Black Widow" will apparently take place after "Captain America: Civil War," so this will be when Black Widow is on the run after she helped Cap and Bucky escape the German airport. I also wonder if this will take place during the time when Cap and Bucky were trying to find Zemo. Because the way the characters were acting in "Infinity War," Cap, Widow and Sam all seemed to be together for awhile in that. But there is a stretch of time where this storyline will make sense. I am sure they will no problem tying it all together, so I am not worried.

I love Rachel Weisz in everything she does, so its nice to see here.

David Harbour as Red Guardian made me laugh out loud, love it.

I love that we have a freaking spy movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it feels like a full-fledged spy movie too.

Despite what Twitter says, let's just see what happens with Taskmaster before we start judging his look.

There is a shot of Budapest, so I DO wonder if this will jump around Black Widow's past a little bit.

Yep, Marvel. Once again, you have my interest. I can't wait to see this.

Monday, December 2, 2019

The trailer and personal theories revolving around "Antebellum"



As I was watching "Knives Out" at the theater yesterday, this trailer caught my eye. This is a new movie coming this Spring from the producers of "Get Out" and "Us." That does not mean Jordan Peele, but his producers are behind this. It does look cut from the same cloth as Peele's two movies. If Hollywood wants to make a bunch of Twilight Zone-esque social satires, I'm all for it.

This first teaser trailer for "Antebellum" is everything a teaser should be. It teases. I am getting sick and tired of trailers that give away half or all of an entire movie. This trailer puts the hooks in without giving any of the story away.

So since the story is still mysterious, what do we think is happening in this movie?

There are several scenes of Janelle Monae in slave times and also a couple in modern times. She seems to be seeing a white girl from slave times in her apartment complex. There are also a couple of scenes where what appears to be her kidnapping by a white person in a black car. Many have leaped to the conclusion that racists are kidnapping black people and sending them back to slave times. Which is an interesting and terrifying concept.

But the tageline of the trailer says "If it chooses you, there is no escape" so I wonder if racists are using some sort of curse to make black people appear in slave times. There is also a scene in the slave times where a bunch of slaves look into the sky and see an airplane, so perhaps people are getting stuck in an alternate reality? Or some kind of real world VR or something akin to "Westworld?" Janelle's character also keeps seeing a little white girl from slave times, which makes me wonder if she is under some kind of curse or that perhaps her building is haunted in some way.

Time travel is the popular theory here, but some clues in the trailer make me think that isn't the case.

Much like with "Us" discussing what the movie means and what is happening in it will be fun until April.

What do you all think?

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Review: "Knives Out" is a classically styled whodunit that's loads of fun

Knives Out Review
Every decade needs its own personal "Ocean's Eleven."

A fun, slick movie featuring a whose-who of A-list stars who are having so much fun while actually creating characters. While the George Clooney "Ocean's Eleven" may have been a remake of a movie from 1960, the 2001 version is quite different. "Knives Out" is an original idea, but I love that writer director Rian Johnson has made something that will fit nicely on your DVD shelves next to "Clue," "And Then There Were None," "The Murder on the Orient Express," "The House on Haunted Hill," and "Murder By Death." 

I am a sucker for this type of movie. I love murder mysteries and I love when they take place in a closed off place, like a house or train, and that the killer is lurking somewhere close by. I grew up obsessed with Clue, the only board game I was really obsessed with. I am just a sucker for this type of thing, so maybe I have a bias. But hey, "Knives Out" could have still been pure shit even though it had everything going for it. I am happy to report that is not the case. You are going to have loads and loads of fun watching "Knives Out."

This is going to be a shorter review. I don't want to get into the secrets and the twists and turns the movie takes. Its a whodunit murder mystery, of course its going to have twists and turns. This is a movie where the less you know about it, the more you are going to love it. Its classically styled murder mystery. The movie begins with a dead body. Then the police are going through the suspects. Of course, everyone has some type of motive for killing the person who is dead. But apparently it looks like a suicide. There is a detective working as a consultant, and he believes its not suicide, but indeed a murder. The board is set and the pieces are moving. The whole movie has been entertaining up to that point.

Then the movie throws its first curveball. It shows exactly how the person died, we find out who killed them. So suddenly, the movie isn't going to be a movie about finding out who did the killing, but whether or not the killer gets caught. Still, there are factors that are still unknown. The consultant is contacted by a mysterious benefactor, who contacted the consultant is also part of the movie. Perhaps there are other factors too, but that would be giving too much away.

The movie entertaining because, well, how could it not? The cast includes Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Christopher Plummer, Chris Evans, Don Johnson, Frank Oz and Ana de Armas. That's a stellar cast, they all know what's expected of them and they just let loose. The movie is very funny throughout, but you'll have too much fun trying to figure out the mystery of it all. Trying to pick a favorite performance is an impossible task. Collete is her usual self. Chris Evans makes for an interesting asshole after playing the do-gooder, boy scout Captain America for years. But just wait until to hear Daniel Craig's goofball Southern accent. Oh my god, what a riot.

