Tag Archives: popcorn

Untitled Horror Movie

[2 stars]

The pandemic has gifted us with a slew of found footage/phone footage movies. It was a trend already in motion with movies like Searching, but it had taken a new sort of energy because what else do creators do when not allowed to create in groups? They create in groups virtually. Staged and Language Lessons are probably the best examples of what has come out of that approach so far.

This film, however, is not in their ranks. It is, to be fair, intended to be tongue-in-cheek, but that can’t forgive all its flaws. The issues are really mostly with the script. Or, to be fair, perhaps it is having me as an audience. It just wasn’t funny. It was all very inside-baseball for the entertainment industry, but with a millennial and GenX attitude that I found more annoying than entertaining.

Luke Baines (Shadowhunters) co-wrote with Nick Simon (Truth or Dare?). For a first feature script by Baines it isn’t horrible. Derivative to a large degree, but not horrible. Simon’s hand is visible in the shaping of the material into a genre film. But Baines also had a major role in the movie, playing a pretty, but not very talented, actor. Draw your own conclusions.

The rest of the main cast are similarly aged talent, all with recognizable faces. Darren Barnet (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Timothy Granaderos (13 Reasons Why), Claire Holt (47 Meters Down), Katherine McNamara (The Stand, Shadowhunters), and Emmy Raver-Lampman (Umbrella Academy). While none of the individual performances really rise to the top, the ensemble creates a believable cadre of a sitcom cast stressing their series renewal, and managing to get along only with the utmost effort on all their parts.

The story picks up pace as it goes along, but it doesn’t find the proper end, nor does it really manage to thrill, satisfy, or scare you. It simply is. Honestly, I can see why the crew got together to make the piece. It was clearly fun for them and it was an outlet during a period of isolation and little-to-no work. That journey is somewhat memorialized in the script itself. But that is also part of the issue, at least for me. I could see all the gears, both in the story and surrounding it. It was a project that was best left on the shelf and dragged out at private parties they could enjoy together. It was a game attempt, and no performer irked me such that I wouldn’t watch them again in something else, but this wasn’t really worth my 90 minutes. YMMV.

Untitled Horror Movie Poster

Halloween Kills

[2.5 stars]

Buckets of blood? Check. Surprises and jumps? Close enough. Story? Well…not so much.

David Gordon Green’s second installment of the new Halloween trilogy is not so much a movie as it is a commentary on society and reflections on the franchise going back to 1978. There isn’t even any teen angst or hijinks. It is almost all from the perspective of the survivors (guilty and not) of the previous films. While the previous film capitalized on that and flipped the script in nice ways, this one is simply out of control and can in no way stand on its own.

Perhaps the real issue is that Green knew he had three films. This installment is simply a bridge to the third and (promised) unexpected finale. But if you don’t know the series and haven’t seen the lead-in story, you’d be lost. This movie picks up literally from the moment the last ended. But it has no real purpose. No rich stories to latch onto and care about (it tries, but fails). It is violent as hell on all sides, and that is its biggest mistake.

For the statement that Green wanted to make, Meyers should have had the lowest, or even zero, bodies added to his list. All of the death should have come purely from the chaos he inspired. That would have made a statement. As it is we simply go from death to death, one squishy over-the-top moment to the next. And while I can enjoy a good splatter film, this just didn’t engage me.

I am, without proof, hopeful that next year’s Halloween Ends will justify this middling release. But we’ll have to wait to see. For now, whether you see this now or later is entirely up to you.

Halloween Kills Poster

Voyagers

[2 stars]

Short version: it’s Lord of the Flies in space but without any of the weight of the original allegory.

Longer version: The world is dying so a group of scientists send a bunch of teenagers into space without much personal or automated supervision for 86 years. What could go wrong?

Honestly, the premise of a generation ship could have worked had they not already admitted they had both invitro fertilization and extra-utero gestation solved. Why the heck did they need more than a few adults to get the ship where it needed to be? Bring a seed bank of humans; the rest could have been made later either in waves or all at once near the end so they were useful. Would have saved a ton of supplies and space.

