Welcome!

If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking 1-2x a week, and it's better late than never! Before reading any of the "reviews", you should read the intro, the FAQ, the MOVIES I HAVE ALREADY SEEN list, and if you want, the glossary of genre terms and "What is Horror?", which explains some of the "that's not horror!" entries. And to keep things clean, all off topic posts are re-dated to be in JANUARY 2007 (which was before I began doing this little project) once they have 'expired' (i.e. are 10 days old).

Due to many people commenting "I have to see this movie!" after a review, I have decided to add Amazon links within the reviews (they are located at the bottom), as well as a few links to the Horror Movie A Day Store around the page, hopefully non-obstructively. Amazon will also automatically link things they find relevant, so there might be a few random links in a review as well. If they become annoying, I'll remove the functionality. Right now I'm just kind of amused what they come up with (for example, they highlighted 'a horror movie' in the middle of one review and it links to, of all things, the 50 Chilling Movies Budget Pack!!!).

Last but not least, some reviews contain spoilers (NOTE - With a few exceptions, anything written on the back of the DVD or that occurs less than halfway through the movie I do NOT consider a spoiler). I will be adding 'spoiler alerts' for these reviews as I go through and re-do the older reviews (longtime readers may notice that there is now a 'show more' which cleaned up the main page, as well as listing the source of the movie I watched, i.e. Theaters, DVD, TV) to reflect the new format. This is time consuming, so bear with me.

Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Friend Request (2016)

SEPTEMBER 22, 2017

GENRE: GHOST, REVENGE
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I've seen a couple people make the joke that Friend Request looks like something one might mock up for a film that needed a cheesy horror movie playing in the background (you know, for the two or three movies per decade that don't just use Night of the Living Dead), but for what little it's worth, it's actually the best of this year's crop of college kid-centric horror flicks. Unlike Rings, Bye Bye Man, and Wish Upon, I didn't spend the running time rolling my eyes or trying to keep track of how many plot holes it already racked up - I was actually enjoying it in a low-key, timekiller way until its endless and misguided third act. Props for trying something a little different in one of these things, but it didn't quite work due to not being properly set up, and probably accounts for the film's low grades more than anything else.

And by "one of these things" I mean yet another movie where our heroes get freaked out by a vengeful ghost for an hour or so and then decide that the only way to stop the thing that's been killing their friends is to drive to the old _____ (burnt out commune, here) and put the body to rest or whatever. It's amazing how these places are always a couple hours' drive away from where the protagonists live - just once I want to see one where they discover the old factory/asylum/warehouse/whatever is actually located in another country and they can't find a flight. OR, less jokingly, they discover the place is a full day's drive away, but relatively early in the film, and turn the 2nd half or so into more of a road chase, so that we can at least get a change of scenery and a kind of ticking clock scenario that you don't often get in these sort of movies. But alas, they follow the template of The Ring fairly closely, which might have worked better if we didn't have a genuine (well, technically genuine) Ring movie just six months ago.

Hilariously, like Rings, this one's been on the shelf for a while - it was actually shot in early 2014, and released in Germany last year. Why it took so long to come here is unknown, but oddly enough the movie's approximation of Facebook is a pretty close match to what we have now*, so it didn't feel as dated as you might expect for a nearly four year old production about the internet. They never actually use the name "Facebook" (I call it Fauxbook), but the social media site that the ghost uses to spread her terror is pretty much identical, with little variations in the terminology (like "Spread" instead of "Share") to keep them from being sued I guess. It's a good choice, I think - previous films have built their versions from the ground up, which automatically disconnects the audience its catering to as we instantly recognize it as phony. Here, you might just assume it's the real FB, and so the movie's central concepts - accepting strangers as "friends", the jealous rage one gets when seeing their friends having fun when they weren't invited, etc. - work as intended, without the usual distraction of seeing all the characters being obsessed with a social media app the audience recognizes as fake.

Anyway, for those uninitiated, the central conceit is that a fairly popular college sophomore named Laura accepts a friend request (hey, that's the title!) from Marina, a "weird" girl in her class, feeling sorry for her as she has no other fauxbook friends. Marina's nice at first, but then becomes overly pushy, tagging Laura in all her posts and messaging her nonstop about hanging out, missing her, etc. After Laura has a birthday party that she doesn't invite Marina to, the latter freaks out and kills herself - but she films herself doing it and posts the video on Laura's wall. And then continues doing so, from beyond the graaaaaaaaaave! Or, you know, whatever. Anyway, Laura's social circle starts shrinking as the friends begin dying off one by one in mysterious ways, and videos of their deaths are also posted on her timeline. Because of this, the 800 or so other people start defriending her (after leaving comments like "U R SICK!" and such), and Marina's plan becomes clear - she wants Laura to be "friendless", like her.

It's not the worst concept for a movie, really (plus it's not just a generic online ghost - she's actually a witch!), and if they really dug into the psychology of our obsession with social media and used the ghost-y stuff as more of a backdrop, it might have been a really great little slice of social commentary. The 800+ randoms is something that they don't really explore; we get graphics every now and then showing her declining friend numbers, but who are these people? We only ever see Laura with her five besties and her mom - were the others just complete strangers as well? Does she care that these people, who can't even really be called acquaintances, aren't going to see her statuses anymore? There's a minor subplot about how they can't delete their profiles (Marina's ghost won't let them), but it would have been interesting if she simply WOULDN'T delete hers, because she'd lose all her virtual friends. I myself never take anyone on Facebook that I don't actually know, but I know a number of friends who accept every request they get and somehow notice when one of these folks drop them ("Who unfriended me? I had 895, now I have 894!"), so I wish the movie took more time on the idea that these "friends" aren't actually friends at all and Marina is just one of many who were inadvertently scorned by conflating real life friendship with a virtual one.

But instead we just get the usual shit: someone dies, it looks like an accident, there's a suspicious cop who wonders why our protagonist knows two recent victims of tragedy, then another one dies, lather, rinse, repeat. While I was grateful that their phones had nothing to do with their demises, none of the deaths are particularly interesting (or graphic; the film's R rating is mostly for the six or seven F bombs), and you can easily guess the order in which they occur to boot, so it makes it an even bigger bummer that they didn't spend more time on the online obsession angle. Laura is even enrolled in a psych class that is currently on the topic of social media dependency, and the professor has this John Hurt/Jared Harris kind of authoritative presence, making it seem like he might be a more important character down the road, but he's largely dropped from the proceedings after a while. To be fair she's eventually suspended due to being a seeming liability for the school (even though it happens every few minutes it seems, she never thinks to take out her phone or laptop and show the police that she isn't the one posting snuff films and that her account can't be deleted, so the school thinks she's nuts), but again, it seemed like a missed opportunity not to include this guy on the action, if they wanted to *say* something about the very thing the teenagers in the audience will likely start looking at before the credits roll (the opportunities for a meta sequel are RIPE!).

Now I gotta get into spoilers, so skip the next paragraph if you want more surprises.

All that said it's really not all that bad until the third act, where they make a choice that is laudably unexpected and even somewhat daring (for this brand of horror, I mean), by having one of the friends realize that they can be spared Marina's wrath if Laura isn't alive to be alone. So he tries to kill her, and the finale becomes more of a slasher film chase climax, with Marina just hanging out on the sidelines I guess. I admit I didn't see it coming, but that's largely due to the fact that it's not really set up at all. The would-be killer is her friend-zoned buddy Kobe, who is also the requisite hacker type who offers up exposition like "These posts aren't written with any kind of code that I've ever seen before!", i.e. the kind of shit that means nothing in time that they maybe could have spent hinting at his out of nowhere villain turn. He even kills one of the other friends, which makes even less sense, and this all goes down during an endless climax that has Laura travel to the aforementioned commune, but then to another location after discovering the commune is a dead end. When she's not being pursued by Kobe she's just wandering around dimly lit hallways, with Marina making precious few appearances - so when they have Laura go through these motions again at a different place, I felt my last bit of goodwill toward the movie fade away.

