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The Perfection (2018)
Breath of fresh air.
Weird, experimental films are always more satisfying than remakes, sequels, or rehashed ghost stories. I'll take a Velvet Buzzsaw over a Winchester any day. It's no secret that the industry lacks creativity. Thankfully, The Perfection proves that there is plenty of creativity left in the genre, and that there are still some boundaries left to be pushed.
Its narrative goes from strangely compelling to profoundly disturbing. I don't want to spoil anything because the less you know, the better. If you're into bizarre psychological thrillers, The Perfection is one to watch.
Winchester has an interesting story, but it's told in the dullest possible way.
There's a decent story here about an alcoholic living in the Winchester house who can't tell if he's experiencing withdrawals or something supernatural. Jason Clarke plays Dr. Price, who is invited to live in the Winchester house to give Ms. Winchester an ongoing psychological evaluation. Thing is, he's an alcoholic and Ms. Winchester won't allow him to be intoxicated as long as he's living in her house. So when he starts seeing apparitions, are they hallucinations? Are they ghosts? Dr. Price doesn't know and neither do we. Great setup.
But the movie chooses to go the boring route instead. It sidelines the interesting character study for a contrived ghost plot filled with every horror cliché in the book. What would a horror movie be without predictable, lame jump scares. There's not a single decent scare in the entire movie.
Winchester was a frustrating watch. The potential is right there, but it clutches onto these tired horror tropes for dear life - as if a mainstream audience wouldn't appreciate a deeper, more psychological approach to the material over a haphazardly-constructed, derivative, haunted house flick. It's the studio mentality - make it for a million bucks, we make 20 times that. They don't care about the integrity of the script or the material itself, and neither should you. By the way, this is a true story where 98% of the story is made up. Contradiction? No, marketing.
Again, Winchester is not terrible so much as it is frustrating. And boring. Don't bother with this one.
The Runner (2015)
An almost engaging character study brought down by stock writing and uninspired direction.
In The Runner, Nicolas Cage plays a Louisiana politician who has to deal with a sex scandal and other personal issues. His performance is appropriately subdued and introspective; he also uses a Southern accent fairly convincingly. This is as close to watching Cage play Frank Underwood as we will ever get. The supporting cast is good too.
The problems lie in the production value. It looks cheap, the supporting characters are underwritten, and the direction is just baffling. There are so many unnecessary closeups, shot after shot, and it's all flat - no visual flair whatsoever. It doesn't help that the pacing is sluggish, so there's no way for the movie to gather momentum. It starts off running in quicksand and never gets out. There are brief moments where you care about the characters and that's solely because of the actors.
It could have been an engaging character study if there was a liveliness to the filmmaking and some semblance of pace. As far as Nic Cage performances, this is definitely one of his better recent ones. But it's not worth sitting through this slog of a movie.
The Punisher: Nakazat (2019)
Who is John Pilgrim?
Punisher season 2 was off to a rocky start for me. I enjoyed the fight scenes - excellent choreography as usual - but the plot itself was weak. I don't like the idea of Frank having a sidekick, and this girl sucks. Micro worked in season 1 because he was a likable character. I have the same issue with Madoni. She was important in season 1's plot. Here, she's kinda just dragged into it. Lazy writing is what it is.
What holds my interest are the scenes with John Pilgrim. All we know at this point is that he's a religious extremist, he has a sick wife, and seemingly wherever he goes, a bloodbath ensues. He's a breath of fresh air for Marvel villains to say the least. Who would've thought to pit the Punisher against a Da Vinci Code-esque self-loathing missionary with his own private army? What'll happen when he and Frank meet face-to-face? And who the hell really is this guy? (I don't know if Pilgrim is a comic book character, but I figure the less I know right now the better).
The subplot about the blackmail didn't grip me, though Frank's final scene with that Russian guy was great. The worst thing about the season is Jigsaw. Billy Russo was a compelling character with a clear arc. As Jigsaw, he's just an angsty thug who wears a mask because he has some scratches on his face. Hopefully they'll redeem him by the end of the season.
True Crime (1995)
Bottom of the barrel crime thriller.
There's nothing worth seeing here. The plot is generic, the acting is bad, the characters are underwritten, the dialogue is painful, it's full of cliches. The only reason I saw this was because I'm a huge fan of '90s crime thrillers like Se7en and Kiss the Girls, and was hoping this would fall under that umbrella. It technically does genre and plot-wise, but quality-wise, this has to be one of the worst examples of the serial killer subgenre.
Silverstone's stone-faced performance does the movie no favors. At least Dillon knows he's in a trashy movie and his performance is suitably hammy as the mysterious rookie cop. He's also trying to an extent, unlike Silverstone who just looks bored. Watching them exchange dialogue is like watching a brick wall talk to a plastic bag. And their chemistry? Well, it's about as romantic and titillating as Irreversible.
I was at least hoping for some skin - an erotic sex scene to spice things up perhaps - but no, the movie deprived us of even that. There's no entertainment value to be had here. I laughed once, when Dillon first bumps into Silverstone's character and is promptly maced in the face. Though I'm not sure that was meant for laughs.
