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Argo City Movie Night

Black Widow

I’m not sure who out there is paying the premium Disney+ subscription fee… I mean, that extra $30 would just piss me off. I’m already irritated enough that my friends insisted on us going to see movies at Midway Cinemas instead of Amherst Cinemas, where the tickets are three dollars cheaper. (On the other hand, the riffraff has been showing up a lot in Amherst, where as at Midway, we ARE The riffraff.)

I came home pretty tired that day and half wondering if I could just blow it off. After all, Black Widow is not a movie I was seriously stoked for. But, it was the first time this crew had gotten together for a film in over a year, and my daughter met me at the door to remind me how excited she was for our movie today. So off we went, looking for people that we looking around to see if we could spot anybody we knew in a theater. Maddie tapped me on the shoulder and asked me

“Why is there a Deadpool right behind us? “

I looked, and sure enough, Deadpool was sitting right there, arguing with a 10-year-old boy about whether the DC universe was better than the Marvel universe.

“My friend over there says your movie sucked.”

“Well your friend obviously has terrible taste.”

“Why weren’t you in infinity war?”

“They couldn’t match my qoute.“

“Why don’t you ever do any DC?”

“Maybe if you wore something green” I chimed in.

Deadpool swung around jabbing an angry finger in my face.

“Now that’s going to far!”

I realize I’m talking more about the experience of going to the movie than the movie itself. There is of course, a reason for that. The whole point of the outing was really about getting back to the movies, and getting back with friends. The movie was secondary, and so was it’s quality.

Black Widow is at best, and average movie. My buddy Josh really hit the nail on the head when he described it as feeling like a Brosnan era bond film. There’s some superhero elements in it, and some Marvel characters floating around… but most of them are kind of marvel in name only. Like they threw a bunch of names in a hat and just decided “OK these are the ones we’re going to use…” and then try to fit the square pegs into whatever round holes they could successfully pound them into. Red Guardian isn’t really red guardian, Taskmaster has been significantly changed just to be a better fit for this film thematically, at the cost of his character. Black Widow for her part, well, Scarlett Johansson never plays her the same way twice… So it may not be fair to suggest she’s different in this movie.

In an adventure that takes place immediately after Civil War, Black Widow teams up with her sister to find and destroy the red room, a facility that brainwashes women and turns them into assassins just like she was. It’s a thin plot, with a bit of origin thrown in a flashback…and it’s kind of unnecessary. We needed this film to have come out right after Civil War. That would’ve given it legs and momentum, and wouldn’t have felt quite as shoehorned into the MCU as it does. It would make a great double feature with the Wasp and Ant-man. But plugging it in now, retreading this ground so late in the MCU, it just feels shoehorned in… With this unknown adventure, and the secret sister that we’re only finding about now… I can’t help but wonder, did Black Widow really need her own movie in the first place?

This is a valid question . Watching this film, it’s obvious that Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow cannot carry a film by herself. Fortunately they’ve surrounded her with an excellent cast that outshines her in almost every scene she shares with them. I’m totally into the sister, despite the fact that this is the first thing that I’ve seen Florence Paugh in.

Black Widow is an excellent supporting character. She’s really the glue that held the MCU together (Far more so than Agent Coulson ever was) but she’s not solo material. I’m not even sure that it’s necessary… She’s been in more MCU films than Thor or the Hulk, and if you go outside the MCU, she still has more screen credits than the Punisher or Daredevil, or the Fantastic Four! More credits than Marvel’s first family!  She’s been in as many movies as Superman! The first superhero, the original, recognized worldwide. Black Widow has had roles in just as many movies as he has. She’s not lacking for exposure or respect.

All that said, this is not a terrible movie. It’s fine. Pointless, but fine. It doesn’t do much to push any story further, it doesn’t do much as far as world building, he genuinely feels like someone just pitched “We need a Black Widow movie! Just do whatever, as long as you don’t break canon. Maybe have a woman directed to because that’s popular right now.”

Still, tt gave us a reason to get back out in the theater together, and it also gave us Natasha’s sister Yelena… who I’m quite eager to see show up again in the upcoming Hawkeye TV series. This one’s not a film that I would go out of my way to see in the movie theaters unless you’re doing it to get together with people like this. As far as just watching it as a Marvel movie I’d actually be perfectly content to wait until Disney+ takes down the premium fee for it and just adds it to their collection.

 


Mortal Kombat vs. Mortal Kombat

I’ve been struggling with how to talk about the new Mortal Kombat movie. I’m not huge into doing reviews a big blockbusters anyhow, because everyone and their brother does it… This little blog in the right hand corner of nowhere probably isn’t going to provide any new or meaningful insight.

The other problem is because this is a franchise actually have a certain weird attachment to. Not a sacred cow like Superman, but I was there when Mortal Kombat took over the world as a video game. You were either a Street Fighter guy or a Mortal Kombat guy… and I was definitely a Mortal Kombat person. I was there when the first movie came out… and became widely considered the first good video game movie. I still have great affection and nostalgia for it. Yeah this new film is good. In fact it may objectively be a better film than the original… But do I like it better?

When the first Mortal Kombat film came out it was at the height of the franchise popularity. They really could’ve done anything that they wanted and slap that label and characters into it and been successful. I mean, just look at the success of that dreadful cartoon they half heartedly put together. But for the live action, they chose to basically rip off Enter the Dragon… And if you’re going to copy, steal from the best. They created a fun buddy cop sort of film with the relationship between Liu Kang and Johnny Cage, with it being very much a martial arts tournament movie. That’s where the new film really diverges. The fighting, the tournament, it’s all secondary. We do get some one on one matches, but their montage and we blow through them surprisingly quickly. The focus here is more on an almost superhero fantasy.

The big problem with the new movie is there’s no story. They drift from set piece to set piece, and the narrative is a very weak string that ties it all together. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie, Star Trek first contact, arguably considered the best of the next generation films, is very similar. Light on story, heavy on spectacle. That’s what this is. The characters look great, most of them looking very much like they should.(I’m a little unnerved to see scorpions real face… And not just a skull) There is an attempt to really build some drama and pathos between the subzero and scorpion story, something that was missing from the original film. Back then, I remember liking the fact that those two are the only ones who look like they should, but simultaneously being pissed that they were on the same side. Definitely not a mistake they make here. There’s some influence that’s obviously been taken from the Mortal Kombat Legacy DVD we talked about earlier this week, and really, it would’ve been nice if they brought Michael Jai White over as Jax. Casting Mechad Brooks from Supergirl instead… Yeah, I just don’t buy it. However the rest of the roles feel right.

One of the things I kept thinking was “they could’ve done this in the original if they just had the technology”. The original Mortal Kombat makes innovative use of CG and puppetry, cutting edge at the time but limited by today’s standards. The new film really leans into the FX for the powers… Especially with Subzero. The ice effects are brilliant, and they genuinely look good. Ice is a tough sell, but they manage to nail it every time.

At the end of the day, I’m really pleased with this movie. It’s not necessarily my Mortal Kombat. It feels less like a comic book, it takes itself way more seriously, but I enjoy the fact that it’s harsh and bloody… Delivering on the promise that we got from the original video game. I’m eager to see more, and I hope that they’ll actually throw more money at the sequel. The greatest downfall of the original Mortal Kombat is that they slashed the budget for the sequel, going direct to video and devolving into what looked like a weekday afternoon kids show – Power Rangers or VR troopers. Mortal Kombat Annihilation just fails to work on most levels, not to mention killing one of your main characters in the first scene is always a downer from the word go. The new franchise hopefully has learned from the missteps of the past, with the promise of more characters from the franchise to come.

For the moment, I’ll just leave you with this bit of snark. (It made me laugh)


Zack Snyder’s Justice League

The Snyder Cut to me feels like very much the same movie, but more of it. The episodic chapter breaks help, because this isn’t paced ANYTHING like a normal film.

