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 The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story).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...

Knife + Heart (2018)

JUNE 11, 2019

GENRE: GIALLO
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REPERTORY SCREENING)

While slasher throwbacks are easy to find and occasionally even successful, few have been able to crack the code when it comes to making a modern giallo film. Things like Amer and The Editor have their hearts in the right place and certainly evoke that bygone era, but it always feels like an homage, as opposed to a genuine entry in the sub-genre. So I am happy to report that Yann Gonzalez' Knife + Heart, a French film that was on the festival circuit a year or two ago, finally gets it right - it's just a straight up giallo, one that uses its influences more carefully and always has its own story and characters at the forefront of its intentions. Every now and then I'd catch a whiff of this or that older movie, but then get pulled right back into their movie as opposed to thinking about any others I may have seen.

Set in the late '70s, our group of protagonists are the cast and crew of an adult film production house specializing in gay porn. A masked killer (leather mask, naturally - and yes he has the gloves to match) has seemingly targeted the group and is offing them one by one, usually using a dildo that doubles as a switchblade (!). The owner of the company, Anne (Vanessa Paradis), is the only one who seems to believe that they could all be in danger (the cops don't care much, given their background) and goes about trying to discover the culprit's identity while also trying to reignite her affair with Lois, her ex-lover who also works as the company's editor. As her only clue is a feather that was found at one of the murder sites, suggesting the killer may have had a bird with him (that'd be one of those rare direct references - you'll likely think of Crystal Plumage), she decides to try to lure him out by basing their newest film around the case.

The gay element aside (the older films were rarely sympathetic toward gay people, and were also "of their time" when it comes to misogyny), there's very little about it that would make it feel out of place alongside Argento, Martino, etc. The murder scenes are effectively lurid and suspenseful, there are some odd moments of humor, and the music by M83 (Gonzalez' brother, as it turns out!) is flat out gorgeous. But what really won me over is the mystery plot, which - like most of the ones I've seen - is impossible to solve ahead of time and largely centers on information that was never divulged or even hinted at in the first hour or so of the film. Some might find this frustrating (I myself probably lambasted a film or two for doing it in my younger days) but it's truly how a lot of them worked, and thus it's perfect.

The only drawback is that the connection isn't quite as solid as I hoped. The motive is clear and even kind of sad in a way, but it's almost completely random that they end up going after the cast/crew of the film, so you don't get that "it was YOU?" kind of moment that's always part of the fun (especially when it makes little sense), because none of them actually know the killer personally and Anne is the only one aware of their backstory at all (which she only learns out of coincidence to boot). Not enough to derail the movie or anything, but just a warning to those who are into the more "you reminded me of my mother who I saw cheating on my father with so I had to kill your friends" kinda nuttiness that we usually get in these things.

As for the sexual content, it was actually tamer than I thought! Considering the setting, and the fact that French films aren't as reserved as American ones when it comes to sex, I was expecting NC-17 level content, but it's not particularly graphic. In fact the only junk you see is on the murderer's dildo weapon, I think - even milder actions like kissing are brief. The basic plot will turn off homophobes and the like anyway, so I'm rather surprised they didn't go all out - it's actually no more explicit than Cruising, which played as the second half of this double feature at the New Beverly (and yes, I stayed awake through both, thank you very much). I had never seen Cruising before, knowing only its plot, and I was surprised to discover I actually preferred this - they're paced almost identically (I'd be willing to bet Cruising was one of Gonzalez' influences, in fact), but this kept me engaged and seemed to be more focused.

(That said, and skip this if you haven't seen Cruising yet, I inexplicably managed to call the twist without even realizing it. In the very first scene, a pair of cops (Joe Spinell and Mike Starr!) are harassing some transvestite hookers in their car when the camera cuts outside of it to show a man in a wide-ish shot, walking into a bar. His face isn't seen, but my first impression was "Oh that's Pacino's character, entering the story." However, it's then revealed this character is the killer... who turns out to (maybe?) be Pacino anyway. Wacky!)

Back to Knife + Heart though. No, it won't be for everyone, but as I've long since tired of the winking attitude toward making these kind of retro films, I was so happy that it WASN'T one of those that I found it easy to forgive its occasional sluggish pace and awkwardly staged climax, where the mystery is solved by being in the right place at the right time not once but twice. Most of the old gialli have plenty of things I could criticize as well, so let's not pretend it's the only one to muck a few things up. By getting more right than wrong, and treating the sub-genre seriously, I was more than sold on it, and hope fellow fans will seek it out (it hits Shudder next week, so that should make it easier). The only thing missing (unless I didn't catch it) was a bottle of J+B whiskey - just supply your own and have a great time reliving the glory era of this fare as if it never went out of style.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Trapped Alive (1988)

JUNE 6, 2019

GENRE: SLASHER
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

By the mid '80s, the only non-supernatural slashers that were still getting wide theatrical releases were the franchise entries, with very few exceptions. But thanks to independent productions, the genre kept itself alive with dozens of movies like Trapped Alive (aka simply Trapped), which wasn't released until 1993, but was shot in 1988 in upper Wisconsin and apart from its low body count would have fit right in alongside its golden era peers. While a lot of the others of the time were chasing Freddy with supernatural elements, writer/director Leszek Burzynski was content to make his killer just your standard mountain man kind of hulking brute, stalking a handful of victims in a mine shaft without any further plot complications.