Again, there's no reason to see this movie, so don't. Watch Se7en again.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
A genuinely solid remake plagued by generic horror tropes.
The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is unbeatable, that's a no-brainer. But as far as unnecessary remakes go, TCM (2003) is among the better ones. It takes the same premise - a group of young adults driving through Texas run into trouble with the wrong family - and tweaks enough plot points to make it stand on its own. It's technically well-made and the acting is good across the board, with R. Lee Ermey as the psychotic sheriff being a clear standout.
The problem here is what plagues most modern horror movies: subtlety, or lack thereof. Any time Leatherface pops on screen, it's accompanied by a loud music sting to let you know that you're supposed to be scared (as if a mongoloid wearing a skin mask wasn't enough of a red flag). It's annoying as hell, especially since you're trying to listen to the soft dialogue and your ears get repeatedly assaulted by the "scary" music. It's also directed in a very traditional way, which isn't a bad thing necessarily; but part of what made the original so effective was Tobe Hooper's ability to make the environment and atmosphere so grimy and authentic that you feel as if these events actually happened. Here, it always feels like you're watching a movie. You can never fully immerse yourself into this world because there's always a jump scare and music sting around the corner to remind you that you're watching a work of fiction.
Again, from a technical standpoint, this is a cut above many horror remakes, and within the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise this is probably the second best after the original. The gore is well done, the characters are somewhat relatable, and there are some genuinely effective creepy moments scattered throughout. If you're looking for a traditional, well-made, brutal slasher flick, TCM (2003) will give you exactly that - nothing more, nothing less.
A flawed but welcome return to form for the franchise, and for slashers in general.
After Resurrection and the Rob Zombie films, it's an understatement to say that Halloween (2018) was a pleasant surprise. Laurie Strode was given the T2 Sarah Connor treatment and is now a formidable badass, having waited forty years for Michael Myers to escape prison so that she can kill him. This is the showdown we've been clamoring for.
If there's one thing Halloween (2018) gets right, it's the protagonist. Laurie Strode is treated with respect here, unlike in other sequels (I'm looking at you, Resurrection). She's been training for forty years, preparing, praying for Michael to break out of prison so she can kill him. Her daughter had to learn how to fight at a very young age, and eventually Laurie was deemed unfit to be a parent. Because of this, they have a strained relationship, and it's believable. There's even a satisfying payoff at the end. Horror filmmakers take note: a little character development goes a long way.
There's also Laurie's granddaughter, and this is where the flaws start to creep in. The teenagers and their drama was the weakest aspect of the movie. Sadly, most of the second act is devoted to these characters that we really don't know or care about. There's Laurie's granddaughter, her boyfriend, the comic relief guy, her ditzy friend, and her friend's boyfriend. That's the extent of their characters. Naturally, they're only there as fodder for Michael (except the boyfriend who mysteriously disappears from the movie), but the fact is that we're wasting time watching these characters interact when there's a much more compelling story on the sidelines.
Comedy is used fairly appropriately in the film, the little boy being the clear standout. But there are a handful of farcical bits that are either ill-timed or simply not funny, or a combination of both. This prevents the movie from developing an overall atmosphere. This isn't so much a problem in the third act, thankfully, but the finale would've been more effective if a bleak atmosphere had been established earlier in the film. A few more wide shots of the streets of Haddonfield in the fall weather; more shots of Michael standing in the background eerily out of focus; limiting the comic relief to one, maybe two characters max; any of these could've been helped.
That's not to say that the direction is poor. Far from it. This is the closest the franchise has felt like a Carpenter movie since the original. Gordon Green does a good job of keeping Michael in the shadows - even unmasked, it's difficult to make out his face. You really get the sense that he is, purely and simply, evil. Background action is also prevalent and well done (as in, there's not a music sting whenever Michael comes into frame). Again, a breath of fresh air after the Zombie films which had the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
This is an excellent sequel to Halloween and a thoroughly enjoyable, well crafted slasher movie on its own. It's wonderful to see the Boogeyman on the big screen again, and now he has finally met his match. Is it a perfect movie? Absolutely not. But Halloween (2018) is something to be celebrated if only for one thing: it proves that slashers can still be scary.
The X Files: Rm9sbG93ZXJz (2018)
An unremarkable ripoff of Black Mirror.
I won't call this an X-Files episode because it's not. It has all the hallmarks of a Black Mirror episode - low on dialogue, high on atmosphere, "technology gone wrong" theme. The X-Files has had anti-technology episodes before (Ghost in the Machine, Kill Switch) and even crossover episodes (Millennium, X-Cops), but those were far more interesting because Mulder and Scully actually had a case to investigate. Here it's just Mulder and Scully doing trivial things and running away from drones.
It's not outright bad, though. The ultimate motive is funny. But the fact is, it's not X-Files. And even as a nameless episode of TV it's derivative, unremarkable, and boring.
It's better than Wrong Turn 3...