It's not a total failure like its aforementioned peers, however. For starters, they believe in James Wan's rule about fake scares, in that there shouldn't be any - two 'classic' ones are set up (a refrigerator door being held open for an unusually long time, and a fogged mirror about to be wiped away) without the expected BOO! moment after, and there are no sudden doorbell/phone ringing kinda ones, either. In fact, the closest the movie gets to one is not only kind of effective in its carnival funhouse kind of way, but it's also thematically appropriate - Laura watches one of those "Hey look at this cute video" things where the subject (a cat, in this case) suddenly morphs into a possessed demon and shrieks. And then there are a few subtle scare moments without any attention being drawn to them, like when a character turns away from his laptop but his reflection on the screen stays frozen in place. Nothing particularly earth shattering, mind you, but it at least shows they were trying to avoid the pratfalls of so many others, and not wasting the audience's energy on false scare moments. It also makes good use of the fauxbook layout/function to introduce us to all of the primary characters quickly, showing their profiles and an assortment of pics/statuses that inform us what they're like and how they relate to one another in a few seconds of mostly dialogue-free screentime, as opposed to awkward expository dialogue that takes a lot longer. It's a shorthand I've seen in other films, but since this one's actually ABOUT this social media platform, it also works as introduction for how *it* works, for the non-computer types in the crowd who might have little idea what Facebook even is, i.e. the parents that will have to bring their kids to this inexplicably R-rated movie.

So basically it's not a good movie but it's also not as bad as many reviews will have you believe, the ones that will be an unfortunate product of the tendency to grade everything on a "fresh/rotten" scale with no room for the middle ground that it actually occupies. Sure, in the wake of It it might seem like the bottom of the barrel, but comparing this kind of thing to that juggernaut is highly unfair. The film actually belongs in the same class as Bye Bye Man and those others I mentioned, and to my eyes it's an improvement on those (though not quite up to par with the similar Unfriended, which took full advantage of its cyber-scenario and didn't skimp on the death scenes, not to mention fleshed out all of its characters as opposed to just the lead), and after Annabelle: Creation I appreciated something a little quieter that didn't seem to have a mandate to throw a scare at the audience every five minutes. They were putting some effort into making an effective horror film in the vein of the 2002 Ring, so even though they missed the mark I can at least appreciate that I wasn't spending 90 minutes feeling like the filmmakers thought I was an idiot. Much obliged!

What say you?

*Unless they updated it digitally - there was an inordinate number of VFX companies listed in the credits, despite the fact that there aren't a lot of obvious CGI effects for the ghost or kill scenes, which are also very brief anyway. So it's possible they went back and updated the Fauxbook screens to be more timely, as we all know how often they change it.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Mother! (2017)

SEPTEMBER 15, 2017

GENRE: PSYCHOLOGICAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I don't read as much as I'd like, but even if I had all the time in the world I probably wouldn't read the Bible, as I got enough in (Catholic) grade school to know the basic gist, even if some of those particulars are fading in my memory. And I certainly wouldn't read the sort of publications that inform you about celebrities' current dating/marriage status, because there is literally nothing in the world I can imagine caring about less than where anyone besides myself sticks his dick. But if you want to get the most out of Mother! (I'm not doing the lowercase) I might suggest reading up on both, or at least the former while also knowing that director Darren Aronofsky is now dating Jennifer Lawrence, as it helps clarify some of the autobiographical details he has laced his heavily allegorical film with. Though I should stress I didn't know they were dating until after I walked out of the theater, having enjoyed what I saw despite not knowing the current history of its filmmaker.

SPOILERS FOLLOW! The ad campaign has been vague and therefore pretty much any detail counts as a spoiler, but I'm gonna get into it because otherwise there wouldn't be a lot for me to say. You've been warned!!!

If you choose to ignore any deeper meaning or symbolism in the film, you might enjoy it just for its sheer insanity, as this is possibly the nuttiest goddamn movie ever put on over 2,000 screens - and that includes Aronofsky's previous film, Noah, which had giant rock monsters helping to tell the story of the famous ark. It starts off like a low-key home invasion movie of sorts, with Lawrence and her husband (Javier Bardem) enjoying their quiet life in their isolated home when Ed Harris shows up, claiming he thought the place was a B&B and asking to stay the night. Then his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up and Lawrence starts getting a bit weirded out, as Pfeiffer is a bit too forward (it seems like only ten minutes go by after their introduction that she's asking them about their sex life) and Bardem is being way too accomodating. Then more people show up. Then more. And then even more. If nothing else, this movie must have the largest cast for a single location movie ever made, as the camera never leaves JLaw's face for more than a second or two, and her character never leaves the house. But even if no one ever showed up besides Harris and Pfeiffer, it'd still be a terrific exercise in creating tension; from the film's first minute or two we're already made uneasy by how people treat Lawrence, and even though nothing particularly chilling is happening to her, you'll probably start hoping for any break in the anxiety and dread Aronofsky manages to build up with almost nothing happening.

Oh and I'm not calling the characters by their real names out of laziness - they aren't really given any in the film. Bardem is "Him", Lawrence is "Mother" (not "Her", tellingly), Ed Harris is "Man", etc. There's no way to know them until the end credits, so they don't really matter in the long run, but if you missed the biblical connections in the film, crediting Harris and Pfeiffer's children (yep, they show up too) as "Oldest Son" and "Younger brother" should remind you of Cain & Abel, and you can start filling in the others from there - depending on how well versed in the bible you are, of course. It reminded me of Antichrist (a movie I damn near hated), which credited the leads as "He" and "She" and dealt with similar plot threads (marriage, misogyny, etc) while also being the kind of movie that will likely cause walkouts at your screening, though I only saw one (maybe two? I saw two people leave and not come back, but one was sitting in front of me so it was more noticeable that they didn't return - I might have just not seen the other re-enter) at mine. I mean, even though the ads were very WTF? and Aronofsky has never been a "multiplex" kind of filmmaker, folks might STILL find this a bit too much.

But I love crazy, even if I'm not always sure the meaning behind any of it happening. Sometimes it's just kind of awesome to see an Oscar winning actress storm around her house that's been gradually overtaken by insane fans (Bardem's character is a bestselling poet who is mounting a comeback), tearing apart her walls and setting up club equipment for a mini rave in her living room (told you, it's weird). Better, smarter writers than me will write 1,200 word essays on these kind of moments and find fascinating explanations for their inclusion - I on the other hand was just stoked to see character actor extraordinaire Stephen McHattie show up, as I don't think he's been in a wide release from Hollywood in several years (Immortals, maybe? from 2011) and it's nice to see him in something besides some TV show or junky Canadian horror flick. I also had no idea Kristen Wiig was in the movie, so when she showed up I was just as surprised as Lawrence's character, who by that point was having trouble of finding new ways to make a "What NOW?" kind of face as more and more people kept barging into her home and making it their own.

See, even if you ignore the Bible stuff, the movie kind of works as a heightened tale on how difficult it is to share the love your life with his (or her) fanbase, as these people mean well but can be rather intrusive. Bardem points out that he needs to connect with these people to get ideas and be able to create, something he can't get from sitting at home alone with his wife all the time, and Lawrence is devastated that she can't be enough no matter how hard she tries to fulfill his needs (during the movie's few quiet moments she is usually trying to restore his family home, which was largely destroyed in a fire and she is now rebuilding it). This has been read as Aronofsky admitting (defending?) his apparent penchant for being in relationships with his actresses, relationships that haven't worked out, but as a minor creative type I think it's more universal than that, and not even just to men - to all creative folks. Bardem's not wrong - maybe some people can conjure fantastic stories (or whatever their chosen medium may be) without new experiences, but he's not one, and his wife is seemingly devoted to recreating the past and afraid to try anything new (she turns down a drink of some exotic alcohol after insisting she likes to drink, for example).

In fact, if not for a pregnancy plot that takes up the film's second half, I feel the roles could probably be swapped and you could have a healthy chunk of the same takeaway (plus maybe if the roles were swapped it might make me feel less guilty for all of the times I went out to see horror movies so I could write something instead of staying home with my wife). I don't have to deal with it often, but even on my very minor level of (lack of better word here, trust me) fame I occasionally encounter people who just assume we are friends because they follow me on Twitter or whatever, and it feels fairly intrusive if I'm with my kid or even with a few other friends - yet I feel guilty if I just mumble a "thanks" and walk away. The push and pull is, like everything else in the movie, exaggerated to an insane degree, but the same point is being made - anyone in a position to have fans needs their support, and when they overstep their boundaries it can be difficult to tell them to back off, and therefore they're never sure when they've crossed the line. But at the same time we might not inform them of this, so it's not their fault that they are unaware they were off-putting. So in this movie's batshit version of the world, Bardem creating a baby with his wife is no different than creating a new poem to be read - his fans want it, Bardem doesn't want to create conflict with the people who adore him, and that's where the film REALLY goes off the rails.

(Oh, and keeping with the Biblical theme - he's God, by the way. So there's that, but I don't know enough about Aronofsky to make any assumptions with what he's saying there, so let's move on, with respect.)