But that wasn’t the story Neil Burger (The Upside) wanted to tell. He wanted to show the horror of mankind unbound. Except he didn’t. He showed what a couple of psychopathic teens could accomplish when adults were too stupid to take precautions like monitoring their charges physically, chemically, or some other way. The pitfalls of the plan are obvious to anyone and the results inevitable. So the movie is really about the spectacle.

Unfortunately, while there are some nice design an visual effects, there isn’t a lot of good spectacle on display either. Not in terms of fights, skin, or anything else that might qualify. Burger couldn’t really commit to his vision, or the studio kept scaling it back. Frankly High Life or even the nearly unwatchable Climax took on these themes better. And Passengers, for any flaws it may have or others thought of it, looked at long space flight better as well.

What is a shame is that he had some talent there waiting to tackle the problems. Tye Sheridan (X-Men: Dark Phoenix), Fionn Whitehead (Black Mirror: Bandersnatch), Lily-Rose Depp, not to mention Colin Farrell (Ava) all have chops. But Burger’s script and direction did them no favors. While they all start at a good place and are good at the understated base from which it all launches, none of them really have an arc we care about emotionally.

So, yes, skip this. My pain should not be yours. Burger is a capable filmmaker, but this was not one he will be remembered for. And none of the actors will admit to this down the road unless under duress.

Voyagers Poster

What If…?

[4 stars]

There is no doubt this show was highly anticipated by fans of the MCU, and generally worth the wait. Mind you, if you haven’t watched the whole phase 1-3 sequence you would be completely lost on the references and import of what you’re watching. This is a gift to fans from fans. Period. And that’s a truly rare thing at this level of quality and production. A fully non-canon set of stories that tackle those powerful thoughts of “What if…” that allow for stories that never happened but might have been fun to see.

But how much fun comes down to this: why do you want to watch What If…? There are different answers to the question, and the reactions I’ve seen to the show tend to be fed by which of the two main camps that question creates. Either you’re just interested in being entertained and seeing what fun and silly stuff might come out of mashing up the characters and events, or you want to see something a bit more interesting in terms of how a story really might unspool in a meaningful way thanks to a single change. Up front, I’m in the latter camp. I’m all about the power of “what if” in stories, but I want it to have a purpose and satisfying result. It can get silly, but it still has to satisfy my main criteria: purpose. And after a wandering path, they got there. But that meant seeing it all chronologically and experiencing the stories individually first.

Launching with a riff on the Captain America origin story was a brilliant stroke. It sets up the tone and possibilities. More importantly, it was a story with a change that had impact in its difference. But then it quickly stumbled for me in its second outing as it took on Guardians of the Galaxy, almost instantly breaking the reality by having events out of order in a way that could not work, even in the universe they created. Any fan would have spotted it immediately. The gaff set off alarm bells for me as it meant no one was watching carefully enough to keep it above the realm of bad fan fiction. Because, let’s face it, this series is fan fiction…that is its only purpose to exist.

I had fewer issues with the Avengers Assemble riff. Though, other than shock value, it didn’t manage to really grab me. Part of that may have been the voices; several main characters didn’t voice their avatars.

But Doctor Strange was clever and cut to the bone in a way that most of the episodes don’t. Though I fully admit the run at Infinity War (which sadly spoils the opening surprise with its title) was a riot. And while Iron Man’s alternate journey was interestingly thought through, Thor’s only-child tale lost it’s credibility early on for me. It could have been fun, but it tried too hard and, like the Guardian’s episode, included too many characters that shouldn’t have been mixing.

And then there was the Ultron finale…well, dang. I have to hand it to the series for that storyline along with its repercussions and impact. But it was a long slog to relevance in some ways. Without that finale, I’d have a had a much lower opinion of the series.

Overall, the clever reuse of movie audio, which helped to bring back in original voices in many places that might not have otherwise been possible, and the sense of fun and whimsey amid the dark really pulled it all together nicely.  And now I’m actually looking forward to the next season.