Wrong Turn 4 is horror in its most gratuitous and least scary form. It's all shock value - ample nudity, blood, and gore - with no substance behind it. The premise is interesting: a group of hedonists get lost in a blizzard and take shelter in a sanatorium. It just so happens that's where our cannibal friends have been hiding out for the past 30-or-so years. It's a solid, straightforward enough premise in a creepy setting. Sadly, the execution is garbage.
The characters are immeasurably dumb. They have generic dialogue for the sake of saying words, and the decisions they make get stupider and stupider. The actors don't help either. I mean, it's an attractive cast, don't get me wrong. There are even a few lesbian scenes for good measure, and they're by far the most engrossing parts of the movie. It's when the characters start talking to each other that you begin rolling your eyes and cringing.
I'll give credit where credit is due. Wrong Turn 4 is watchable schlock. You can find enjoyment in the stupidity on display here. Also, the ending is very good. Aside from that, this movie is all shock and no awe. For Wrong Turn completists only.
The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)
Mediocre sci-fi horror with the Cloverfield brand tacked on.
Remember "Life", the recent sci-fi horror "Alien" knockoff with a great cast that couldn't compete with its sterile script? "The Cloverfield Paradox" is this year's "Life", except worse.
I'm a sucker for sci-fi horror, so despite the bad reviews I went into this movie with an open mind. Truthfully, it's not terrible, mostly due to the cast. There isn't a weak link in the acting department. No matter how trite or cliché the dialogue is, they deliver it with the necessary gravitas. Sadly, this is a sci-fi horror film, so the bulk of the film's effectiveness lies with the scares. And that's where this movie fails. There was not a single decent scare or even an attempt at building suspense. There could have been tension had the location been bottled in the space station, but the movie cuts to and from an Earth storyline that has absolutely no bearing on the plot whatsoever.
The movie itself makes no sense. It takes a page out of the "Event Horizon" book with the alternate dimensions and whatnot, which is a cool premise. The problem is that as soon as things go awry, the rulebook goes out the window. Things just happen because why the hell not. Chris O'Dowd's arm gets cut off and begins to write a message on its own. Some guy starts convulsing and worms burst out of his face. A stranger suddenly materializes inside one of the space station's walls. "Why?" is a valid question to all of these statements, but the movie has no intention of explaining anything.
Then there's the Cloverfield aspect, which is clearly just tacked on at the end to capitalize on the name. Again, aside from the dedicated cast and some admittedly cool looking deaths, "The Cloverfield Paradox" brings nothing new or interesting to the genre. It's yet another "Alien" derivation with even less to say than the films that came before it.
The Mummy (2017)
Can't decide whether to be a zombie flick, mummy movie, or a Tom Cruise action vehicle, so it does them all. Badly.
The Mummy is one of the rare films that could have benefited from a remake. Sure, Brendan Fraiser's Mummy was campy fun (the sequels not as much), but there's a great horror story in there that wasn't fully explored. Well, this Mummy makes Fraiser's Mummy look like Alien. It can't decide whether to be a zombie flick, Dr. Jekyll origin story, mummy movie, or a Tom Cruise action vehicle, so it does them all. Badly.
After the first thirty-or-so minutes listening to Russel Crowe narrating over an uninteresting flashback of the villain's ancient history, I knew it wouldn't be a great movie. When the terribly miscast Cruise and Jake Johnson exchange cliché banter and survive an air strike, I gleaned that it wouldn't be a good movie either. What dug the nail in the coffin was when Cruise shot a thing that released an ancient mummy god and survived a plane crash without a scratch because he's deemed "the chosen one" and cursed to be the mummy god's lover for eternity. These aren't spoilers, by the way. That's the setup. And it only gets more nonsensical from there.
It's aggravating to watch, in part due to its length. By the third act you're just praying for the movie to be over. This was the first step into Universal's new Dark Universe, and it was a step off a cliff. This movie never should have been made. Don't watch it.
Bill Burr: Walk Your Way Out (2017)
Quality material wasted on a poor audience.
Bill Burr is not the most politically correct comic in the world. So I wonder, why in the hell was this special filmed in Nashville? He's performing jokes about fat people, Kanye West, and Hitler in front of a rural crowd. It's not even about the stereotype - it's about culture. Certain jokes work for certain demographics. Some jokes simply don't connect to particular crowds, and this special is a shining example of having excellent material wasted on a fickle audience.
The content itself is typical Bill Burr. Insane rants about how to solve overpopulation, famous dictators and their kill counts, psychotic stream-of-consciousness ravings on the 2016 presidential election; it's great stuff. It's also relatable to whatever slivers of psychopathy you have floating around in the back of your brain. He put thought into these rants, and they're somewhat rational, in a really demented way. But that's what Bill Burr is all about. Pushing the line of where comedy and reality intersect; challenging people to forget about the politically correct mentality for a minute and to think about what's logical. How do you get rid of overpopulation? Kill a lot of people. Simple. Extreme? Sure, but it's funny and it's true.