Indeed, the baby's birth and what happens in its life shortly thereafter is probably where the movie lose the most people. The first half is the buildup to the conception, and the second half is when she's about to pop (it's not "nine months later" per se - the movie is just as vague with time as it is with names, and given that it's not a particularly realistic film by any stretch, it could be the next day for all we know), and once again her home is overrun by strangers (the first batch, with Ed Harris and the rest, are scared off by a burst pipe - i.e. driven out by a flood, in keeping with the biblical ties). If nothing else, you gotta appreciate how much action Aronofsky is able to cram into this damn house - we get raves, riots, shootouts, masses... it kind of reminded me of Snowpiercer in a weird way, with each room of this house being a microcosm not unlike each train of the car was one (hey, Ed Harris was in that too - maybe let's double feature this with that instead of Antichrist). At a certain point it becomes kind of obvious that Lawrence is never going to leave that house, so I kind of love that they staged five action movies' worth of stunt men and scenarios into it instead - I hope like hell the Blu-ray has a production design featurette, if nothing else.

In fact a lot of what I liked about the movie ended up being on the technical side of things as opposed to its characters (ciphers) and narrative (a mish-mash - by design! - of biblical themes and personal struggles). For starters, it's actually shot on film (16mm, I believe), which is such a rarity these days I momentarily thought something was wrong with the projection before I realized it was just film grain. And even though I'm not exactly a huge fan of Jennifer Lawrence, I love the fact that we never leave her POV even for a moment, and she's probably in 90% of the movie's shots, if not more (even cutaways to other characters are frequently over her shoulder or something) - we're never made privy to a single detail that she didn't catch herself, easily making us as uneasy and paranoid as the character. There's a scene where Harris is puking, seemingly naked, and (Bible alert!) sporting a fresh wound near his ribs - she wasn't there when he got the injury (or took his clothes off), so we're never informed what the hell that was all about. I love stuff like that, which goes a long way toward keeping me engaged in the film even though I couldn't tell you what was going on and/or necessarily caring about anyone on-screen in the usual way.

Ultimately, it falls into that category of movies I "appreciate" more than I traditionally "enjoy", like Kidnapped or Martyrs, albeit for different reasons (apart from the aforementioned beating, which lasts only about 20-30 seconds, there's nothing "hardcore" about the film's violence). I'd much rather read other people's interpretations, even ones I disagreed with, than watch the film again, though I still encourage folks to check it out if they think they know what they're in for (and no, it's not really anything like Rosemary's Baby, despite what the posters seemed to be suggesting at one point - though it was a nice misdirect for the early goings on). I suspect it will get an F Cinemascore, which puts it in good company with the likes of Solaris, Bug, and Killing Them Softly (the only F Cinemascore movie I DON'T like is Darkness, in fact), and probably won't do anyone's careers any good, but who cares? It's a remarkable achievement both in the "hey, you've never seen anything like this before" way and also the fact that Paramount put up a lot of money to make and release it wide, instead of dumping it in limited release/VOD. The idea that some suburban soccer mom (or even better, her Katniss Everdeem loving daughter) will walk into their local mall multiplex and see this makes me super giddy, and that's more than enough to qualify it was a win in my house.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

It: Chapter One (2017)

SEPTEMBER 8, 2017

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

Like pretty much everyone in my generation, I have vivid memories of watching the ABC miniseries of Stephen King's It, rewatching the taped broadcast enough to even remember some of the commercials that played during it. Given its length (3+ hours, plus commercial fast-forwarding time) I'm surprised I watched it as often as I did, as I revisited the film on Blu-ray earlier this year and found myself remembering tiny details (like Ben breaking his newly won award when he stumbles out of his limo) as if I had just watched the movie the day before. However, I've only found the time to read the book once, in I think 2004 when I lived in Boston and was making a dent in my backlog of unread novels during my 45-ish minute per way commute, so it wasn't "special" as it is to many of my peers. But in a way I think this was ideal for approaching this long-awaited theatrical adaptation - I have more nostalgia and connection to the flawed miniseries than the novel that is frequently cited as one of King's best, and certainly the favorite of many of his fans*. Thus, it's easier for me to see what this movie "fixed" as opposed to "ruined", which is how I'm sure some people will describe the deviations from the source material.

Now in the wake of The Dark Tower I must assure you that this is, for all intents and purposes, a very faithful adaptation of the "past" parts of the book. Georgie's murder is pretty much recreated to the letter, and every major beat is accounted for - it's just the details that are different. Some of the kids' individual fears have been changed, so Richie is afraid of clowns instead of the Wolfman, and Stan is terrified of a creepy ass painting in his father's office instead of that mummy/corpse thing. I don't think this matters in the long run, but I've had too many conversations over the years with book fans who get angry when a movie adaptation changes a character's hair color or whatever, so they might get angry at these variations. For the rest of us normal people, if you want to see a movie where seven "losers" band together to defeat an unspeakable evil that appears every 27 years, one that manifests itself as their fears but most of the time takes on the form of a clown named Pennywise, you should be pretty happy with the results.

It's funny, I was running a bit late this morning when trying to get to the theater in time and didn't bother inspecting my shirts before grabbing one, and I happened to pull out my Shining shirt - the most polarizing King film due to the fact that it's an unnerving and terrifying piece of entertainment but also makes many (too many, for some) changes from the novel, i.e. great movie, terrible adaptation. But while Kubrick was changing things to fit his own worldview, director Andy Muschietti and a number of screenwriters only change details in order to keep things fresh, while retaining King's overall tone and atmosphere in a manner few of his films have ever quite mustered. I'm talking Frank Darabont levels of "getting it", where you get the idea anything they changed King himself would probably agree was a good idea (as opposed to Shining, where he still seems annoyed by the changes Kubrick made), and if your memories of the book are just as hazy as mine, you probably won't even realize there's much of a difference at all.

Except, of course, the timeframe. The book starts in the present day and frequently cuts back and forth, a format that was retained for the miniseries, but there is no framing device or flash forward or anything of that nature here. If you've never read the book or saw the other movie, you'd have no idea that we're due to meet these kids again in thirty years - which added a lot to the suspense. The movie runs 135 minutes or so, and by the time they enter the sewers to confront It, it's been made clear that they aren't afraid to make some changes, so it's very possible to think that some of them might not survive the battle, allowing for some terror that was impossible in the other versions as we'd always be seeing the present day version REMEMBER these things, as opposed to how they're presented here, which is "now" (now being the summer of 1989). I wouldn't dare spoil whether or not that occurs, but the fact that I was sitting there, for the very first time, worried that Richie would die? That was kind of unexpected, and a big part of why I enjoyed the film - it was these rather simple and innocuous changes that really helped draw me into the movie.

So let's talk about 1989, since that's probably the most noticeable difference. The original book was published in 1986 and the setting was 1957-1958, so the change fits - it's roughly thirty years ago for the audience it's intended for, just as King's book was, making it a perfectly acceptable deviation, allowing folks my age to smile at the (thankfully few) little period details, such as the theater showing Burton's Batman, and kids talking about Michael Jackson without it being an icky thing (this was pre-accusations). My favorite, surprisingly, was a little running gag about Ben being a fan of New Kids on the Block, a secret only Bev knows and keeps to herself, while teasing him about it whenever possible (one pun seemed to go over the heads of everyone else in my audience; not sure if I'm just "old" or if I'm the only one who found it as funny). Usually I groan at these kind of things, but the screenwriters kept it to a minimum and used them for character moments like this, as opposed to just having them reference every single late 80s property they could cram in just for the sake of appeasing folks who get hard reading Ready Player One.

One such reference actually helped hammer home something that was working subconsciously on me. As the summer wears on, Batman and Lethal Weapon 2 are replaced by Nightmare on Elm Street 5 (the theater only shows WB/New Line movies, naturally), and at the sight of this throwaway little detail it fully clicked: this is basically a big budget, "classy" version of a Nightmare sequel, with Pennywise standing in for old-school Freddy, who would talk and maybe make you grin, but wasn't a full blown jokester like he was in the later sequels. Like Freddy, Pennywise uses the kids' individual fears against them, and the big scare setpieces work as standalone slices of terror that will likely warp the minds of anyone who shares similar paranoia (such as blood, corpses, and of course clowns). Indeed, one of my few complaints about the film is that these sequences are often just kind of presented sans setup, like they will just cut to one kid at home or riding their bike right before something scary happens. In the Elm St movies this disconnect made sense - the kids were dreaming, after all (and usually ended up dead at the end), but here it's like they could be re-arranged in the edit without it really mattering, as it takes a while for them to start confessing to one another that they've seen some freaky shit. I wouldn't say it was a crippling flaw or anything, but there was definitely more than one occasion that I wondered how much time had passed since the previous scene or where the character was going in the first place when they encountered It.