Ever see that episode of Family Guy where Brian meets George RR Martin? There’s a line where Martin tells him “You just got high and slapped together a bunch of sci-fi and fantasy tropes!”
“You could tell I was on drugs when I made this????”Brian asked, shocked.
“Oh yeah,” Martian relies. “thing is, Drugs don’t make you write good, they just make you write LOTS.”

Special Director cuts are kinda thier own drug….

But like I said, It really helps (me anyhow) to see it broken up and almost presented as a mini series rather than a film. You can definitely see the path Snyder is taking. I will say this – it kept me watching, the whole time through. A five min pause here or there to hit the bathroom or refill my cup. Some chatting online with others watching it at the same time and jotting down my thoughts in a FB thread, but no real distractions. No painting and building a costume while I watched (I was going to finish the BvS helmet while I screened the film, but ended up never touching it), no fast forwarding, no folding laundry, no stopping it and picking up a couple hours later. It kept me engaged enough to do the whole thing in one shot.

I think my great frustration with justice league has very little to do with the Snyder cut itself, it’s that people didn’t give The theatrical cut more of a chance. I’m more than four years old. I remember the whole of fandom hating on Snyder, calling him a hack, saying he didn’t know what to do with these characters, and rejoicing (I mean it. Cheering and celebrating) when he left the DC movie scene. Those same people are calling this the greatest epic in….ever! A different movie! It makes me angry that Whedon’s cut was ever released! (all actual comments I’ve heard).

I didn’t hate the original. I thought it was fine… just not spectacular (which is really what everyone expects). The CG erasing Henry Cavill’s mustache never bothered me (I can’t even really see it unless it’s pointed out to me), and you know what? I still stand by my defense of the Martha moment and BvS as a whole. A lot of people who hated the original however, seem to love this one – which is what I find perplexing, because all the things I hear people saying they see in the Snyder cut, I saw in the original. Affleck is still an amazing Batman, Cyborg was always the heart of this team ( I didn’t even care about Cyborg in the run up to the movie. The actual theatrical film MADE me care about him because he was done so well)… And a brilliant representation of the character. The theatrical cut was still epic, still had tones of 300 in it. But I genuinely believe people went into the theatrical cut expecting and intending to hate it (in the wake of Batman versus superman) as well as comparing it to much better films. All the criticism that I saw though, too dark, mischaracterizations, overblown, it’s all still here in this Snyder cut. All the good, and all the bad from the theatrical cut. Clownfish TV made a good point – the Snyder cut is still a mess, just like the Whedon cut, it’s just that this mess makes a little more sense.

It’s not the praise for the Snyder cut the bothers me. It’s the trashing of the theatrical. Both have the same DNA and far more in common than difference. It’s kind of like the outsized praise Wonder Woman got. That’s a good movie. But it’s not the ultimate triumph it was lauded as (In equal parts because it was female led and directed, and because it was the first DC movie that was better than “okay”). It feels like the Snyder cut is being given outsized praise because of all the good will that went into getting it released, not necessarily because of the film’s merits in of themselves.

Steppenwolf is still a lame villain, and I got to say, I absolutely hate everything that they did with the apocalypse characters. I hate the design. But that’s nothing new, I hated it In the original one too. I also seriously do not care for CGI barbarian Darkseid….fortunately his appearance improves greatly later in the film. On of my friends objects to my characterization of Steppenwolf as a wierd choice for the villian.
“You obviously don’t know much about the Fourth World.”
I have a passing familiarity with it but no, I’m not steeped in the lore – and that’s kind of my point. If I’m not completely up on Kirby’s New Gods saga, the general public DEFINITELY isn’t! That’s what makes it an odd choice to me. Loki was a good choice for Avengers since he’d already appeared in Thor and was an integral part of his mythos (Like say, if Lex Luthor or the Joker were a villian in JLA). Steppenwolf though….The Projection Booth podcast had a good observation. Marvel took 20+ movies before they got into the crazy, out-there stuff like Thanos and infinity stones and gauntlets and such. DC gets four movies in and throws Jack Kirby’s wildest creations right at you. This is advanced DC lore, not the entry level stuff we should be seeing at this stage in the game.

As the movie went on, this thing just stopped dead in its tracks right in the middle while they come up with a backstory for cyborg and flash (I will say this about the flash, I agree with him… I too, am a black hole for snacks – a true snack hole). I understand they had to do that, because then established in the previous films, but man it just kills all momentum. I remember always being perplexed that they didn’t use the CW shows as a jumping off point. They already had a universe built, which would have made a great foundation here, even with the tonal difference. They also had a far less annoying Barry Allen. like there’s this scene when Barry was trying on different hats, and asking Aquaman what he thought, I really wanted to see Arthur just backhand him and tell him to get in the truck. I was also kind of waiting for them to say “run Barry run” just before he activated the mother box.

I really do like this version of Commissioner Gordon, and wish we had gotten More of it. (of course I really wanted more of everything with Affleck’s Batman!). However, this movie really does get laden down With having to produce an enormous amount of backstory. I can see why so much of this got cut. The episodic format here actually works in his favor with all this extra stuff. Definately a better ending yes, and I really needed more Darkseid. I’m glad we got him. But I think Batman’s always been done well in these (I don’t get why people never saw that before), and I honestly don’t see how flash and Cyborg got shortchanged in the theatrical or how they were better here, there was just more backstory – all of which ground the movie to a screeching halt and should have happened elsewhere. I’d also say the only difference between this Leto Joker and the other was the lack of tattoos and gold teeth. Yes, I realize that it’s tough to look past that misguided appearance and actually watch the performance, but that performance in JL was EXACTLY the same one I praised in Suicide Squad.

All of this brings me back to my original impression. This really is the same movie. just more of it. And by the way, that’s not an insult. All the way back at the beginning, remember, I said, I liked the theatrical. It was fine. This is too. But I still have all the problems that I did with the original – the darker tones, and the general feeling of “I waited all my life for a Justice League movie – it’s a shame, this dark and gritty version is the one we ended up getting”. Gary at Nerdrotic actually had a great take on this – in the tradition of DC, this is an Elseworlds story. And it’s a spectacular Elseworlds tale, an imaginary story much like the stack of injustice trades I’ve been reading lately, but it’s not what I’d prefer as the prime timeline. that would look a lot more like the CW shows, but without the Social Justice. Indeed, I remember looking forward to the arrowverse crossovers like World’s Finest even more than BvS or JL. I recall thinking, “This FEELS more like the real JLA than the movies – and isn’t that kind of a shame?”

I’m also not thrilled with where things would go. According to the Projection Booth podcast, Snyder is on record as saying the next installment would be the Knightmare film – Batman would have fallen in love with Lois Lane, but would be unable to sacrifice himself for her and she dies at the hands of Darkseid, causing the dictator like Superman we see in the dreams. The next film would be him trying to turn back time and set things back to normal. That’s right. It gets darker. That’s not really what I wanted.

but at the same time being glad just to get it and being especially glad that for once, the film industry heard the cries of the fans, and finally gave them what they wanted.


Oceans Eight

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I recently caught Ocean‘s Eight on cable, and I have some thoughts.

It’s been years since I saw it… I caught it when it was originally in the theater, and just wasn’t impressed. It’s not that it was terrible, it’s just that it wasn’t great. I do think that it suffers from the whole “doing a girl version of this film”, conceit that was already getting played out when this premiered. But I think there’s more to it than just that.

I enjoy a lot of the supporting characters. Awkwafina is actually fairly good here. It shows that she’s best when you give her a script. In her own show, she pushes the obnoxiousness so far that she becomes unlikable. This script knows exactly what to do with her, and rains her in just enough that it’s quirky without going over the edge to ugly.

I’m a huge fan of Rihanna in this film. She comes off real harsh at first, and then you just fall in love with her. This woman is channeling the style and bohemian grace of Lisa Bonet, and by the end of the film she was very possibly my favorite character. Likewise, Helen Bonham Carter has A fun quirky role here that she actually gets to sink her teeth into. I love that they’re acknowledging age, but still giving her so much vitality. The 80s Madonna look that she’s got going on just adds to everything in her performance, and she knows when to be attentive, want to be awkward, and want to run with the scene. It’s a brilliant performance, and great to see her outside of Tim Burton‘s world.

