Tag Archives: YourChoice

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween

[2.5 stars]

The first Goosebumps movie in this series was, honestly, a surprise. It was certainly aimed at kids, but had enough meat and story to hold the adults attention as well. This second installment has its moments, but is unabashedly aimed at kids and tweens with little for adults.

The cast isn’t at fault here. Director Ari  Sandel (The DUFF) found a good ensemble and, though he certainly focused on a particular audience, he kept it consistent and moving along.

The younger crew of Madison Iseman (Jumanji), Jeremy Ray Taylor (It) and Caleel Harris (Castle Rock) work well together and are engaging, if a bit sanitized and simplified. It’s really the adults that don’t feel even a little credible. Wendi McLendon-Covey (Speech & Debate), Ken Jeong (Crazy Rich Asians), and Chris Parnell (Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation) are all paper-thin caricatures of parents and neighbors. Even Jack Black’s (The House with the Clock in the Walls) reprise of his RL Stine feels less than believable.

The issue is almost entirely on Rob Lieber’s (Peter Rabbit) script. But it isn’t just about the tone and tale, it is also about the plot itself. If you’ve seen the first installment, you’ll be a tad confused for a while. Since this is a sequel, you’re expecting it to pick up from where it left off. But that isn’t really the case at all. It takes about 20 minutes for Lieber to explain why we’re in a different town and how Stine’s book ended up there. I like that it is intended as more a standalone, but it also seems to remake some of the rules established in the first film.

Am I being picky about a silly kid’s film? Probably, but it is what separates the successes of the Jumanji’s from these kinds of releases. If you’ve someone young, or on heavy medication, to watch this with, it is entertaining enough. It just isn’t a good movie for anyone over 14.

Escape Room

[3 stars]

Silly, satisfying popcorn fun, as you’d expect.

Much like Cube and Saw before it, this collection of crazily conceived challenges for the characters offers a lot of dark entertainment, and some nice attempts at making it all believable. As a first feature script for Schut and Melnik, there is a real attempt to create just-believable-enough scenarios and people to drive the well-worn genre and provide some unexpected moments, if not exactly surprises. Adam Robitel’s direction, as only his second feature, likewise shows some nice talent with pacing and finding emotional threads to keep it all going.

The result isn’t perfect, but it is entertaining. Nik Dodani (Atypical), in particular, gets ripped off as a character, never really becoming someone we care about. But Deborah Ann Woll (Daredevil) and
Taylor Russell (Before I Fall) actually get to build quite a bit of backstory and sense of life. Logan Miller (Love, Simon) and Tyler Labine (Voltron: Legendary Defender), aren’t quite as lucky and Jay Ellis (The Game) is really just a parody. These uneven efforts work in this genre, but does make the film a bit less than it might of become.

So, if you’re a fan of these kinds of inventive evil mayhem that may or may not ever really make sense, make an appointment for the Escape Room. If you are hoping for something a bit richer and more complete, like It or some of the other more recent reinventions of horror/suspense, this is going to come up a bit short…primarily for the ending, but also because of the uneven character development.

Nightflyers

[2.5 stars]

Such anticipation and such disappointment. This adaptation of the classic novella by George R. R. Martin ended up as an unhappy cross between Event Horizon and 2001: A Space Odyssey; an embarrassingly and nearly unwatchable tale of space horror trying to be intellectual.

You can tell that the producers knew they were in trouble with this series from the start. In order to hook you, they had to start with the unlikely events near the finale. By doing so they kept you hooked trying to figure out how it happened, even though wading through the absurd plot and actions of the characters would have normally had you switching off the show.

There are some clever ideas amidst the really bad writing. Some are from Martin’s source material and some from the writer’s own expansion of that novella. But clever ideas alone can’t drive a show. You need at least one other element, good dialogue or good characters. Neither materializes despite some considerable talent in the cast and effects on the screen. And, to top it all off, the end of the season is far from a resolution, though I can’t say I’ll be back for a season 2 should it appear.

I wholly support the efforts to start bringing well known writing to the screen, large or small. But the results need to be as crafted as the original source in order to bring it to life.

Nightflyers is middling at best and, in my opinion, not worth 10 hours of your time to navigate.

Mock and Roll

[2 stars]

Dying is easy. Comedy is hard. Parody is brutal.