Some of his jokes don't land well with the audience. What's great about Bill Burr is how he calls them out on it. He has a good read of the room and can tell when jokes are heading south and when the audience is starting to turn on him, and he immediately picks up on that and fires back. It's a joy to watch. If he had a more receptive audience, I think the overall tone of the special would have been far more upbeat and engaging.
As it is, though, "Walk Your Way Out" is another quality standup special by Burr and is bound to appeal to fans of his cynical brand of humor.
A predictable homage to "Alien," lacking the key ingredients that made "Alien" so terrifying.
"Life" being an "Alien" ripoff should not come as a surprise to anybody; it's been marketed that way since day one. Compared to the majority of what the genre has been spewing out lately, though, a derivative sci-fi thriller can be seen as a breath of fresh air. And in many ways, "Life" succeeds as one. It's fluidly directed, well-acted, sporadically suspenseful, and thoroughly entertaining. The space setting lends itself to impressive visuals and claustrophobic scenarios, of which "Life" has no shortage. The problems with the film lie underneath the surface.
Part of what made "Alien" such a terrifying experience was its bleak atmosphere. The exploration of a cold, desolate, seemingly uninhabitable planet; traversing through the long, white corridors of the ship; the lingering sense of unease, not knowing where the alien was at any given moment. "Life" is more streamlined, its action taking place entirely on board an indistinctive space shuttle. Some scenes serve as clear homages to "Alien," such as David (Jake Gyllenhaal) floating through uncertain corridors mirroring Dallas' maneuvering of the airlocks, and one of the crew members being in isolated danger, forcing the others to decide whether or not to assist them and risk endangering the rest of the crew. These scenes work well enough to generate a modicum of suspense, but their impact is severely reduced because of the fact that we've seen it before. It's difficult to be truly scared when you know exactly what's going to happen to who and when.
Perhaps the biggest issue with "Life" is its characters. None of them have distinct personalities; we're hardly given a chance to get to know them. Some of the most effective scenes in "Alien" were simply watching the crew sitting around and chatting - we saw how they interacted with each other under normal circumstances, we noticed their quirks firsthand, we understood what their priorities were early on; so when crap started hitting the fan, those subtle characterizations made the tension all the more visceral and relatable. In "Life," we're introduced to caricatures who spout bland dialogue and do consistently stupid things. All we really know about them is their jobs, so you don't feel an impact when any particular character bites it.
Still, "Life" is too well-made to be completely dismissed. Sci-fi horror fans will likely find enjoyment from a one-time watch, if only for the constant callbacks to "Alien." It fails to break any new ground, but it's a perfectly serviceable and moderately thrilling addition to the genre.
Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort (2014)
Takes a promising premise and butchers its execution.
The fact that Wrong Turn became a franchise in the first place is baffling, not that I'm complaining. The original was essentially The Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets The Hills Have Eyes, and it was great for what it was, but hardly original enough to warrant the franchise treatment. Then it got an action-packed, direct-to-video sequel featuring Henry Rollins kicking all sorts of inbred cannibal ass, and it was awesome. Then the sequels kept coming and coming; Wrong Turn 4 has some merit in its own trashy sort of way, but 3 and 5 are among the worst "films" ever made. So going into Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort, you know not to expect top shelf cinema. But at the very least, you hope for some camp value, gratuitous nudity, and brutal kills.
Wrong Turn 6 tries something unique to the franchise, though: a psychological angle. It's a story about a guy who inherits a large mansion from an unknown relative, and the mansion turns out to be the home and breeding grounds for the grotesque inbred cannibals we've come to know and love. The psychological aspect comes into play with the mansion's caretakers, distant relatives to the protagonist, and how they gradually lure him away from the reality that he once knew, represented by his oblivious group of friends, and eventually seduce him into their demented family culture. It's quite disturbing actually, and there are plenty of wince-inducing scenes here. The problem is the writing, directing, and acting - the bare necessities for a good film.
The dialogue is horrendous; sadly, not in a so-bad-it's-funny sort of way. Things aren't much better acting-wise. It's not like great actors could have done much with a script like this, but these people are so unconvincing in their performances that the dialogue-driven scenes become downright aggravating to sit through. The sole exception is Sadie Katz as the caretaker Sally, who gives an unsettlingly sensual conviction to her character. She's by far the most alluring part of the film and deserves props for adding some credibility to the otherwise irredeemably bland cast. In regards to the directing, it can feel like you're watching a soft-core porn in one scene and then a graphic, torture-porn ridden snuff film in another. This may be due to the writing, but there's not even an attempt at building suspense. It just transitions from scene to scene with no regard to consistency in tone, pacing, or atmosphere; until finally, the movie ends.
Again, there are admittedly great ideas buried under the disastrous execution. The plot is a nice change of pace for the series, the deaths are gruesome, and the ending is no doubt unnerving. Sadly, Wrong Turn 6 is bereft of production value, and the subject matter is too bleak to be enjoyed in a campy, fun way. It's a dreary exercise in gratuity; from the glorious nudity to the grisly gore, it's all shock and no awe. If you've seen the previous five installments, you might as well watch this one - it's a hell of a lot better than 5. But don't go in hoping for a return to the schlocky entertainment value of 2 or the genuine terror of the original because you sure as hell won't find either in Wrong Turn 6.