Another thing that gave it some unexpected Elm Street flavor was the minimized adult presence. The Elm Street kids often had single parent situations (if we ever met them at all), and here we only get the barest glimpses of any of them besides Eddie's mom and Bev's dad (who is more terrifying than Pennywise, I think). Bill's mom is only seen once in the entire movie, silently playing the piano, and even though Mike's grandfather (instead of his dad, who is now dead - they kind of mix and match Ben and Mike's stories for whatever reason) is played by the only recognizable adult actor in the movie (Steven Williams), we only see him once as well. It makes sense - it's the kids' story after all - but I wish they could have at least spent a little more time with Bill's parents, since the loss of Georgie hangs over his every move (I actually teared up when he explains how it's easier for him to walk into a house where Pennywise might be than it is for him to walk into his own, knowing his little brother won't be there), and yet his parents never seem to care that he's seemingly never home. A quick scene showing that they're so numb to Georgie's death that they don't even notice if Bill is there or not, OR a scene where we see that he has to sneak out or lie about his whereabouts, might have helped a bit. But maybe that's just my overprotective dad shit kicking in, hahaha.

My only other issue was the CGI for a few of Pennywise's other forms. Bill Skarsgård is terrific as the clown and makes the role his own in the same way that Heath Ledger made us forget about Jack Nicholson for two hours, making it all the more disappointing when he appears as a CGI ghoul of some sort (it's an issue that plagued Muschietti's previous film, Mama, where his practical creation got "fixed" by subpar visual FX). Pennywise's... I dunno what you call it, freaky fast shuffling thing (you see it on the trailer where he tramples through the flooded basement) also got a bit tiresome after awhile - he's at his best/scariest when it's simply Skarsgård talking and making expressive faces without really moving much at all, honestly. The film is otherwise gorgeous to look at, for the record - they got Chan-Wook Park's usual DP Chung-hoon Chung to shoot the film, and it not only nails the period look but lets Skarsgård's eyes do the heavy lifting in darker scenes. There is no question that his sewer introduction will cause just as many, if not far more, nightmares as the miniseries did with its own version of the scene.

The kids are all great too, to the extent that I almost wish they could just wait 30 years to shoot the 2nd half with them reprising their roles instead of recasting, likely with familiar faces. Apart from the kid playing Richie (who was in Stranger Things, though I forget which character he played since I never finished it) I didn't recognize any of them and the movie was the better for it. There's a push for Jessica Chastain to play the adult Bev, and while I normally would never argue with hiring Jessica Chastain for anything, I'm just going to see the awesome actress I've loved in a dozen other movies, as opposed to "Beverly Marsh", which is how I see the girl who played her here, as I've never seen her in anything else and she is absolutely wonderful. Ditto for the kid who played Ben, who might be my favorite character and thankfully got plenty of screentime (and encountered the movie's creepiest one-off visual, one of the dead kids from the Easter Egg hunt disaster). I kept expecting familiar faces to pop up as the parents, but apart from the aforementioned Williams I had just as much of a blank slate with them as I did the kids, and I hope they find a way to retain that for the sequel, allowing us to fully believe in the world instead of seeing people we already know from elsewhere. The movie's gonna make something like 90 million dollars this weekend - they clearly do not need big stars to sell tickets, and it'd be cool to see that kind of feel recreated.

But even if they rope in the biggest stars in the world, I'll be there on day one for the followup, since the creative crew is said to be returning and they clearly have a strong handle on the material. It's not a perfect film, but it's a damn good one and one of the best Stephen King movies ever. And before you say "That's a low bar", it really isn't - if you strip out the sequels that weren't using his material, unnecessary redoes (Carrie 2013, anyone?), and anything Mick Garris was involved with, it's actually a pretty solid collection of movies, most of which are just as good as their source material even if things are changed. I mean, it's not like Lawrence Kasdan was the one to make Dreamcatcher as fucking batshit as it is - it's actually a pretty faithful adaptation! And despite more scrutiny given the book's popularity, not to mention the switch in director from someone people really love (Cary Fukunaga, who apparently wanted to have a scene where Henry Bowers molests a sheep) to someone whose sole film was overshadowed by its producer (Guillermo del Toro), had some people worried that this could be a disaster or, at best, another forgettable misfire like last month's Dark Tower. But no - this is gonna terrorize a generation of kids and win over their parents as well, so now the only fear is if the second half can live up to it.

What say you?

*Mine is The Long Walk, which ain't ever getting made into a movie, I suspect.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Offerings (1989)

SEPTEMBER 7, 2017

GENRE: SLASHER
SOURCE: STREAMING (YOUTUBE)

A couple years ago, John Carpenter sued the makers of Lockout for ripping off Escape From New York a bit too much for his liking, and actually won, which set a potentially fascinating precedent for future lawsuits. In fact, JC could easily win again if he ever decided to follow suit against Christopher Reynolds, whose debut (and, penultimate) film Offerings is so much like Halloween it's actually kind of jarring when the film does something different. The music is nearly identical, the plot is more or less the same thing (sans the holiday, but that barely played a part in Carpenter's film anyway), there are a number of key scenes recreated... it even has a classroom scene where fate is discussed! Believe me, I've seen a number of Halloween ripoffs over the years, but I can't recall another that was so committed to stealing so liberally from it. It's almost charming.

I could probably fill up the length of a review with a list of examples (such as when the heroine gets a silent phone call, hangs up, then screams at the next caller only to discover it's her best friend), but that'd get boring quick so I'll do my best to stick to what's actually different. For starters, the movie combines the two most classic slasher movie setups: we have a kid who is clearly already evil (he kills small animals, a move later swiped back in turn by Rob Zombie for his Halloween remake), but he's also the victim of a prank gone wrong, which is usually what you do when you want some semblance of sympathy for the guy when he inevitably returns to take revenge x number of years later (it's ten here, for the record). Since he was already nuts I'm not sure why they bothered with the prank thing, but I guess it's one of the few other things to distinguish it from Halloween, in that he has a reason to go after these people. And yes, in case you're wondering, he begins his revenge plan when he escapes from the institute, in fulfillment of the scriptures.

Another change is actually a spoiler, so skip this paragraph if you want the film's few surprises preserved.

Naturally, there's a Loomis type character, his shrink who now works as a college professor (and whose relation to the killer, John Bradley, isn't made clear until later, so it just seems like the sheriff is keeping some random professor in the loop). He makes a few appearances throughout the film, all of them (wait for it) copied from Halloween - finding a dead animal, seeing a disturbed grave - but with about 20 minutes to go, he finally meets face to face with his former patient. It's a scene kind of like Loomis' interactions with Michael in Halloween 5, actually, but Reynolds couldn't have seen that one yet as this movie was released a few months before H5 was, so he came up with the idea on his own or ripped it off from another movie. Anyway, Bradley kills the guy in this scene, leaving the sheriff to be the one to take him down at the end. Whether it was intentional or not it gives the movie its own form of surprise: by copying Halloween so much, this actually comes off as a twist of sorts, kind of like how Savini's NOTLD remake stuck to the exact same thing for an hour and then turned Barbara into an asskicker just when we were about ready to assume nothing else would be different.

If only they copied the pace! Halloween itself is hardly the fastest paced movie ever made, but it's on Michael Bay overload compared to this one, which commits the cardinal sin of slashers: spending a good chunk of the day introducing everyone, then starting to off them all... and then cutting to the next morning, with another half hour or so to go. Plus the heroine and her bestie are already on edge due to a couple of friends disappearing and also finding human remains on their porch, so watching them fart for another day waiting for nightfall is a hugely crippling flaw, in a movie that few will be fully engaged with by that point anyway. The poor acting, shitty kills (none of them are really on-screen), and dull visuals (the killer has a messed up face, but we barely ever see it, though he has no costume either) will have the audience already wanting it to be over with, so hitting pause when the third act should really be getting going was probably the last straw for anyone who rented it back in the day.

Speaking of which, I'm almost positive I did, because the opening scene felt really familiar and I also remembered seeing a slasher with Halloween ripoff music, but nothing else rang a bell. It's possible I rented it, got bored and/or fell asleep and returned it without finishing (I would have rewound it though, I'm not a monster), or there was somehow another movie that did the same thing, but it's just as likely the movie's blandness didn't manage to stick in my memory. Indeed, just this week I was going through a bunch of boxes from my mom's attic and finding essays and the like that I wrote in college (so, not as long ago as this theoretical VHS rental) and having no recollection of writing them - and that was something I was (somewhat) personally invested in! So it's not too crazy to think I'd forget everything about some shitty slasher movie I saw in 7th grade or whatever.

