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Messy and imperfect, but still lots of fun and very respectful to the original
To set the context for this review, I came at this movie as a middle aged guy who grew up loving the original and I don't care one bit about the "all-girl" reimagining. I wasn't impressed by the trailer much and I was worried it would be unfunny since nothing on the trailer made me crack a grin. All I went in hoping for was an entertaining movie, and that's exactly what I got.
What surprised me was that I also got more than bargained for. I was pleasantly surprised me with how respectful of the original it turned out to be - even having the courage to open with the original Ray Parker soundtrack instead of the modernized 'Madeon' sounding one on the trailer. It's got to be a really tricky task to navigate a route between a brand new story and a classic old one, but they pulled it off nicely, giving plenty of amusing nods and homages to the source material while still managing to tread fresh ground.
Another nice surprise was that the trailer hadn't shown all the cards, which is unusual for an A-list film these days. The villain and his nefarious plot wasn't shown on the trailers, and the role of Chris Hemsworth was hugely downplayed (he actually has a much bigger part in the movie than the trailers suggest).
Although I was surprised by the anti-female backlash directed at the trailer, I was initially offended that the only black member of the cast appeared to have been once again relegated to the non-smart, non- scientist role. But while the character isn't a scientist, she is played as the smartest of the group - passionate about New York history and the one that puts most of the mystery pieces together, which was nice.
Hemsworth steals the show really, he's clearly enjoying making a fool of himself and you'd have to be in a pretty bad mood as a viewer not to let that enjoyment infect you a little. He hams it up with glee and that's enjoyable to watch.
As for the supposed "feminist agenda", I really didn't see it. There's a little material that seems to have been added maybe as an afterthought, poking fun at the youtube commenters, and there's a couple of jokes which I guess could be construed as "feminist- agenda" if you were really desperately stretching - a line about how "safety lights are for dudes" for example, or a moment where they shoot the evil ghost in his twig and berries, but you seriously have to be stretching to think this an anti male movie.
I've seen some reviews on here about how it was unfunny and cinema audiences being "in silence". All I can say to that is the auditorium I was in was only half full and there was plenty of laughter. A few of the jokes were misses for me, but there were enough that made me laugh aloud to let the weaker ones slide.
Probably the only big downfall for me was the messiness of the script which seemed to lack a second act. It feels a bit like it jumps from the intro act to the climax without much of a build in the middle. I'm not sure if it was a product of the writing or the editing, but it's not much of an issue since, let's be honest, we're not expecting an Oscar winning script from a Ghostbusters movie anyway.
In summary, it's fun, it's entertaining, it's good natured, and it's respectful of the original. It's not feminist, it's not unfunny, and it's not perfect.
Zoolander 2 (2016)
Not as far below the first one as some of these reviews would have you think
After reading the pretty horrific user reviews for this, the wife and I almost went to see Deadpool again instead. At the last second we changed our minds and decided to see something we hadn't seen yet, so we gave it a chance.
It's not as funny or as charming as the first one, let's get that aside right away, but then again what sequel is?
From the reviews, I was expecting this to be like Anchorman II, which I found to be a lame derivative rehash of the first and an extreme disappointment full of falling flat jokes and desperate attempts to cash in on popular moments of the original.
Zoolander II certainly has it's fair share of jokes that fall flat and derivations from the first movie, but it also has a fresh storyline and at least a few chuckle out loud moments. You won't be quoting it for years the way you did with the first, but it's definitely not a total failure. To be honest it was a fairly entertaining and fun couple of hours and we enjoyed it.
Really fun late 80's adventure horror - just three decades too late.
As I look through the IMDb scores for Extraterrestrial, I have a theory that the lower ones are coming from children of the 90's and aughts - those who have grown up to expect a particular bleak atmosphere from alien abduction movies such as that set by efforts like 'Dark Skies' or 'The Fourth Kind'.
I suspect the reviews giving it the higher scores are from kids who grew up in (or are just fans of) the older school 'adventure' horrors that became popular in the late 80's. Movies like The Lost Boys, Waxwork, Evil Dead 2, Night of the Creeps, Return of the Living Dead 2, Creepozoids, The Blob remake etc. - you know the ilk, movies whose subject matters varied wildly yet they always had the same sort of vibe - a fast-paced, popcorn-entertainment 'adventure' feeling.
That, I feel, is what the Vicious Brothers were purposefully going for in Extraterrestrial. Although they mixed in a generous dollop of the 90's cabin in the woods type characters and the 2000's abduction movie clichés, it's the late 80's vibe that rings clear throughout. If Extraterrestrial had been made 25-30 years ago, it would likely have starred the Two Corey's, or perhaps Zach Galligan and Brinke Stephens. The cop would have been Tom Atkins or Lance Henriksen; and the crazy Michael Ironside character would have been Dick Miller... or perhaps Michael Ironside, come to think of it.