For my money though, one of the most interesting transformations here is Anne Hathaway. I’ve enjoyed Hathaway in a lot of her roles growing up, all the way back to the Princess Diaries. At times she gets too much credit, and at other times not enough. It’s been a weird career, and someone really needs to feed the poor girl a sandwich. In between movies she frequently seems very pale into thin. Watching her in this self-centered, almost oblivious role is interesting. It almost feels like this is the culmination of her character from the Devil wears Prada. As if this is who she could’ve ultimately become had she stayed in Miranda Priestly‘s thrall, and it’s a fascinating mixture of high society with touches of girl Next door frankness. It’s a genuinely good role for Hathaway, and one of the better things that I’ve seen her do since the Devil wears Prada.

On the other hand we have Mindy Kaling and Sarah Paulson who are both really just doing their thing, blandly through the whole film. They’re good actresses, but they both feel like they’re not sure why they’re here. They each have one moment, one purpose, and then sleepwalk through the rest of the film.

They’re not the only ones sleepwalking, Sandra Bullock also doesn’t quite seem to understand how to play a role like this. She’s the lead, she’s the star, but at the same time she’s playing a bit of a villain. Bullock is excellent at what she does, but what she does is the relatable female lead… And this is more of an aloof role where she doesn’t seem entirely comfortable. As a result, she wanders through the movie, aimless and unsure.

The core of the Ocean films, has always been the easy back-and-forth between George Clooney and Brad Pitt. They try and replicate this with Bullock and Cate Blanchett, but Bullocks not sure what to do here, and Blanchett is simply not up for the task. She’s tough as nails and hard as diamond, with a handsome beauty that seems out of place in this role. The two are never convincing in the buddy comedy trope and every time that they’re on screen together, I find myself waiting for something else to happen… Eager to get to the next scene.

The disappointing thing here, is that this is a good idea. It’s a good concept with an A-list cast, but at the same time it’s trying very hard to be in Ocean’s Eleven movie. I think that ultimately does it a disservice. I love that they address why they’re creating a team of female con artists… “Men get noticed, and women don’t.” Whether you agree with that statement or not, with that one line I am ready to buy into the conceit and I am totally on board. It makes sense and it liberates it from the unintentionally sexist attempts at predominantly female casts like Ghostbusters or Supergirl. Nevertheless, shoehorning this in with clumsy cameos by Elliott Gould’s  Reuben and Shabo Qin’s Yen feels almost as forced as the scenes taking place at Danny Oceans grave. It also kicks the story off with a real drag, knowing that Ocean is dead… and so is the series. After all, these sort of sidequels never have a chance to become franchises themselves… especially when they’re as gimmicky as this. No, I think Ocean’s Eight would’ve been better served as an original story. And that’s really why it fails to satisfy for me.

On the other hand, it’s certainly better than ocean’s 12!


Hack!

Movie bannerindexFormer Wonder Years star (and current Hallmark/Lifetime movie darling) Danica McKellar stars in Hack as a bookworm who just kind of fades in to the background of her local college. It makes her perfect as an envoy for a pair of psychopathic fans who use her to lure a class of film students out of their private island under the guise of  an extra credit project. Once there, the film students, who are all pretty much horror stereotypes are slaughtered one by one until we come up to an ending that will leave you shaking your head.

In a lot of ways, hack is a very meta film. However it doesn’t wear it’s heart on its sleeve, and it still manages to take it self seriously enough that you never feel like it’s about to develop into parody… though it skirts the edge and comes danger close a few times.

In the end, Hack is a great celebration of horror tropes and more than a little bit of bloody fun.


The Hospital

Movie bannerindexAs a general rule, I like Jim O’Rear, he’s creepy and off kilter and a generaly fun guy. When I got this copy of The Hospital I was really hoping for a creepy haunted hospital story. The cover gives me a similar vibe as what I get from films like Grave Encounters or Autopsy, and I was really hoping for more of that.

It’s a similar set up, we’ve got a hospital in the middle of nowhere that has a bad reputation and a team of paranormal investigators go to check it out. There’s no ghosts at this place though, however there are a couple of psychopaths that have taken up residency there and One by one pick up the paranormal investigators, murdering and raping them.

It’s a solid enough premise, but unfortunately, rape is one of my triggers… I don’t dig films like I Spit on Your Grave or Thriller. That immediately invalidates this one for me, especially since it’s so prominent and frequent, rape over gore is never a appetizing formula for me. Skip this one and it’s sequel The Hospital 2.


Taffin

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imagesI’m having a kind of hard time placing Taffin, trying to figure out what kind of film this is. If you were to look at the cover, it’s designed to look like a Bond film, a spy epic… But the truth is this isn’t even an action film.

Pierce Bronson is Taffin, A professional strong arm who collects debts and general ne’er-do-well, the black sheep of a small Irish town.

When a large company brings in a crew to erect a chemical plant, Taffin is convinced to help oppose them, first convincing them to reroute the road access from the town soccer field through an empty field, then ultimately fighting back against the construction of the plant itself as the companies brutal enforcers attempt to wipe out any opposition.
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It’s equal parts drama and detective story, there’s thriller aspects and action aspects all set against the backdrop of the small Irish village. It feels like a PBS film… With more swearing. It’s quite good, although extremely 80s in its execution. But if you’re browsing, it’s a great time capsule of his bad boy period.


Underground Entertainment : The Movie

Movie banner indexI never actually got to see Underground Entertainment when it was still in his incarnation as a television show, which makes me incredibly glad that Underground Entertainment : the movie exists.

This documentary chronicles the exploits of a couple of lunatic actor and filmmakers as they make a crazy B-movie based cable show, complete with clips and cameos. It shows how they managed to get exposure in the convention scene but most of all it’s just a marvelous slice of life. It captures that era of the 90s in genre and reminds me a lot of what it was like to live in that period.

Early days for Jim O’Rear, but you can tell this is someone who loves the genre and loves being a part of it and much of this show was his love letter to all things B-movie and psychotronic.

If you’re a fan of documentaries or of the underground horror scene in the 90s, this is one of those movies that you’re going to just sink right into and feel right at home. I know I did, that’s why It’s a high recommend.


The Tailor of Panama

Movie bannerindexThe Tailor of Panama much wants to exploit the James Bond image of Pierce Brosnan. We open at MI6 where Brosnan, a disgraced agent is being retired to Panama.

I do wish these credits weren’t in comic sans. There’s some great names here, Jamie Lee Curtis, Geoffrey Rush, even Jon Pilato… But all that expensive talent looks cheap when written up in Comic Sans! Geoffrey Rush is the titular Tailor of Panama, married to Curtis and very much the subject of Brosnan’s attentions. Rush is actually an old con who learned tailoring in prison and fled to Panama start a new life. Unfortunately he’s in debt and all this knowledge makes him prime material for Brosnan to be able to leverage. It’s actually a really fun role for Rush, a nervous gentleman, in thrall to Brosnan’s bully, as he helps us make connections into the intrigue of the area imagessurrounding a back channel sale of the Panama canal.

Brosnan’s got an interesting character this time around, he feels like a grizzled old New York detective, smoking and blunt, but it’s really Geoffrey Rush’s movie. He gives a fascinating preformance, and even though I’ve seen him in such different and varying roles before, I never doubt him.

The entire plot keeps you on your toes, wondering what is real and what is not, culminating in and clever ending that totally manages to satisfy. Despite being a little on the long side, the film is still a good recommend, but pick a night that you are committed to watching this – it’s not background noise or for casual viewing.


The Invisible Man

Movie bannerindex3Let’s start right off the bat by dispensing with the word remake. The Invisible Man is not a remake of the classic universal film, nor is it related in anyway shape or form to the novel written by Ralph Ellison. The only thing that this film shares with those other stories is that is the titular gimmick. If anything it should perhaps have been called AN invisible man rather than THE invisible man.