I remember reading about the movie in John Stanley's Creature Features book, which I read cover to cover when I got it around 1997 and maintained a list of movies that sounded worthy of my time. And even though he didn't have much good to say about this one, it still sounded up my alley: the protagonists are at odds with each other (it's a pair of young women and a trio of escaped convicts) but are facing a common enemy, the same "the enemy of my enemy is my friend, for now" plot that worked just fine for Carpenter and Romero, and the location was an abandoned mine, a la My Bloody Valentine which was then and is still one of my favorite slasher films ever. And I didn't agree with Stanley on a lot of things anyway, so I didn't want to take his word for it and skip it. Alas, even with six+ years of daily watching, I forgot all about it until Arrow announced a special edition Blu-ray, which hit shelves this week.

As it turns out, Stanley wasn't wrong - it's certainly not a must-see entry in the sub-genre. The pacing is deadly slow; the first legit kill occurs at the 57 minute mark, which would be OK (if still a bit odd) if he was at least stalking the folks and giving us a few quick glimpses at him here and there, but no - it's almost a spoiler to call the movie a slasher at all. Until he finally appears, it's more of a survival thriller, with our group trapped in this mine on a freezing night and trying to find their way out, with the added threat that the prisoners might just kill (or worse) our two heroines. It's almost like the killer is another obstacle as opposed to the primary threat, which isn't helped by the not-great acting, as they often don't even seem particularly frightened by him when he does appear.

But I was still engaged more than you'd think; for a regional production it's actually quite well made apart from those aforementioned weak actors. The mine - all built on sets - looks terrific and the DP shot the hell out of it, so it doesn't have that horrible low-budget lighting that kills the mood on so many similar films. And even though he doesn't appear enough, our miner killer has a great design; kind of a Madman Marz meets Hills Have Eyes mutant sorta thing, and I like that his preferred weapon wasn't the expected pickaxe but a large pincer like thing that he'd drop down and pull his victims up with. Basically, it felt like they were putting in a good effort to make something a little closer to Halloween than Friday the 13th Part Whatever, and while they missed that mark, I appreciate the attempt and found it easier to watch than, say, Memorial Valley Massacre or Iced (other 1988 slashers that were neither well done or seemingly attempting to be any good).

Speaking of MVM, Cameron Mitchell shows up in this one too, albeit only for a few minutes as the father as one of the girls, who is throwing a big Christmas party when she leaves with her friend to go to their own thing (running afoul of the convicts en route). The Christmas element isn't QUITE prominent enough to dub this as a holiday slasher, but still - it gives the movie that extra little bit of atmosphere, and it's always fun to see Mitchell hamming it up in one of these things. He's also the only person in the movie I recognized, though IMDb tells me the guy who played the cop was in the woeful Class Reunion - maybe slashers weren't really his thing? His role in the movie is kind of amazing; he gets the call about the car going into the mine, and while looking around for it he meets a woman who lives nearby. She invites him in to use the phone and maybe, I dunno, 12 seconds later they're hopping in bed, mocking her husband sleeping in the next room and throwing in a pretty great "shaft" related pun for good measure. She pops up again later in a twist that won't surprise anyone, but it was still amusing to see it play out.

The bonus features on Arrow's disc are actually more fun than the movie, in particular the 20 or so minute local news program from the time the movie was shot, touting the "Hollywood comes to Wisconsin!" kind of excitement that no one will ever really feel anymore now that they make movies everywhere, all the time (and half of them aren't even as good as this). The plan for this team was to get a production studio up and running in their little Wisconsin town, and they followed it up with two movies I never heard of (The Chill Factor and The Inheritor) as well as Mindwarp, the Bruce Campbell/Angus Scrimm movie put out by Fangoria. They talk about this in detail on the retrospective, which is also quite good; they're proud of their work without touting the film as a masterpiece, which is always the right approach for these things. And there's a story about Michael Berryman that kind of blew my mind; he was originally hired to play the killer, but was fired for giving script notes! Not for nothing, but maybe he was right?

There are also three commentaries, one with the director, one with Hank Carlson, and another with the Hysteria Lives guys, who barely talk about the movie itself and talk about late 80s slashers in general (at least for as much of it that I listened to; I was getting tired of seeing the movie so many times in a short period so I only got through about half of it). Carlson's one is probably the best since he has a lot of fun anecdotes and the moderator (a former Fangoria scribe) has his own input, whereas the director's is a straight up Q&A where he tells a lot of the same stories he told on the retrospective (it's also not scene specific at all, adding to the Q&A feel). Carlson also provides an interview, and the included booklet has a fun essay by Zach Carlson (no relation, far as I know) about the film's woozy charms, as well as a touching tribute to actor Paul Dean (who passed away in 2012) written by his son. Dean played the killer after Berryman was canned, but was apparently more of an angel in real life - starting a shelter, raising funds for people in need, etc. He could also bench press 655 lbs, so... how is it that this is his only movie???

