Movie Reviews

It took forty years, countless sequels, a reboot, and a sequel to that reboot, but fans of John Carpenter’s seasonal horror classic, Halloween, finally have a sequel worthy of the 1978 original that launched the slasher sub-genre. With his dirty mechanic’s overalls, frozen William Shatner death mask, and a toupee to match, Michael Myers and his knife embodied the boogeyman for generations of horror fans, but each sequel – not counting the in-name-only-sequel, Halloween III: Season of the Witch –tarnished and diminished the legacy of Carpenter’s one-of-a-kind original. But where there’s Jason Blum and his horror factory, Blumhouse Productions, there’s a way and the way pointed to an unlikely collaboration between indie auteur David Gordon Green (Stronger, Our Brand is Crisis, Joe, Prince Avalanche, George Washington), writer-comedian Danny McBride (Vice Principals, Eastbound & Down), and onetime “scream queen” Jamie Lee Curtis. The result will go down as a horror classic or near classic in its own right, the perfect, 40-years-in-the-making bookend to Carpenter’s film. (more…)

Spoiler alert: Contrary to Stanley Kubrick-obsessed conspiracy theorists, a lunar module (call-sign “Eagle”) carrying two Earth-born astronauts landed on the moon fifty years ago next July. The two Americans, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, took “one small step for [a] man and one giant leap for mankind.” They became instant heroes and icons in the process. They were both alone and not alone. The United States, then the wealthiest country in the world, devoted roughly 5% of the federal budget to the Cold War-era space program. We landed on the moon because we could, because we wanted to be first, but mostly to beat the Soviets (and, of course, communism), and Armstrong, the epitome of America’s founding myth (rugged individualism, pioneer spirit, self-made men and woman) would seem like a perfect or near perfect subject for a big-budget, Hollywood biopic. Or at least, that’s what director Damien Chazelle (La La Land, Whiplash) and writer Josh Singer thought when they decided to work together and bring Neil Armstrong to life in First Man. They were, at best, half-right. (more…)

The last time we came across Eddie Brock/Venom on the big screen, he was playing third or fourth lead in Sam Raimi’s last go at the Spider-Man franchise (since rebooted twice). Raimi famously didn’t want Brock or Venom (same difference) playing supervillains in an already overcrowded, overstuffed Spider-Man 3. Raimi wanted to tell a different and at least to Raimi, a more personal story pitting Spider-Man against Sandman and the Hobgoblin (i.e., Baby Green Goblin), but Sony executives intervened, forcing Raimi to add Venom to an already overstuffed superhero movie. Both Spider-Man 3 and the Venom were all the worse for Raimi’s deliberately shoddy mishandling of a character who deserved better. But where there’s IP (intellectual property), there’s always a way, even if that way involves an eleven-year wait and the conspicuous absence of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) Spider-Man. They probably should have waited another eleven years. Or maybe jumped into a time machine and released this version of Venom eleven years ago instead to less discerning pre-MCU moviegoers. (more…)

Family-oriented, animated films come in all shapes, colors, and sizes, but rarely do they stray from inoffensive, unobjectionable life lessons or surface-level messages of the peace, love, and understanding, but co-writer and co-director Karey Kirkpatrick’s (Imagine That, Over the Hedge) Smallfoot, a decidedly second-tier animation effort from Warner Bros. and Sony Animation Group, goes the extra half-mile, going where few, if any animated films dare to go: Tackling bits and pieces of American history, specifically colonialism and, by extension, world history. Even the word “genocide,” coined in post-WWII Europe at the Nuremberg Trials, makes a surprising appearance, leading to an unusual message: Willful ignorance or blindness for a good (community) cause may not be the worst way to go. (more…)

It’s been a good couple of years for the horror genre. Break out hits like Get Out, A Quite Place, The WitchHereditary and The Girl With All The Gifts have ushered in a creative renaissance and have earned top box office dollars. The trend of  psychological mind-fuckery and deep metaphors has most certainly changed the expectations of what a horror movie can be. Not saying that’s a negative change. Damn well written and well thought out stories will always be a GOOD thing. But there is nothing wrong with making a few classic slasher flicks with old-fashioned scares. That style of horror are few and far between these days, but there are still those interested in them. After all, they would get to make scary movies featuring obnoxious teenagers getting killed in various fucked up ways from a masked killer. Sometimes that’s just absurd, dark fun. Such is the case with new horror film – Hell Fest (more…)