I realize that’s getting a little nitpicky, but I want to make sure you know what you’re getting into with this film. This is not just another universal monster movie. The Invisible Man is a tense thriller rather than a horror film. It begins with woman named Cecilia inde4escaping her overly controlling, brilliant scientist, and sometimes abusive boyfriend. Two weeks later she discovers his committed suicide, and that’s when strange things start to happen around. It would’ve been a good idea to lean into the paranoia here, but the problem is the very title of the film tells us exactly what’s going on, and we already know Cecilia isn’t crazy. As a result, when we arrive at the climaxes, instead of feeling vindicated, it becomes more of an adventure in search of a resolution.

That’s not to say this is a bad film. They do extremely well in the first two acts with the small things, the little scares. Things like the door chain swinging back-and-forth or the hairbrush being in a different place after we pan away. Because they do the small scares so well, they earn the bigger ones. The film definitely moves us from climax back to index2tension back to climax and back again several times, and does so at an impressive pace. When the moments of horror come, they are truly shocking.

Nevertheless, the film does suffer from predictability. It’s reasonably easy to tell what’s going to happen next and where the plot is about to go, though there are enough twists and turns to occasionally make you second-guess. Without spoiling the ending, they attempt a bit of a twist there but then immediately undermine it in an attempt to have their cake and eat it too. I can’t blame them, they’re obviously setting up for a sequel, and one that I wouldn’t mind seeing.

Ultimately, this is a well-done thrill ride and well worth the watch. The Invisible Man opens in theaters February 28


Top Star Wars Rip Offs


Movie bannerWhile I’m personally not a huge fan of Star Wars I still watch the movies. No matter what your opinion on them however, there is no denying the impact it had on modern films – and of course that means It’s going to get ripped off.

Roger Corman predictably kicks off this list with “battle beyond the stars “.

maxresdefault (1)I didn’t watch the Walton’s, in fact, the first time I saw Richard Thomas was in Stephen kings “it “. I’ve never understood his appeal, and I don’t get why he was chosen for this role. The effects are passable, but honestly, you know the movie is bad when even the redoubtable John Saxon can’t save it!

What Corman gets right, is the balance between the young wide eyed mystic, and the grizzled smuggler. That dynamic drives the Star Wars movies and they give it a very good shot here, but ultimately it’s a bit of a failure.
Spacehunter_VCLNext up on the list is “Space hunter “. Perhaps I relate this to Star Wars more because we ended up going to this movie when we couldn’t get tickets for Empire strikes back. It’s got a lot more in common with the post-apocalyptic feel of mad Max then Star Wars, but the laser and space opera feel – along with the villain have a very happy Star Wars vibe. I was the one boy in the 80s that was not in love with Molly Ringwald, So her present here is really no drama for me. Peter Strauss is fine, but the real bright spot of this movie is an early role for Ernie Hudson and I love him for it. It’s worth tracking down though skip the 3-D version, it does nothing for it.

Space Mutiny is one of those films that immediately comes to mind. Large open stages littered with high-tech looking junk, spandex costumes, big hair, along with a sci-fi golf MV5BOWNkNmExZGYtMzg2Mi00Mzc5LTkxYzYtYjJjMzllYjc3MGY1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzM1MjQzNTk@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1375,1000_AL_cart propel this film towards mediocrity. It also happens to star Reb Brown – the actor made famous for playing the titular character in the TV adaptions of Marvel’s Captian America – you remember, the ones where he rode a super-cool red white and blue motorcycle (it was the 70’s) and carried a transpaprent shield because the motorcycle helmet wasn’t enough to protect his head from the machinations of Christopher Lee.

Reb is still buff in this film, and still loves his helmets. Fortunately, it’s a better movie than either of his Captian America outings, but not by much.

There is a marvellous MST3K version of it and thank God for that by the way. Some film are only watchable when bolstered by the snark of two toy robots. This is definatly one of those films. I highly recommend seeking that out rather than watching the straight film. This movie is notable for having special effects ripped straight from “Battle Star Galactica ” I don’t know how they got the permission to do that, but man is it wierd. They run them upside down and in wierd directions to throw you off, but you’re not fooling 8UHH0ENArNQ.movieposteranyone movie! I’m on to you!

Speaking of Galactica, it’s a good pick to as we near the end of this list. The look and feel was similar enough that Lucasfilm sued for the filming techniques used on the models – the lawsuit failed, but BattleStar Galactica has a much more Star Wars feel to it than the series that directly succeed it – “Galactica ’80” and “Buck Rogers”.

Oh but we’re not done yet. I haven’t even mentioned “Star Crash” yet! It’s not Corman, but man does it feel like it could be. Caroline Munro is in this as well as Christopher Plummer (and once again I find myself asking “What is he doing in this movie??” For such a high quality actor – A list for sure, Plummer sure does make some questionable decisions on roles). But that’s not the half of it. I have two words for you.

Hassel. Hoff.

Star-CrashThat’s right. The Hoff is here and still in his white-fro days.

The look of this film was obviously designed to directly ape Star Wars, with many of the characters borrowing thier design
directly from it.

The story itself however, is nothing like Star Wars – and the design choices confuse, particuarly when you have good guys in this that look like bad guys in a New Hope.

This is a fun ride, mostly because we get to watch these familiar and beloved actors in such roles that are just plain WIERD.

afisdunyaOne last honourable mention is “the man who saved the world “better known as “Turkish Star Wars “. While the story does have certain messianic themes to word that draw parallels to a new hope, the main comparison is the special effects – stolen directly from Star Wars, washed out and looking like somebody filmed A movie screen and then dropped the footage into the film. I’m not even upoading a trailer for this one. Bootlegs are plentiful.


Jumanji : The Next Level

Movie bannerindexThe Rock gives the best performance of Danny DeVito’s career. Also, Chekhov’s Gun shall hencforth be referred to as Chekhov’s Nunchucks.

What? You need more than that? Fine….

Jumanji : The Next Level is a direct sequel to the 2017 Jumanji : Welcome to the Jungle which was a soft reboot of the 1995 film Jumanji.

Spencer, the lead from the previous film is having a hard time at college and finds himself back in the video game Jumanji. However things don’t go as planned and his friends have to jump back into the game to rescue him. This time the game also sucks in Spencer’s grandfather, played by Danny DeVito and his old business partner Danny Glover (in the best role he’s had in well over a decade).

index2.jpgThis time however, the players don’t get to choose thier characters and this creates an interesting fish-out-of-water situation that the film employs to it’s absolute best use. Moreover, the dual roles pull some surprisingly good impressions from our main video game cast and showcases a range you might not expect from stars like Dwayne Johnson or Terry Crews.

Jumanji has a tricky line to walk. Adventure/Comedy is a tough sell, yet Jumanji manages to craft a rollicking good adventure with action and peril, while never completely abandoning the humor. There are of course a fair amount of cheap shots and pratfalls, images.jpgthe movie does feature Jack Black after all. However there’s a lot of smart jokes, and humor that doesn’t rely on the lowest common denominator. It’s exactly the kind of comedy that I love and it never lets up.

Throughout the film, there’s a lot of heart, exploring interpersonal relationships against the backdrop of the adventure and ends with a genuine punch the air moment. The film is unfettered by politics and agendas and may actually be the most fun I’ve had at the movies this year.

Jumanji : The Next Level opens December 13. Go see it. Seriously.


Gemini Man

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71846608_2751257061585366_8466157989626118144_nGemini Man is being billed as an action movie. That’s not really a surprise, it’s pretty much what I would expect to see coming from a Will Smith movie produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. However, if Gemini Man is anything, it’s actually a thriller. That’s not to say that there isn’t action in the film, you’re never more aware that this is a Bruckheimer film then during a gun fight being held in the middle of a dirtbike chase through the streets of Columbia. There are plenty of fisticuffs and guns in the movie, but there’s a lot more silencers than I’m used to in a Bruckheimer flick. It’s kind of a thriller through that prism.