Enemies Closer (2013)
Van Damme is having a blast; he's the only reason to watch this.
Van Damme is one of the few big action stars today whose acting actually improves over time. Back in his Kickboxer days, he had some unintentionally hilarious line-readings, but he always had a boyish charm that helped keep his movies afloat even when there wasn't any action happening on the screen. Now, he's a perfectly capable, legitimate actor. His English has improved immensely which has a lot to do with it, but you can tell that he still has a genuine passion for acting (unlike guys like Bruce Willis who look bored whenever they're on camera). Enemies Closer sees Van Damme as a villain once again playing Xander, who looks like a French-Canadian Joker esque madman, and he milks the role for all it's worth. He's a joy to watch. Whether he's barking orders to his henchmen or whimsically taunting the protagonist, Van Damme is eccentric and arresting for every moment that he's on screen. When he's not on screen, the life is sucked right out of the movie.
Everything else about this movie is bad. The protagonist is terrible, the dialogue is cringeworthy, every plot development feels forced and fabricated, even the lighting stood out to me as being exceptionally awful. You can barely see what the hell's going on half the time. The fight scenes, when they do happen, are entertaining enough. They're haphazardly edited though, which makes it hard to focus on anything for longer than half a second. And again, whenever Van Damme isn't on screen, the movie's momentum grinds to a dead stop. It's like watching a stage play and Van Damme is the hammy over-the-top lead gleefully dancing around the stage while everyone else is standing still in the background drearily reading off of cue cards.
If you're a die-hard Van Damme fan, go ahead and fast-forward through every scene he's not in. You won't miss anything important and you'll save yourself a lot of cringing and facepalming. His entrance and exit scenes in the film are particularly memorable and he's given a couple of fun villainous monologues. It's hard to fully enjoy Enemies Closer as a B-movie because it's so sloppy and gloomy; it never knows what tone to go for. And it doesn't help that none of the actors share the same conviction as Van Damme. The movie is mercifully short though, so if you are in the mood to watch Van Damme play the Joker and don't mind sitting through some atrocious dialogue-driven scenes, Enemies Closer isn't the worst way to spend 85 minutes.
Wolf Creek (2016)
Plagued with inconsistencies, though it's undeniably great to see Mick Taylor again.
Mick Taylor is a hidden gem in the serial killer horror genre. An Australian marksman who prowls the outback looking for unsuspecting tourists to unleash his brand of sadistic torture and psychological mind games upon. This monster of a human is played to perfection by John Jarratt, and from his dirty hat to his terrifyingly sardonic laugh, you don't disbelieve for a moment that this guy is bad news. This TV mini-series had a lot of potential to become a yearly vehicle showcasing Mick Taylor's crusades against a wide variety of victims. The first season delivers a modicum of brilliance you'd expect from another Wolf Creek installment, followed by inconsistencies and unnecessary plot points that drag down what we really want to see in Wolf Creek - Mick Taylor in his native glory.
The premiere's pre-credit sequence sets up the season in a superb fashion. It mirrors some of the greatest moments from the Wolf Creek films; Mick Taylor sharing an innocent chat with his unknowing victims, cracking jokes, laughing inappropriately, and sharing hunting stories to earn their trust before he strikes. Unfortunately, nothing else in the season lives up to the first twenty or so minutes. The final showdown in particular is an enormous disappointment, feeling highly derivative of the movies and severely lacking in tension. This is mainly because the final episode delves into Mick's backstory, a huge no-no for horror villains. In fact, the flashbacks to Mick's childhood reminded me a lot of Rob Zombie's Halloween, which is a terrible, terrible thing. We don't need to know Mick Taylor grew up in a broken home (i.e. why he's doing what he's doing) for him to be scary. He's already bloody terrifying. The less we know about him, the more psychotic he seems, and the finale sucked all the intrigue away by force-feeding us his backstory through broken flashbacks and breaking the tension building in the main narrative in the process.
Aside from Jarratt's arresting performance, the acting is nothing to write home about. The protagonist is bland; she runs into forgettable characters in her journey to search for the man who killed her family. The officer investigating the case could have been handled much better, and he's given subplots that do absolutely nothing to advance the plot (e.g. his family life). As it is, the only reason to watch Wolf Creek is to see Mick Taylor, and aside from the beginning and end, you don't see very much of him. It makes me yearn for Wolf Creek 2's approach of having the entire story revolve around him, since that's far more interesting than him sitting on the sidelines for the majority of the story while we follow a boring heroine run around the continent searching for him.
Hopefully the second season, or third movie, gives Jarratt the screen time he rightfully deserves. I'd support a Luther-esque approach in a second series; maybe have Mick terrorize a certain set of victims for a couple episodes, then move on to another group for the next two, then another, etc. Following one character for over five hours is simply not engaging enough, especially when one of horror's greatest and most charismatic antagonists is involved. If you're a fan of the Wolf Creek movies, I'd recommend watching the first episode and stopping there. It's not a bad series by any means, it just hasn't found its proper footing yet. Hopefully it's given the chance to; or maybe Mick Taylor is just better suited for the big screen.