No one but slasher aficionados need apply, of course - the movie never quite gets going and its best moments are too spread out to make up for it. But I have to say I was happy to discover that it was the rare late '80s indie slasher that wasn't undone by an abundance of hateful characters or zero lack of atmosphere (many of them, including the aforementioned Memorial Valley Massacre, spend too much time in the daylight - this one's entirely at night). Instead, the filmmakers opted not to bite off more than they could chew, doing a few things well instead of a lot of things poorly. Thanks to the Christmas setting, I might even throw it on again this December on one of those nights where I just want to drink a (spiked) hot cocoa in my usually chilly living room and doze off watching something I've seen before. It just has that late night, local access vibe that I'm always nostalgic for, even if it's not exactly the best example.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Ma (2019)

JUNE 5, 2019

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

First Brightburn, and now Ma - I am really getting tired of trailers that not only give away the best parts, but also focus heavily on things that are meant to be reveals in the narrative itself. To be fair, a couple (literally, two) of Ma's surprises were discovered in the film as opposed to its marketing, but I still spent far too much of my time being ahead of the characters, making it hard to get sucked into the story. And that's kind of a problem for a thriller; these movies are largely designed to only really work once, and yet it felt like I was already on my second viewing since I had already seen Ma do most of the crazy things she does in its 95 or so minutes.

Because, alas, this is not a movie about Octavia Spencer wiping out a group of partying kids like some kind of unmasked Jason Voorhees. There's a bit of a body count, though the R rating mostly comes from the language as opposed to violence (it never gets more extreme than the jogger being run over, which - broken record time - was in the trailer), with one curious exception that the MPAA didn't even really mention. The film's R rating was chalked up to "violent/disturbing material, language throughout, sexual content, and for teen drug and alcohol use", and it should be noted that "sexual content" usually means people discussing sex or maybe implying it, i.e. something that even a PG-13 could have. But one thing a PG-13 definitely can't have is a shot of a male penis, which this offers courtesy of Luke Evans, whose character is Ma's real target.

See, what this movie really is is one of those "outcast gets revenge on classmates who humiliated her" films, albeit a curiously structured one where it takes nearly an hour for the screenplay to inform us just exactly what happened all those years ago, unlike the similar movies that explain it up front before flashing forward. It's a really horrible prank along the lines of Terror Train (albeit without the corpse; young Ma, really named Sue Ann, was once tricked into performing a sex act on what she thought was her crush but was actually his buddy), but the long build up to it suggests it will twist our perspective and have us rooting for Ma. That is certainly not the case, and since her revenge plot makes little sense, it's hard to see the correlation when the reveal finally happens. The guy that she actually performed on isn't even mentioned again, for starters, even though that'd be an easy target (not to mention someone who could pepper in a little action early on). Weirder still, Evans' high school girlfriend, who was of course in on the prank, is still around in the present (played by Missi Pyle as an adult), but when Ma goes after her she chalks it up to defending Juliette Lewis' character, who Pyle had mocked in the present for having to move back home after a messy divorce. So was Lewis's younger self Sue Ann's only friend or something? Nope, we barely see her in the past and later on Ma seems to consider her part the same group of oppressors anyway.

Further, it makes me wonder why the filmmakers felt the need to wait so long to show it; in fact they actually build up to it with a series of flashbacks of young Sue Ann first catching the guy's eye, going to a party with him, etc. By the time we see what exactly happened, we've already learned in the present that Sue Ann is an outcast, has trouble making friends, and has some curious views on teenaged sex, so not only is the payoff kind of anticlimactic, but the movie would have worked better as a whole by seeing this incident up front and letting us sympathize with her a little and even wanting to see her get revenge only for her to take it too far and shift our allegiance. Now it occurs after it's fully established that she's crazy, which is obviously too late for us to start feeling bad for her. It'd be like waiting until Friday the 13th Part 4 to tell us Jason was a little boy who drowned.

Another wonky creative decision concerns the heroine, Maggie (Diana Silvers, one of the cheerleaders in Glass), whose is Lewis' character's daughter. She is new in town and has no friends, and on her first day at school she is eating her packed lunch in the library by herself when a girl named Haley storms in out of nowhere, introduces herself, and puts her number into Maggie's phone, and then the following day invites her to join them for some drinking. It's such a strange way for Maggie to make friends that I thought for sure she - like Sue Ann - was being tricked into doing something embarrassing by people who were only pretending to like her, and thus parallel Ma's story. Hell, there's even a moment where she tells Ma "I'm stronger than you!" or something to that effect, which practically seems left over from a draft of the script where that was indeed the case.

