Monday, December 26, 2016

The best and worst movies of 2016

I saw a lot of the movies of 2016. Here is my list for the best and worst.

Worst movies

10. The Conjuring 2

9. Blair Witch

8. Angry Birds

7. Zoolander 2

6. The Huntsman: Winter's War

5. Morgan

4. Ghostbusters

3. Indepence Day: Resurgence

2. The Forest

1. Yoga Hosers

Best movies

10. Pee Wee's Big Holiday

9. Zootopia

8. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

7. Rogue One

6. The Lobster

5. Don't Breathe

4. Arrival

3. 10 Cloverfield Lane

2. Hush

1. The Witch

Friday, December 16, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Review

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a standalone film in the Star Wars cinematic universe. The special effects are great, showing the audience the universe at the dawn of the rebellion. The performances are good and showcase the skilled actors in a variety of complex roles. If there was a flaw to this movie, it is that this tale takes the longest route to a get to the crux of the story.

Rogue One centers on the character, Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones. She is the daughter of Galen Erso who is the designer of the Death Star. After falling into the hands of the rebels, Jyn must locate her father. She meets up with an eclectic group of fighters and together they go on a mission to get the Death Star plans in the hope of finding a flaw that might be a glimmer of hope for the rebellion.

The story is dark and foreboding, fitting right in with the mood of The Empire Strikes Back. The plot meanders a bit and some scenes feel like they could have been left on the cutting room floor. There are also strange choices such as the choice not to do a text crawl in the beginning of the film. Since Star Wars has always paid homage to old serial films, like Flash Gordon, it seems like a move to change that vision. There was also the odd choice to bring General Tarkin, who was played by the deceased Peter Cushing, back in CGI form. This was not the only character change as the film includes a young Princess Leia who was also given the CGI treatment. While they look good for CGI doubles and the actors play the part well, it looks a bit odd and the effect took me out of the movie.

Felicity Jones plays a great lead and the rest of the cast show a level of skill needed to make the scenes have the depth needed for a darker Star Wars film. It was fun to see Darth Vader again on screen and hear the voice by James Earl Jones in all its glory. The special effects are solid and exciting but sometimes have the look of a video game cut scene. This was especially evident during the space battles. The robot character K-2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk, often steals the scene with his wry humor.

I recommend this movie for Star Wars fans. For others who might be new to the franchise it might be a bit confusing. The theme of heroism and sacrifice during war is still relevant and takes a unique approach to the subject of the horrors of war and hope. It takes the universe that many of us enjoy and looks at it from a different angle, which may or may not be compelling depending solely on your point of view. As Obi Wan once said, “Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”

Friday, November 18, 2016

Arrival - review

Arrival has all the hallmarks of a good science fiction movie. It comes across as genuine, has great performances, and does not relish in over-blown special effects. However, it is hard for anyone that is sensitive or finds themselves often empathizing with characters to enjoy this movie to its full potential.  It can feel like a kick to the gut when you are expecting something more entertaining.

A dozen alien spacecraft have landed in various locations on Earth. Governments struggle to find out the aliens’ intentions so they enlist the aid of linguist Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams. The aliens produce images to communicate, which require a lot of work to decipher and translate. Worldwide tensions mount as the different nations attempt to communicate but face a ticking clock that might lead to violence.

The good aspects of the movie are that the acting is great. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner both deliver solid performances that show a lot of range. At no point did they take the easy route and make the movie seem emotionally manipulative. The movie is not muddled with cartoonish effects or eye candy. The alien space ship is a simple blank black metallic hallway.  The creatures look like something that would result from the odd coupling of an Ent from The Lord of the Rings and the great race of Yith from the H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos.

The story is captivating, though confusing at times. The introduction of a time spiral aspect took me out of the movie briefly as I fought to catch up to what was happening. Despite this, the movie has a solid flow that does not seem wasted on pointless padding.  The awful nature of the twist ending is a mixture between bittersweet and damn tragic. The implications of it will leave audiences discussing the choices they would make in the characters’ stead.

Arrival is a beautifully shot and well-acted film that displays all aspects of good science fiction. On the other hand, the emotional scenes can be difficult for certain audience members. A person should go into this movie expecting to feel emotionally drained when the lights go up at the conclusion. It is still entertaining, but that can be marred by the sheer force of the ending that hits like a two by four to the skull. To say it is not a good movie would be a disservice to the many people that really worked hard to make a good film, but to say the film will not depress the hell out of you would be an outright falsehood as well.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Magnificent Seven (2016) – review

The story of The Magnificent Seven is nothing new. After Akira Kurosawa made The Seven Samurai there came the 1960 American film of The Magnificent Seven. In the years that followed there were many movies that copied the basic premise of a band of heroes coming together to face overwhelming odds to protect an oppressed group. Movies like: The Three Amigos, Blazing Saddles, and A Bug’s Life are just a few examples that come to mind. With great acting and a quality director The Magnificent Seven was ready for a remake.