Anyway, if you'd like to see it for yourself, it's on Youtube. You can buy a bootleg quality DVD from Amazon to make yourself feel better if you want, but they are from companies that specialize in public domain stuff sourced from VHS, so none of that money is going toward Reynolds or anyone else involved with the movie. But sooner or later Arrow or Scream Factory or one of their brethren will rescue this thing from obscurity, and I will pick up the special edition right away. Not to watch the movie again, but to dive into the extras and see what the filmmakers have to say about their "homage" to Carpenter's film (dream supplement: get JC to do a commentary as he watches the film for the first time). At least in movies like Hallowed they're going out of their way to acknowledge Halloween's influence (the title, they drive past the filming locations, etc.) while also coming up with their own story. No such luck here; there's no overt reference to Carpenter's film, and while the killer has a clear motive and even a little gimmick (the title refers to the body parts that he gives as presents to the one girl who was nice to him as a kid), it's basically the same movie, albeit a pretty stiff and forgettable one. Hell, it wouldn't surprise me if I already rewatched it for the regular run of this site and forgot again.

What say you?

P.S. All due respect to Carpenter, Lockout is actually a pretty fun movie. And I bet it's better than the remake that they keep threatening.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Red Christmas (2016)

AUGUST 30, 2017

GENRE: HOLIDAY, SLASHER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I thought it was a little weird that Red Christmas, an increasingly rare addition to the holiday slasher canon, would be released in August, but Silent Night Deadly Night 2 was released in April, so they're at least closer to the namesake season*. But "weird" was the order of the day with the film anyway, which on the surface is a holiday slasher in the vein of Home Sweet Home, in which our targets are a family of adults and their various partners as opposed to the usual group of college kids or whatever. But the devil's in the details, and I assure you I was not prepared for the number of fairly taboo subjects that were not only addressed in the film but part of frequent conversation, as well as the killer's motive. I'm not in the mood to get into arguments/debates about these topics, so I'll just let you know if you have VERY STRONG OPINIONS! on things like abortion, infertility, religion, and Downs syndrome, this might be a movie (and review) you should skip.

Any film that focuses on a family getting together for the holidays is going to showcase some dysfunction, so when one of the adult sisters (the mom of the family is Dee Wallace, so that should clue you in, roughly, to the ages of everyone involved) chastises another over the latter smoking when she's pregnant, and Wallace's brother mocks one of his niece's husbands over his religious beliefs, I didn't think much of it - par for the course of these things. But this one goes a bit deeper: the aforementioned religious guy might be a closeted homosexual, as he races off to masturbate in a wardrobe (?) after seeing his brother in law's bare ass, and the pregnant sister returns the insult to her sister by mocking her inability to get pregnant at all, which in turn leads into a brief discussion of using scientific methods to get pregnant instead of trusting in God/nature. These are all kind of touchy subjects, and not always handled delicately (and by "not always" I mean "pretty much never"), so when you see the '80s style poster and read the generic plot description, you might not expecting to be confronted with a topic that might be a sore spot.

Then there's the Down syndrome topic, which is actually the least of its worries for a while - no one treats the character (Jerry, Wallace's son - the patriarch of this clan passed away earlier in the year, we are told) any differently or even mentions his situation. But it ultimately ties into the abortion subplot, and that's where things get a bit dicey (SPOILERS AHEAD!), as we learn that twenty years ago, Wallace got pregnant again after Jerry and when she discovered that baby would have Downs as well, she aborted it, because it was hard enough with Jerry and she didn't want double the stress. Combine that with what we've already learned (and isn't really a spoiler as they tell us fairly early), which is that the killer is actually that would-be aborted fetus, who survived and became a mutated killer, and you have a movie that is bound to rile up the folks who like to scream and shout (read: tweet) about how "problematic" our movies are rather than actually do anything to contribute to the good of the world.

Luckily, I am not one of those people, so I just went along for the ride. The writer/director, Craig Anderson, has a comedy background and has said in interviews he set out to make "a stupid movie", and the trailer also touts its comedic bent. so I don't think it's wrong to not take these serious matters all that seriously. I wouldn't say it's an outright comedy (or even "horror comedy") but it has that offbeat tone like Frank Henenlotter or the Black Christmas remake, where you aren't laughing out loud but just appreciative of the sick sense of humor and a "no sacred cows" kind of approach. That's right up my alley, and you all know how desperate I am for more slashers (especially on the big screen, albeit in as limited a form as this), so forgive me if I wasn't offended by the idea of using abortion as a backdrop instead of the usual "A prank went wrong and now he's out for revenge" kind of killer motive. Like I said, if you have strong opinions on the subject maybe you won't be as charmed by the film, but for what it's worth I think it helps that the movie isn't preaching to either choir - on one hand, the fact that the killer (named Cletus) SURVIVED his abortion (don't ask for details how this worked, the movie doesn't offer any) gives plenty of weight to the "it's a living thing" side of the argument, but if that living thing grows up to be a serial killer...? You can't accuse the movie of picking a side on that one. Plus, the heroine is Wallace's character, who a pro-lifer would probably see as a monster for her actions, but then she spends the rest of the movie doing everything in her power to protect her (adult!) children, so the "bad mother" argument pro-life types often employ doesn't quite work. It's almost like it's a difficult topic with no easy answers!

As an experiment, though, let's say the movie was silent and it was just another slasher where a guy in a costume (a cloak and bandages - he kinda looks like Darkman) wreaks havoc on a group of people, free of any weightier subject matter. Would it work? Well... no, probably not, alas. Some of the kills are pretty great, and Cletus has a late-period Jason affinity for using a variety of objects (including but not limited to a blender, an anchor, and a peanut allergy), but the direction and editing often makes them unsatisfying and in some cases completely confusing. In fact this sort of thing plagues the entire movie; for example, there's a scene where Wallace aims a gun at the killer from a very short distance and fires multiple times, yet whether or not she hits him is never made clear (this follows a scene where it seems like SHE is shot accidentally, but where that bullet landed is anyone's guess since she falls to the ground but wasn't hit). The geography of the house is also puzzling, with the killer seemingly teleporting in and out of rooms at times because there's no other way to explain how he was able to sneak up on a character or exit the room without the others being able to tackle him. At one point we see him using a lattice (nod to Black Christmas?) to get into one particular room, but unless they had the things on every wall of the house it doesn't explain all of the other times he was able to pull off his movements.

The characters often make baffling decisions as well, and I don't mean the usual "running upstairs instead of out of the front door" kind of stuff. Out of nowhere, Wallace decides to collect all of the cell phones (there are only three including her own) so that she can scatter them around the house, and then her son-in-law dials those numbers from his hiding spot - the idea, I guess, is that Cletus will hear the ringing and make his way to those victim-free spots while she carries out a task elsewhere (if the movie wasn't over a year old I'd swear this was a nod to the Friday the 13th game, where you can turn on radios to distract Jason - it doesn't really work). It's weird enough that she comes up with this plan instantly, but then she neglects to hide her own phone, so when it rings she screams (almost definitely giving away her location) and tosses it roughly ten feet away from her and stays in the same spot, self-destructing her own wonky-ass idea and putting herself at more risk to boot. There's also a character with a peanut allergy, something she apparently doesn't think too much of since Anderson decides the best way to convey this information (foreshadowing) to the audience is to have this adult absentmindedly reach into a bowl of peanuts (Wallace sees her and stops her from doing it), as if she was a 5 year old who didn't understand their own medical conditions.

So yeah, it's one of those movies where you get the sense that things were reverse engineered from previously decided upon beats, no matter how convoluted or unnatural they might seem to the audience. At the end of the credits we are told to visit MakingRedChristmas.com, which has a trailer for an upcoming documentary about how difficult it was to make the film, so that might explain some of the confusing edits (if anyone can explain the final showdown between Cletus and his opponent, I'd love to hear it), as there might not have been time/resources to film the proper coverage and Anderson just had to make do with what he had and hope the audience could fill in some of those blanks. But that excuse can only go so far; a lack of funds couldn't possibly be to blame for such headscratchers as a redneck neighbor threatening to put Cletus "out of your misery!" before urinating on him, or why Anderson frequently shows the characters' feet. Outside of their (again, expected) spats none of the characters are hateable, and Anderson did a pretty good job at making it hard to tell who would be the next to die, but their often alien-esque behavior kept any true suspense at bay, as my eyebrows were almost permanently raised during the scant - but still somewhat padded - 82 minute runtime.