But no, Haley and the others are legit friends to the end, and furthermore Ma is barely interested in her at all, so I had to wonder why the movie even bothered kicking off with her arrival in town since her "new kid" status has no bearing on anything beyond the aforementioned bit about Pyle throwing shade at Lewis for moving back home. Maggie's irrelevance to the majority of the plot is really hammered home with a clumsy runner about Ma apparently taking their jewelry, which kicks off when a girl we've never seen before runs over to Maggie and Haley in the hallway to tell them about her birthday plans and Maggie zeroes in on her new bracelet. Maggie admires it and we get a lengthy closeup of it, and if you've seen a single movie before you'd know that this means later on Maggie will find that very same bracelet in Ma's basement or something, suggesting something happened to the girl. But when the bracelet does come back later, Maggie's not even the one who notices it - Haley does, even though she wasn't the one that was so fixated on it earlier. As for the bracelet's owner? Who knows, they never mention her again.

It's the sort of thing that had me wondering if the movie was re-edited and re-arranged from an earlier cut. Throughout the movie, the kids (not just Maggie) are put off by something weird Ma does, only to seemingly forget about it the next day and hang out with her again. Even after Haley broadcasts "everyone block Ma's number, she's crazy!" to all of her friends (including Ma! Learn how to hide your posts from specific people, Haley!) they all seem fine with each other a day or two later, as if the scenes weren't presented in their intended order. There are also baffling things like Ma using a dog's blood for a transfusion on someone she just kills a few moments later anyway - why? That, along with the go-nowhere subplots about the jewelry (the way the trailer cuts that stuff together actually works better, ironically enough) and Maggie's similarly erratic relationship with her mother makes me wonder if there wasn't some reshaping or a much longer cut that would have shown more naturally why these folks can't seem to make up their minds about anything.

Still, Spencer's performance keeps it watchable, even entertaining at its best. Since I didn't know the trailer had shown me so much until it was over, I was never quite sure what she'd be doing next, and she doesn't even really try to hide her "off"-ness from the kids; the second time they visit she holds one of them at gunpoint and makes him strip (something they all write off as a joke later even though, uh, it's the same sort of sexually driven trauma she was so broken up about, directed at someone who had nothing to do with it - weird decision #23). I also loved the scenes where she was at work as a veterinarian, because she was clearly terrible at her job and constantly berated by her boss, played by the great Allison Janney - even though I came for a horror movie, I probably would have walked out happier if it was just a workplace comedy about these two trying to keep a small town animal clinic afloat despite hating each other. There's also a hilarious bit where Ma is getting a pedicure and starts cussing on the phone, drawing the ire of an old lady next to her - I could have watched the two of them bicker for 90 minutes, easily.

But alas, with so few thrills, the janky pacing, and missed opportunities, it's hard to say I walked out a big fan of what I DID see. It was watchable for sure; the climax was reasonably suspenseful, and the kids were thankfully all likable (even Haley, introduced as a kind of "pretty popular girl" type, is caring about her friends and never seen being mean to anyone), so it's not a "bad movie" in the traditional sense. But it was like the makers couldn't decide if it was a trashy B movie about a psycho or a serious thriller about the long-term effects of adolescent trauma (something the company's The Gift did so quite wonderfully a few years back), and ended up somewhere in the middle, underwhelming on both fronts. Here's hoping the Blu-ray has a longer cut or at least a wealth of deleted scenes that can rectify one or both problems, though after a few years I wouldn't get my hopes up as Blumhouse stuff almost never gets extended versions (Truth or Dare is the only exception that comes to mind) and even when they HAVE deleted scenes they're often missing ones we know about (i.e. Halloween and its original ending). What you see is what you get, and while that's often good enough, here I needed a little more.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

MAY 30, 2019

GENRE: MONSTER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (4DX SCREENING)

My heart sank a bit when the ticket taker handed me a pair of 3D glasses for Godzilla: King of the Monsters, as I remember the 3D being such a drag on the first film and have gotten even less interested in the format in the five years since. This was a 4DX screening, which has motion seats and wind/water/lighting* effects to immerse you in the film, but my lone previous experience for it was IT, which was not 3D, so I just kind of had it in my head that all the shaking around would make the extra dimension a bit of overkill and thus they didn't bother with it. Thankfully, the conversion was far more successful this time - I wouldn't call it *necessary*, but I never once found myself distracted or annoyed by it, which is an achievement all on its own.

And that applies to the film as a whole: an improvement on the original. I actually liked the 2014 one quite a bit, despite its nothing of a lead character, but I know a lot of folks weren't into the serious approach and reduced monster action, so I worried this one would just be wall-to-wall destruction porn to appease the people who buy large sodas for 9 am screenings. But it's actually a nice balance of the two approaches - it does indeed have more monster action, but not so much that you become numb to it after awhile, and it still offers enough time with the human characters to give you something to connect to. And they've fixed that too - Aaron Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen are MIA and unmentioned, and in their place we have Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga, two of the best actors in their age group. Chandler's character is a bit like Johnson's in that he just seems to be good at whatever the scene requires, but somehow it goes down easier when it's someone with more screen charisma.