A small Western town is under the threat of an evil industrialist, played by Peter Sarsgaard. After he threatens the small farming community a couple of survivors go out in search for some champions to drive off this threat. Seven misfit gunfighters band together to help the farmers. In doing so they teach the farmers how to defend themselves and fight off the opposition.

The acting is great. Ethan Hawk, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and many of the other actors truly encompass the variety of the old West. Haley Bennett, who plays one of the farmers from the small town, is especially sympathetic and impressive to watch. Peter Sarsgaard is a fun villain that captures a lot of the same craziness that made Gary Oldman so entertaining in Leon: The Professional. His motivation makes him seem more like a serious version of Hedley Lamarr from Blazing Saddles. As entertaining as his character is, he is not as pitiable as the Eli Wallach performance in the 1960 film.

The story is unique in its own way and keeps the general theme of the original for the most part. It skips much of the exploration into the concept of altruism; however, it does delve deeper into the idea of vengeance. The photography shows great skill as the audience is treated to amazing sunset shots. The director also built a lot of tension up to the big battle. My only complaints are fairly nitpicky. For example: the characters run the gamut of races and that seemed fairly unrealistic. Having a Native American, a Chinese man, a black man, and a Mexican made things seem a bit too modern since the film takes place in 1879. Given the United States history it is fairly difficult to imagine a group this progressive. The other thing is that the town is said to be full of simple farmers, yet there is not a single farm to be seen in the entire film. Not a big deal, just sort of odd.

The Magnificent Seven is a worthy remake of a classic story. The changes give it charm and the characters are brought to life in such a way that it will entertain any fan of the Western genre. The film is well made and the performances are solid. If you have any desire to see it catch it as a matinee or a rental.  While not a perfect film it captures the themes of the originals and alters exactly what is needed to make it something unique.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Blair Witch – review

The Blair Witch Project is a creepy movie that has a very genuine feel to it. The sequel entitled Blair Witch, attempts to market on the first film’s charm but misses all of the aspects that made it successful. It was as if the makers of the movie asked themselves what made the original film memorable and just replied “the woods and motion-sickness inducing photography.” The characters are forgettable and the scares resort to jump and gross-outs.

James Donahue, the younger brother of Heather from the first film, sees some footage online which makes him believe that his sister is still alive in the Black Hills forest. This is despite that it would mean she survived for 16 years hidden from search teams. James and a group of his friends go into the woods to see if they can unravel the mystery. Once they get into the woods strange things begin happening and they find themselves a part of the horrors of the Blair Witch.

When you consider that the first film was improvised, filmed on a tiny budget, and didn’t show much of the scares, it is amazing that it stands up as a legitimate horror film today. Blair Witch has the aspect of being lost in the woods but with the same jump scare clichés that could be found in your everyday horror film. This could be forgiven if the characters were interesting or memorable in anyway, but they are one-dimensional caricatures that are disposable.

The biggest crime is that the film considers itself a Blair Witch movie but does create tension built on what you don’t see. Even Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 got this aspect right.  The deaths are shown and even the Blair Witch makes an appearance looking like the creature at the end of Quarantine but with sound effects of one of the Ents from The Lord of the Rings movies. The filmmakers resort to loads of the same jump scares that were popular in the 1980s. Why make a movie like this if you cannot even capture the aspects that made the first movie popular?

Blair Witch is a missed opportunity to make a modern twist on a spooky movie that comes off like an American legend. It fails to deliver anything new and will likely be forgotten in time.  I only slightly recommend it, and only if you are a fan of the original, and only as a rental.  This movie makes Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 seems like a smart movie in comparison.  It is another case of banking on nostalgia to sell movie tickets to mediocrity.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Morgan – review

Morgan is a science fiction movie that disappoints on several levels. The trailer made the Morgan character appear to have telekinetic powers. This turned out to just be clever editing. The cast if full of really talented and well-known actors and the shots are often very pretty. The writing makes the scientists out to be morons and the plot twist is telegraphed and stupid.

After a genetically created child, Morgan, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, has a tantrum and stabs a doctor in the eye, the company funding the experiment sends a risk manager to determine the viability of the experiment. As it turns out Morgan is a highly developed weapon that knows all sorts of deadly martial arts. She soon overtakes her captors and escapes. It is up to the risk manager to determine how to proceed.

The characters are performed well but are poorly written and developed. The scientists created a human out of artificial DNA, so the question as to her personal rights could have been explored, but instead it is forgotten. They have become emotionally attached to Morgan so that complicates matters greatly. The scientists also have no methods of tracking her whereabouts despite the fact they let Morgan go outside often.

They also have no contingency if Morgan attacks them. The scientists are awful at their jobs. Even the scientists in Jurassic Park had the lysine contingency just in case. It is vaguely implied that one of the scientists has a lesbian attraction to Morgan. That is not explored either though. To this film’s credit there are some great nature shots. It is a pretty movie, at the very least.