If you haven’t sussed it from the title, this movie is in the third category. Sadly, the result here isn’t great, but it isn’t entirely without merit. As an early or first film for almost all involved, it is interesting to see who may grow from it. And the story certainly takes the idea head-on by making the center of the story a parody band of The Black Owls to add some layers to the movie. Fortunately, they’re also a reasonably talented group of musicians.

While the movie style is stilted, it is also full of clever and intelligent ideas and comments. That can’t carry the film, but it does help make it engaging. By having a parody band at the center of it all helps to set it apart from other movies in the genre, like Spinal Tap or A Mighty Wind. It accepts it is a parody from the beginning rather than having the band in earnest. One of the more unexpected thoughts in the script is why Liberty Mean, the parody band that drives everything, is a parody band: they consider it a tribute to The Black Owls.

But that brings up part of the challenge with this movie: you have to know The Black Owls and Foghat music to really appreciate the efforts here. If you don’t know their canon cold, it’s like trying to listen to Weird Al without context. It is also worth noting that both Foghat and The Black Owls have a real presence in the film, which is a huge bonus to its profile.

But, other than the editing, director and co-writer (with Mark Stewart) Ben Bacharach-White doesn’t do his actors many favors in this romp. Through interesting cuts and visual games, he keeps the pace surprisingly brisk given some of the issues that remain in the movie.

At the top of those issues: no one comes across as real or comfortable. There are some glimmers of potential beyond their musical efforts. Aditi Molly Bhanja stands out as the high point of the cast, providing just enough real moments to keep it all percolating along. Andrew Yackel isn’t far behind, though his timing needs some work on what are, admittedly, some truly challenging verbal riffs. But it isn’t like any of it feels real enough to carry the plot: Liberty Mean trying to raise money to get to SXSW to bring their brand of tribute to the masses.

Basically, this is a low-budget romp through and through, but with some real effort at making it whole, and with some good music to carry it. If you know the bands in play, you’ll get a lot more out of it. And, honestly, the better read you are generally, the more you’ll pick up in the dialogue. But this strikes me as a flick that works best with, shall we say, mood enhancers and, possibly, if you were/are in a garage band or on the younger side.

Mortal Engines

[3 stars]

Let’s start with the positive: Mortal Engines is visually stunning and inventive. The production design is wonderful. Even the tech is cleverly thought through to make it just believable enough to go with it. If this sounds like it is leading up to a Valerian-sized “but,” you’re not wrong.

First it is worth noting Robert Sheehan (Mute) has finally been given a role and direction that keeps him contained and normalish, without losing his charm and ability. Of all the actors, he fares the best because it really added to his range of work. Hera Hilmar (Da Vinci’s Demons) is fine in what should have been the more dominating lead, but she doesn’t have much to work with. And the chemistry between the two isn’t quite intense enough to sell their decisions.

And, sure, Hugo Weaving (Hacksaw Ridge), Jihae (Mars), Stephen Lang (The Girl on the Train), Ronan Raftery (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), Peter Malahide (The Paradise), Colin Salmon (Limitless), and even newcomer Leila George all do fine, but none get to act. They are all just pawns for the script and the moving of massive set pieces and effects.

Now to focus on that huge “but.” When Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, and Fran Walsh, the writers and producers of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, get behind a big steam-punk fantasy, you expect something spectacular. Instead, we get an impossibly weak script that is full of logic holes, dropped threads, bad choices, and cheap short-cuts. Worse, there are also no surprises. And I do mean none. Everything is obvious from the beginning. For the Wingnut gang to give something this big and complex to first-time director Christian Rivers, even with his years in their art department, did him no service. His direction isn’t bad, but he didn’t have the experience to see what wasn’t working and correct it. Given the messages in the story and our current times, a more experienced director could have done a lot more, even with the same bare bones to work with. They also did the movie no favor by releasing it during the holidays. It would have done much better in the spring or late summer, when the appetite and expectations would have matched it a bit more.

If you are going to see this because you’re a fan of the books or just looking for some pure popcorn escape, see it on big screen. It does deserve that scope and it won’t translate to anything smaller than a 75 inch screen at home. It is glorious to look at. It just isn’t a particularly glorious movie.