As for Farmiga, her character has created a device that can mimic the "voice" of the various creatures and keep them calm when necessary, and naturally some nefarious types want the device for their dastardly deeds. She's also Chandler's ex-wife; their marriage fell apart after they lost their young son during the first film's Godzilla attack (shades of Batman vs Superman, throwing Bruce Wayne into Man of Steel's climax to tie the new characters into the first film's events), and their surviving daughter is living with mom but trying to retain her relationship with her dad. Thankfully, it's not a Twister kinda thing where they are forced to reunite because of whatever spectacle is occurring and fall back in love during the process - in fact I think they only have two scenes together throughout the movie, and they're not particularly warm. It's more about how they (and the daughter, played by Millie Brown from Stranger Things) have each dealt with the tragedy - Chandler shuts down and hates the monsters, Farmiga wants to understand them, and the daughter just wants her family back.

The other major new character is an eco-terrorist played by Charles Dance, who I spent some time marveling that it's been 26 years since Last Action Hero and this esteemed actor is still showing up and seemingly having a blast playing villains in summer blockbusters. He believes the monsters should be allowed to run rampant and restore some balance to the world (but not wipe us out entirely; kind of Thanos-y in that regard), so it's a good kind of villain where you can almost see his point if you happened to read the news before you entered the theater. The rest of the humans are fine; a few return from the first film (including Ken Watanabe, yay!) and the others are basically filling out stock characters; the nerdy assistant (Thomas Middleditch), the soldier who seems to be present for every major battle (O'Shea Jackson Jr), the guy who spends the whole movie looking at monitors, giving ETAs and the like, and saying funny things (Bradley Whitford), etc. I couldn't tell you any of their names and in a couple months I won't remember which of them survived, but as they were mostly played by actors I like seeing, and never doing anything particularly stupid, I had no beef with any of them. Again, if it was wall to wall action I'd get bored, so spending a few minutes with these folks in between the fights was hardly an issue for me.

But yes, the fights! As the title suggests there are more monsters this time: Mothra, Rodan, and Ghidora all show up along with G himself, who gets more screentime as well. With most of the humans kind of on his side (or at least, not actively trying to kill him) he spends most of his scenes fighting the bad ones (Rodan and Ghidora) instead of knocking down jet fighters or whatever, and like the first film he only starts crumbling buildings in the finale - but not because the director cut away from it. Gareth Edwards has been replaced by Michael Dougherty (who also co-wrote) and the new director had the good idea to set the first few battles in isolated areas (Antarctica and a couple miles off the coast of Mexico) so that we could get our giant monster action fill without watching buildings get knocked over ad nauseum. So when all four monsters collide for the big action finale, it's also the first time they're doing so in a city (Boston, in fact!), treating us to the destruction we've been waiting for without getting blue balls by cutting away from it just before it happened.

Back to Dougherty, if you are coming into this movie as fan of his as opposed to a Godzilla one, fear not - his mark is intact! For obvious reasons it's more mainstream than Krampus or Trick r Treat, but he works in some dark humor (there's an ejector seat gag that had me laughing for a solid minute) and - yes! - a nod to John Carpenter, as the Antarctic post where one of the monsters was found is known simply as "Outpost 32", making it a neighbor to MacReady and the rest of the guys (he also retains his signature credit font, itself a modified version of Carpenter's usual one). Similar to Krampus, some folks might get restless waiting for the spectacle to start, but as with that film he makes it worth the wait, though to be fair I am *from* Boston so making it the center of all the climactic action may have given me a bit of a bias. Seeing Godzilla fire his iconic atomic breath past the equally iconic CITGO sign made me wish I flew back to watch it at the theater I used to frequent just a ways up from Fenway Park - the crowds there must have gone apeshit.

This is a good a place as any to mention the 4DX presentation, which was terrific and probably added to my overall enjoyment of the movie. For those unfamiliar, the seat shakes and tumbles along with the on-screen action, and environmental effects are also tossed in for good measure. So when Godzilla punches a monster in the water, your seat jolts with the impact as a little mist of water sprays your face and air blasts fly past your ears. It's a gimmick, yes, but an effective one, and I found myself laughing at this or that seat motion more than once. The only downside to it is if you're a snack eater/drinker - if you're caught off guard, you will spill your stuff, so keep both hands on your drink when sipping and a firm grasp on your bag of popcorn to prevent any disasters (I'd also avoid coffee if that's your go-to). There's one moment in particular where a monster makes an appearance out of nowhere, and the 4DX folks take full advantage of the opportunity, with the seat suddenly lurching after a period of stillness - never assume you'll be safe from spillage for a few minutes!