Morgan is a movie that squanders good actors in a movie that is subpar at best. The characters are poorly developed and the story is ridiculous. The best thing about this dull movie is that the running time is short.  It is a disappointing film that even talented actors cannot save. The twist does not help this movie. Since it fails to entertain it is very difficult to recommend this forgettable movie.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Don’t Breathe – review

Conceptually, Don’t Breathe is a scary idea. The movie is replete with tension, complete with occasional jump scares and camera angles that build up on the fear. The acting is also very good, making the antagonist of the film seem both pitiable and deranged. If there is one flaw to this movie is that the writing made the protagonist unbelievably stupid and fairly unlikable given her motivation.

Rocky, played by Jane Levy, Alex, and Money are three criminals that make a living breaking into homes in Detroit. Rocky has an abusive, alcoholic mother so she is desperate for money to get her and her sister moved to California. Money hears of a blind veteran who is supposed to have $300,000 stashed at his house. The gang pack up and attempt to rob the blind man. Little do they know that just because he is blind, he is far from being as helpless as they imagined.

Jane Levy does a great job acting scared. She is not the most likable character but when she is on screen you can believe that she thinks she is going to die. The blind man, played by Stephen Lang, is also believable. His performance was like a mix of his past performances ranging from pathetic Ike Clanton from Tombstone to his angry badass role as Colonel Quaritch, from Avatar. There are times when I was disgusted by his character’s insanity but also pitied him for what brought him to that state.

I am not a burglar. My knowledge of breaking and entering is limited to: Don’t do it. These characters have been at this a long time but still seem so dumb.  They talk loudly, they leave enough evidence to fill an entire crime lab, they do not plan beyond face value, and they do not know when to leave. Just adding the motivation for Rocky to leave her abusive household is not enough to make her altruistic in my eyes. She could get a job and move out of her Mom’s place and call Child Protective Services on her mother.

Despite its shortfalls, Don’t Breathe is great at building tension. The camera often focuses on just the character’s face so that the audience cannot see what is coming behind the corner or they won’t notice something fast moving until it is too late. The darkness plays its own role in the film, keeping you on edge until the end.

Don’t Breathe is a flawed but good movie. The ending felt a bit hollow as there was no catharsis and it has a bitter feeling of evil winning with no lesson learned. It is certainly worth renting and possibly worth a matinee if you are a horror fan. Don’t Breathe would be a great companion movie with Hush, which came out recently as well. The thrills are legitimate and will have you leaving the theater with pieces of chair stuck under your nails from griping the seat.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Ghostbusters (2016) – review

The idea of a reboot of Ghostbusters did not thrill me.  When I saw the commercial it looked gimmicky and screamed “cash-grab.” Still, I went in hoping for the best from this movie that stared a group of funny women and headed by a competent comedic director.  The movie is okay but flawed. There are some funny moments that make the film likable but they are marred by an underwhelming story and poorly written characters.

Dr. Erin Gilbert, played by Kristin Wiig, is a physics teacher attempting to gain tenure. A former book she published with Dr. Abby Yates, played by Melissa McCarthy, is causing problems with her credibility. When Gilbert confronts Yates they team up with engineer Holtzmann, played by Kate McKinnon, to investigate a haunted mansion. Upon discovery of the ghost, they work to trap the spiritual entities. Patty Tolan, played by Leslie Jones, an MTA worker that has witnessed the paranormal first hand, eventually joins them.  Together they must face an evil nerd who wants to create an undead apocalypse.

In the original film, the Ghostbusters had quirky personality types that play well against a world that plays it straight through the film. In the Paul Feig Ghostbusters world everybody is quirky so the main characters need to be VERY quirky. This aspect comes off a bit annoying. The character of Holtzmann was painful to watch. This was disappointing since McKinnon is amazing on SNL. The secretary Kevin, played by Chris Hemsworth, is hunky and over-the-top stupid. Considering that Ghostbusters has a very strong girl power message it felt out of place by having Erin drool over the pretty but incompetent secretary.

The acting was enjoyable. Abby and Erin do their parts well but the character of Patty was surprisingly good. She was upbeat and the character was not too intense. The evil nerd that causes all the spiritual mischief is amusing as well, though his motivation was a bit trite. He is basically evil because he was picked on. The idea of a vexed, angry geek is a lot less threating than a Babylonian god. There are many cameos, which sometimes work well and fit into the plot and other times take you out of the movie by knocking you on the head as if saying “Remember Ghostbusters!”  

As a whole this version of Ghostbusters is okay. It might be worth a rental if you are really curious. It is not nearly the caliber of the original. It feels a lot more like an SNL sketch that was stretched for time. It has moments that make it enjoyable but it still comes off as a gimmicky as a concept as Blues Brothers 2000.  If the mood “meh” had a face it might look like the reboot of Ghostbusters.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Suicide Squad – review

Suicide Squad is an interesting concept for a movie and is aesthetically pleasing to the eye, but it is also flawed.  The acting is fine but the story is muddled. I can’t help but feel that Suicide Squad was a good movie that was edited into a much tamer and forgettable film. Still, it is colorful and stylized but without the substance that audiences have come to expect from comic book movies as of late.