But there's really nothing else like it, and it was too damn peculiar to dismiss. I was never bored, it got the basics more or less right, and it inspired a conversation that lasted nearly an hour afterward, which is more than I can say for at least 50% of the slasher films I've ever seen. And even if it made the movie's "point" a bit difficult to pin down, I genuinely like that Anderson wasn't coming down hard on either side of the topics he brings up (though there seems to be very little affinity for traditional Christianity), so pro-life and pro-choice people alike can find something that backs up their beliefs. And that goes for even the smaller things; I might be reading too much into it, but there's a nasty fight between the two older sisters over whether or not a meringue should be refrigerated, and when I went home I looked it up, finding: "let the pie stand at room temperature in a draft-free spot before serving it. After a few hours, however, it will need to be refrigerated", so I guess they're both right, which is like everything else in the movie. If Anderson's saying anything, I think it's that people don't always make the best decisions, but that doesn't mean someone else should be telling them how to live. Which, if that was his conscious intent, is a damn fine message to spread, though I'm not sure why he opted to make it in a film where a blender goes through a guy's eyeball.

What say you?

*I'm not just pulling that movie out at random - there's a clear homage to it in the film (it involves an umbrella), which delighted me to no end as most folks are likely to pay homage to one of the original's kills (the antlers, usually).

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Dark Tower (2017)

AUGUST 3, 2017

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

If there's one benefit to my depressing lack of free time, it's that it leaves next to zero opportunities to revisit even a movie that I love, let alone a book. And so while I consider Stephen King's series of Dark Tower novels to be among my favorites of the form, I've only read them once, over a span from roughly 2001-2005 (and I still haven't gotten around to the 8th entry, The Wind Through The Keyhole). And - as memorably/ridiculously depicted in King's own Dreamcatcher - the more stuff I take in, the more I have to unwittingly purge from my memory, which means keeping recollections of the stuff I watched last month resulted in my memories of those books (especially the first ones) being reduced to almost nothing. Long story short, if the movie version of The Dark Tower left me cold or angry, it wouldn't be because they changed the name of a supporting character or skipped over a subplot, because I can't remember those things anyway - it'd just be because it wasn't a good movie.

...The Dark Tower isn't a good movie.

Let's get the positives out of the way. Idris Elba has been a magnetic screen presence for quite some time now (I never watched The Wire; my introduction was as Hillary Swank's partner in the OK but largely forgettable The Reaping, and even that thankless role was enough to know he was someone to watch) and he was a fantastic choice to play Roland. I mean he's a fantastic choice to play pretty much anyone (a compliment I rarely bestow on an actor; incidentally one of the few others is Ed Harris, who was my dream choice for the character when I first read the book, but obviously that was nearly 20 years ago and now he's probably "too old" for a studio), but his particular skill at commanding your attention is invaluable here, in a movie that races past things like "character development" or even "introductions". Even someone who had never read the books or even heard of Elba before would likely know he was going to save the world the second he appeared on screen, so his casting paid off in multiple ways.

And... well I guess that's it. I mean I guess I can talk more about Elba, like how gets to show off his rarely utilized comedic chops in a few scenes when his character enters "Keystone" (read: our) Earth, being confused that animals "still" talked (off a commercial featuring talking raccoons) and offering a coin to the ER nurse who rattles off his list of ailments. But honestly, no one beyond racist assholes thought Elba would be to blame if the movie didn't work, and it's a waste of typing breath to point out that he's the main reason the movie has any value at all. I wish I could say the same about Dennis Haysbert, who plays Roland's father Steven, but if you've seen the trailer you've already seen a good chunk of his appearance (he's only in that one scene) and the movie doesn't firmly establish that it's his father until Jake says so later, rendering their scene a total misfire unless you know who the character (never introduced by name; someone said he does indeed say "son" at some point but I didn't catch it) is and what significance he has to the storyline. Given that the actors are only 18 years apart in age (and Haysbert has aged well, so they don't even look that far apart), and the character in the books died when Roland was fairly young, I myself wasn't even sure if it was supposed to be his dad or just some friend of his - can't imagine what a newcomer would think.

In fact, that's largely the entire problem with the movie: it bends over backwards to not be impenetrable to newcomers, and yet it still pretty much is, because nothing is clarified or given any weight. It's only my spotty memories of the books that allowed me to keep up at times; for example at one point Matthew McConaughey (as the Man in Black) picks up one of the fabled colored spheres from the books (collectively known as Maerlyn's Rainbow) and uses it, but at no point are their function explained (let alone his quest to obtain them). He just picks one up and does magic-y shit and Joe Moviegoer is, I guess, expected to just assume he has different colored ones because he likes to mix it up a bit. Now, if they have a different concept for the spheres in this version of the story, that's fine - but tell us what that is! I shouldn't have to be filling in blanks myself, especially when they've established how much different this version is from the novels.

Before I go further I should stress that changing things from the novel is not something that angers me, as long as it's done right. As Quint from AintitCool pointed out, if Spielberg made Jaws exactly like the book it would not be the masterpiece film that it is, and I find a number of adaptations flounder the more they try to cram in every single line/character just to appease fans, rather than do what works for a movie. Even if I knew the book inside and out I wouldn't care that they were "remixing" it; if anything I'd be happy about it because it would allow me to be surprised at its developments. The Walking Dead takes the right approach, I think - they use the comics as a very loose road map ("OK, time for Negan to show up") but the specifics all change, allowing comics readers to be surprised when, say, Andrea dies on the show when she was still alive in the comic that was further ahead.

So, again, my issues with the film are not because they changed things - but that I was never sure if the blanks I was filling in still applied. If this version of Man in Black killed Jake's mom and stepdad (his real father is dead and not a business tycoon, another book change), was he still involved in Roland's mother's demise? Could that be something that Roland and Jake bond about? Well who knows, as Roland's mother isn't mentioned - but that's the kind of thing I kept wrestling with throughout the movie, while also wondering if a non-reader could even understand the Man in Black's importance beyond "Well it's Matthew McConaughey and he dresses in black so he must be the villain." The film offers him no real introduction; we first see him in a quick, wordless shot watching some other unexplained events in an opening scene, and his quest to kidnap gifted children to help destroy the titular tower is hastily explained at best. Jake plays zero role in the final battle since he's tied to a chair, so there's no arc or revenge to the whole "dead parents" subplot, beyond (spoiler) making it OK for Jake to stick with Roland at the end instead of going home to his mother. It's not the worst idea to make Jake the central character and let us see the story from his eyes, but doing so robs both Roland and The Man in Black of the time that should be spent explaining who they are, why they are enemies, etc. When they show up, it's really only our attachment to the actors that gives them the weight they deserve.

Another huge problem is that they fail to establish Mid-World as the strange and vast wonder we've come to know from the books, and to a non-reader audience it will just look like some generic post-apocalyptic desert world. The movie is only 95 minutes with credits (so, really probably under 90) and a big chunk is set in New York, so there's not a lot of time spent in Mid-World anyway, but what we see isn't exactly impressive. A decaying amusement park, a little outpost with huts/tents, and one isolated city that reminded me of New Otherton from Lost is pretty much all we see of it, and no one seems to be taken aback when they travel from their native world to the other. Roland has some brief fish out of water moments when he goes to New York, but the Man in Black seems pretty much right at home when he goes there, and Jake has literally no reaction when he goes from Earth to Mid-World. For an epic fantasy, the movie is totally lacking in anything that inspires awe; Roland looking around New York has more gravitas than anything else, and we've seen Times Square a million times.

Frustratingly, the filmmakers skip over all of this stuff, but go out of their way to shoehorn in references to other Stephen King books. For the uninitiated, most of King's books share a universe not unlike the Marvel films, and the Dark Tower series is the backbone of that continuity. So it makes sense that they'd throw in a few nods, but most of them are just completely extraneous and downright insulting when you consider everything from THIS story that got excised. Cujo walking by is a fine little gag, and Jake's sensory powers referred to as "the shine" is acceptable, but why the hell would a 15 year old kid have a toy car (i.e. Christine) in his room? Why would a New York gun shop have a Rita Hayworth poster? I wish I was there when a prop guy was told to make a sign saying "Barlow & Straker's" in a movie that can't bother to include the rose in any meaningful way. Due to studio rights these things aren't going to pop up in sequels (if it gets any, which is doubtful), so I am baffled that they went out of their way to sneak in all of these references instead of focusing on the story they were actually telling.