In fact I only have two real complaints about the narrative. One is that, as with the first film, it seems some character moments have been dropped for pacing or whatever. Jackson and Whitford's characters in particular seem to have had their introduction excised, because all of a sudden they're just there, when both are played by actors you'd expect to be given a more fitting debut in the narrative (Charles Dance definitely gets a good one, for the record). Chandler's character also seems particularly attached to Jackson's, another thing that doesn't seem to be properly established before it just IS, where they're risking their own lives to save the other when it seems like they barely knew the other one's name.

The other is that it spends a few too many moments reminding us that this is part of an ongoing "Monsterverse" that includes Skull Island; while Kong doesn't show up properly they do mention him/his home like a dozen times, and at one point stops cold to introduce us to Joe Morton as the grown-up version of Corey Hawkins' character from that film, a scene that is in no way necessary. More obnoxiously, the same scene introduces Ziyi Zhang as the twin sister of her other character (who is part of the main story, playing Watanabe's partner), a "Huh?" type development I assume will pay off in next year's Kong vs Godzilla. Skull Island was at least nice enough to confine the world building stuff to the post-credits, so I wish this one had followed suit or at least reigned it in a bit - it got grating after a while.

Some of my colleagues and friends go all in for the Pacific Rim movies (well, the first one at least) while finding these to be snooze, but I dunno - the Godzillas are just more interesting to me, despite their occasional hiccups. Even though the Pacific Rim films have a better reason to keep cutting to humans (since they control the giant robots that fight the monsters) I have never cared about any of those people or their scenes, something that's not the case here. Would I like it even more if they cut 10-15 minutes of dialogue out and replaced it with another big monster fight in the woods or desert (two unused locales that would also keep collateral damage to a minimum)? Perhaps - but I never found myself waiting for them to show up, either. The original Godzilla films always had plenty of human-only scenes too, so I'm unsure where this criticism comes from. Trust me - two straight hours of monster fighting would get dull after a while, and it's much better to make those scenes count when they appear.

What say you?

*They also do olfactory effects, but as I have no sense of smell I can't vouch for them. Feel free to let me know in the comments what Godzilla smells like.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Brightburn (2019)

MAY 26, 2019

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

As movie concepts go, "What if Kal-El became Michael Myers instead of Clark Kent?" is kind of a great one - it allows the filmmakers to use a story everyone knows and then pivot into something different. It's basically the same as Marvel's "What If?" series (as I'm not a big DC reader, I don't know if they had something similar - forgive me if they do), where you'd get something like "What if Spider-Man saved Uncle Ben?" or "What if the Fantastic Four all got the same powers?", and get a quick glimpse of what that'd be like, per the imagination of that issue's writer anyway. It's such an interesting idea that I almost wish Brightburn had made tens of millions of dollars this past weekend, because maybe it'd launch an anthology series of films that had the same core idea, and then one creative team would do something more exciting beyond the one line concept.

Because sadly, if you've seen the trailer for the film, you've basically seen every idea it has - there's really nothing to it beyond which I've already described. It takes the core origin of Superman that you've seen in any number of movies (including/perhaps especially Man of Steel, more on that soon) and gives you a Cliff's Notes version so that they can get to the R-rated switcheroom but then never gets any more ambitious after that. For those who have somehow never seen a Superman origin story, the setup is this: the childless owners of a farm (played by Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) find a crashed spaceship in the woods behind their house one night, and it has what looks like a human baby. They raise it as their own, and as he grows up he discovers he has powers: super strength, heat vision, flight, etc., but to them he's still their son and they want to protect him. In the DC comics and movies, he of course becomes Superman/Clark Kent, a man of justice and principal who uses his powers for good.

In Brightburn, he uses his powers to melt a guy's head, or fly someone up hundreds of feet into the air only to drop them. As to WHY he does these things, the movie never bothers to explain that, but unlike Michael Myers I feel this time we kind of should know what exactly turned him into a murderer. Since the origin is so clearly taken from Superman's, it's puzzling why this film's primary character (named Brandon Breyer) turns out so different from Clark Kent. If it's a nature vs nurture thing, fine, but as we don't ever see the home planet or even learn anything about it, we have to just assume it's an... evil planet? I guess? Banks and Denman are seen to be great and loving parents, even after he starts doing terrible things, so I guess we have to just assume that it's simply in his nature to be an alien killer, and the planet is playing a long con by dropping him to Earth and waiting 12 years for him to do anything murder-y.

It's one of the many things that the film could have taken the time to explore, or even hint at. Instead it just lets Brandon discover a power, use it to kill someone, lie about his whereabouts to his only somewhat suspicious parents, and then repeat the cycle again. Worse, there's no real connective tissue from one sequence to the next, as if everyone just kind of hit a mental reset button in between scenes. At one point early on, Brandon lashes out as his father for not letting him have a birthday gift (a rifle), ruining his birthday party and rightfully pissing the man off - but in the next scene everyone's hunky dory again. And it extends to the other characters too; Brandon visits a classmate who is already afraid of him, and when she mentions her mother not wanting him anywhere near her, he says he'll take care of it and disappears. You'd think the girl would warn her mother, or at least mention it to the cops when the woman turned up missing (it's the lady in the diner you've seen in the trailer), but nope! She's barely even mentioned again.