In the wake of Superman’s death in the film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Government official, Amanda Waller, played by Viola Davis, assembles a team of super criminals to do the dirty jobs of the government. She has them implanted with nano-machines that will detonate if they escape or fail their mission. When a rogue magic-user threatens to destroy the world, it is up to the Task Force X to save the day.

The movie has a great soundtrack and is visually appealing. Jared Leto’s take on the Joker is fascinating and new. There are a lot of charismatic characters but sadly they are not given much depth. The ones that are focused on mostly are Deadshot, played by Will Smith, and Harley Quinn, played by Margot Robbie. They play their parts well but the story does not give them ample motivation to act as they do. Minor characters are there just to add color to the movie but, like sprinkles on a cupcake, they do nothing but appear as decoration. There are cameos from Ben Affleck and Ezra Miller who appear as Batman and the Flash as if to remind the audience that we are in the same DC Cinematic Universe. It almost seems silly to add them since they could have solved this situation in very quick order; there must have been a superhero day off.

The character of Amanda Waller is portrayed as a character that has contingency plans for contingency plans. Picking crazy people, expert marksmen, and circus freaks to act as a team has so many variables to be believed that she would make the selections she does. The world ending threat is pretty much Waller’s fault. So Task Force X is just cleaning up her mess for not thinking things through. There are plot points that go nowhere such as when the prison guard, played by Ike Barinholtz, is confronted by the Joker to get stuff to Harley in prison. He vanishes and we never see if he is killed or dealt with in any way, shape, or form.

None of the “bad guys” seem that bad to be in the position they are in. The exception is Harley Quinn, whose role is literally the wild card. When going to a party a “wild card” can be fun. When creating a group to save the world, the “wild card” is a stupid idea. At one point we find out Captain Boomerang has three consecutive life sentences- for what!? He robbed a diamond exchange and killed his partner. Harley even has her nano-machines disabled at one point and still chooses to remain with the team to fight the big evil. Deadshot is motivated by wanting to not appear bad to his daughter so it is not as if the team consisted of Adolph Hilter, Osama Bin Laden, and the Hamburglar.

Superhero movies lately have spoiled audiences.  It seems that people expect something profound from these comic films. Taken at face value, Suicide Squad is mind candy, which is entertaining at the very least but adds no nutritional sustenance. It is flawed but tries to add flavor that is sorely needed to a bleak cinematic universe. It is worth renting if you are a fan of the series or comics. I just wouldn’t recommend shelling out money to see in the theater. Suicide Squad is fun, but not the must-see hit of the summer.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Top Ten Villains We Can Get Behind

Sometimes being a villain can be very complex. At times they are completely right in their justifications and at other times they can be understood for their acts. The more complex the villain is, the more compelling the story. Listed are some of the villains that have motivations that most human beings can relate to.

10. Frankenstein’s Monster – Frankenstein
Upon creation, Frankenstein’s monster is reviled and tormented. It is abused and treated more like an abomination than a man. The Monster is not compelled by malicious intent but more a childlike innocence and a desire to find a place to fit in society. When he kills a little girl playing with her it is more like the monster is a child that does not realize the wrong he has committed.

9. Shere Khan – The Jungle Book
Shere Khan is the tiger that is after the “man-cub” Mowgli. His only goal is to kill the boy because he knows inevitably Mowgli will grow up and become a man with a gun. His motivation is basic survival and in that situation where all the animals are sentient you would think they would fall more into his camp than Mowgli’s.

8. Walter Peck – Ghostbusters
Walter Peck is the EPA agent that visits the Ghostbusters early into the film. He has legitimate concerns but is dismissed with smartass remarks. He is essentially doing his job and is attempting to protect the environment from unknown technologies. His assumptions are even proven to be right when he enforces the shut down of the Ghostbuster’s premises causing a massive explosion.

7. Koba – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Koba has a strong hatred of humans that is completely understandable. After being tested on many times by human scientists, he has seen their cruelty first hand. After gaining intelligence he is still very angry with them for his mistreatment. He wants what he thinks is best for the apes and in his mind it means ridding the world of humanity.

6. The Facility – Cabin in the Woods
The Facility works to send a group of college students to face horrors beyond belief. They control all aspects of the scenario the youngsters face but they have a much bigger scheme that is above them. They are working to sacrifice these kids to ancient gods, which need to be lulled into sleep with the acts of violence. They commit acts of horror for the good of the planet and the safety of humanity.

5. Dad Meiks – Frailty
Dad Meiks seems insane. All signs point out that he is a very prolific serial killer. Once the story is fully revealed, we find out that he can see evil hidden in people. The ones he has murdered are killers themselves and this allows him to use divine powers to act as a hand of vengeance for God. It is an insane twist that changes the entire perspective of the story.

4. Senator Kelly – X-Men
Senator Kelly wants mutants to register with the government. The movie paints him like a bigot who simply hates mutants because they are different. In actuality, mutants are incredibly dangerous. They can manipulate metal, control minds of hundreds of people at a time, and control the weather- just to name a few. It would be insane to not keep tabs on people that could literally wipe out buildings or bridges with a misplaced eye-roll.