You've definitely seen the trailers. You've heard about this movie. You know the players involved. All you have to ask yourself is...do you want to see it? I can answer that for you. You do. You really, really do. The crowd my dad and I saw this with was having just as much fun as we were. This is a crowd-pleaser. A great time at the movies. So do you want to see it? Yes, you do.

FINAL GRADE: A

Friday, November 29, 2019

Review: Martin Scorsese has blessed us with another magnificent crime saga with "The Irishman"

The Irishman Review
Now, that I have finally seen Martin Scorsese's "The Irishman" I think I understand him much better on his stance against Marvel films. Even if I will always respectfully disagree with him.

"The Irishman" is not just another crime saga. That would be really easy for Martin Scorsese to do, but "easy" really isn't a word in Scorsese's vocabulary. He's one of Hollywood's true artists, and I really don't care how artsy-fartsy that may sound. He is constantly pushing himself as a filmmaker and as an artist and he is always trying to fill our auditorium screens with things we've never seen before. Every time he sets out to make a gangster movie, he barely ever repeats himself. 

"Goodfellas" is still one of my favorite films of all time, and what I love about that movie is that Ray Liotta's Henry Hill is a person that always wanted that mobster lifestyle. He didn't care that he was breaking several laws a day, he didn't care that he had to kill, he care that he had to steal, he didn't care that he cheated on his wife then cheated on his mistress while still cheating on his wife. At the end of the film, when he's witness protection, he hardly seems to feel any guilt with the life he chose. "These days I have to wait in line for bread, just like everyone else" he scowls at the camera as he picks up his morning paper. "Mean Streets" blended religious guilt over a mobster backdrop. "Gangs of New York" gave a glimpse of history we are never taught in schools. "The Departed" was this crazy mix of a Hong Kong remake with a true story which became 2006 biggest's and best pop culture moment. If I have a problem with "Casino," its that Scorsese made a mob movie with nothing new to say, its basically Goodfellas in Nevada.

So what is "The Irishman?" Well, along with Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood" its one of the most important movies about the current industry. When Scorsese says those things about Marvel movies, he isn't trying to bash those fans. He is trying to articulate what he sees as a problem with the current industry in Hollywood. I've already written about this a little bit myself on this site, and while I will always love the Marvel movies, I am plenty aware of the sins they have to answer for. The "shared universe" mentality hasn't been the biggest blessing for the medium. When there is only one type of movie you can see at the theater at a time, when studios aren't willing to take risks anymore and go for the easy money, that is definitely a problem. Scorsese sees it as a problem. There was a time when you could sell a movie using big actors, and that day seems to have evaporated completely from the medium. Nobody seems to want to give other movies a chance, we are just looking for the next big franchise to be obsessed with for the next decade. The beauty of movies is that they aren't one size fits all. You can communicate whatever you want with them because movies are language. A language of sight and sound. When we limit what we can do with this language, it hurts more than it helps.

Martin Scorsese is definitely obsessed with the legacy of the business right now and that's precisely what "The Irishman" is about, the legacy of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro). Its a movie about how Frank Sheeran reflects upon himself, and the guilt and the highs and the regrets he feels about the life he chose. When we meet Frank Sheeran, he's just a regular guy trying to provide for his family. He drives meat delivery trucks and after meeting some bad men, he begins selling some of his shipments to the Philadelphia Mob. When he is on the verge of getting in trouble with the law for it, its the mob's lawyer that helps him out of it. That eventually leads him to more stealing, then eventually murder, as he moves on up the chain. He becomes a very trusted man to Russell Bufalino (Joe Pecsi), a high-ranking member of the Philadelphia mob.

The movie is Sheeran's life throughout the mob, how he bounces off of other mobsters; like Felix DiTuillo (Bobby Cannavale) and Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel) and even becoming close friends with Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). This life leads to an estranged relationship with his daughter Peggy (played as an adult by Anna Paquin). The movie really isn't about one main event, but it never feels like a washed-up biography movie. By the end of the movie, we feel the man's entire legacy fall at our own feet. 

Netflix gave Scorsese an $160 million budget to make the movie, and that is pretty significant right there. It shows that Netflix is continuing to stay a power player as a source of top-notch entertainment and it shows how far Scorsese is willing to go to get his art to the masses. No studio in the business right now would give anybody that kind of money to make a mob movie, and again, that's another example of the "shared universe" business at work right now. Scorsese will jump through hoops to make his movies. "Gangs of New York" was in the works since 1976, apparently. And Scorsese also had to fight hard to get "The Last Temptation of Christ" to the screen, for an understandable reason too. Any time a movie about Jesus or God is made, its immediately put under the Scrutiny Microscope, so it is a miracle it got released at all. He is a man committed to his art, and you can see that with every frame of "The Irishman."