Bottom line is, Extraterrestrial clearly has a primary intent of being fun rather than scary. There's a few creepy moments - most memorably the skeletal body of a dead alien vanishing into the murky waters of a swimming pool - and a few more serious turns towards the end, but overall, it's more of an adventure/survival flick than a psychological/terror flick. If we still had drive-ins, it would be playing in them right now to crowds of frisky teens instead of on Netflix.
Check your expectations before you turn it on. You're not going to get scared, or grossed out, or made to think too hard, or put on the edge of your seat with tension... but if willing, you are going to have a lot of fun. 7/10.
Not too shabby old-school creature feature, far better than anything SyFy puts out.
I found this on Netflix, saw it's low IMDb score (4.6 at time of this review) and thought I was going to be in for a SyFY channel phoned-in, cash-cow effort, but I was pleasantly surprised.
The plot is ramrod straight - five friends venture into the woods and find themselves terrorized by a man-(and woman) eating monster. They eventually hole up with three other survivors in an abandoned house and spend the rest of the movie there attempting various occasionally fatally ill-conceived survival and escape strategies.
The film has the expected tone of all woods survival horrors, throughout I was variously reminded of Evil Dead, Signs, The Descent, Demon Knight, and a lot of the old school animal attack features like Razorback, Alligator, The Edge, Rogue, Lake Placid and Grizzly.
The characters are more interesting than the usual stock group of victims. While they start out clichéd, the script allows them to develop and have a few unexpected moments of humanity and development. You don't care for them as much as you care for, say, the boat crew in Jaws, but you do care for them a little, which is much more than I can say for 99% of creature features out there. They make all the stupid mistakes of course (poor scripting), but the fact that I was saying "that was stupid, why wouldn't they just ..." at least shows I was engaged enough to not check out.
The most refreshing thing was the man-in-a-suit/animatronic monster. I love love love that the filmmakers went this route. They would have never had the budget for a convincing CGI creature and for most of the movie they keep their rubber monster suitably concealed in foliage and shadow that it's quite convincing and scary enough to be fun.
In conclusion, it's flawed, in some places greatly so, but you can see it was trying hard to be a decent horror film instead of a thoughtless straight-to-video flick. The monsters are alright, the cast is alright, the script could be better but at least characters die who you aren't expecting to die. It definitely deserves more than it's current low IMDb score. If you like monster movies at all, you won't be wasting your time with it. 6/10.
Solid as a rock, but too simple and predictable to be great
I'm not sure I've seen a film as satisfyingly simple as 'Flukt' in years.
The year is 1363. The place is Norway, recently decimated by the bubonic plague. A young girl's family is murdered by a group of roving bandits and the girls is taken hostage. With the help of another young girl within the group of bandits, she escapes and the two girls flee across breathtakingly beautiful Norwegian landscapes with the bandits in close pursuit. This, in a nutshell, is the entire movie.
I'm a fan of simple films. I think the present day trend to blend too many subplots leads to 3 hour, convoluted, bloated stinkers (The Dark Knight and Pirates of the Caribbean, I'm looking at you...) but in some ways 'Flukt' was too simple for its own good. I was invested in the wellbeing of the two girls but I never really felt a sense of danger or surprise because the plot played it so safe and trod such predictable ground. You know this is going to turn out okay and even the ways in which the antagonists are dispatched are unfortunately over-telegraphed.
I would have loved to have seen a bit more of an edgy approach to the plot, a few twists and turns that weren't so obvious. But still, it's beautifully shot, beautifully acted, and exciting enough to keep your attention. Also clocking in at only 78 minutes, it's so short that even if you dislike it, you won't feel like you wasted any time.
The Frozen Ground (2013)
Fairly accurate (and hence sometimes dull) true-life serial killer story
The Frozen Ground exists somewhere between an accurate crime procedural documentary and a thrilling Hollywood serial killer flick. It's not quite accurate enough to be taken as a straight retelling of Robert Hansens' diabolical killing spree in 1970s/80s Anchorage; but it's also not quite exciting enough to satisfy viewers who are looking for a faster paced thrill ride. It's quite a brave line to tread really, and although the end-result is a little slow and occasionally dull, it's still intriguing and tense enough to be worth the time. It put me in mind of other slow-burn thrillers such as One Hour Photo and Insomnia. If you liked those, you'll probably like this.