Basically, if you want to see some Jackson & co. magic this season, go see the truly amazing They Shall Not Grow Old. It may not be a genre flick, but it is much better film making.

The Nun

[3 stars]

What is the difference between a legitimate sequel/prequel and a cash grab? The easiest answer is the quality of the movie. This prequel to The Conjuring series is full of surprises and nice visuals. It is creepy and relatively well performed. And, I have to admit, it had a great trailer that got me to watch the full flick. As one of its gifts to its followers, Taissa Farmiga (The Final Girls) takes over from her mother as lead in this outing. Demián Bichir (Alien: Covenant), as the travelling Vatican demon hunter, and Jonas Bloquet (Three Days to Kill) are fine as well.

Truthfully, however, no one really stands out as great. Part of the issue is the number of stupid things they do, like running alone toward danger. Director Corin Hardy (The Hallow) doesn’t even try and help the actors smooth over those moments, accepting the genre low-bar for expectations. Writer Gary Dauberman, who also penned the spin-off Annabelle series, was either rushed or simply didn’t put in the effort for the story which doesn’t quite hold together if you look at it too hard. The background ideas are engaging, but the execution is sloppy. I will grant him the humor and, rare, humanity he injects into the tale, but those moments stand out because of the story that surrounds them.

So, cash grab or not? Yeah, to my mind it is. This movie barely stands on its own. And, despite some fun moments, it is rife with bad horror tropes that make it too easy to stay ahead of dialogue or scares. If you’re a Conjuring fan, it is probably a lot of fun to see the genesis of the evil. And that’s one of the tricky parts: even knowing that it is a prequel helps give away a lot of the story, making a solid script even more necessary. As a distraction it isn’t a horrible 90 minutes, but it isn’t the first thing I’d queue up if you’re looking for an evening of chills and entertainment.

Inferno (1980) and Mother of Tears

[2.5 stars]

Let’s talk horror.

What makes a movie scary? Disturbing sound effects? Gore? Twisted sets? Violence? Creepy music? Dark scenes? Surprises? Sure, all of that can add to the atmosphere, but if you don’t have characters and a story to tell you might as well just make paintings with some ambient sound to accompany it. You also need to be able to identify and engage with the characters. Part of what has brought horror into the mainstream with massive blockbusters like Get Out and It is the characters we could connect with, not just the situations and the events. Even those that rely more on humor, like Cockney’s vs. Zombies and Happy Death Day, or even those that rely simply on cleverness like the Saw or Final Destination series, provide both shock and character with the laughs…but they would fail without the characters.

OK, with all that in mind let’s dive into the last two parts of The Three Mothers trilogy by horror icon Dario Artento (Suspiria).

Inferno

A lot happens in this midsection to the trilogy, but it doesn’t have any real impact. There are no characters to latch onto, no real story to tell, just exposition that explains a bit of Suspiria and what potentially may come. There are some interesting visual moments but the script is painful at times; so is the acting. It is also very much a film of its time, 1980, in look and feel.

What Inferno does do is set up an interesting framework for the bigger story of the Three Mothers…and it would take Argento another 27 years to attempt it in The Mother of Tears, but I’ll get to that shortly.

I can tell you that, as a curio, sure you can give Inferno time. Just don’t expect a good movie. Go for the splatter and the explanation. Honestly, some of that information may be in the original Suspiria, but I saw it so many years ago, I can’t recall. I can say that the remake of Suspiria certainly included some of the background supplied in Inferno.

Mother of Tears

This is probably the most polished of the trilogy. That isn’t a complete surprise as it was made in 2007, 27 years after Inferno; you’d hope that Argento had improved his abilities in that amount of time. Mother of Tears does complete the trilogy in much the way you’d expect given the previous two installments. Building on the information in Inferno, but tying it back to Suspiria, we get a suitable climax to it all. 

But no, it isn’t a wonderful film. There are moments and there are surprises (sound familiar?). There is also gratuitous violence at times, as well as story-serving violence at others. The gore gets extreme and characters, such as they exist, are sometimes just, well, stupid. In fact, the entire impetus that frees the Mother of Tears is based on actions that just wouldn’t occur. Sadly, it could have been easily worked around, but Argento simply took the easy way and decided that truth should be as damned as the world he creates.