We will get to talking about the actors in just a minute, but I do want to take the time to say that the de-aging visual effects in this film are state-of-the-art and excellent. Robert De Niro through the years in this movie is amazing to just watch. You could put the movie on mute and be dazzled by how far visual effects have come. The same can be said about Joe Pesci too, because those effects on his character are just as good. Sometimes, you will have a hard time figuring out where the visual effects end and when make-up actually stops. Domenick Lombardozzi isn't an A-lister in the business, but he's one of those actors you'd recognize if you Googled him. He plays a character named Fat Tony in this movie, for good reason. Lombardozzi absolutely vanishes in this role, and I honestly can't tell if he's wearing make-up or if its some kind of CGI trick. Honestly, I don't want to know because its one of the best moments in his career.

Acting-wise, the movie is just a ball to watch simply to watch the actors bounce off each other. "The Irishman" is a long movie, at three-and-a-half hours. But you never once feel like you are watching a long movie, because each and every actor is at the top of their game. The two best are easily Pecsi, who has been missing in action for way too long. Then there is Robert De Niro, giving another performance that will further define his career. Watching him work with Cannavale, Keitel, Pacino and the likes of Ray Romano, Jesse Plemons, Jack Huston, Marin Ireland and Stephen Graham. Scorsese is able to generate great performances out of all of his actors, with genuine amount of ease. Everyone is on fire here, at all times.

There are several directors who have made careers doing the same thing over and over again. Others take their usual themes and tell different stories with them, the best of the best can do that. Scorsese is one of those artists and he has once again proven why he's one of the greats.

FINAL GRADE: A+

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Review: "A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood" earns every moment of its enormous sweetness

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Last year, one of my favorite films of 2018 was a documentary called "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" which was deep dive documentary about Fred Rogers. How he used television to tap into the minds and souls of children and families everywhere, and how his big heart was real and non-jaded every day. Now, in 2019, Tom Hanks plays Fred Rogers in a film called "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood." In a time where it seems frustration, hurt and cynicism is infecting us all, its a great time to be reminded of his wonderful man.

"A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" is not the movie I thought it was going to be, which is a very good thing. This isn't one of those greatest hits karaoke versions of Fred Rogers' life. This is about a very specific moment on Fred's career. He was interviewed for Esquire magazine around 1998 by journalist Tom Junod. Matthew Rhys plays Lloyd Vogel, who is loosely based on Junod. Lloyd Vogel is a pretty cynical man himself, and he was planning to see if Fred Rogers' persona was all an act or if he really is the accepting, do-gooder that we see on TV.

Like this even has to be explored. After seeing the documentary last year, yes its absolutely true, there was nobody on Earth like Fred Rogers. I don't mean to get geeky on all of you, but if there was one real person throughout the history of the world who could lift Thor's Hammer (if such a thing were real) it's Fred Rogers and its not even close. I can't imagine a more purer soul, a shining example of the type of person I try so hard to be every day. That idea that Rogers likes you for who you are and that you are lucky to be alive, Tom Hanks captures perfectly. That giddy and witty side when creating characters, Tom Hanks captures perfectly. Having the perfect response, the right response, to any question thrown his way, Tom Hanks captures perfectly. Hanks thoroughly becomes and completely embodies the philosophy of Fred Rogers. Its a terrific, terrific performance.  

Lloyd Vogel is cynical because he's estranged by his family. He's one of those tough journalists that finds the negativity and spin on everything. His father (Chris Cooper) cheated on his mother many years ago, and was not around when his mother died. His father wants to make amends after many years, but Lloyd is having none of that. At first glance, it seems justifiable right? But that's the thing about the teachings of Fred Rogers. Not forgiving, whether your right or not, is poison in our veins and the only way we really move on is if we DO forgive those who have wronged us. Lloyd's lifestyle affects everything in his life, including being a new dad. Rogers is able to tap into this without much effort.

Seems pretty cliche, doesn't it? A cynical journalist who lives a cold life sees the light thanks to a moral figure who enters his life by chance. It seems like some kind of dumb cable movie. Yet, the script by Micah Fitzerman-Blue & Noah Harpster plus the vision of director Marielle Heller keep things on point. They are smart enough to turn these people into characters first, then allow the drama to build from there. This feels like something real, while they still layer in all the sentimental sweetness you'd expect from a Fred Rogers movie.

I like how the movie is structured. It feels like one big, long episode of Fred's show. From the beginning music, to the model sets that form a new place after each scene change. It will make you feel nostalgic for the Fred Rogers show. The movie will make you laugh and it will make you cry. It will also make you want to be better then you were yesterday, in 2019, that's a message we need right now more than ever. Not only is "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" a great movie, not only is it one of the best of the year, its a reminder of who are always supposed to be. 

FINAL GRADE: A

Monday, November 25, 2019

Review: "Midway" is a waterlogged mess

Midway Review
"Midway" is one of THOSE war movies.

What do I mean by that? "Midway" is a movie that looks like about a thousand other World War II movies, and does very little to assert itself above the rest. Its a movie full of famous to semi-memorable actors, yet the script is so paper-thin that next to zero character development occurs. Its got characters recycling the same tired story-lines that they give the word cliche a bad name. Its a movie that is more obsessed with the look and the stylized violence of the movie instead of the heroes that the movie is supposed to be about. The oddest part about it all is, the special effects look like they came from a video game. How in the sweet Hell does Michael Bay's "Pearl Harbor" from 2001 look way better and more believable than "Midway" from 2019?