What If...? Poster

Nightbooks

[3 stars]

In the best R.L. Stein tradition, Nightbooks delivers a kid-friendly, but not too saccharine, horror tale. The writer/director mix has a lot to do with the success of the story, but it would have fallen flat if it weren’t for the impressive, young cast they found to drive it.

Winslow Fegley and Lidya Jewett both have cred, but watching these two hold up a whole film was impressive. Even when put up against Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones), they hold their own nicely.

The story is somewhat episodic in structure, but co-writers and collaborators Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis (who brought to screen Five Feet Apart and The Curse of La Lorona) were a solid choice to play on the line between YA and horror. And director David Yarovesky (Brightburn) had a suitably tongue-in-cheek approach to the tale.

Add to the flavoring that the production was stewarded by Rami and Tappert (the creators of the Evil Dead trilogy, not to mention Hercules and Xena) and you can understand why there is also a dark comic edge to it all. The not-so-subtle Lost Boys pokes are a riot as well.

This is pure escapism in a wonderfully digestible way. You may get ahead of things, you may not, but you’ll laugh a little and certainly be surprised at how dangerous things can get. The production is also visually rich with lots of wonderful detail…Ritter probably did the role just for the outrageous costumes she got to wear. And, should you like it, know they followed tradition by leaving it open for a sequel.

Nightbooks Poster

Brand New Cherry Flavor

[3 stars]

It’s hard to turn away from this unexpectedly magical, dark, and twisted Hollywood-meta horror ride. It not only echoes so much of what has come before (and current affairs), but builds its own mythos and little corner of hell. And Rosa Salazar (Alita: Battle Angel) and Catherine Keener (Incredibles 2) are wonderfully matched as they share and spar.

It’s also easy to see why both of these women took on their roles. Salazar gets to grow up and command the screen. Keener (Incredibles 2) took the challenge of trying to make the truly weird and fantastical into something accessible and believable. And she rides that line beautifully.

There are a few men playing in their world. Jeff Ward (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) as a naif pulled into the maelstrom and Eric Lange (Wind River) as the catalyst and Weinstein stand-in. But one of the more unexpected, though his role is rather small, was Manny Jacinto (The Good Place, Nine Perfect Strangers). Jacinto proves again what a chameleon he is; every role his sense of age, even of height, seem malleable.

If you like the weird and dark, The ride of Cherry Flavor is worth every minute you get to spend with it. It’s sense of dread and magic, power and control as it all shifts and is explained is compelling. The ending…well, let’s just say they wimped out. Yes, it sort of completes, but they left it wide open for a sequel. Honestly, I would have preferred a solid ending. But that is only the last few minutes of an 8 episode dark epic that grabbed me and pulled me along, even against my will at times. It isn’t for everyone, but it is very well crafted and wonderfully acted.

Brand New Cherry Flavor Poster

Cinderella (2021)

[3 stars]

Cinderella is a tale that is told over and over again in various formats, from Ella Enchanted to Pretty Woman to the recent classic retelling or even as another reimagined musical. It endures because it speaks to hope and escape. It can morph into many frameworks because those feelings and fears are untethered to a particular venue or time. So it is no surprise that Kay Cannon (Pitch Perfect) wanted to tackle it with her own musical spin.

The result is entertaining, if very much on the surface. Imagine In the Heights meets Beauty and the Beast with a dash of Moulin Rouge. Songs you already know slotted into big numbers to bring a feudal setting to current life. Mind you, the songs often expand the running time unnecessarily and the choice of songs was odd to my ear. I knew most of them, but this was a movie aimed at young girls and women…and almost none of them were alive when they released and were popular. If Cannon was looking for familiar touchpoints, she mostly missed the mark in her selections.

