reviews

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…)

Eli Roth” and “family film” are probably the last four words anyone, especially fans of Roth’s hard-R, exploitation genre efforts, would expect to read in a sentence, but Roth (Green Inferno, Knock Knock, Hostel, Cabin Fever) has done the near impossible: He’s semi-successfully reinvented himself as the family-friendly, kindler, gentler Spielberg-inspired filmmaker he apparently always wanted to be. An Amblin produced adaptation of John Bellairs’ 1973 novel for young readers (a nameless marketing executive hadn’t coined “Young Adult” yet) – with Goth-inspired illustrations from Edward Gorey – The House with a Clock in Its Walls delivers CGI-aided, kid-friendly, blood- and gore-free shocks and scares mixed in with the usual supply of stock story elements, an eccentric, but not too eccentric, adventurous lead character, and familiar, if not exactly unwelcome, comfort-zone performances from Jack Black and Academy Award-winner Cate Blanchett. (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…)

While Warner Bros. continues to try – and continues to fail (and flail) – to match Disney/Marvel’s cinematic (superhero) universe at the box office or in popular culture, it’s succeeded where just about everyone least expected: A shared supernatural universe created by James Wan, the filmmaker behind not one, not two, but three popular franchises (Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring). (A fourth, Aquaman, will get its long delayed debut at multiplexes in December.) Wan’s second entry in the series, The Conjuring 2 introduced “The Nun (Bonnie Aarons),” an ancient demon, supernatural star, and expert-level cosplayer that haunted the protagonists as a pasty-faced, rotted teeth, glowing-eyed nun (because by their nature, nuns are inherently frightening creatures). Within seconds of her terrifying appearance, audiences wanted to know more, see more, and hear about the Nun. As always, though, we should be careful what we wished for. Too much explanation, too little story, and the result looks something like the 1950s-set The Nun, a slow burn, slow build horror entry that’s all burn and all build, with little in the way of a satisfying emotional payoff.

As always, spoilers!!!!

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To franchise or not to franchise. That’s the question apparently every filmmaker, producer, or studio executive has to ask him- or herself before giving a greenlight to a sci-fi or fantasy property. In the case of Jonathan and Josh Baker, brothers making their feature film debut with Kin, an ill-conceived, frustratingly executed family/crime drama mashed up with plot points and elements unashamedly borrowed from familiar sci-fi classics (and at least one non-classic), the answer should have been no (as in “hell no”) when the franchise or series question came up. Instead, Kin sets up a larger world and universe, a bigger conflict in its final moments that practically begs moviegoers to see Kin multiple times so studio executives can greenlight anther entry. Spoiler alert: They shouldn’t. The Bakers and their screenwriter, Daniel Casey (expanding their short, “Bag Man”), shouldn’t have bothered or if they had, they should concentrated all of their time, energy, and talent into telling a story that could stand on its own. (more…)

Screens. Computer screens. Phone screens. Tablet screens. Screens within screens (e.g., iChat, Messenger, etc.). We live by (and through) screens. Sometimes we even die by them. Walk onto any bus or train in a major (or minor) city. Walk down a street in a major (or minor) city. Chances are, the result will be the same: A sea of downturned, blue-lit faces, their attention fixed on a virtual space (a text, a game, a video), often listening to music or audio, closed off to the analog world, simultaneously connected and disconnected. Both a cautionary tale and anti-cautionary tale and how technology can do both bad – connect a teen girl with a potential abductor – and good – help her father find her via her social media accounts, writer-director Aneesh Chaganty’s feature-length debut, Searching, takes a shallow dive into the deep end of the social media/tech pool, but where Chaganty swipes left on the subject, he also delivers an incredibly gripping, engaging suspense thriller, a credit both to a screenplay that mines universal fears parents have about their children and the world, and John Cho’s committed, persuasive performance as an increasingly frantic father desperate to find his lost daughter. (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…)

Pushing 50, Mark Wahlberg wants to go where Tom Cruise and the 22-year-old Mission: Impossible series have gone before: Franchise Heaven. He won’t get there, at least not with Mile 22, his fourth – and by every indication, what should be his last – collaboration with director Peter Berg (Deepwater Horizon, Patriots Day, Lone Survivor). A mid-budget, Southeast Asian-set, sub-mediocre actioner, Mile 22 tries mightily to give Wahlberg a career-reinvigorating role as James Silva, a near superheroic CIA Special Branch field agent, team leader, and all-around hard-ass with major personality defects and/or undiagnosed neurological condition (shades of Ben Affleck’s title character in The Accountant), a spandex-free Captain America wannabe for our complicated, morally and ethically grey world (or something). Except Mile 22 drops the potentially intriguing Silva into a dull, formulaic, generic run-and-chase, protect-the-asset story we’ve seen countless times done better on the big and small screen (e.g., S.W.A.T., NCIS: Los Angeles, etc.). (more…)

A giant, prehistoric, man-eating shark and a perpetually unshaven, furrowed-brow Jason Statham: A premise-actor combo that practically writes itself. Except it doesn’t, unfortunately, or rather didn’t. Screenwriters were, in fact, needed.

Despite spending the better part of two decades in development, Steve Alten’s inexplicably best-selling dino-shark novel, “Meg,” probably needed another twenty years getting worked over and over by waves of screenwriting teams before it was ready for a big-screen adaptation. No such luck, though. Directed by Jon Turteltaub (Last Vegas, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, National Treasure, Cool Runnings) from a screenplay credited to Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, and Erich Hoeber, The Meg, somehow manages the unlikely feat of taking itself too seriously and not seriously enough simultaneously, leaving a tonally messy, short-on-humor, long-on-passable-CGI disappointment in its wake.

Spoilers abound…

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There’s “derivative” with a small “d” and then there’s “derivative” with a capital “D.”

The Darkest Minds, the latest – and late by a half-decade – big-screen adaptation of a dystopian YA novel, falls into the second category. Look hard, look long, and you won’t find a single character, plot element, or theme you haven’t seen before.  Most of it shamelessly cribbed by screenwriter Chad Hodge, adapting the first book in Alexandra Bracken’s series, and director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, making her live-action debut after directing Kung Fu Panda 2 and 3, from five or six decades of X-Men stories (minus spandex, capes, and cowls), including the feature-film series credited with kick-starting the dormant superhero genre (shout out too, of course, to Blade).

Even a young, spirited cast, led by Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games), can’t lift The Darkest Minds from a story so lacking in originality, imagination, or invention that will leave the targeted teen demo bored, indifferent, or near comatose.

Spoilers abound!!!!

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