Funny I mention "Pearl Harbor," since this movie spends much of its first hour remaking that movie. Since "Pearl Harbor" wasn't even close to being a movie to be remade, I am puzzled director Roland Emmerich decided to go that direction, yet here we are. The thing Michael Bay got right in an otherwise crappy movie was the ugliness of war and the shock of that day, so many years ago. In "Midway," the Pearl Harbor attack looks so much like a video game that I can't for the life of me imagine what Emmerich was thinking. I am also baffled, Roland Emmerich gave us "The Patriot," while historically inaccurate to the max, "The Patriot" is actually a very entertaining movie. "Midway" is overlong, the dialogue is corny and stale, instead of intense, witty and memorable like "The Patriot." We don't have a single character to hang onto in "Midway," whereas in "The Patriot" we actually had several to hold onto. I also have to say I believed in the decapitation by cannonball much more than any dogfight in "Midway."

"Midway" is full of good actors. People like Woody Harrelson, Aaron Eckhart, Luke Evans, Patrick Wilson, Dennis Quad, Mandy Moore, Darren Criss, Jake Weber, Alexander Ludwig, Ed Skrein and Nick Jonas. That's one helluva cast to just fucking waste, yet Emmerich finds a way to do so. Nobody is made believable in any way. Everyone is given personality ticks rather than actual traits. They look like cardboard cutouts from other, better movies instead of actually giving life to the people they are supposed to be playing.

Despite the bad special effects, Emmerich sure does try hard to stylize the violence onscreen. Therein lies the problem for me. Anytime a war movie glorifies the violence, it fails in my eyes. The best war movies show us just how ugly and terrifying war actually is, because of this, we come to appreciate more the men and women who put on those uniforms and defend our freedom. Our troops aren't action heroes, they are several steps above that. War isn't an Xbox game, its something real and raw, and the best war movies showcase that. The "Saving Private Ryans" and the "Thin Red Lines" and the "Apocalypse Nows" and the "Black Hawk Downs" and the "Gettysburgs" and the "Glory's" and the "Platoons" and the "We Were Soldiers" of the world are best of the genre because they display what war actually is, and they do so without winking at the audience. They show us what it means to be in any line of the military and even if some of those movies tell fictional stories, they still respect the people they are supposed to be about. "Midway" is just a glorified fever dream that goes through the motions.

But hey, Woody Harrelson's fake hair is pretty hilarious.

FINAL GRADE: C-

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Review: Harriet is rousing entertainment, but hobbled by strange decisions.

Harriet Review
I can't believe that a Harriet Tubman movie has been in the works for 25 years and is just now making its way out into theaters. She's a woman who escaped slavery then went on thirteen separate missions to rescue slaves. She ultimately was able to grant 70 slaves their freedom through her rescue missions, including family and friends. She was a scout and spy during the American Civil War. She was instrumental throughout the Underground Railroad and the Woman's Suffrage Movement. To have a movie take that long to get on the screen almost feels like blasphemy.

I also read that despite being white, Julia Roberts was considered for the role in 1994. Which is easily the most fucked up thing I read all day today.

Now that "Harriet" is here, how is it? I can tell you its well acted. I can tell you its well staged in structured. There are moments that are both rousing and crowd-pleasing. Harriet Tubman, played so effectively by Cynthia Erivo, running through the forest with several escaped slaves while "Sinner Man" by Nina Simone plays in the background might be the best moment in any movie of the year. Harriet Tubman isn't just a person rightfully recognized in history, she's an American badass. At the same time, the movie has many of the same norms as most slavery movies have. If you were to edit these movies together at the right time, they would all look the same. The villains in this movie are so cartoonishly evil that I can't believe they don't have mustaches to twirl. 

Cynthia Erivo brings much grace to her portrayal of Harriet Tubman. She plays her as strong-willed and intelligent, exactly what is needed to do this role well and she runs with it. She is guided by an amazing supporting cast. Janelle Monae has been on fire as an actress since 2016 (see both "Moonlight" and "Hidden Figures") and she doesn't disappoint here. Vondie Curtis-Hall. Leslie Odom Jr. Jennifer Nettles. Omar Dorsey. The cast here is stacked, and they all help paint this very ugly portrait of what life was truly like back then and just how dangerous is what to go on the run from a system that broke the people trapped in it. Its a harrowing journey at times, but phenomenal and educational at the same time.

The only things that really hurt the films are clear. One, as I stated above, the movie relies a little too heavily on passed slavery movies. It takes its ques a little too religiously to ever feel original. Trust me, no matter how many movies of a particular genre are made, there is always room to stand out. Two, something weird happens throughout this movie and I never knew it about Tubman. Tubman had superpowers. Legit superpowers. She could talk to God. That may sound snarky and cynical, but I don't mean it to be. She spends lots of time talking to God in this movie, and every time she does, she conveniently gets out of a dangerous problem or something of the sort. Sure, she could have had good intuition. Many people around the world have that gift. But the movie makes it feel like she has superpowers, and the movie fails in any way to communicate that in any other fashion.