Cage is surprisingly subdued in his role, and it's really nice to see that he can still play a character with softer edges. Cusack is exceptional as Hansen - channeling a subtle menace masked beneath a small-town nice-guy persona. This is far from the Hannibal Lecter or Ted Bundy style psychopath that mainstream thrillers typically portray. Cusack's psychopath is fragile, introverted, human and deeply damaged and although I've never met a psychopath in real life (to the best of my knowledge) this portrayal seems more like what I would expect a real killer to be like.
Rounding out the triad is Vanessa Hudgens as a troubled 18 year old prostitute. Again, this portrayal is very realistic. There's a subtle troubled humanity there and nary a heart of gold in sight.
Because of its concessions to the real events (Hansen was captured and imprisoned, not taken out in a heroic, time-sensitive chase/rescue scene), The Frozen Ground can seem dull and uninspired at times, but if you haven't yet heard the story of Hansen's crimes it's quite an engaging introduction to them.
The Machine (2013)
Beautiful acting and cinematography makes up for a weak plot
You should see The Machine if only for Caity Lotz. I understand she's known for the TV series Arrow, but I've never seen that. I first saw her in 'The Pact' and was intrigued by how grounded and three dimensional a character she managed to create out of fairly average scripted one. In The Machine, she's an absolute revelation, so beautifully machinelike and tragically human at the same time. This is an actress to keep our eyes on, with acting chops like this she's gonna be huge someday.
I like to draw comparisons between movies whenever I can so that readers here have a better sense of what I might like and whether my opinion will be relevant to their tastes. The analogy I would draw here is that 'The Machine' is to 'Blade Runner' what 'Equilibrium' was to 'The Matrix'.
To elaborate - Equilibrium was a somewhat flawed, low-budget carbon-copy of The Matrix yet it was still enjoyable and valid in its own right because of some fine acting, beautiful cinematography, and a few pretty cool action moments. The Machine is in a similar position when compared to Blade Runner. It explores a very similar theme - the line between human and fabricant - and employs a very similar feel with it's bleak, placid tone, haunting synthesizer score, and impressive art direction. It's obviously not as good as Blade Runner - barely any film is - but it is thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless.
The weakest part of the work is the final act, which devolves into a generic low-budget action scene. Caity Lotz is a complete badass to watch and I love my action scenes - but after such a gently paced and thoughtful first two acts, the third seems out of place and forced here. I kind of wish they'd gone for drama instead and maintained the slow-burn nature through to the end - just as Blade Runner did.
Regardless, the weak third act of The Machine isn't enough to topple the outstanding foundation of intriguing concepts and stunning visuals that came before it. This is a film that will find its way onto my sci-fi shelf for sure.
The Colony (2013)
1980s post-apocalyptic actioner masquerading as modern sci-fi
If an old 1980s post-apocalyptic B-movie such as Mad Max 2 or Cyborg were to be put in some sort of stasis (or what we 80s kids called 'Suspended Animation') and revived in the modern era, The Colony would be the result.
The premise is mind-numbingly simple - the world has entered a new ice age and the straggling survivors live in small groups huddled in underground facilities. When one group loses contact with their neighboring colony, a small group of men take off across the frozen wilderness to investigate. They find the other colony has been decimated by a pack of rabid, sharp teethed cannibals. Cue big chase back across the wilderness and then an assault by the cannibals on our protagonists' colony. Oh gosh, will they survive? That's about it.
As a child of the 80s enjoyed this movie. It was simple, unpretentious and fun in a nostalgic kind of way. Done a hundred times before, yes. Borrowing liberally from other movies, absolutely. Tight, intelligent script - hah you gotta be kidding. But a waste of time, no way. The last time I recall a director aiming for this kind of pre-2000s simplicity was Neil Marshall's 2008 Mad Max homage 'Doomsday', which I kind of liked, but I liked The Colony more.
I'm not gonna gush too much - there are plenty of negatives to sink ones teeth into. The director was clearly aiming for a Danny Boyle (Sunshine/28 Days Later) feel but lacks the chops to pull it off and the whole thing does come across a bit like a poor mans imitation. Fishburne is woefully underused and his character could have been played by any actor dragged off the street. Paxton is fine but typecast into his usual antagonist-in-the-midst-of-the-good-guys role. The lead vampire/zombie/cannibal guy is menacing enough but hugely derivative, looking like he fell straight out of Thirty Days of Night.
The simplicity and brain-off vibe satisfied me enough to give it a solid 6, I'd watch it again too, come a night when the wife is out and the beer is in my hand. But I fear that if you didn't grow up with this kind of movie - say you're a child of the early millennium who expects his action movies served up with a big old dollop of convolution, needless subplots and moral ambiguity - then you're not going to enjoy this at all.