Will Smith faces-off with a younger clone of himself on the eve of his retirement. It’s a index.jpgsimple premise, but built up with a great deal more intrigue and espionage surrounding it. Smith himself is an odd choice for this role, he’s one of those actors, much like Tom Cruise or Johnny Depp who don’t visibly age. It would have made more sense with Clint Eastwood, who the script was originally written for in the 90’s. The real trick in this film is not so much trying to make Smith look young (with de-aging CGI), but rather trying to make him look older. Either they’ve added some gray or he’s stopped dying his hair. Either way there is a concerted effort to create a salt and pepper tone to his head and beard, as well as some extra ageing added through the conturing of his make up. Nevertheless, the age difference remains a great deal more subtle then I prefer for this type of film. Even more disconcerting is the young clone. While convincing, there’s somthing not right about it – images2.jpgespecially to of us who grew up watching the fresh Prince of Bel-Air and know what Will Smith looked like at this age… something is a bit off, though I doubt it will really throw off younger viewers.

Smith is still playing to type here, albeit an older and slightly more cynical version of himself. It’s much the same character that we saw him play in Suicide Squad. Benedict Wong is an excellent supporting cast, perfect when we need comic relief and reliable when we need back up. I’m most impressed though, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead. My main exposure to her is of course, Scott Pilgrim Versus the World, and that’s a bit of a problem. I absolutely hate the character of Ramona Flowers and that’s strange because in this film Winstead is so much more likeable. She elevates her images.jpgperformance and redeems herself from that role, giving us a competent female lead that is still likeable while being tough as nails. I kind of want to see more of Winstead now in other roles.

The film doesn’t really bother with a love story sub plot, it doesn’t have time. It’s self aware enough though to make it an issue – talking about how there are certain things you give up for the life of an assassin. It’s a good way of addressing the elephant in the room without catering to it.

If I have any real complaints it’s the negative way in which fathers are portrayed– Of images.jpgcourse the evil dude in charge of the clone isn’t a real father, even if he says he is, but I always bristle when fatherhood is kind of trashed in this manner.

Gemini Man is a good, fast paced, globetrotting thriller that will keep you engaged though you won’t find too many surprises here. Even the twist towards the end can be seen coming a mile away.

Gemini Man opens in theaters nationwide October 11.


It : Chapter two

Movie bannerimages2.jpgI actually got out to see It : Chapter Two on opening weekend (Big thanks to Joe Ostrica and Retro Invasion Weekend for hooking me up with tickets!). I’m not going to review it – there’s plenty of reviews out there already by people more qualified than me, but I do have some thoughts. (With only the mildest of spoilers regarding theme)

My buddy Steph spotted me as I was headed into the Atlas Midway theater. and greeted me with “There’s a surprise in there for you!” I looked at her quizzically then proceeded to the box office. I spotted Jen getting popcorn and headed to say hello. As I passed the 70836190_2690009257710147_1094875313659183104_ndoors a demonic clown emerged from a darkened corner to haunt me. My wife laughed and asked which of my crew this guy was. I shook my head and pointed out that all of my friends were accounted for. This dude wasn’t one of us!I love that Atlas Midway does this sort of thing, and it made my night before I even got into the movie.

I actually saw the first chapter twice (after the movie, I lamented to my friend Chris that I really should have done a rewatch before chapter two), and I found it terrifying both time. Repeated viewings didn’t lessen the impact that Bill Skarsguard’s Pennywise had on me. I still jumped at all the right times and it was a rare almost perfect horror film.

Chapter two is good. It really is, but it’s not quite as good as the first one and I’m not sure why. Pennywise is just as brutal a predator, but somehow I find him a touch less spooky this time around. Stephen King once tried to define the types of horror –

“The 3 types of terror: The Gross-out: the sight of a severed head tumbling down a flight of stairs, it’s when the lights go out and something green and slimy splatters against your arm. The Horror: the unnatural, spiders the size of bears, the dead waking up and walking around, it’s when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm. And the last and worse one: Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It’s when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there’s nothing there…”

It Chapter two gives us plenty of the first two, but in a lot of ways I feel like the third is missing.

I try very hard not to compare these movies to the 1990 TV version starring Tim Curry. This isn’t a remake (any more than Christopher Lee’s Dracula is a remake of Bela Lugosi’s) However, comparison seems invited when the movie redoes some it’s set  pieces. The reunion in the Chinese restaurant (this isn’t a spoiler, it’s in the trailer) works better for me in the TV movie because everything is practical. Chapter two fills the scene with CGI, and it feels less…real. Indeed, in a lot of ways, I feel like the characters are underdeveloped. Despite the longer run time in these films, the 1990 version seemed to explore the characters deeper. This may be more about a reliance on writing and storytelling rather than glitz and FX. That certainly feels like what the Chinese restaurant scene falls victim to. The same can be said for Beverly Marsh’s trip back to her old home and tea with the old lady. This scene at least, has the rationale of bringing the stylistic horror into it’s own patter and retelling the scene in such a way that it fits Chapter two’s aesthetic.

That’s really at the heart of this film. It’s at it’s best when it does it’s own thing and shies away from what we’ve seen before. There’s elements added (such as a deadline – this is the last chance the Losers will have to destroy Pennywise) and the ending has been changed up from what we’ve seen before. With all the alterations, you can’t be sure who will live and who will die. It still maintains the structure and heart of the characters, but rewrites the details to create something unique. It’s effective too. Clocking in at just under three hours, the film flies by. It doesn’t just justify the run time, it transcends it. The entire approach takes familiar material and makes it unpredictable – ultimately a satisfying approach.

With the film being as big a success as it has been, Entertainment Weekly is already floating the idea of a third film in it’s recent interview with Bill Skarsgard. He’s up for a prequel and honestly, it may be the one and only time I’d be on board myself. I’d personally like to see the first time IT took on the identity and persona of Pennywise, and explore some of that history Mike Hanlon recounts as the losers folklorist. Anything other than that though, I’d prefer they leave well enough alone. This run has been mre than satisfactory for me and my friends!

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Annabelle Comes Home

Movie banner64990528_2540000606044347_348829645983973376_n64762262_2540000602711014_1483390852595187712_nWhile I’m a fan of the Conjuring movies, I hadn’t gotten around to the Annabelle ones until recently, but when I got invited to an advance screening of Annabelle Comes Home, I figured it was time to change that, so I sat down and watched both Annabelle and Annabelle Creation before heading out to the film preview. It’s a great universe James Wan has created here, growing it slowly and organically. It works and while the Annabelle films aren’t perfect, they’ve always been good sequel fodder. Annabelle Comes Home changes all of that.

This movie is not only a great sequel, it’s also a great film in of itself. That’s a hard trick to pull off, but this move manages to fit into the mythology and push it forward, while simultaneously standing alone quite well and giving us a movie that is every bit as terrifying as the first Conjuring was.

I went into the film cold and was genuinely surprised to see Ed and Lorraine Warren so prominently featured. They don’t stick around long and are gone before the midpoint of the first act, but it’s organic – you don’t really even notice their exit (kind of 64577472_2540000639377677_8614501207932665856_nlike those “lite” episodes of Doctor Who, like Blink, where the Doctor is really just a supporting character and not really in the episode) as the focus shifts to their daughter Judy, and her two teen babysitters as they spend a terrifying night in the Warren’s home. The premise is simple; what if all those things locked away in the Warren’s occult museum clawed their way out of their basement for the night? In this way, the film trances the Annabelle franchise and becomes something more. It’s not really ANNABELLE comes home, but rather Annabelle COMES HOME.

While the previous Annabelle films have been somewhat doll-centric, focusing on the doll and the evil spirit that travels with it (It’s not really the doll that’s the evil – this isn’t Chucky, rather the doll is an avatar and a conduit for demonic entity(s) in these films) this movie unleashes a whole host of evil spirits, ghosts and demonic influences. This is a hardcore HAUNTING and it is terrifying. McKenna Grace in particular turns out a brilliant performance as 12-year-old Judy Warren, a role that requires a level of intensity that should be beyond her years. She thwarts the evil 64641742_2540043759373365_1027367885284048896_nwith prayers and crosses and is every bit a match for Annabelle herself.