All in all, this is still a movie worth seeing. So much of it is so good that the couple small gripes I have didn't derail it all for me. This is a movie that sometimes raw, and absolutely emotional. 

FINAL GRADE: B+

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Review: "Motherless Brooklyn" is a nice announcement for Ed Norton, but lacks a pop

Motherless Brooklyn Review
If you are a fan of Edward Norton, you have probably heard any or some behind-the-scenes rumors around his name. Here's the thing about Edward Norton, he is absolutely relentless on both himself and the actors around him because he wants to deliver the best possible product. Doesn't make him a bad person, but its easy to see why some directors or some studios would label him "difficult to work with." Back in 2012, he was all set to play Hulk in "The Avengers," and he met with Joss Whedon. One of the big things Norton requested was a shot at the script, and there was no way producer Kevin Feige wouldn't ever let any of his actors do that. Norton wants the very best at all times, that rubs people the wrong way and but for some it does the opposite.

So one could only imagine what the set of "Motherless Brooklyn." Edward Norton not only stars but directed, produced and wrote the script, which is based upon a novel by Jonathon Lethem. Set in the 1950's, Norton plays Lionel. A man with Tourette Syndrome, but because of his photographic memory, he's an excellent detective. He works along side Gilbert (Ethan Suplee), Danny (Dallas Roberts), and Tony (Bobby Cannavale). These guys have all known each other since childhood and work for the guy who rescued them from an abusive orphange, a guy named Frank (Bruce Willis). 

Not to jump into spoilers right now, but when investigating a shady business deal, Frank is shot and killed. Lionel begins an investigation of his own to see who got Frank killed and why. Lionel's investigations lead him to a woman named Laura (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who is helping a woman named Gabby (Cherry Jones) who are fighting forced gentrification in the city, all being done by a ruthless city councilmen Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin).

If you didn't think that was enough stars, the movie also stars Leslie Mann, Michael K. Williams, Willem Dafoe, Fisher Stevens and Josh Pais. Every single performance, big or small, is at the top of its form. So its really hard to even begin talking about who sticks out here. Everybody is great. The movie feels like a mixture between "Once Upon A Time in America" and "Chinatown," and Norton fills his movie full of mood and atmosphere. Norton also does a splendid job taking us all the way back to the 1950's.

When it gets down to it, "Motherless Brooklyn" isn't a complicated story, but it takes its time getting to the end. It drags in places, it over-explains in places, its a movie that didn't need to be nearly as long as it should have been. In the end, you may be checking your watch a few more times then you anticipated. Its too bad, because Norton really does a great job as a first-time director and I can't wait to see what else he's capable of. He's just going to have to watch his pacing his next time around. Alas, "Motherless Brooklyn" is still worth the trip.

FINAL GRADE: B

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Review: "Lady and The Tramp" is "just" another live action remake

Lady and the Tramp Review
When I wrote my review of the live-action "Lion King" earlier this year (and its still crazy to even call it that) I expressed my disappointment with how its basically just a cooler looking version of the old film. Most of the live action remakes coming from Disney had something new, provocative and neat about them. They felt like updates, other than the obvious no more animation. But I just didn't get that from "Lion King," which made me sad because its my favorite Disney movie of all time and I think it deserved better than what it got.

I can say the same thing about "Lady and the Tramp." Its basically a glorified versions of the original. Nothing super new is added. Except maybe no more racist cats? Which is definitely a good thing. But that's the real major change, from what I remember at least. I think Justin Theroux and Tessa Thompson do good voice work. I think each human actor is cast pretty perfectly here. Hearing Sam Elliots voice come out of a dog's mouth might be one of the highlights of the year. But really, this is just a remake for a remake's sake.

Its so eerily similar that it makes it tough to review...

Review: "Noelle" is a familiar but sweet seasonal greeting.

Noelle Review

Its official. DisneyPlus is live, and the conglomerate seems poised to continue taking over the world. So let's say you are among the countless who ordered the app and are now hard at work streaming and seeing all the possibilities that lay before you. One of the pressures of any streaming service is the making of original content. There are probably several people who have collected Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars movies over the years. So there needs to be more to draw people to these services, and Disney is trying to prove they are ready for the task of wowing patrons.

It seems "The Mandalorian, "the new Star Wars live-action show, is destined to suck all the air out of the room when it comes to conversation around DisneyPlus, so the big question is, what else is on the app? One is a new movie called "Noelle" a family comedy starring Anna Kendrick and Bill Hader. With those two right there, that's a decent draw that I was personally interested. I love both of these actors abashedly and I was curious to see what they were up to here.