The cast certainly gave it their all. X-Factor alumn Camila Cabello brings energy and joy to her Ella…enough to keep it all afloat. And she’s surrounded with some solid talent to help her along. But of them, Billy Porter (Pose), Minnie Driver (Spinning Man), and Idina Menzel (Frozen) are the most memorable. And while they all support Cabello well, there just isn’t enough Billy Porter. I understand why…Cannon wanted Ella to be her own savior. And I applaud that approach, but after he appears (way late in the film), his lack is sorely felt..and the story feels like it’s missing something.
On a more general note, though humorous, the CGI for the mice is awful. How they could cheap out on that aspect was a surprise as it ruins their moments on screen. And the songs are over-engineered to the point of almost being lifeless. They’re so clean as to have no emotion, no guts. Notes, yes, but no humanity.
Grumbles aside, there is a feminist message throughout that goes full-blown, Handmaids included, in a quietly angry musical number that is among the best and poignant in the flick. Ultimately, the story pays off in the way it should, even if unsurprising. Subtle the movie isn’t, but it does try to forge new ground. It just would have been nice if it had some depth to the soil it spread.
Cinderella Poster

Love and Monsters

[3.5 stars]

There was something quite fun in taking the action-hero oriented Dylan O’Brien (Infinite) and making him into a somewhat inept, but able to learn, heartsick dweeb during the apocalypse. It also helps that the script was wickedly funny and unpretentious. By combining the raw sarcasm of  Brian Duffield (Spontaneous) and sweet sensibility of Matthew Robinson (Dora and the Lost City of Gold), the result is an unexpectedly humorous and entertaining action romance.

The story is unabashedly absurd from the start, but not without heart. In fact, if anything, that is the point of the story: family and love (in case the title wasn’t enough of a clue). But it’s all done with a wry wink. Michael Rooker (Vivo) and Ariana Greenblat (Awake) add to that considerably. And Jessica Henwick (On the Rocks) provides a suitable and believable focus for our hero.

This isn’t brilliant comedy or action, but it is totally entertaining and never takes itself too seriously. And, even amidst the absurdity, there is a real base of emotion and intention. It’s a flick that fulfills many needs for an evening and will have you laughing and jumping. Had it not released during the pandemic, it may even have found a wider audience on the big screen, but now it will just have to grow it from a smaller one; and it should.

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He’s All That

[2.5 stars]

This movie didn’t really need a write-up, but I’m a completist. Put simply, it’s a bit of utter (remake) fluff is aimed at the 14-year-old romantic in everyone. It’s depth rises to the level of a Nickelodeon after-school distraction or Disney+. There is little to nothing surprising or challenging in the story. But it is done in earnest and, despite a rushed and surfacy script, executed without any major bumps.

You should feel free to skip it or, if you really just need some mindless optimism and sense of young possibility, go for it. I won’t judge…I was there already.

He's All That Poster

SAS: The Rise of the Black Swan (aka Red Notice)

[3.5 stars]

Sure, this is a standard action/suspense thriller in most ways. But from the start it suggests a question that pulls you along wondering who it is going to focus on. While that becomes clearer as the story progresses, it is by no means simple…in fact, in some ways Laurence Malkin’s script is more than a little subversive in his attempt to show something a bit (just a bit) closer to the reality of mercenary and professional killer mentality. But that’s all the subtext.

Generally, this is just rockin’ good actioner with some solid talent and some clever surprises. It is cold and violent, however it also has a little bit of everything for almost everyone; even humor and romance.

Sam Heughan (Bloodshot) and Hannah John-Kamen (Brave New World), along with Tom Hopper (Umbrella Academy) are on one side of the line. Ruby Rose (The Meg, Batwoman) and Tom Wilkinson (The Happy Prince) are on the other while Andy Serkis (A Christmas Carol) gets to straddle the space in-between. The interplay between them all is understated and honest, if sometimes a bit ‘managed.’  But while this is probably the biggest project director Magnus Martens has tackled, he’s done a credible job keeping it all moving and clear.

One of the better aspects of this movie is that you can come to it just wanting to be entertained, or think about aspects of the world it takes time to expose. It doesn’t dwell on any of that…it is very much of its genre, but it does help set it apart just enough. It helps it feel new in a sea of similar thrillers. Certainly the script helped, but the actors also found just the right delivery. They aren’t acting evil, they are just acting as the sociopaths/psychopaths they need to be–on both sides of the line. This ended up being a solid launch to a possible franchise and I’d definitely be back to see where they could take it.

SAS: Red Notice Poster