The film never fails to be creepy, even when we’re doing the getting to know you thing in the second act, with laughs and aw shucks moments (Pizza Delivery guy, YOU’RE THE REAL MVP!) you can feel the dread creeping through, and by the time we hit act three, everything has turned upside down.  I watched the movie with a rowdy audience and as things rapidly spun out of control they shrieked and screamed in disbelief.

I understand why they didn’t want to open against Toy Story 4 and the Child’s Play reboot, but man, it may have been worth the risk, because this just blows them out of the water. Absolutely, DO NOT miss this film. Annabelle Comes Home opens in theaters June 26th

 


American Poltergeist: The Curse of Lilith Ratchet

Movie banner56178712_10218363995641367_8262274680904220672_nThis weekend I crashed the Cleveland Haunters Club screening of American Poltergeist: The Curse of Lilith Ratchet including a Q and A with the director. I had no idea what I was going into. The cover art feels like a low quality Asylum movie, heading straight to Netflix. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Ratchet is a well shot film with a good script and fine actors ding a competent job. The license plates and news segments remind us that film was shot in the Cleveland area, most notably in several locations in Westlake and Akron.

Don’t be fooled by the title though. While our antagonist, Lilith Ratchet, is indeed a ghost, she acts like no poltergeist I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t a surprise then, to discover that American Poltergeist: The Curse of Lilith Ratchet wasn’t the intended title. Director Eddie Lengyel planned on calling the film simply The Curse of Lilith Ratchet, but the distribution company stepped in and decided 51237843_2419711374770882_3597706701551173632_nthey could sell more copies under a different title, tying it to an existing (if unrelated) anthology franchise.

The movie starts at Creative Apothecary in Akron, a new age store where our protagonists discover an ornate wooden box (have we learned nothing from Hellraiser or Gremlins?) containing a shrunken head (have we learned nothing from Charles Band??) and a poem. The sell it to a radio host who makes the head the centerpiece of his Halloween show. Broadcasting from a packed night club he plays hot potato with the head while repeatedly reciting the poem (have we learned nothing from Candyman???) unleashing the curse and the evil IMG_6335ghost of Lilith Ratchet.

I kid with all the horror references. While you can definitely spot Lengyels influences in things like the way Ratchet moves (a glide that really reminds me of Angela in “Night of the Demons” or even the Daleks from Doctor Who), he doesn’t wear them on his sleeve. There’s plenty here that feels original. I was particularly impressed with the boldness of using a big crowded party to unleash the curse. More often this happens in small, intimate settings. A slumber party or small gathering of friends. Doing it in a populous setting is a risk, but the kinetic energy of the lights and people at the party is also a great 57070980_2571781152897236_4783031230440407040_njuxtaposition with the later kills, most of which happen in isolation and gloom.

It’s not a perfect film. Despite the 30 day shoot, with a budget of $15,000 some cracks will show. They are few and far between, but there are occasional clumsy segways and certain scenes that didn’t get the attention to lighting that most of the rest of the film did. Lilith Ratchet is a great looking ghost, but light is not this makeup’s friend. When she’s too lit up, she looks too much like an actress in a costume, but when she’s cloaked in shadows and darkness, those horrifying teeth and piercing eyes give me chills.

That’s the reason I’m recommending this film so highly by the way. Sure, the Conjuring movies made me jump a couple times. Human Centipede made me squirm. But I haven’t IMG_6336really gotten goosebumps from a horror movie since “Sinister”. That takes some talent. It’s got some blood, but it’s not really gory. It dosen’t rely on the gore, but rather an atmosphere and a ghost whose presence fills the room every time Lilith glides into frame.

The film ends with a requisite twist that I could mostly see an hour into it, but also manages to tie things together nicely, bringing us full circle back to the beginning. It’s a satisfying enough ending that leaves the door open for us to possibly see Lilith Ratchet again, and I for one, hope we do.

American Poltergeist: The Curse of Lilith Ratchet is currently available at Wal-Mart, and is coming to Redbox as well as Netflix in the near future.


Uglydolls

Movie banner220px-UglyDolls_(2019)_theatrical_posterRight off the bat I feel like they wrote the songs for this first and then tried to figure out a movie around it, throwing in whatever character they could make work. It’s not actually that far fetched when you consider the cast is made up of mostly singers – Kelly Clarkson, Charlie XCX, Nick Jonas, Even Pitbull is in there hamming it up as Uglydog. The thing is, when I go to a musical (and this is certainly NOT being advertised as a typical Disney style musical. it’s on the poster, but nowhere in the trailers) I expect showtunes (maybe that’s just my twenty years in theatre talking). This is packed with Youtube friendly pop songs, and the various scenes seem like set pieces designed to get us from one song to the next. Even my kids noticed it, and it was their main complaint.

It’s a simple story about your flaws making you beautiful and valuable. Longing for an owner to love, our uglydoll heroine Moxie leaves Uglytown with a group of friends and they spend the film trying to pass Quality Control testing led by a meglomaniac Aryan doll who is determined to keep the uglydolls  tucked away out of sight in Uglytown or worse yet – RECYCLED! It’s a safe and typical kids movie storyline that hits all the 58461567_2443639119013830_7591322741123317760_nrequired beats and that we’ve seen a hundred times before (in this year alone).

What makes this so disappointing is how much this feels like a missed opportunity. I was a young parent when the Uglydolls came out. There was something rebellious and edgy about them. IceBat was my daughters favorite toy before their popularity skyrocked. Even the presidant’s daughters had Uglydolls (for the record, my kids had them first. Barry was obviously copying ME.) This would have been the perfect opportunity to create a subversive comedy – something like the Muppets back in the 80’s. Something edgy and sharp that adults would get, while the kids have fun watching the silly characters. Once in a while we get a post modern gag like the Oliver! homage, but that’s about as close as it gets. imagesUglydolls is as safe and typical as can be. That’s a shame because Uglydolls aren’t really a thing anymore. Even three years ago, the name alone might have been enough to carry them over the finish line, but in 2019, the brand has kind of run out of gas. Small children may dig it as a one-time afternoon diversion, but this cookie cutter entry into the already oversaturated kids film market does nothing to distinguish itself and likely won’t reignite the popularity of the brand. If anything, it’s the final nail in the coffin.

Uglydolls opens nationwide on May 3rd.

(oh and that “All Dolled Up” number? I already did that YEARS ago!)

 


Shazam!

Movie banner56120179_2407960649248344_6533125155386818560_nI’m a fan of Shazam of old. The Superman archetype always appealed to me and he was one of the few characters that had more improvements than missteps in DC’s New 52 reboot. That’s what this film is based off of, but there’s so many easter eggs scattered through this thing that you can very much see it respects the history it comes from (The Rock of Eternity has to be seen to be believed. It’s EXACTLY as I always pictured it).

The film opens with our villian’s backstory, and I’m delighted to see John Glover once again playing a supervillian’s father. It’s just enough to give us a glimpse of what Billy has in store for him while setting up Doctor Sivana’s grudge against the wizard Shazam. Still, the film gets us to Billy Batson quickly enough. He’s not quite as squeaky clean as old fans may be used to, but his edge comes off as roguish and charming rather than gritty. Billy’s superhero obsessed foster brother Freddy Freeman is actually the best version of the character I’ve ever seen and steals every scene he’s in. MV5BMjdhYzdjN2QtMjZiYS00YzcyLWFhM2UtMDE2OGQzYjdjZDBlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDQxNjcxNQ@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_The chemistry between Billy, Freddy, Mary and the other foster kids is well done and the laughs come often. It’s not the comedy formula we’ve come to expect from Marvel, this is definitely it’s own thing and still dishes up some dark and terrifying monsters just to remind you this is a DC film, but they’ve remembered to bring the fun as well. There’s heart, action, and great pacing. Clocking in at two hours and twelve minuets, I never looked down at my watch once and was genuinely shocked to see how fast the film goes.