In Hollywood, there is no try. There’s do (and fail), fail (and do) until something, anything inevitably sticks with moviegoers, breathing new life into a thirty-year-old series in desperate need of reinvention, The Predator, co-written and directed by Shane Black (The Nice Guys, Iron Man 3, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), proves what 20th Century Fox executives should have known – or maybe they’ve known all along – the Predator series should never have been a series. It should have stopped at one. The Predator was – and continues to be – near impossible to beat, let alone match, the combo of peak Arnold, ace action-director John McTiernan (Die Hard), and a dreadlocked, crab-faced, spine-ripping alien hunter caught up in jungle-set, deadly game of hide-and-seek. Bigger, faster, and armed with super-advanced tech, the Predator bloodily dispatched well-armed (in every sense) mercs, but proved no match for the former Mr. Universe (a/k/a, the Austrian Oak). Arnold, however, smartly stayed away from every sequel or spin-off greenlit by Fox in the misguided hope they could capture the magic of the original. They couldn’t and they haven’t. (more…)

Moviegoers of a certain age and temperament will never see Silly String, the Wham-O product turned forgettable fad almost five decades ago, the same way again after Brian “Son of Jim” Henson’s (The Muppet Christmas Carol) R-rated, puppet-themed comedy, The Happytime Murders, hits an all-too-early, literal climax involving two super-enthusiastic, randy puppets engaged in sexual congress of an entirely unexpected kind. It blows past the boundaries of good taste (whatever that is) into seriously demented, shock, and awe territory. It’s subversive with a small “s,” probably worthy of applause and appreciation, but it’s also laugh out loud, “slide to the floor out of your recliner” hilarious. Unfortunately, it’s all downhill on a bike with no brakes from there, the gags become less frequent and novel, the jokes take on repetitive staleness, and the characters, human and puppet alike, go through the motions of a tired, overused neo-noir/buddy cop plot. (more…)

At 63, two-time Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington doesn’t need a franchise, superhero-related or otherwise, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to participate in an ongoing series, if mostly for box-office viability (just ask Tom Cruise and an A-list career sustained in large part due to the continuing success of the Mission: Impossible series). Not surprisingly, the Washington we meet in The Equalizer 2 is older, slower, even heavier, but that doesn’t stop his character, Robert McCall, an ex-CIA black ops operative, from easily dispatching men several decades younger without breaking as much as a sweat or suffering superficial paper cuts. Believable? Maybe, maybe not, but with Washington contributing the focus, commitment, and dedication typical of an Oscar-worthy or Oscar-caliber effort, believability almost doesn’t matter. What does matter, though, is The Equalizer 2 suffers from a been-there, seen-it-all-before quality that ultimately delivers minimal, marginal entertainment value (one or two or three scenes excepted).

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After sitting through Dwayne “No Longer The Rock” Johnson’s third film in less than a year, Skyscraper, you won’t believe a man can fly – Christopher Reeve as Superman/Kal-El/Clark Kent got there first forty years ago and he was wearing spandex and a cape – but you’ll believe Johnson’s one-legged character, Will Sawyer, can leap tall buildings (not leap over, however) to save his family from a burning mega-skyscraper and the rando, vaguely European terrorists who started the fire to steal an ultra-high value MacGuffin. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before from one of the hardest working performers in Hollywood (three films in seven months, with another half-dozen on the way over the next two or three years), but for Johnson’s super-fans, it’ll be more than enough to overlook Skyscraper’s paper-thin, second-rate plot – a mash-up of Die Hard, The Towering Inferno and every action-film cliché in between – forgettable, throwaway villains, a plot and setting deliberately geared toward Asian-Pacific audiences, and mediocre action scenes lathered in CGI spectacle.

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Five years ago, a C- or even D-level superhero carrying his own standalone franchise seemed like a risky proposition, but where Marvel – and more specifically the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) – goes, moviegoers have followed (10 years, 20 movies, and counting), with little or no signs of boredom. It’s helped that the MCU has Marvel’s 60-year (give or take a few years) history to pick and choose from, but it’s also helped that Marvel’s leadership, specifically uber-producer Kevin Feige, have pushed the boundaries of what the superhero genre can offer mainstream audiences, while giving an increasingly diverse group of filmmakers creative opportunities unusual for corporate-owned, billion-dollar franchises. For Edgar Wright and his long-in-the-making Ant-Man, that didn’t happen. He left the production months before shooting began over “creative differences,” but Marvel being Marvel, they pushed on with Peyton Reed taking over for Wright. Wright’s fans might have been disappointed, but the Reed-directed Ant-Man still managed to deliver quality superhero thrills. Spoiler alert: Ant-Man and the Wasp (the first MCU film to headline a female character) does Ant-Man better in just about every way (e.g., story, character, and visuals). (more…)