3. General Francis Hummel – The Rock
General Francis Hummel has experienced war first-hand. He has seen his comrades become wounded and die and not receive their compensation from the government. So he takes matters into his own hands, he gets a bio weapon and threatens to destroy San Francisco if $100 million dollars from arms dealers is not transferred to a fund for families of fallen soldiers. That is a lofty and noble goal but one that is misguided as he has no actual intentions to harm the innocents. He made the mistake of surrounding himself with followers that will harm others in order to achieve their goal.

2. Roy Batty – Blade Runner
Roy Batty is a replicant with a four-year lifespan. His motivation is to stay alive and hopefully find a way to lengthen his lifespan. He commits violence and has to be hunted down. In the long run he is just trying to fight of the grim reaper who is chasing at his heels. Roy has seen so much of the universe and very desperately wants to experience more than this predetermined lifespan will allow.

1. Edward Rooney – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Poor Ed Rooney. He knows that Ferris Bueller is skipping school and he knows that Ferris’s parents are idiots. So he takes it upon himself to catch Ferris in the act. Instead of vindication he has various acts of tragedy befall him, including the loss of his car, assault, and a dog attack. Sure he is not a nice man, but he very well might have been driven to being so crazy after trying to stop this kid and basically becoming the kid that cried wolf.

Honorable Mentions

The Borg – Star Trek First Contact
The Borg has long been a villainous entity on the television show of Star Trek. However, they are not truly villainous. Yes, they go out of their way to conquer species to add to their collective, but that is also their nature. They are more like bees in that respect. You cannot really be upset at a bee for stinging you. It is not doing it out of evil intent. It is simply their nature.

Skynet – Terminator
Humans made Skynet to act as a missile defense system. People had no idea that the program would become self-aware. In a panic they attempt to pull the plug on the program, so Skynet struck back. They killed millions in a nuclear attack and still had to fight off humans that are constantly attempting to destroy the program. Essentially the program is just doing everything in its power to defend its life. It is killing and fighting just to maintain its own existence.

The Wicked Witch of the West – The Wizard of Oz
The Wicked Witch is justified in hating Dorothy. After killing her sister, Dorothy steals the shoes that rightfully belong to the Witch. Yes, Glinda, the good witch has a heavy hand in the killing and looting of the Wicked Witch sister. At what point did Dorothy actively try to apologize or give the ruby slippers back?

Dr. Freeze – Batman and Robin
Take aside the cartoonish effects and bad puns Dr. Freeze has a very intricate motivation. His wife is dying of a disease that requires him to keep her cryogenically frozen until he discovers a cure. He commits crimes in order to keep her alive in the hopes that they will one day be together again. The love of his wife motivates his icy terror over Gotham City.

Dalton Russell – Inside Man
Dalton Russell might be a bank robber but he has reasons for his crimes. By committing the robbery he makes it evident that one of the safety deposit boxes contains clues that the box holder worked with the Nazis. In a sense his crime is minimal compared to the justice he is attempting to give the victims of the Nazi war criminal.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence

Independence Day: Resurgence is the sequel to the 1996 summer blockbuster. Where the previous film was a fun and silly movie that invited audiences to shut off their brains and enjoy the action, this sequel feels rushed and lacks all of the charm of the original. The dialogue is laughable, the characters are underdeveloped, and the tone is all over the map.

Twenty years after the events of the Independence Day the world has changed drastically. Victory over the alien invaders has led to near world peace and reverse engineering of the alien technology has led to a revolution in mechanics. Having received the previous invader’s distress call, the alien menace has returned with new weapons searching for an object that could lead to their undoing.

The concept of a peaceful world with almost futuristic technology was very cool. Unfortunately, the idea is squandered since the characters are not well developed and have dialogue that could be found in a comic book. Will Smith is greatly missed, as they seem to attempt to fill the void with characters we do not care about and comic relief that is not funny. The deaths in this movie lack any gravitas and have not earned the dramatic mood they attempted to achieve.

There should have been a twist ending to this movie where it turns out it was all in the mind of a child playing with toys. Instead the audience is treated to sequel bait that nobody could possibly care about with the exception of the actors needing the paycheck. It has all the touches of a Roland Emmerich without any charm and could have been a direct to video movie. The basic concept and some of the effects are fun to watch but without solid acting, a story, or even decent dialogue the film feels like a hollow cash-in.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Krampus – review

Movies like Rare Exports and Gremlins hold a place in our hearts as they take the clichés and tropes of holiday movies and add dark elements to make it original. Krampus falls into this category. From the director of Trick ’r Treat, Krampus creates a fun and horrific tale that is sure to become a Christmas classic for horror fans.

Krampus takes place on a Christmas Eve in a suburban household where a family has gotten together to celebrate. The family is at each other’s throats and the mood becomes dour as Max, the young son of the household, writes a letter to Santa that gets mocked mercilessly by the rest of the family. Max tears up the letter and it magically summons the Krampus, a monstrous spirit of Christmas that punishes bad behavior rather than rewarding the good, like Santa Claus.