The Conjuring 2 (2016)
A rare horror sequel that delivers the same quality scares as its predecessor, courtesy of returning puppeteer James Wan.
The Conjuring was a shocking horror film. It combined every creepy trope you can think of (ghosts, dolls, music boxes, mirrors, you name it), and it actually worked thanks to a genre-savvy director behind the curtains. James Wan has proved himself a capable producer on projects such as Saw and Insidious, and with The Conjuring, he cemented himself as a master of the genre. It had the perfect amalgam of horror tropes crafted in such a way that felt as fresh and spine-tingling as classic haunted house movies did in the '80s. The Conjuring 2 is another "based on true events" tale that has us follow expert paranormal investigators, the Warrens, this time solving the mystery of the Enfield Haunting.
Similar to the Amityville Haunting, the Enfield Haunting sees an English family plagued with a poltergeist that doesn't seem to enjoy the presence of anyone in the house. What The Conjuring 2 succeeds at is giving us both character development and another great story, which is exactly what a good sequel should do. The acting is uniformly great, but the true star of the film is James Wan. His shots are designed in a way to imbue dread and stir it around our heads for a while before hitting us with the scare. That's what true horror lacks these days, patience. The longer the anticipation is built and the more atmosphere is created, the more unsettling the situation becomes until it's like a ticking time bomb that you anxiously wait to go off. It uses familiar tropes, such as self-starting children's toys, slamming doors, and smashing furniture, but they're used as tools to mask the truly frightening fact that this family is up against something utterly beyond their control - they're hopeless, and we can feel it.
Mind you, The Conjuring 2 isn't without its faults. The runtime is a blatant offender. Pushing the 2-hour mark is never a good idea for a horror film, and some fat definitely could have been trimmed. There are a handful of cheap scares, audio scares to be precise - when the music gets extremely loud all of a sudden and you find yourself more annoyed than scared, quickly reaching for the remote to turn the volume down at the risk of enduring another ear drum shattering noise. It also doesn't feel as unique as its predecessor, understandably due to the very nature of sequels, but there are moments that drag on long enough to remind you that the first Conjuring didn't have these plodding plot points. For example, it takes about an hour for the Warrens to even get to England. Also, while in the haunted house, they're able to sleep through some horrifying sounds that would snap a bear right out of hibernation. But these dull spots and plot inconsistencies are few and far between.
The Conjuring 2 is how a horror sequel should be done. It's slick, stylish, fun, and at times, quite terrifying. When a horror movie makes me want to turn on the lights as I go roaming around the house at night, I consider that a job well done. The Conjuring 2, well done.
Sinister 2 (2015)
Scare-free cash grab that killed the possibility of a great franchise.
Sinister was one of the scariest horror movies of the past decade for me. Was it perfect? Absolutely not, but it got the basics of the genre right. The atmosphere was brooding, the imagery was disturbing, the pacing was deliberately slow, the acting was convincing, the suspense was constantly lingering, the scares were genuine, and you were on the same page as the protagonist the entire time. Sinister 2 cheapens everything that made the first film effective. Chilling atmosphere? Gone. Interesting characters? Nope. Good scares? Not a one.
Sinister 2 spoon-feeds everything to you in the clunkiest, most annoying way possible. For starters, this movie is a prime example of why I generally hate kid actors. A good chunk of the story revolves around these two brothers and how the ghost children are leading them into the Boogey-world or whatever it's called, and their acting is horrendous. Some scenes are just the kids talking back and forth and it's painful to sit through. Also, the creepy 8mm tapes are blatantly shoehorned into this movie because, hey, they worked in the first one so we gotta throw them in here. In the first Sinister, Ellison had to watch these tapes because it was part of his job. He was investigating the murders and was forced to sit through these horrific tapes to find clues to help him (and the audience) learn about what was happening. Here, the evil kids lure one of the human kids into the basement and say, "Hey, watch this! Or else..." So the kid watches the tapes, and they serve absolutely no purpose other than to show gratuitous violence for the sake of having gratuitous violence. None of it is scary or disturbing on a personal level because it's such a sloppy plot device that breaks up the momentum of the main story.
The main story isn't good either. Their mother is hiding out from her abusive ex-husband, another cheap plot device that adds nothing to the story other than to have a detestable character to root against. He shows up to make everyone agitated and mad, literally, that's his sole contribution to the movie. The deputy from the first Sinister is the only recurring character, and he's likable enough. In fact, the chemistry between the deputy and the mother is the best part of the movie. If they had developed their characters more and focused on them investigating the mystery behind these tapes, it could have been a serviceable sequel. But no, the kids take center stage here and make it excruciatingly hard to care about anything going on.