"Noelle" is the story of the Kringle family. The Kringles have been serving the people around the world for two thousand years. Each male lead of the Kringle family has been Santa Claus and they have passed the torch of this legend, generation through generation. The movie opens with the recent Santa coming home on Christmas Eve after a hard night's work of deliveries. Santa then delivers his gifts to his two own children, Nick and Noelle. This Christmas in particular is special for Nick, because Santa has chosen to begin training Nick to take his place in the Santa mantel. As Nick begins to be excited, Noelle asks what she can do to help, but since she's already in charge of Christmas cards, her father gives her much good stroke.

In typical Disney fashion, can you tell where this story is going? Just like with any other Disney movie featuring a Disney princess, Noelle wants to do more during this time to help people and to make them happier that time of year. As Noelle and Nick get older, they are played by Kendrick and Hader respectively. Nick is having trouble adapting to becoming Santa, and he's feeling the pressure of filling his father's shoes. When Noelle suggests taking a vacation, Nick takes it and blows it out of proportion. He leaves and never comes back, with Christmas Eve just days away, Noelle must find Nick so that he can deliver gifts.

Just discussing the plot, you probably know where this movie is headed. I am sure traditionalists will hate everything this movie stands for. Especially with the slight controversy last year when a petition was created to make Santa Claus gender neutral. The movie doesn't focus on whether or not Santa should be a man or a woman, but rather reminds us that the most important thing to remember this time of year is be good to each other, make sure we are all happy. The world is a dark place most of the time, and its the holiday season where people inspire good in each other and that's what its all about. This is all wrapped in the typical Disney anesthetic, and its a mostly entertaining package.

Like I said, Kendrick and Hader have great chemistry together, and their relationship is the glue to the whole movie. They both do good work here. Shirley McClaine does funny work as Kendrick's elf sidekick throughout the movie. Bill Eichner appears as Kendrick's cousin who assumes the Santa mantel and uses a technology app to determine who has been naughty and who has been nice, and it s a very touchy app to say the least. This presents one of the most interesting concepts of the movie, and creates the usual villain of each Disney movie, but this sub-plot is swept off the rug fairly quickly, which I thought was a mistake.

The bottom line though is that families will probably enjoy this one during the upcoming Christmas season. 

FINAL GRADE: B

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.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

31 Days of Halloween: "Demons" 1985

Produced by the horror icon Dario Argento. Directed by Lamberto Bava, the son of the acclaimed horror filmmaker Mario Bava, "Demons" is quite something.

As someone who has been obsessed with movies all of my life, I used to dream up ideas for movies I'd make myself. One thing I always wanted to see was a movie where something bad happens in a movie auditorium. What if a bunch of patrons were in an auditorium were trapped watching some kind of cursed movie? Think about it, its a closed area, no much wriggle room to run. You can maybe hide, but even that is slightly limited depending on the size of the auditorium. It could be great fun in the right hands.

When I thought of this idea, I had no idea that Lamberto Bava's "Demons" was already in the world. The movie begins with several people in a sleepy little, unidentified town are all given invitations to a sneak preview of an unnamed movie. The guy giving out the invitations is wearing a mask, he doesn't talk, and looks like he's got scarring of some kind in places where his mask isn't covering his face. Still, those who go the invitation end up going to the sneak preview. The theater looks like any other theater, except there is a strange mask on display in the lobby. One woman tries it on, gets a scratch. Nothing too terrible though. The patrons enter the auditorium.

It's interesting what we see. We watch the movie-in-the-movie as the characters we just met are watching it too. We experience the same experience they are. A character in the movie-in-the-movie uncovers a mask that looks exactly like the mask on display in the theater's lobby. A character in the movie tries on the mask, they get a scratch similar to the woman. The characters talk about how the mask is vessel for demons, that the mask has the power to turn you into a demon.

Soon enough, the things happening to the characters in the movie, begin to happen to the people watching the movie. The girl that tried on the mask slowly becomes a vicious, killing-machine, monster lady. Anybody that she attacks who is still alive becomes a monster too. Essentially, its a zombie movie in a movie theater. Except its not zombies, its demons. Demons that have make-up so similar to the music video of Michael Jackson's "Thriller," that I had a good cackle every time I watched.

I don't know if the movie was intended to be a comedy, but its hilarious in certain parts. How actors act, how the script is written...it all just made me laugh. It was a fun laugh though. There's kind a screwball mentality to much of the movie, but it sets a fun tone. This might be a good one to throw on if you don't want something super scary. Unless you found the make-up affects in "Thriller" to be scary.

31 Days of Halloween: "Candyman" 1992

Do me a favor real quick. Go to your nearest mirror in your house. Shut off the lights. Say the word candyman while staring into the mirror, say the word five times in a row. If you do supposedly the Candyman appears and kills you. Are you brave enough to do it? Even though "Candyman" is just a movie, there are some people who aren't brave enough to say the word five times in a row in a mirror. 