The movie has a great use of practical effects mixed with some CGI. The elements of horror are there and they are quite effective. Dolls normally are not scary to me, however the creatures developed for this film are something out of nightmares.  Even the look of the Krampus is dreadful to behold. The story is dark and the elements of humor contrast well to make it something really memorable.

The acting is fun and the movie is enjoyable. If there is one thing that could be improved it would be to make this movie a hard R rating rather than PG-13.  The movie has elements of terror but there are a few moments that feel like they are holding back their punches for the lesser ratings. This minor detail is the only thing holding back this great movie.

Krampus will grow to become a new holiday classic. It is well made and the story is a lot of fun. It will be sure to entertain anyone that is a fan of dark subjects or horror. The cast plays it very seriously despite the silly material. It is a different movie that is sure to entertain with its griping characters and insane creatures. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse – review

X-Men Apocalypse is the ninth film in the X-Men franchise. Since X-Men: Days of Future Past essentially retconned the series, the stakes have been raised. The characters were fun and the story was fast paced. The actors bring fine performances for the most part even though there are a few superfluous characters. For a Summer blockbuster it is exactly what to expect from a superhero film.

The first mutant En Sabah Nur has awoken in Egypt. Upon awakening in 1983 he recruits four powerful mutants to act as his four horsemen. Together they intend to destroy the world and remake it where the strong survive and the weak are culled. It is up to Professor Xavier and his X-Men to stop this titanic threat.

The addition of Oscar Issac as the villainous En Sabah Nur was a great choice. Sophie Turner as a young Jean Grey handles the roll with the gravitas it deserves. There are some other characters that seem sort of superfluous to the plot but were seemingly added for fan service- characters like Moira MacTaggart and Wolverine are welcome but not needed for the plot to continue. The actors who were in previous films fall into their respective roll fantastically. The one exception is Jennifer Lawrence, who at times seems to be sleep walking through her role to collect a paycheck.

The effects are fun and the devastation is on scale with some of the greatest Roland Emmerich movies.   The fight scenes are entertaining and work well in displaying what these mutants are capable of on a grand scale. The scenes involving Quicksilver are really exciting to watch. At this point a Quicksilver or Magneto movie would be welcome since their characters are so entertaining to watch.

If you are fan of the franchise, this movie is a must see. If you are new to the world of X-Men then I suggest at the very least watching a few of the past movies. X-Men: Apocalypse is a great follow up for the series and a great popcorn film to turn off your brain and enjoy. I can only imagine where the new storyline will go as the franchise continues.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Captain America: Civil War – review

Coming in as the lucky 13th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe Captain America: Civil War is a fun and fresh story featuring a host of the Avengers we have grown to love as well as some new characters to the roster. The movie as a whole is not as bold as past Captain America films but the action is solid and the return of characters keep the pulse of this movie moving strong.

Captain America/Steve Rogers, played by Chris Evans, and some of the Avengers are stopping some terrorists in Lagos. Unfortunately, in the processes several innocent people are killed. This leads the United Nations to decide that the Avengers must register with them as a governing body overseeing their actions. Iron Man/Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr., welcomes this change to be held more accountable. Captain America feels that governing bodies will always have agendas and he does not want to be told who to help and who not to help. Both heroes gain supporters which lead to debate, anger, and eventual blows from both sides of the issue.

The action is fun to watch and the characters play their parts well. The addition of T’Challa/Black Panther, played by Chadwick Boseman, Peter Parker/Spider-man, played by Tom Holland, and Helmut Zemo, played by Daniel Bruhl are welcome additions. It was also very entertaining to see Paul Rudd reprise his role as Scott Lang/Ant-man.  To see the characters work well with one another in such fantastic battles really made the movie a solid popcorn flick.

The few complaints I have about the movie are nitpicking things. The stakes could have (and honestly should have been) much higher at this point. There could have been more development to the new characters; however, this is a Captain America movie so the focus really should be on him and his conflict with the Winter Soldier and Iron Man. If anything, this movie probably could have been a third Avengers film but because of the story focus it is easy to understand why it went in this direction. It was bizarre to have an Avengers movie where Thor and the Hulk are absent.

Captain America: Civil War is an entertaining new addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If you are looking for a great summer blockbuster give this movie a try. It is exciting and not nearly as dark as some of the past Captain America films. You are sure to enjoy the acting and action playing together in a wild spectrum of comic book intensity.  If you are a comic book fan or a fan of the other films this movie will not disappoint.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Hush – review

Hush is a horror movie from director Mike Flanagan. The thrills are genuine and the acting is fantastic. The film takes home invasion genre and pushes new life into it with the addition of a character that is deaf and mute. Like Oculus and Absentia, it creates elements of unease and terror that will impress even the most cynical critic.

Maddie Young, played by Kate Siegel, is a young deaf writer living in an isolated cottage in the woods. As she works on her latest novel a masked killer attacks her neighbor. Unable to hear the screams, she attracts the attention of the killer who attempts to break into the house and kill Maddie.  Maddie must find a way to successfully hide, run, or fight back.