Mr. Boogie also takes center stage, dressed to the nines (like any great horror movie villain), popping up here and there with his long hair and suit looking like Michael Jackson. It becomes a joke after a while, and not a funny one. Jump scares are scattered throughout like a minefield and you're just waiting for them to go off. Nothing in this movie works. It's aggravating to know this is the sequel to Sinister because it ruins the possibility of a franchise. Sinister 2 should have never been made, and if you haven't seen it, then pretend it doesn't exist. Sinister stands on its own, while Sinister 2 lays in the pile of pointless, unwanted, cash grab horror sequels that deserve to be erased from human history.
The Trust (2016)
A farcical heist movie led by the erratic Nic Cage we know and love.
Cage has been on a dry run for the past few years. Not only has he been starring in mediocre-bad movies, but he hasn't had a chance to be as fun and eccentric as we know he can be. It's like he's been on downers for a while, and now with The Trust, he finally got off those meds. This is the Nicolas Cage we love - silly, unpredictable, and hilarious. His antics aren't overbearing either thanks to co-lead Elijah Wood, who is the stoner counterpart to Cage and loosely serves as the voice of reason. The plot of The Trust is that Cage and Wood are cops who couldn't care less about their jobs and wind up stumbling across a drug operation that leads them to a secret vault. Then they decide to rob the place.
It starts off as an off-beat comedy. Cage and Wood share a brilliant rapport making it easy to gloss over the film's shortcomings. Then in the third act things become strangely dark and the fun lackadaisical tone drifts away. But until then, The Trust is a pleasant surprise with more depth than you'd think. The film is loaded with issues - the clunky narrative and inconsistent tone - but for Cage fans who are jonesing for a fix, The Trust will surely fill that void and at the very least provide a few good laughs.
Deepwater Horizon (2016)
Gripping and realistic, Deepwater Horizon works both as an enlightening documentary and a fun blockbuster.
Deepwater Horizon is a movie that succeeds on two levels: as an action-packed blockbuster and as an honest depiction of a tragic disaster. It's the story of the BP oil rig that exploded and contaminated the Gulf of Mexico. The way Berg directs the sequence of events is well paced and purposefully developmental for a good chunk of the movie. It takes about 45 minutes before the crap hits the fan, during which we're allowed time to get to know the characters - their quirks, their personalities - so we can empathize with their situation. The stakes feel real, as they should (and were), which is a testament to the directing and the acting. Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Russell dominate in their roles, Russell given the opportunity to remind us why he's one of the biggest stars ever. The supporting cast is excellent, including John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez, and Dylan O'Brien, who have chemistry and rapport between other characters (Malkovich and Russell sharing a couple intense moments where not a word is said).
The disaster itself is portrayed brilliantly. The tone remains frantic and the stunning special effects work puts it over the edge. Once things go south, it's a nonstop adrenaline rush till the end. The only reason it's not rated higher is because it's merely a depiction of events, nothing groundbreaking or revolutionary in regards to storytelling. But it didn't have to be. This was a tragic event and the gritty realism shown here is as refreshing as it is intense. If you're in the mood for a deeper-than-average thrill-ride, look no further than Deepwater Horizon.
The Gunman (2015)
Awfully boring action flick that features more talent than it deserves.
The Gunman is the epitome of wasting talent. It has Sean Penn in a Liam Neeson-type veteran badass role with Javier Bardem and Idris Elba as supporting characters, which sounds great. The problem is the script is an absolute disaster, and the movie gets worse and worse as it goes on. It's just so boring. The story is Sean Penn's character and some other guys get together for a contract killing or something like that, then years later people from the job start getting killed off and Penn has to figure out what's going on.
First of all, there's only a handful of shootouts in this movie. You'd think there'd be more of a focus on guns because of the title, but it really is just another generic action movie with a stupid love triangle and horrible dialogue. And even when there is an action sequence it's just like, whatever, nothing I haven't seen before. Why in the world Idris Elba is in this movie is beyond me. He doesn't show up for over an hour into the thing and has maybe five minutes of total screen time. Javier Bardem is completely wasted coming off of a magnetic performance in Skyfall. And Sean Penn is really ripped. That's probably the biggest takeaway you'll get from this movie.
The Gunman is complete garbage and no one should ever be subjected to watching this. It gets a 3 for potential and even that's being generous.
Spooks: The Greater Good (2015)
Frequently dull and derivative spy romp.
Action is a genre that hinges solely on entertainment value. Even if it's a blatantly dumb plot and objectively not that great, something like Machete or Bullet to the Head, you can still have fun watching it and appreciate it for its pure insanity. MI-5 lies on the opposite side of the action spectrum. It tries to be serious and dark and much smarter than it actually is. This sucks the atmosphere dry and leaves you with a bland, brooding, and tasteless thriller with little to no thrills.
The movie starts off with a criminal escort gone wrong and develops into an espionage mission that can only be done by a specific agent who was kicked off the force, Will Holloway played by Kit Harrington. I can't fault any of the actors here because these characters are paper thin. They're just either giving orders or receiving orders or having secrets meetings or reciting some other form of lifeless expository dialogue for a majority of the movie. There's no chemistry between anyone, they have no development whatsoever. It just doesn't look like anyone is having fun. And with a script like that, how can you blame them.