I hadn't seen "Candyman" in a few years, and I kind of forgot how jumpy the movie is. Usually the jump scares really don't work for me, but I was pretty taken aback by the jump scares in this movie. That's one component to how scary "Candyman" is. Then there is Tony Todd. Man, I have always liked this guy but he comes alive in this movie as the title character. Todd has one of those voices where each character he plays becomes instantly iconic. At the same time, no two characters he plays are ever alike. You see the "Candyman" then see who he plays in something like "The Rock," two different characters entirely. But he is super spooky in "Candyman" and he's one of the reasons the movie works so well.

For anyone who hasn't seen this gem, long ago a man was viciously murdered for being black, then his body is burned and the ashes are spread in an area that will become inner city Chicago. A curse slowly finds its way into this part of the city. That's where the urban legend of the Candyman comes from. Virginia Madsen plays Helen Lyle, a graduate student who is writing a thesis on urban legends. She eventually becomes swept up in the Candyman legend and she slowly becomes entranced by the power of the Candyman. He eventually begins to frame her for his murders, and she must prove her innocence. 

The movie has several genuinely scary scenes. I also love that the movie ends in a fashion that isn't typical to happy endings. While something good happens, something sinister has taken evil's place, and that is a jetblack happy ending if I've ever seen one. It's a great little creeper. Jordan Peele is gearing up to be involved in some type of sequel/revival, and I'll be interested to see what he does with it.  

Monday, October 28, 2019

31 Days of Halloween: "Jaws" 1975

One of the best things Bravo ever put together was their 100 Scariest Movie Moments syndication. The top honors went to "Jaws." Thinking about it today, I don't really consider "Jaws" a horror movie, its a thriller if you ask me. Sometimes though, thrillers and horror can walk hand-in-hand. I get why many people consider it a horror movie though. There is something scary about an animal that wants to eat you. There is something scary about being a snack for something constantly on the move. There is something scary about being eaten. Its definitely not the way I'd chose to go if I ever had the opinion.

"Jaws" is a landmark of a movie in many regards. Up to this point (that being the year 1975), horror movies were B-movies. They were pretty much independently made. They weren't made by giant studios. That changed with "Jaws," the horror genre went mainstream after that. "Jaws" also created the event film. Growing up in the 1990's and the 2000's and being an adult in the 2010's, its hard to imagine a time when summer was a dead time for movies. But prior to 1975, that was the case. The summer simply wasn't used for the big, mainstream, blockbuster movies. When "Jaws" came out in summer of 1975 though, and the world saw how much money it made at the time. There was no going back after that. That's why summer movie seasons take on a personality of their own each year, you can thank "Jaws" for starting that trend.

"Jaws" is more about a giant shark that eats people and three guys on a boat trying to capture it. This is a story about a community not wanting to listen to the obvious. Once its too late, bad things begin to happen in the community. Another great example of that is "The Bay," a movie so creepy I have vowed never to watch it again. Because I simply can't.

Not trying to say "Jaws" is all scary. Richard Dreyfuss makes me laugh from start to finish. There are funny parts, there are thrilling parts and there are parts you can't believe you are actually seeing. It's really no surprise when thinking about it that it became such a sensation and set a new standard for summer movies. It has everything a summer blockbuster requires.

But we all know the best character is Quint, right?

Yes, yes we do.

31 Days of Halloween: "The Birds" 1963

There was a time when I was a teenager, It was the summer before I went to college, and I got my first speeding ticket. I went downtown of my hometown of Peoria, to the city's courthouse to pay it. I remember parking in a garage not far from the courthouse. While I was walking to the courthouse, I was attacked by a bird. Some people who worked in the downtown area made some comments. But I couldn't believe it. I was already aware of the "The Birds" movie by Alfred Hitchcock, but I would have never guessed that a bird would actually attack a person.

That's the charming power of "The Birds." It takes animals that always come off mostly harmless and turn them into savage monsters. Somebody said something pretty powerful. Swarms of anything is scary. Whether its bees swarming, locusts swarming, even birds swarming, things swarming is very scary and I think Hitchcock understood that. Imagine if a swarm of birds randomly attacked you. Imagine being pecked to death slowly. That's sounds like a terrifying way to go, and its something you can't help but think about.

Hitchcock usually didn't focus much on exposition. We never find out why the birds decided to terrorize a town. Can you possibly think of an explanation which would be satisfactory? Its scarier just not knowing why the birds decided to attack. The movie is about trying to survive a time when everything goes to hell, we don't really need an explanation. The movie works without it. Once the characters have survived, that's the end of the movie.

That's really why we watch, right? We want to make sure the characters live in the end?

I'm not sure any of you will look at birds the same way after this one. Even today, this movie still holds power. In the early 1960's, movies really weren't that violent. So a movie featuring bloody bodies was taboo at the time. A dead body missing both its eyes was taboo at the time. Hitchcock was obsessed with breaking rules, ignoring the traditions of the day. I can only imagine that audiences of the 1960's had to have lost their minds over this.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Review: "The Lighthouse" plunges viewers into a waterlogged Hell

The Lighthouse Review
If you are willing to trudge through my writings back to the year 2016, you'll see that I gave "The Witch" and enthusiastically positive review. I still think its a great movie, a movie that helped revitalize the horror genre and put writer and director Robert Eggers on the radar. Now, I have finally seen "The Lighthouse," Eggers' sophomore effort. 