At least some of the acting was slightly more believable than the other two films. Asia Argento isn’t brilliant in the lead, but Valéria CavalliCristian Solimeno and Adam James added some credibility to the cast (given the direction they were given). And a small role by Udo Kier (American Animals) was a gift to his fans.

Overall, am I glad I completed this sequence? Yes, but more from a filmography point of view rather than feeling entertained. My time could have been spent on better choices. I am not a huge splatter fan, but when it is done well and to a purpose, be it humor or commentary, I can get on board. Argento seems to use violence for no purpose other than to purge his own demons or simply to shock. He has his followers, and if you are one then you certainly should fill in any gaps you have in his opus. For general or casual audiences of horror, or those who prefer the more mature approach, steer clear. There is little meat on the bones and too few moments of entertainment to make it worth your effort.

Hotel Artemis

[3 stars]

This had so much more potential than it achieved. The idea, an odd mash-up of The Purge and John Wick: Chapter 2, is loaded with talent, just not with a script or director.

The emotional core of the story, such as it is, rests with Jodie Foster (The Beaver). Her characterization and efforts are filled with promise, but don’t fully pay off even if they drive the tale. The fault here is the script, not Foster, who brings a lot of subtlety and physicalization to her Nurse.

Foster is assisted by an oddly devoted Dave Bautista (Escape Plan 2: Hades). There isn’t anything new on screen here from him, but he serves his purpose. Likewise for Jenny Slate (Venom), who swings into the story late, but with nice complications.

Staying in the hotel are an unsurprisingly motley crew. Sterling K. Brown (Predator) leads that list, continuing his breaking out onto the big screen by leveraging what he does best. Brown’s intensity combined with his ability to remain vulnerable always makes him interesting to watch and relate to. He helps anchor Foster’s storyline with his own. Brown is joined by a lithe, bitingly cold, but not particularly surprising, Sofia Boutella (Star Trek Beyond), and an absurd Charlie Day (Pacific Rim: Uprising). Each has aspects to add to the overall plot, but neither feels entirely grounded or real (by choice or presentation).

And then there were the smaller, but linchpin roles by Jeff Goldblum (Le Week-End), Zachary Quinto (Hitman: Agent 47), and Brian Tyree Henry (Widows). Each one is a domino to fall in the interlaced tales that drive the Artemis. None is particularly believable, though Henry doesn’t really misstep so much as not have as much to work from in the script as the other two. They all try to wring what they can from their characters and situations despite the shortcomings.

Like I said, loaded with talent. So what went wrong? Director and writer Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3) never quite gets the pacing right, nor was he able to balance the emotions in a way that sells the situation and the characters. From the outset, the movie is off on the wrong foot with stupid choices made by supposedly practiced criminals. Setting it against a city-wide uprising was an interesting choice, but that reality was a story convenience that never did more than force the plot rather than enrich the tale or issues. When you start with something as obvious as naming the hotel for the goddess of the hunt (and, to a degree, chastity), you sort of know where you’re headed and where you’re not.

I’m not saying this is entirely a waste of time. Some of the performances, Foster for instance, are interesting to watch. There are some good fight scenes. The cinematography and production design are engaging. It just isn’t what it could be and it isn’t particularly good. Depending on your mood and what you’re looking for, it may work better for you than it did for me.

Robin Hood (2018)

[3 stars]

If you want the short version: this is a empty romp with a lot of problems, from production design to script choices. However, it does manage to entertain and have some good action scenes. If you’re looking for a great movie or a solid reimagining of the myth, look elsewhere.

Now for the longer version.

Robin Hood is one of the most remade tales in movies. Part of that is that it’s public domain. But a very real part of it is that it resonates with people, especially in times of great inequity. This is certainly one of those times and, done well, it should have been a break-out hit. With affable talent like Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Golden Circle) and Jamie Foxx (Baby Driver) there was appeal and ability displayed on screen. Support from Ben Mendelsohn (Ready Player One), Eve Hewson (Bridge of Spies), Tim Minchin, Jamie Dornan (The 9th Life of Louis Drax), and the redoubtable F. Murray Abraham (Isle of Dogs) didn’t hurt either, though not all of these actors had substance to work with.