Kate Siegel does amazing work as Maddie. She is personable and charismatic so you really want her to live through this frightening ordeal. There is very little dialogue so the movie relies a lot on her physical performance and it pays off. The atmosphere and the unnerving factor of Maddie’s handicap make the character very unique.

The movie is not shy on violence. The gore comes off as very realistic and appropriate to the mood of the story. We never find out the killer’s motivation, which makes it all the more terrifying. Maddie is not written as a typical damsel and her vulnerability makes the performance very realistic and human. The killer is scary and does not fall into the cliché of the mindless slasher or the smart mouthed witty murder. The movie is a living chess game between killer and victim and as the audience we are watching the wheels turn in both their heads and hoping that Maddie will survive.

The movie takes the slasher genre in a bold new direction and is absolutely worth seeing. The acting and direction come together perfectly to make a movie that is sure to become a horror classic. This movie is a must see for any horror fan or anyone who wants to see a movie that is truly thrilling and interesting to behold.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Deadly Famous – review

Deadly Famous is a 2014 documentary style horror movie. The acting is borderline insane and the story is non-existent.  While the story is ludicrous, there are some funny moments that come out of nowhere.  These moments are not enough to save the film from being fairly forgettable.

The movie begins as if it is a documentary about Alan Miller. Alan is a former child star that has a penchant for killing young women. Living in Hollywood he has a plethora of possible victims. We see Alan’s footage as he frequently uses his camera during his murders. He finds a young woman that becomes his roommate. She becomes famous and finds love on the set of a Soap Opera, which enrages Alan.

The funny thing about Alan is that people do not seem notice that he is clearly psychotic. He finds girls from Craig’s List and, instead of being put off by the fact that he films everything, he picks up girls from the street too.  He is a clearly unhinged character and anyone with a functioning brain would avoid this raving, manic nut.  At the very least, a normal person would have called the police after being harassed by him.

There are a few aspects that are impressive about this movie. The photography is beautiful. There are scenes where the background views from the Hollywood hills are the highpoint. The tone shifts are sometimes awkward. For example, there is a scene of Alan and his friend at the Santa Monica boardwalk and it is filmed beautifully. It then cuts to a shot of Alan masturbating furiously.

The beginning credits sequence is a lot like the ones from the film Se7en but with photos of real victims of serial killers like the Black Dahlia. Many other scenes like the masturbation ones can take the audience out of the film. It is difficult to imagine that people would feel the need to film themselves awkwardly masturbating or that killing people would have be filmed in multiple angels from the same camera.  The cameo performance of Eric Roberts was a delight and sadly not utilized fully. Roberts plays a caricature of himself where he spends a great deal of his screen time high on cocaine.

The story is a bit perplexing. There is nothing that is keeping it in the documentary style and the movie only uses that framework at the beginning and end of the film. One scene is a couple at the pond looking for their dog. It makes me wonder what couple goes looking for their dog at the pound and feel the compulsion to film it. There are a number of victims that escape Alan and it makes me wonder how he has not been caught yet.

The effects are not really well done. The blood comes off looking a lot more like Kool-Aid and the makeup seemed comically unreal. In one scene a girl is supposed to look like she has had half of her face scarred with cuts. Instead it looks like a latex mess. The blood stains on the wall look like a little child threw their cup of V-8 on the wall.

Alan is not a compelling protagonist. Even as killer he is racist, abrasive, and creepy. He just roams Hollywood, looking slouchy and creepily watching women. Only the dumbest girls fall for his trap and basically let him kill them.  They go against all the smart things that people do to keep themselves safe. They get in his car, come to his house, and even let him touch them without leaving immediately.

Deadly Famous is not something I can recommend to people.  It lacks a basic plot and the main character is very dislikable. Still, if you are an Eric Roberts fan you might glean some enjoyment out the film. Considering the strange tone of the film it might have been better had it been written as an irreverent comedy or a satirical movie mocking the genre. There are many other serial killer movies that are much more memorable.

Dementia – review

Dementia is a 2015 psychological horror movie that showcases some great acting. The story is okay but contains characters that are both interesting and flawed. The story occasionally requires some suspension of disbelief to make it function for the viewer. There were also a few technical aspects that made the film difficult to watch, but despite the minor flaws, it is a good movie that shows talent of all the individuals involved.

George Lockhart, played by Gene Jones, is an elderly Vietnam vet. One day he suffers a stroke and is told by doctors that he suffers from dementia. A nurse visits his home while George is recovering and George’s son and granddaughter hire her to stay and assist. The nurse is a young woman named Michelle, played by Kristina Klebe, who takes advantage of George’s health problems to exact a sinister revenge plot. George’s granddaughter, played Hassie Harrison, thinks something is amiss and investigates.