As much as I loved "The Witch," I know it was a very divisive film. There are plenty of people that didn't like it, but it seems just as many did like it. It's pretty clear after seeing "The Lighthouse" that Robert Eggers is going to be a guy that doesn't offer up easy answers. So, I would highly recommend that if you didn't like "The Witch," you should just go ahead and skip "The Lighthouse." This is an adventurous and playful filmography Eggers is creating. Each film he makes is reeling with ambition. While I feel "The Lighthouse" was a hypnotic film, a brilliant film, I can't pretend all horror fans are going to have even remotely same experience as I did. As the lights turned up in my auditorium earlier today, I heard the familiar sighs and nervous laughs. These were the same sounds I heard once "The Witch" ended when I saw it for the first time. Lots of people don't really get what happened as the final images play out, hell I loved "The Lighthouse" and I'm not exactly sure what happened.

This is definitely going to be a film I am going to have to pull apart, something I will watch several times to find more clues. I know that isn't everyone's cup of tea. So if your adventurous a movie lover as I am, you should check this out. "The Lighthouse" is a big meal, which could have multiple meanings. Much like "The Witch," this is a movie where you question reality. Could the movie be apart two men growing mad as they work as lighthouse keepers on a remote island? Could the movie be a metaphor for toxic masculinity? Could the movie be a version of Greek myths? Could the movie be nod to the work by H.P. Lovecraft? Or could the movie be all of those combined? Most of what you see is up to you to interpret.

The movie focuses on Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) a new lighthouse wickie who works under Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe). Wake has been working on this lighthouse for a very long time and seems fairly coo-coo when we Winslow first meets him. Winslow is a private man, a quiet man, a man that's just trying to do good work and earn respectable wages. He seems to be drifter, but Wake wonders if there is more to his story that Winslow isn't telling him.

That's definitely one of the movie's biggest themes, secrets. Wake never allows Winslow to take a shift watching from the lighthouse, and Winslow seems to believe there is something that keeps drawing Wake to the light. Their relationship begins to implode as Wake gives Winslow much to do and is often critical of his work ethic, while Winslow believes he doing good work. Again, Winslow is no saint either. He may not be who he says he is. This back-and-forth between Wake and Winslow is what drives the movie. It's the thematic meat of the movie. That's before all the weird stuff starts happening.

What kind of weird, you ask? Well, Winslow sees a mermaid in the water. He also sees a large tentacle coming from something at the top of the lighthouse. Much like "The Witch," we are left to wonder if Winslow is really seeing what he's seeing. Or is he dreaming? Or is he losing his mind working for a madman on a remote island, miles and miles from a shore? You're never really certain when we leave reality and exit to fantasy. You may just lose your own damn mind trying to make up your own on what's happening here.

I don't think I am going to delve any further in the story. This isn't a story where you lay all the cards out. Watch it yourself and you can deduce to me what you think might have happened. I will just say that Robert Pattinson is definitely ready to tackle Batman. I think he's got enough complexity and creativity in him to pull off the character. He definitely proves he can play somebody who is deranged enough to dress up like a bat and fight crime. Seriously, I think he's going to surprise plenty of naysayers in a couple of years. Willem Dafoe is Willem Dafoe, in the best possible way. When it comes to creepy characters, Dafoe is a National Treasure. He's got at least three scenes that feel instantly iconic. These two actors carry the whole movie, there are really no other characters, and they do impressive work with each other.

Telling cinematic stories in black-and-white is a lost cause these days. It seems like these days, black-and-white is used to illuminate something within the story its telling. "Dead Man" from 1995 was very much a story about how the American West was in its last leg, and there is a melancholy feeling to that movie that made the black-and-white appropriate. "Sin City" while stylized, is a tribute to the old film noirs of the 1940's, and feels appropriate for that film to not wholly be in color. "Nebraska" has some downer tones to it, even while you laugh out loud to it. As per "The Lighthouse," I think Eggers didn't choose to shoot in black-and-white simply at random. Its a movie that is built around secrets and lies, and I think the stark tone to the movie is more illuminated in the black-and-white. I am not sure if the movie would have worked as well in color. I think it only adds to the experience.

That's essentially what "The Lighthouse" is, an experience. I wouldn't say all horror movies make sense, because they don't necessarily have to. There are several movies that I am not sure have any sort of linear storytelling going on, but they deliver the scares, play out like nightmares. So I am forever impressed by them. "The Lighthouse" leaves plenty to chew on, and the more your willing to give yourself over to it, the more fun you are going to have. The thing is, you have to be ready to engage in the text exclusively, because this one doesn't offer up simple interpretation.

Much like I did with "The Witch," I may write a more spoiler-driven piece to see if I can tackle the meaning of the movie in clearer detail.

FINAL GRADE: A