I realized later that the movie felt like it was on 1.5x speed. It's got all of the elements and beats for a successful story, but it races through them so quickly that nothing really registers. Roland doesn't want Jake around at first, doing the whole "Leave me alone kid, I have a mission and you'll slow me down" kinda thing that we've seen in 80,000 other movies. Watching them bond over the course of the film might not be original, but it would at least be enjoyable... if he wasn't being a father figure like, seven minutes later. He flat out HUGS the kid roughly thirty minutes of screentime after they meet, which might work if those thirty minutes focused only on them and no one else, but in that period we cut to McConaughey a few times (he's in the movie way more than he should be; he actually gets top billing for the crawl), some folks in the town they visit, etc. Ditto for the villainous plan - it's all explained, but in bursts of exposition that fly by so fast you're not sure if they're important or if it's just filler dialogue before the real meat of the conversation begins. At one point I checked my watch not because I was bored, but because I had to verify that the movie really was almost over as it seemed to be based on where the story was headed, because it actually seems to go by faster than the brief runtime already had me prepping for. When it ended my initial feeling was "That's it?", which in some ways is worse than "Jesus what a disaster!" or even "Worst movie ever made!", because at least that would be memorable.

The saddest thing is that I knew it was doomed right from the second it began. Even the most casual fan of the series would probably remember "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed..." as the opening line and sort of rallying cry, and would expect it to be the first line in the movie. Even if they changed everything else, you'd think they'd get that much right. But no, it kicks off with gibberish exposition via text crawl (never a good sign), and the "man in black fled..." line appears later, tossed in at random just to appease fans I guess (I'm not sure if we ever see the Man in Black in the desert at all, let alone fleeing). So I knew right away to drop my fanboy appreciation for the novels and just let the movie take me where it wanted to go for this particular incarnation. Alas, it didn't take me anywhere; it just raced through a bunch of half-assed moments from the books, staged with almost zero energy (you've seen every cool action moment, trust me), and stopped to throw in a King-related Easter Egg every five minutes, most of which are from novels that got turned into far better movies than this. A crushing disappointment no matter how you slice it.

What say you?

P.S. No, it's not horror, but my other site has covered the movie plenty and I hadn't updated for a while, so you get a bonus "non-horror" review. Ironically one of its only decent scenes involves a monster, though.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Wish Upon (2017)

JULY 14, 2017

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL, TEEN
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I know I'm not the target audience for teen horror movies, so all I really ask of them is that they're OK enough timekillers and something I can watch with my son in a few years when I deem him old enough for PG/PG-13 fare. But I'd rather he went out and got laid than stayed home wasting his time and insulting his intelligence with Wish Upon, a hopelessly sloppy "Monkey's Paw" variant that can barely get the basics right, let alone what little it adds to the table - I'd wait until he was old enough to get drunk with me and "appreciate" nonsense like this. And by that I mean also laugh at (not "with") all of its clunky writing, at times abysmal direction, and shockingly horror-lite approach to this sort of thing.

In fact, one of the two nice things I can say about the movie is that it doesn't have any fake scares or even that many BOO! moments at all - everything just kind of happens with a shrug, usually telegraphed (poorly) long before it actually occurs. At times, director John Leonetti (Annabelle) and screenwriter Barbara Marshall (co-writer of the pretty good Blumhouse "Tilt" release Viral) throw in some mild Final Destination-y suspense to the proceedings, but otherwise it's only a horror movie in the technical sense - there is only one or two moments in the movie that might make even the least discerning teenage audience shriek, but even they might just laugh at it instead (like I did, sober and by myself at a 10:30 am screening). I give them credit for not falling prey to the "We need to get them jumping every five minutes!" mentality that has sullied any number of horror films aimed at the younger set, but they went too far in the opposite direction.

And that would be fine if the story and characters were involving enough to not even notice, but the script (or, at least, this representation of it - more on that soon) never gives its solid cast anything to work with, and everyone is a stereotype. Our heroine (Joey King) is a high school outcast with two friends of similar social standing, and since she's brunette her class nemesis is a blonde girl of no other distinction, and pretty much everyone else exists only to serve as a victim to the wish box's hazily explained rules. See, this isn't the usual "Monkey's Paw" kind of thing where the wish comes back ironically (like, you wish for someone to be alive and they come back as a zombie) - she gets her wishes and they work as intended, but later on (there's no rhyme or reason to when) the box will open and play some music, at which time it kills someone who had nothing to do with her wish, and in some cases is so unnecessary to the narrative that no one notices they're dead for a few days. There's no real reason for this other than to ensure it takes her most of the movie to figure out the connection between her wishes and people in her life dying, and Marshall botches what I guess was an inadvertent cause and effect scenario: her wish for a crush's returned affections leads to her uncle being killed, and then she wishes to get everything from his will. It'd be ludicrous, but at least kind of cool, to have the box - an old hand at this by now - continue this sort of chain, so that each death inadvertently inspires the next wish in order to keep things moving along, but that's the only time there's any sort of relation (and again, it's not acknowledged anyway).

The other nice thing I can say is that her wishes are typical teenager nonsense: she wishes to be popular, she wishes her dad (Ryan Philippe!) wasn't such an embarrassment (he's a dumpster diver, even though they own a big house), she wishes her bully would "just rot" (not "die", notice). She doesn't go big (a friend admonishes her for not curing cancer) or even particularly "bad" - she just asks for stuff any selfish 16 year old girl might wish for. Since the deaths have no relation and she doesn't even notice most (even her uncle's barely registers much of a reaction) you could remove them from the first hour of the movie and it wouldn't even really change anything; it'd just be a movie about a girl making her life better thanks to some Chinese box her dad found in a dumpster one day. By the time she actually notices (actually, she doesn't - her would-be boyfriend does the legwork and flat out tells her) that her wishes have deadly consequences, the movie is far past the point of being saved, with only the idiotic death scenes to occasionally give it some unintentionally hilarious life.

Now, we all know that horror movie characters have to occasionally act stupid for the plot to work. It's just how it is, and it's something we just accept, like sound in space or everyone in a musical knowing the words to a seemingly spontaneous song. But the Wish Upon creative team forces its actors to at times even unnaturally contort their bodies to make their not-great (and not even original) death scenes work, in particular Sherilyn Fenn's garbage disposal one. Like all disposal scenes in horror movies, something goes down the drain and we get a bunch of shots of their hand reaching around in the drain cut with shots of the switch that will turn it on - except this switch isn't on the wall like a normal one - it's BY HER WAIST BELOW THE COUNTER! I can't imagine anything more idiotic, or at least I thought I couldn't - because 30 seconds later she goes for a closer look at the drain and starts awkwardly shaking her head around just to get her long hair in there, and then awkwardly moving again in order to bump the switch and send her to her doom. There's also a bit where Philippe is changing his tire and one of the lug-nuts goes under his car - does he use the tire iron to pull it back? Of course not, he climbs completely under his car (it never occurs to him to just go to the other side of the car to get it, since it's clearly closer to it) so that we can get some half-assed suspense about whether or not the car will fall on him. Another character is also encouraged to awkwardly lean far from his ladder while cutting a tree branch, to the extent where I began wondering if these characters were all suicidal.

Speaking of suicide (my transitions are on fucking POINT), the film begins with a woman hanging herself after throwing away something wrapped up so that we can't see it, but the dog is afraid of it and she gives about forty seven worried glances at the trashcan before going inside to start noosin'. If you've never seen a movie (hell, if you're not even sure what a movie IS) you can still know instantly that the thing is the wish box that will soon wreak havoc on our heroine's life (said woman is her mom, by the way), and yet the movie treats this as a big reveal for some reason, and it's never clear what exactly mom wished for. We can assume it has something to do with the aforementioned uncle character, who Philippe doesn't like much and even tells his daughter not to talk to him, but the reason for his excommunication is never explained. The box also gets one tragic backstory too many, as we learn about its origins from a Chinese woman during the bubonic plague in the 14th century, but then our exposition dumper throws in a few seconds' worth of what I'm betting was originally a full prologue scene starring Jerry O'Connell (think Drew Barrymore or, more recently, Billy Burke in Lights Out), a man who used the box to get a car dealership or something but then his life was torn asunder - it was hard to get the details because I was too distracted by Jerry O'Connell (and Rebecca Romijn!) suddenly appearing in a flurry of random wordless shots, 75 minutes into a movie that had already burned through two other "Older star cashing a paycheck" performances (Fenn and Elizabeth Rohm being the others).