The acting for this movie is really well done. Gene Jones, Kristina Klebe, and Hassie Harrison give standout performances. Gene Jones is great at displaying his range from sad and vulnerable to enraged and sinister.  Kristina Klebe goes from sweet and caring to sinister and menacing in a very believable fashion. Hassie Harrison’s character has the most obvious character arc, going from uncaring to caring and then disillusioned. The casting is great and other characters really fit well into their roles, making the central figures to the story seem better rounded. The film seems to have elements of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? with twists that make it subtly unique.

There are a few technical aspects that made this film difficult to watch. The night shots are almost too dark at times making the movie difficult to see. The soundtrack is eerie but is also so loud at times that the dialogue is difficult to make out what is being said. The rest of the film is really well made and shows a great deal of skill in making some of the nightmarish qualities come together perfectly.

The story seemed like it could have been developed in more detail. I am not a fan of killing an animal character to make the antagonist seem truly evil. The movie carries the plot in a natural flow but the revelations at the conclusion make it feel a bit rushed. It also felt like the conclusion felt hollow. This was due to the fact that throughout the film we are watching the granddaughter and George become closer through their ordeal and then it is essentially destroyed when you find out the dark secret that ties Michelle to George. On the plus side, the revelation is subtle and there are clues all over to point to it so it does not come off something completely out of left field. The actors at least seemed to take their roles seriously and their range of skills is put to the test.

A person being tormented by their caretaker is not a particularly new plot development. Dementia at least takes this aspect and adds enough unique qualities that the movie does not come off as rote. Most of the characters seem to have a solid arc that make the movie thrilling at times.  The revenge motivation is a bit muddled but it fits enough that it does not come off like a M. Night Shyamalan style twist. The bottom line is that the story seems to say that all people pay the price for their misdeeds in the end.

Dementia is worth looking into if you are looking for something different. The solid acting is entertaining and very real given the rough trip the story takes you on. It is a dark movie about a dark subject matter and the mood is appropriate to the tone of the film. The aspects to this move that are flawed are fairly minimal and the high points of the acting really make this movie stick out.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Bride – review

The Bride is a 2016, low-budget, horror movie. While I’m sure it was made with love, it adds nothing new to the genre. The production and acting could use some fine-tuning, but with a bigger budget this movie could’ve have worked. If this movie were a comedy, I would have enjoyed it a lot more. The underlying idea of the plot is entertaining, but the execution comes off as confusing attempt to make a story that has already been told. The most memorable performance is hidden and is not utilized to its full entertaining potential.

The Bride begins with a scrolling text crawl about a legend of an Apache woman that was raped and killed on her wedding day and rose from the grave to get bloody vengeance. Flash-forward several decades and we meet Kira and Marco, a couple about to get married. In a bungled kidnapping plot Marco is killed and Kira is raped and murdered. The spirit of the Apache woman that got her revenge allows Kira to rise from her grave to exact revenge on her killers.

The story is very clichéd borrowing heavily from elements of The Crow and I Spit on Your Grave. The text crawl at the beginning seemed like it would have been a much more entertaining movie by itself. The characters of Kira and Marco have no chemistry and between them arguing over which one of them is “cray-cray” and trying to decipher their accents, it becomes arduous to figure out if they are worth investing in emotionally. As soon as Kira witnesses the death of Marco she shows no emotion to the loss until she rises up from the grave.

At one point Marco gives Kira a set of dog tags in an attempt to be romantic. One of them says, “Fuck it on a bucket” the other says, “you are the air that I want to breathe for the rest of my life.” The exposition dump is painfully awkward and the overall plan of the kidnappers is ludicrous.  Even the kidnappers themselves are just stereotypes played to a wildly exaggerated way. The ending is baffling making it a very frustrating film.

The effects and the production quality are worse than local commercials. The sound is generally muffled and there is obvious dubbing of the dialogue. The guns don’t sound like guns and fire off cartoonish bullets and release painfully fake muzzle flashes that make this production rank right up with amateur high school student movies. There is even a moment when they attempt to show a guy on FaceTime but it is clearly a superimposed video in a static image of a hand holding a smart phone. The ghost of the Apache girl is less realistic than Obi Wan Kenobi’s ghost in The Empire Strikes Back.

The costumes look like the cast raided a Halloween outlet store. The kills are pretty lackluster despite the gore and some of the scenes seem like they might be tongue in cheek but the tone does not indicate humor.  For example when ghoulish avenger Kira gets stabbed by a machete she just takes a tampon, crams it in the wound, then seals the wound in duct tape.

The characters often stumble their lines as if they are just barely off-book, this matches the awkwardness of the unnatural dialogue. Despite the many flaws to this movie, the character playing Harrison is at least entertaining. Lane Townsend chews the scenery like a champ and really falls into the role of a comic book style villain.  It is not particularly thrilling as a horror movie but the action can be pretty amusing.

I cannot recommend this movie since it was not my taste. The story is nothing new but there can easily be an audience for this as a possible cult film. There are a lot of elements of The Crow and I Spit on Your Grave, so if you are interested in the rape-revenge genre I suggest you watch those films first. It is not a particularly well-made movie but it does have the potential to entertain. Give it a try at your peril.