Director Otto Bathurst, in his first big-screen credit, is better known on TV; not easy TV either. Having directed the first Black Mirror episode National Anthem, I would have expected a more astute political mind at the helm. Robin Hood, instead, is all over the place. It isn’t just an action film, though there is plenty. It isn’t a political statement, like V for Vendetta or even Ben Hur, which it makes nods to. I mean, it quotes Hillel the Elder, but can’t seem to follow-through.  Instead we’re left with some weird half attempt at both while committing to neither. In other words, a very unsatisfying movie.

Writers Ben Chandler and David James Kelly are both newbies to this level. They needed someone with a bit more experience helping them to pull this story off. The fact is they had an interesting place to start. They ask us, literally, to forget everything we know about Robin Hood and launch into a nice revision of the story that has potential… and then they devolve into the story we know, but with a framework that doesn’t work. We don’t even really connect with the characters or the populace because we’re never given that chance in this, admittedly, fast-paced tale.

Add to these plot questions some of the most embarrassing production choices I’ve seen in a major film, and it gets even more frustrating. I don’t normally focus on costumes, but when you can see machine seaming on clothing and modern leotards on characters, not to mention perfectly forged metals, it tends to throw you out of the Middle Ages. I think there was a thought to pulling something of a Guy Ritchie and saying “screw the era, I want them to see themselves in this film.” Well, it failed on that level too.

So, yes, you can feel justified missing this if you want. It certainly isn’t great. It won’t translate to small screen well, but you can wait for it if you don’t care about that. On the other hand, if you can get a cheap seat or really love these actors, you’ll have a diverting couple hours. Just go in knowing they are trapped in an inferior reboot and are going to do the best they can. Yes, that was the long version.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

[2.5 stars]

What a bloody mess this movie is.

Director David Yates (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) tried to make up for the lack of script by going with lots of pretty effects, which are impressive, but often add little to the story. And even a lot of that eye candy was hard to watch and took very little advantage of the technologies in Atmos or big screen. What story there is from JK Rowling, is practically impossible to follow.

I’ll admit that I didn’t have much hope going in. The first Fantastic Beasts was a visual feast, but not a great movie either; it was really just all set-up. This second of the five planned chapters had to kick it up a gear and get things really rolling. I had hoped for at least a fun distraction and the next chapter in the story, but instead got a half-baked idea full of plot holes and pointless characters. Just a ridiculous waste of time. Even though the cast gave it their all, the story and the final cut did them no service.

Jude Law (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword), Johnny Depp (Sherlock Gnomes), and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl) all bring their talents to bear. Admittedly, none bring anything particularly new to screen, but certainly they do well. However, other returning characters added nothing to their stories. Even Ezra Miller (Suicide Squad) was practically a prop, with no appreciable moments despite being at the center of it all.

But you may have noticed that there are no women in that list. This movie, despite the current cultural wave and a female demigod of entertainment at one of the  helms, is driven entirely by men. Worse, the women that were strong in the first movie are made into weak ones in this. Zoë Kravitz (Kin), Katherine Waterston (Alien: Covenant), and in particular Alison Sudol (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) were all made into side characters or dumbed down into thin representations. And the one gift character, Claudia Kim (Avengers: Age of Ultron), despite her power, was just window dressing.

Here’s the thing with successful franchises like Harry Potter: If you want to continue the stories, you have to continue those stories or risk losing your rabid following. Such was the risk with Fantastic Beasts when it left Potter, if not Hogwarts and all the characters, behind. [Need proof? Search for Harry Potter on Netflix and Fantastic Beasts doesn’t even appear, though it does eventually on Amazon Prime]. It can be done, but it takes excellent writing and some patience. And I certainly understand Rowling’s desire to not be hemmed in or defined so narrowly that she can leave her pseudonyms and write something new under her name, even if it is derivative of her best known opus. But she clearly needed more time to craft this new epic. The first movie was tolerable and had promise. This second plays like half an outline that was rushed out. And there was so much potential given where the world is at present. FB2 is neither a kid’s film nor an adult one. But, hey, on the up side, it is also long.

Seriously, this is for die-hards only. It will probably continue on, but hopefully Rowling will realize she needs help and the studio will insist on getting her some going forward. Because, if this is the quality we’re going to get for the rest of the series, they might as well quit now.