There are other sloppy bits as well; there's an establishing shot that looks like they grabbed it off a VHS tape, and for some reason the main house King and Philippe live in changes each time we see it - when they first move in and throughout the film we can see it's a two or three story white mansion, but then at other times the house is established as a single floor extended ranch kind of deal. King freaks out over her friend (Barb from Stranger Things, basically playing Barb here as well) taking the box from her, but it's not until about 30 seconds after her reaction and subsequent tirade that we even see the box to know what she's talking about, because Leonetti didn't bother to include a cutaway to the damn thing. I know the film had its death scenes trimmed for a PG-13 rating (why they'd shoot R rated deaths for a teenager's wish-fulfillment thriller is beyond me), but there is plenty of evidence to suggest they cut more than the gory bits, and I'm curious if the promised extended Blu-ray will make more sense out of some of its subplots.

Long story short, it's another one to add to the pile of this year's "Not even as good as the "eh" I was expecting" efforts like Rings and The Bye Bye Man, though this at least has a slight edge over those thanks to its unintentional hilarity (there's a bit involving someone getting hit by a car that rivals Meet Joe Black for its misguided excess), and again, I appreciated that they weren't trying to make me jump out of my seat at doorbells and dogs barking and things like that. The idea of getting your actual wishes but making something else awful happen is intriguing (it's not dissimilar from The Box in that regard, sans all the alien shit Richard Kelly added to the scenario), but the aforementioned sloppiness and bad-even-by-teen-horror-standards characterization make it impossible to care about anything that's happening any more than King's character does.

What say you?

P.S. Stay for halfway through the credits for the most obvious and eye-rolling sequel setup ever! Or don't bother since you'll know exactly what it is once the movie has its first ending anyway!

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Mummy (2017)

JUNE 25, 2017

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

Much like DC (which is only now getting it right with Wonder Woman), Universal is going about their idea to create a new shared movie universe based on all of their classic monster characters - Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman, etc. I'm all for the gamble - the old ones crossed over anyway, and successful big budget horror (or, "horror") films can only help the greater good. Things were supposed to kick off with Dracula Untold, but pre-release press for The Mummy suggested that one has been retconned out of the grander plan for some reason. Well, I mean, the reason might be that it was not a big success nor was it liked all that much, but same goes for this goddamn movie (in fact it got even worse reviews), and Dracula didn't have one of the most dependable actors in the world starring in it, so in some ways Mummy is an even bigger flop (both films managed to make back their money thanks to overseas grosses, for what it's worth). The next one is Bride of Frankenstein, inexplicably coming before any actual Frankenstein film, so it seems to me they really don't know what the hell they're doing.

(For more evidence: they've also cast Johnny Depp in one of the proposed films.)

Anyway, I can't say I would be opposed to the idea of Tom Cruise going against the other monsters down the road, because he's Tom Cruise and I will watch him do anything, but this film does not inspire much confidence for their franchise or even a straightforward sequel. There's a great video online of Trey Parker and Matt Stone talking to a film class about how they hate big budget movies that can be broken down with "And then this happens, and then this happens" (as opposed to "This happens, which causes this to happen, which results in this happening", etc), and even though it's a few years old they might as well be talking about this movie, which is never boring as far as "stuff is happening!" goes, but I couldn't tell you much about WHY any of it was happening, and I certainly never cared about a goddamn person in it. The movie was so weightless that at one point I woke up without realizing I had ever fallen asleep, and couldn't tell if I had missed 30 seconds or 30 minutes based on how little engagement the film had provided until that point anyway.

Sadly, per the Wiki synopsis it turns out that what I missed (it turned out to be about five minutes, maybe) was a scene with Russell Crowe, who is the only good thing about the movie as he's clearly having fun and using a goofy accent on occasion for good measure, so I was at least charmed by his scenery chewing silliness. He's playing Dr. Henry Jekyll, a character that has been inexplicably refashioned into a sort of ringleader for a secret society of folks who take down supernatural entities. So he's a good guy in theory, but since he wants to kill Cruise (which will allow the film's female villain mummy, Ahmanet, to complete a ritual that will allow Jekyll to kill HER in turn) and also turns into Mr. Hyde for a few minutes the movie treats him as a secondary antagonist, which was a boneheaded call. Worse, we in the audience have to try to figure out how much of the actual Jekyll - i.e. the one moviegoers are familiar with - is still part of this character's story, since he's basically playing the exact same role as Colin Farrell in last year's Fantastic Beasts (he's even introduced the same way, waltzing into an area where workers are trying to clean up and throwing his weight around) instead of the usual scientist, and thus his split personality has no bearing on anything. You could cut his Hyde freakout entirely and it wouldn't make a lick of difference.

In fact you could cut any chunk out and it wouldn't matter. The editors (three of them credited) certainly did, as Annabelle Wallis' character has an awkward introduction that seems recreated with looping in order to hide what was an actual intro that got lost along the way. I also doubt Courtney B. Vance was hired to play such a thankless role as Cruise's superior (one of many things that suggest Cruise's role was written for someone younger; Vance is only like 3 years older than him but he treats Cruise like a rookie he'd like to kick in the ass) who has less than five minutes of screentime, and several other scenes seemingly come out of nowhere, as if there was more connective tissue (read: slower dialogue scenes) that got excised in order to ensure the audience never had to go more than 16 seconds without seeing another CGI effect. Once Cruise is "killed" (as seen in the trailer) and revived, the movie is little more than an endless chase scene where Cruise and Wallis dodge CGI (they even outrun a flood at one point) while trying to... well, I have no idea. They don't have any particular goal, no "We must return the stone to the tomb" or any kind of silly ticking clock scenario to deal with - they're just basically trying to not die, and run until the movie has reached a runtime that is acceptable for a film that cost $125m (at least).

One thing I can give it some credit for, however: it's closer to horror movie than the Brendan Fraser version. Ahmanet is constantly sucking the life out of dudes (it's very Lifeforce) and conjuring zombie minions and the like to do her bidding, and director Alex Kurtzman keeps things fairly dark unlike the more sun-drenched Stephen Sommers films. It's still more of an action-adventure film than horror, but the balance is better than I expected, so for that I can give them some credit. I'm not sure why Universal is hellbent on creating a "monster" universe that downplays the monstrous side of things, but at least they're not totally dropping the genre angle. There's a bit where Cruise gets swarmed by bugs that's genuinely unnerving, and the scenes with Jake Johnson (as Cruise's best bud) are mostly lifted straight out of American Werewolf in London, as Johnson is a zombie/ghost thing that shows up to tell his still-living friend what's going on. I can't see how Bride of Frankenstein (from Bill Condon, no less) will be anything but a gothic romance/horror, but hopefully if this series goes forward it they embrace the horror elements as much as possible - I get that they can't go full R with these big budgets (and future installments being planned), but there's no need to turn all the monsters into superheroes. We have those in the other cinematic universe movies - make this stand out!

I also hope future films have zero involvement from Alex Kurtzman, who has proven time and time again that he is a simply awful storyteller. I can't imagine anyone trying to make sense out of this film if they had no previous knowledge of (and, more importantly, affection for) these characters, and more than once I was reminded of the Transformers films that he co-wrote. Everything is a big climax, everything is spectacle, and there's nothing holding it all together - the "slow moments" exist for no other reason than to provide the characters with an excuse to change locations before all the chaos starts again. He's one of the many filmmakers of modern times who seem to have never learned that action can't continue to be exciting when there's never any break from it. Even a movie like Speed, which is literally "non-stop" (since, you know, the bus can't stop) takes time to just let the bus be driving along without obstacles so the characters can talk, or cut back to Jeff Daniels (or even Dennis Hopper) doing non-action stuff, before they get back to the next impending disaster. Kurtzman's version of Speed would be an endless series of "Oh no the bridge isn't finished!" moments with zero dialogue beyond "Oh no!" and "Get down!" type of shit, and we'd be rooting for the bus to explode after 20 minutes.

Unfortunately he's set to produce them all, so unless they drop him like they did Dracula Untold, there's little reason to be hopeful. I mean, separate from all this shit I can't think of a better potential director for a Bride of Frankenstein remake than Bill Condon, but I also don't know how much influence Kurtzman will have over it and if Condon will have to acquiesce to including any of this film's characters and/or shoehorning in some introductory roles for ones from the next films (Depp's Invisible Man and, presumably, a new Dracula, since it'd be weird to leave him out). After some missteps in the middle there (Iron Man 2 being the worst offender), Marvel finally figured out how to keep their films from feeling like extended previews for the upcoming ones, and it seems DC has gotten it under control as well since Wonder Woman saves such crap for its bookending scenes (basically just a reference to an unseen Bruce Wayne), so there's hope Universal can follow suit. They'd be best to just let Condon be and figure out how to tie them together later, i.e. once they've gotten to a point where they've made a movie or two that people actually like. You know, like they did in the 1930s and 40s anyway.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

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