And that is very frustrating, because each scene on its own is fine, sometimes even quite good, especially when it concerns a character whose fate WASN'T spoiled in the damn trailer. But they don't really add up to much, so as the film went on I found myself less and less interested and basically just mentally checking off when each thing from the trailer happened and in turn what would be left ("Where's that bit where Banks runs to the door to see a cop just as Brandon flies by and whooshes him off? Oh, there it is."). Even the film's closing scene was given away in the spots, so it almost felt like I was watching an extended cut of a film I already saw instead of being engaged by a new story. Such a flimsy narrative can be saved by strong/memorable characters, but that's a miss too; characterization is so thin that at an hour into the movie, Banks' character comes home with a name tag on and it was the first time I was aware she even had a job (what exactly it is is still a mystery).

Also, while the gore gags are great (there's one involving a jaw that KNB, Savini, etc. must be jealous they didn't do first), the stalking parts aren't particularly scary or suspenseful, killing much of the "It's a superhero slasher" appeal for me. If you're a fan of the later Jason movies where you rooted for him and they doubled the body counts, you might be into it, but as I prefer the older ones where the filmmakers were still trying to have some real tension in there, I found it lacking in that department. There are some nice shots here and there, like one of Brandon standing (flying?) at a window as the drapes blow him in and out of visibility, but the stalking is pretty much always the same - he is standing in a spot, then he's gone, then he's right next to the target and kills them. The gimmick gets old after two kills, and the script never bothers to introduce any real wrinkles or surprises. Banks discovers a weakness, but it's a non-starter, and there are no equally powered heroes for him to fight or anything like that - he just does his thing over and over until the movie hits a 90 minute mark, at which point it ends.

So really, the only thing that really kept me engaged was my amusement that producer James Gunn (his brother and cousin wrote the script) convinced Sony to give him a few million bucks to make fun of Zack Snyder, his "partner" from Dawn of the Dead (Gunn's script was rewritten by others once Snyder came on board; I'm not sure if the two ever actually collaborated in a traditional way). Snyder's version of Superman has been (rightfully) criticized for being kind of an asshole, without much regard for the human beings around him, so it seemed to me like Gunn and his crew had the idea of taking it to the next level and turning him into an actual serial killer. Which is very funny, yes, but probably would have worked better as a Funny or Die short film or the one-shot comic book I described. For a feature film, as good as that joke may be, it ultimately wore too thin for me. It's a fine enough one-time watch I guess, but this concept deserved a lot more meat on the bone.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

FTP: Single White Female (1992)

MAY 15, 2019

GENRE: BLANK FROM HELL, THRILLER
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

Like any good horror/thriller fan, I saw Single White Female when it came out on video, and maybe once or twice more over the following months, but never again - I remember it being enjoyable but not the sort of movie I needed to watch over and over like Buffy and Lethal Weapon 3 (to use examples from that same summer of 1992). All I really remembered was that Bridget Fonda got a roommate who started mimicking her hairstyle, borrowing her clothes, even muscling in on her boyfriend, and that eventually things got deadly - which I could have surmised from the trailer if I watched it. But a friend of mine had recently referenced it a couple times in regards to a friend who was kind of doing the same thing Jennifer Jason Leigh does in the movie (albeit without the violence, thankfully - just the more harmless stuff), so I dug it out of the dreaded pile to give it my first look as an adult.

Well unlike some other childhood movies that I revisit, my memories weren't way off or anything - it is indeed a perfectly decent thriller that doesn't benefit from repeated viewings. At 107 minutes it's a bit drawn out, which doesn't help make a rewatch all that enticing, especially when you consider how unambitious it is. The New York setting is largely wasted; I'd estimate 75% of the film takes place in their apartment, with minimal and non-descript exceptions like the hair salon and Fonda's office. Fonda apparently only has one friend, a gay neighbor who lives in the apartment below, and despite being a gorgeous woman with an interesting job she apparently has no other romantic prospects beyond Steven Weber, the fiance who cheated on her (with his ex no less!) and forced her to take on the roommate in the first place. Honestly, the thing could be adapted for the stage with very few revisions.

And while Leigh's creepy "I'm gonna be just like her" moves are engaging to a degree, they're kind of deflated by Fonda's reluctance to do much about it, chalking it up to "I feel sorry for her" kinda stuff as opposed to being unsettled as she should be. If she doesn't feel threatened, why should we? Plus she takes Weber back instantly (before Leigh has even really done anything nutso), so you spend the movie thinking "If she took an extra couple days to put that 'roommate wanted' ad out she wouldn't have needed one anyway". That movie The Roommate was a big ol' ripoff of this one, but at least the college setting gave the sense of being truly stuck with someone like that. Why doesn't she just stay wherever Weber went after she kicked him out?