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55931019_2407997125911363_2464925191948468224_nIf I have any quibbles, it’s that the character of Doctor Sivana is misused. Instead of being an evil genius Lex Luthor type, they power him up into a demonic fisticuffs adversary. It’s enough to make me wonder if this role had actually been written for Black Adam and had to be reworked when Dwayne Johnson couldn’t accommodate the shooting schedule. It’s okay. This villian is visually interesting, with good motive and storytelling as well as being a genuine threat. It’s not the Sivana I know and love, but I dig him for what it is.

The movie is just great. It’s my favorite superhero film in a long time and it feels good to finally see DC hit one out of the park. Go see this. Seriously.

Shazam opens on April 5th, and I’ll be heading back that day…and this time I’m bringing my family with me.

 


The Last Starship

Movie banner51912961_2330750703636006_4038702437287067648_nA creepy little girl voice recaps the backstory of this world in an over filtered exterior location. Evil mutants (genetically engineered people) have driven the few remaining humans underground or into the wasteland. They fear the return of war.
They don’t shy away from robots and drones and and CG creations. The FX are average. They’ve actually created some really nice Computer models, but the shots are inexpertly tracked with too much light and very stiff movement.

The rebels stalk the desert in a large mecha-tank, discovering that their mission is not to contain the calibain but rather to hunt a monster.
as they pick up their new fighter, The tank is ambushed by robot golems, interesting design but cheaply executed.

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51737741_2330751180302625_1677623893788983296_nBack at the future church, a family flees space zombies, looking for passage to the underground city. bad guys, who look like leftover extras from Blake’s 7 attack the church with a rocket launcher and drones. the tank changes course to aid them, then comes across the wreck of another tank. Around this time is when things go completely wrong – giant monsters, golems and infected, oh my.

They fight it out and then take off after the monster, while factions fight on board the tank – the genetically modified humans clashing with the natural born. By the time we discover a traitor in our midst, I feel as if I’m in a completely different story. It all ends with the worst game of capture the flag ever.

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51880980_2330751083635968_6402822689509081088_nThe plot is complicated and hard to follow. This film definitely feels like it was built around the animatics and FX, with a dash of world building dropped in, and yet while being fairly talky, the movie never really adequately explains what is going on. Also, for a movie called “The Last Starship”, there’s a shocking lack of any starship whatsoever. It’s not terrible. But it definitely leaves me wanting more clarity. Still if you just give u on understanding it and go along for the ride, it’s fun and pretty.

Still, I’d like it better if it actually made some sort of sense. It’s SyFy channel fodder at best.

 


Bunnyman Vengance

franchisebannerindexEven as the film opens, I see a difference in quality. Bunnyman is well lit and the suit seems almost more ragged – something it’s needed this entire time. It’s a familiar opening with the Bunnyman luring prey in, but the setting seems creepier this time around. He’s taken up residence with a group of local haunters at thier attraction. The sight of Bunnyman flanked by his two skull faced companions in the misty night is beautiful.

This film seems more introspective, with repeated flashes to Bunnyman’s childhood – and the things that made him what he is.

I’m confused though. It takes a while to learn why the haunters are letting Bunnyman out to kill, or what their angle is. Best I can tell is they are trying to create vlcsnap-2018-10-10-16h40m57s255a local urban legend – a real one – that they can exploit for their haunt…but they seem a little bloodthirsty too – a far cry from EVERY haunter I’ve ever met (and there have been a LOT). To be fair though, that moment a patron gives Bunnyman attitude in the haunt (“so what? You going to cut my fingers off?” She laughs – and then he does just that) had to be cathartic to every haunt actor out there.

Still the haunted house itself provides the most atmospheric set pieces of all the Bunnyman films. Filled with fog and competently lit for the first time in the series, I actually feel creeped out by the character as he starts to fall into madness.

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Some dodgy CGI aside, I feel like this time around, someone has tried to make an honest go of this series. I dig it.  Vengeance is probably the strongest film in this franchise (man, I still can’t believe this is actually a franchise!).

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Bunnyman Massacre

franchisebannerimages2100 minuets? Oh man, someone is optimistic. There’s no WAY this shot on video film should be 100 minuets.

We start off with newsreel type imagery flickering under credits and then shift to a schoolbus on a desert road. The bunnyman comes out of nowhere with a chainsaw and shotgun and goes to work on the kids. The blood flying up to hit the camera is obviously ment to be dramatic and styalized, but it just comes off as annoying and sloppy. The title comes up as blood hits a traffic sign (this one is a nice touch).

indexWe immediately shift to a cornfield where the bunny man is stalking campers, Friday the 13th style (Who camps in a cornfield anyhow?). Yet for all the killing (beautifully done for a micro budget production) it’s a while before we get anything resembling a story….good thing it’s 100 minuets huh?

Bunnyman has obviously found a new family, and we get vague references to the previous film as he comes home, then shift to exteriors of the town the film takes place in. Almost a ghost town (Someone had access to an old west set or amusement park or something…) that an unsuspecting family drives through.

Oh look. Beef Jerky.

Almost half an hour in we get a troup of college girls hiking through the woods and imagesthe Bunnyman is sent out. Time for things to really begin. The problem is, it then goes on to focus on the pervy redneck t hat has adopted Bunnyman and we get a very diffrent kind of movie for the next thirty to forty minuets – as if they just kind of grafted two disparate films together.

Much like the first one, this film really wants to be Texas Chainsaw in an Easter Bunny suit. However, where homages like House of a Thousand Corpses really succeeds in paying tribute, this merely imitates in the basest ways, and the schizophrenic nature of the spliced films only works to it’s detriment. Yet they manage to throw a level of blood and gore that keeps me entertained even as I roll my eyes. I’m so conflicted, I just don’t know what to make of this stuff.

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Cinema Wasteland Retro Movie Night (Part One)

Movie bannerimg_4272If you’ve been following the blog or Facebook account for any length of time, you’ve heard me talk about Cinema Wasteland. It’s my favorite horror convention. I never miss the twice yearly celebration of bad movies. It’s not just that Wasteland is home (though it is), and wastelanders are family (though they are). Back when I was still a stranger there and roamed the halls alone and anonymously, what kept me coming back were the films. Wasteland curates the strangest films known to man. They screen movies I’d never think to seek out on my own. They show the best (actually more often it’s the worst) stuff I never knew I NEEDED.

When word came down that Wasteland was going to host a movie night, it seemed like a perfect fit. Ken Kish (showrunner and founder of Cinema Wasteland)  announced that he basically had so many movies he wanted to screen that even with as many as he shows at img_4270the convention, it’d still take dozens of cons before he’d get through them, so he decided to try this out and see how it went. From what I can see, it went well. I set the DVR to record Svengoolie and drove out to the Elks Lodge in Berea Saturday night. We got our first real bad snow that night and while roads were challenging coming in, they’d be a nightmare going home. Still, it didn’t seem to deter anyone. The hall filled up quickly. As I took my seat on the uncomfortable steel chairs I noticed light glinting off a bald head that struck me as familiar. I popped over to find Mark and Brandi from Michigan who had made the trip over to Cleveland just for the show. Next to them, Mike Watt and Amy Lynn Best from Happy Cloud media in PA. Our buddy Jason joined us right after his work shift down the street, about halfway through the event. (That’s what I mean by Wasteland is family).

img_4279I’ve heard stories about movie nights at Quentin Tarintino’s house. How he would screen double features, but add a short or a cartoon and some trailers into the presentation, and then proceed to screen things no one else had ever seen. This had that kind of vibe to it. Local Horror Hosts the Mummy and the Monkey had teamed up with Wasteland to help Emcee the show (they’re regulars at the con) and run a raffle, then the lights went out. A cartoon and an old “Our Gang” short preceded the film. Ken was playing it safe for the first feature by running a reliable old Vincent Price standard. Nevertheless, “Last Man on Earth” is a solid film and was made more fun watching it with an audience. We got about img_4267ten minuets into it when there was a sprocket malfunction. The print shook and blurred.