The Signal (2014)
Intriguingly creepy beginning. Silly middle. Disappointing end.
Remember when you were watching "Lost" on TV ten years ago (yep it was ten years ago) and you adored the first, and maybe the second, seasons but then partway through the series you started to get the uncomfortable feeling that this wasn't going to be an intelligent, coherently thought-out story at all. That the writers were just making up new questions and cliffhangers as they went along with no intention of answering them in a satisfying or even intelligible way?
The Signal is very much like a condensed version of "Lost" in this respect. It begins slowly, showing great potential for developing intriguing and likable characters. It builds masterfully, layering increasingly creepy and atmospheric events one on top of the other. The average viewer swallows it down readily, reveling in the creepiness, delighted to be taken on an apparently intelligent and thoughtful excursion into sci-fi horror.
Then about 60 minutes in, you start having little conversations with yourself along the lines of "This better have a good explanation at the end". About 75 minutes in and you're starting to get that same sinking feeling you had during "Lost" where you realize it's not going to have a good explanation at all but you're now too invested to just turn it off. You have to continue to the end out just to see how badly you've been conned.
The answer is, pretty badly. By the time The Signal actually takes on its own plot shape (instead of just being a build of odd events) it turns out to be a derivative and nonsensical disappointment with the motivations of the antagonists never explained in any meaningful way. Worse still, there are scripted physics upsets that push far beyond the boundaries of belief and that would elicit a "come on, really!" even from a hardcore anime fan. An example is the alien fists that can pulverize the earth Incredible Hulk style, but with no thought to the fact that the very human shoulder above them would be destroyed long before the ground would, not to mention the fact that any such force comes from waist, shoulder and torso, not fist, for example...
Ultimately The Signal is a big dupe, a tease - pulling you in with a promise of original and intelligent sci-fi but proving to be little more than an exercise in stringing the viewer along sans payoff. If you are one of the rare individuals who can enjoy a movie purely for a journey with no destination, or for the aesthetics and cinematography alone, then you might enjoy it and certainly won't feel like your time was wasted. But if you're the type of person who likes setups paid off, questions answered, motivations explained, even to a tiny degree, then you'll likely be upset by the time the credits roll.
The film falls apart faster than its protagonist
I don't even know where to start on this one except to tell you to take a look at writer/director Eric England's information before you think about watching it. He was born in 1988 which puts him somewhere around 24 or 25 when the movie was made.
That someone so young is writing and directing feature length films is somewhat admirable I suppose, or it would be if the end result wasn't so incredibly naive and so factually inaccurate as to almost be comedic.
If you can get past the idea that a doctor would see a patient who has black infection lines running across their abdomen and who tells him they just bled "a lot" from their vagina, yet not strongly suggest they go to the hospital then you might like this film.
If you can suspend that disbelief for a second visit in which her eyes have bled and her hair and teeth have fallen out and even then the doctor doesn't admit her let alone contact a hemorrhagic disease specialist but instead says "it seems to be sexually transmitted", then you might like this film.
Beyond the worst doctor in motion picture history, the patient herself makes the most bizarre and incomprehensible decisions about her deteriorating condition. If you were trying to hide a one-night stand from a partner because you had a slight rash, maybe... but if you woke in a pool of blood on your bathroom floor, would you not perhaps suck it up and oh, I don't know, GO TO THE ER MAYBE? If I was cutting some slack I would put the characters stupidity down to the disease affecting her mind, but it's way too clear what's going on here - a young, healthy person is trying to write a script about body horror and clearly has no clue what it feels like to make a bathroom discovery such as a lump in the groin. Write what you know, Eric England, golden rule bar none.
The juvenile world view doesn't only break through in the portrayal of the sick protagonist or the misunderstood medical industry, but also rings clear in every other aspect of the screenplay. The character's relationships and arguments are like those of high school teens, oh god the dialogue is excruciatingly awful, and the lesbian relationship portrayed is an embarrassment to the entire LGBT community.
All of this, ALL of it, I would forgive if the film had a modicum of plot advancement or even perhaps an intriguing concept as to what the sickness was or where it came from but absolutely none is offered and as the credit screen hits after the last scene, I can't imagine one person in the viewing audience wouldn't be sitting there saying "What the hell? That's it?"
Look through my reviews. I've been on IMDb a long, long time and I very rarely feel strongly enough about a movie to give it a score of 1. There are virtually no films in existence that make me feel like every moment was a wasted one, but 'Contracted' did. Inconceivably bad. Embarrassingly bad. 1 out of 10 only because the scores can't go lower.