But Leigh's performance keeps it going; the stiletto kill still works like gangbusters, and in the #MeToo era the subplot about Fonda's sleazy boss (played by Stephen Tobolowsky!) probably works better now than it did in 1992, as both women get a chance to give him exactly what he deserved (Fonda hits him in the balls, Leigh kills him). And I couldn't remember how it ended exactly, so the finale gave me the requisite number of thrills, especially the great bit where Leigh thinks she's got Fonda trapped only to discover it's a ruse. Plus, a computer with networking capabilities plays a part - it's always fun to go back and see how things we take for granted like "sending out an email to silently report an intruder" used to be a massive undertaking that the person on the other end might not even fully understand.

Scream Factory's blu has a bunch of interviews and a commentary, but alas Fonda and Leigh are MIA (they got Weber though, who admits to getting aroused during a makeout scene with the former). The one with the writer is funny because he says he was inspired by seeing The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, which can't be correct as they shot the movie before that one was released (maybe it was Pacific Heights?) and also that he didn't really remember the book he was adapting, only using its major plot points and whatever else he recalled from his single reading. Good thing he wasn't hired to adapt Game of Thrones, I guess.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

FTP: The Binding (2016)

MAY 8, 2019

GENRE: RELIGIOUS, THRILLER
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

It must really suck to be a devout Christian. Despite being raised Catholic I don't follow much of it these days (though "Thou Shall Not Kill" is a pretty good idea, I must admit), so if I came home one day and my wife said that God told her to murder our kid, I wouldn't hesitate to grab him and get the hell out of that house as quickly as possible, then call the cops and tell them a crazy person was in my home and please have them removed. But the heroine of The Binding, married to a minister who indeed tells her that God wants him to kill their child, chooses to stick around and try to get him some help, while usually leaving the child right there in the home with them - because the rules of her religion basically tell her to obey the minister and have faith in what he's saying.

Thankfully, the movie is more or less about her growing concern that maybe he's a nut and, furthermore, some of their religious ideas are a little insane, rather than go along with it blindly. But it doesn't change the fact that it's dreadfully dull and hard to get into, because it takes her so long to finally put her foot down; it's one thing to yell at Laurie Strode for dropping the knife at the end of Halloween, because she's been smart up until that point and now you love her and want her to survive. But when the main character (Amy Gumenick, who played young Mary Winchester at one point on Supernatural) is "dropping the knife" (so to speak) for the entire runtime, there's no real "in" to the story. Perhaps to devout Christian viewers this would be more terrifying or at least involving, because they might have trouble reconciling their long-standing faith with an immediate danger they can see with their own two eyes, but I spent 85 minutes rolling my eyes at her for not leaving, calling the cops, etc. I just don't understand the mindset of anyone who'd put religion over their child's well-being; quite frankly I was hoping child services would come and remove the poor girl from both of these morons.

Anyway, the movie is more or less in a loop until the final 10 minutes: the wife has a vision or nightmare of something happening to the child, the husband comes home from work or whatever and says something cryptic, they bicker, they talk to someone (a fellow priest, a shrink, etc) to try to help him, it doesn't take, a truce is called, and the cycle begins anew. She briefly lets her mother take the kid out of the house for a bit, but before long she's back in danger in her own home. For a thriller there isn't a lot of thrills outside of the obvious nightmare scenes, and most sane viewers will have checked out long before the husband finally decides to start acting on the plan he's convinced God has tasked him with. Oh, for those not caught up on Bible stories, the title refers to Isaac, a tale in which God commands Abraham to offer his son (that'd be Isaac) as a sacrifice, to which Abraham complies by binding him to an altar and then murdering him. Luckily, he only gets through the first part - God just wanted to see if he had enough faith to actually go through it, and stops him just in time.

Well (spoiler ahead) the husband chickens out at the last second and stabs himself instead, letting the baby live... but turns out he wasn't crazy after all, and God, apparently pissed off, brings upon the end of days (or at least shuts off all of the electricity in Los Angeles) as punishment for the guy not having more faith, I guess. Had this been the halfway point of the movie they might have been on to something, but why wait until the last 10 seconds to do something interesting and daring? This could have been an indie horror Knowing, instead of a lifeless thriller where most viewers won't be able to connect to its main character. I admire the "he was right all along" approach (shades of the underrated End of the Line), but it's too little too late - a cherry on top of a gross ass salad instead of delicious ice cream. Oh well.

What say you?

P.S. Rare for Scream Factory's modern indie releases, the Blu-ray has commentary and deleted scenes. However, "pile" movies need to be better for me to bother with their supplemental stuff, so I didn't watch any of them. Just letting you know it's a special edition should the above have you thinking it might be worth checking out!

PLEASE, GO ON...

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