“I’m just trying to give you a REAL grindhouse experience!” Ken shouted as he swapped out the faulty projector with a spare.

“There’s not enough hookers or broken needles for it to be a genuine grindhouse experience!” I shouted back, then took the opportunity to nip back to the bathroom. Sure enough, needle and hooker free.

Intemission was marked by a trailer reel of the strange and wonderful, along with another cartoon and a raffle drawing. The seats were getting uncomfortable and the snow continued to fall as we headed into the second feature “The Man Who Turned to Stone”. This was the one I was waiting for since I had never even heard of this. It’s a 1957 classic and I knew I was in for something good when I saw Victor Jory in the credits. Jory Was the Shadow in the only film outing that matters, and that dark tone made him perfect for a sinister old-world type. Jory leads a group of immortals who stay young by draining the life force of others. Young women in particular are the best nourishment and they just happen to be running a women’s prison. Hijinks ensue.

The event went well enough to justify a second film night. This one will fall on Feb 9th, and feature “Voodoo Woman” (1957) and “Motorcycle Gang” (1957). I know I’ll be back. I hope to see all of you there too!

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Bunnyman

bannerpdindexBunnyman starts with a low res shot on video bit featuring a girl running from the house and getting murdered. It’s very reminiscent of Texas chainsaw massacre actually, fortunately it’s just the appetizer and the rest of the film is done with a higher quality video. It opens with a girl stuck in a refrigerator and once again, running from something – it’s a weird enough opening to grab your attention and steel you for what comes next

We get some kids on a road trip, who managed to anger the large truck behind them. It’s not a promising beginning and I feel like I’ve seen this before too many times already.

The truck driver begins to stalk them, and action made all the more ominous by the brief glimpse we see of the fur covered hand inside the trucks cab. By the way, the girl we saw running earlier? She is in the back of the truck and about to be chained to a tree.

Eventually the images2kids are run off the road and the Bunnyman continues on to his evil deeds. We’re treated to some excellent gore. It’s our first glimpse of the bunny man, and he won’t be back though until the 50 minute mark.

The kids travel on foot, looking for help, and as the night wears on, things get dire and ominous. It’s a slow strech – not a slow burn, just a middle section that drags. However, when the Bunnyman shows back up and the stalking begins things ramp right back up.

I kind of wonder if there just wasn’t enough in this movie for a full feature. Seriously, imagesthis may have been better off as just a short. The suit is too stark, though it provides a surreal image on occasion and that helps. Still, the film feels weak, and I’d kind of like to see it redone with more care and gore.

Wait, what? What do you mean they made two more of theses things?

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Roller Blade

Movie banner10367582_872180892826335_755174026719423114_nIt’s that time of year again, when Cleveland Cinemas smacks us about the head with the celluloid equivalent of a brick wrapped around a slice of lemon. I’m a fan of bad movies, a regular attendee at Cinema Wasteland, and a member in good standing of Cinemageddon. Yet somehow, David Huffman still consistently pulls out the most bizarre movie gems that were never on my radar.

imagesThis year, the Cedar Lee theater screened “Roller Blade”… a film that makes “Shredder Orpheus” look like “Gone with the Wind”. Don’t be deceived, there are no actual rollerblades in this film, 1986 was a little early for that. What we do have are roller skates, and butterfly knives tucked in by the heels – thus categorizing them as “roller” blades.

Set in the dystopian post apocalyptic near future that was so popular in the 80s, we’re introduced vlcsnap-2018-12-04-09h59m17s667to our three main factions. For starters, there’s the madman at the acid plant (or is he a puppet? Or is he just wearing a puppet? It took me most of the film to finally come to the conclusion that Santos evil twin was somehow kind of conjoined to an evil mutant. It kind of looks like somebody glued up an old Boglin head onto a baby doll and then spray painted the whole thing brown). On the other side there is a convent full of Nuns in KKK robes – but colored red and blue to make things more confusing. They’re called the Cosmic Order of Roller Blade, and led by Mother Speed. They ally with the local Marshall… Though I can’t tell who was actually in charge. Sometimes he seems to have authority over them, and other times they seem to be vlcsnap-2018-12-04-09h54m46s860calling the shots (After doing some research, it appears he was meant to be there protecting their monastery). There are also homeless people on roller skates pushing shopping carts, and punks who demonstrate how anti-establishment they are by riding skateboards instead of roller skates.

After a lengthy introductions in the first act, the action starts with a blonde in spandex stabbing a dude on the sidewalk because he was foolish enough to go outside without roller skates. She is apparently doing a job for the mutant in the acid plant -work for hire mercenary stuff. When she demands batteries for her walkman he tells her to go vlcsnap-2018-12-04-10h02m52s261infiltrate the convent so that she can steal their crystal McGuffin. It’s not clear what it does other then turning the Nun’s butterfly knives into magic healing wands, but they suggest that humanity will end if it falls into the wrong hands. The blonde lets herself get roughed up by the punks so that she can prey upon the mercy of the nuns and steal their power crystal. In the meantime the acid mutant and Santos evil twin kidnap the marshall’s son because, reasons.

The third act explodes in a climatic battle where Santo’s evil twin uses the crystal to power a sled on wheels across the chasm in an attempt to escape to “Meccho” while the nun and the Marshall look on. They realize the crystal wasn’t that important, and salvation is actually in the human heart.vlcsnap-2018-12-04-10h01m21s801

 

vlcsnap-2018-12-04-09h59m32s692Don’t let that semi-coherent description fool you. This thing is all over the place. I was encouraged to see the New World logo come up in the beginning. Corman films are usually bad, but fun. Nowhere however, does Corman’s name show up here (Fred Olen Ray’s does though. I assume they abducted his kid to get this thing made). I find myself wondering if they just distributed the movie rather than actually producing it. I suppose it may have been filmed on some of their leftover sets, but it lack the professional panache that you get as a bare minimum from a Corman studio flick. I think that’s a professional grade vlcsnap-2018-12-04-09h56m28s884camera shooting this – the state of consumer electronics in 1986 would have this looking more like Chester Turner’s “Black Devil Doll from Hell” or “Tales frm the Quaddead Zone” filmed around the same time. But they must have spent too much money on the camera because they obviously couldn’t afford sound equipment. This entire thing is sloppily overdubbed – and they knew it when they were filming. Every other shot outside the studio sets involves characters talking into large walkie talkies, strategically placed in front of their mouth so you can’t see their lips move in contrast to the dub. Two exposition scenes have been zoomed into and cropped just above the actors mouths. Entire conversations occur vlcsnap-2018-12-04-10h00m56s931without seeing any lips move. Occasionally grunts are inserted to cover long shots with mouths working. Even the mutant hand puppet can’t synch his mouth with the lines he speaks.

The dialogue that is used doesn’t help any. There was a moment when shopping cart guy dies for the first time (Yes, I said “First”, as in multiple times) and the overdub gets really hollow as he says “Ow! (not the sound, he says the word)What did I do to deserve this?”. In other scenes, the King James English comes off a particularly distracting. “Hold! Skate not from this place! Word has come that little Chris has been taken!” At one point I turned to Johnny Crayfish next to me and asked “I’m really hearing this right? This is the ACTUAL dialogue they chose and not just a parody right?” He shrugged and shook his head.

vlcsnap-2018-12-04-09h58m21s723After 88 minuets, the credits rolled. The final title card reads “Watch for Roller Blade 2 : Holy Thunder”

You’re kidding, right?

I turned to the back of the theater where the film programmer was standing, bewilderment on my face .
“Does that actually exist?”
He nodded. My buddy Mark spun around and shouted “DOUBLE FEATURE!”.
“Not tonight,” Dave wisely declined this demand. “I can’t believe you guys all stayed through the entire credits!”

I discovered that in fact, not only does a sequel exist – there’s actually FIVE movies in this series (Six if you count the remixed and re-released version of The Roller Blade Seven. Seven if you count the documentary on the unmade Roller Blade 3).

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I need to know more. Expect a new Franchise Focus coming next year.

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