There is a sleek, glossy feel about MI-5, which is one of the few positive things about it. Kit Harrington is a badass in general and it's nice to see him in a modern action setting. Unfortunately, the action in this movie is so scarce and underwhelming, it's hard to even call it an action movie. Instead of exciting action sequences, we're left with cliché double-crosses and triple-crosses and back stabs that no one cares about because none of the characters are engaging in the first place.
MI-5 is kind of like background music. It's not gripping and won't get your adrenaline pumping, but it's quite harmless to have on. It's just completely run-of-the-mill, linear storytelling that takes a page out of every spy book and streamlines it all into a two hour film. Kit Harrington can certainly be an action star, but this is not the proper vehicle to showcase his talents. MI-5 is a miss.
Child 44 (2015)
There is greatness here, muddled by inconsistency and superfluous subplots.
This is a movie I've kept my eye on ever since it was revealed. Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman are two of my favorite working actors, and having them co-lead a Russian serial killer film seemed like a slam dunk. Unfortunately, Child 44 is not the slam dunk it could have been. It has the talent, it has the story (based on the best-selling novel); all the ingredients necessary for greatness are there. But it also has a plethora of baggage that bogs it down to mediocrity.
Tom Hardy is the star of the film through and through. It's a story about his family life and professional life clashing over the case of a dead child. The officials want to pass it off as a train accident, but witnesses swear that it was a homicide. As more and more bodies start turning up and the higher-ups continue to look away, it's up to Hardy to find the killer and bring him to justice. Again, the acting in this film is great, as is the story. The problem is the way it's presented. Half of the movie is focused on the serial killer angle and Hardy's character going through the loops of finding the right person to help him on the case, and the other half is about Soviet officials exiling his family and stripping him of power for his disobedience. The way these stories intertwine is messy and confusing, for a number of reasons.
For starters, the tone is all over the place. What should be a dark, gloomy mystery among the cold streets of Soviet Russia ends up as a haphazardly arranged domestic dispute due to political interference with a child murderer lurking around somewhere. There's no time for momentum to build when it's constantly changing course. Gary Oldman being billed a co-lead is a huge stretch. He's in the movie for about 20 minutes total and his character doesn't do much to further the story. Mind you, it's Gary Oldman so he gives a fine performance, but as someone who was looking forward to Hardy and Oldman sharing the scene for two plus hours, I was disappointed to say the least.
And then there's the practical aspect. Hardy and Oldman are accent chameleons, there's no doubt about that. I didn't even know Oldman was British until I saw him in an interview. But why on earth are these Russian soldiers speaking to each other in English? For a wider audience no doubt, but it's such a basic matter of common sense that it bugged me continuously throughout the film. It's also far too long. A serial killer hunt stretched over the course of two hours and 15 minutes is exhausting. The tension becomes less and less dire as the movie progresses until you're just waiting for it to end.
Child 44 isn't a bad movie, but its flaws are glaring. It's not the dark, edgy thriller you'd expect. In fact, to call it a thriller would be a misnomer. Child 44 is a tone-deaf political drama filled to the brim with wasted potential.
Victor Frankenstein (2015)
A predictable, perfunctory retelling of a renowned tale.
Everyone knows the story of Frankenstein, whether or not you've seen the films. A mad scientist named Victor von Frankenstein, with help from his friend Igor, manage to reanimate a corpse consisting of different parts from different bodies. A monster, if you will. From a storytelling perspective, Victor Frankenstein is as run-of-the-mill as you can get. The only unique aspect is that it's told from Igor's perspective, which isn't much different since Victor is still a large part of the story. We all know what's going to happen. Even the first line is, "You know this story," and it proceeds to tell it to us again. The only conceivable reason I can think for this movie's existence is for the performances. James McAvoy is excellent as the mad genius, and Radcliffe does a fine job as his right-hand man. Andrew Scott is always nice to see, playing another antagonistic role as the inspector assigned to Frankenstein's case. And Charles Dance makes a small cameo for some reason as Victor's disapproving father. But the bulk of the movie revolves around Victor and Igor, as you can imagine, and it's exactly what you would expect, beat by beat.
Victor Frankenstein is not a bad movie in the traditional sense. If this was the first telling of this story, it would be a perfectly serviceable standalone film. But since it's so well-known, nothing about Victor Frankenstein is memorable. It's just the same narrative with different actors playing it out. No surprises, no innovations, no purpose. Just a talented cast reenacting a renowned tale.
Game of Thrones: Mother's Mercy (2015)
Noticeably rushed, bloated, and high on shock-value, Mother's Mercy is the weakest GoT finale yet.
Game of Thrones is a show I've been binging the past few weeks. Needless to say, I'm awestruck. By its beauty in creating this rich fantasy world, by its strict attention to detail, by its clever storytelling, deep characters, and superb acting. Simply everything about this show has kept me locked in. At least, until the fifth season. I was becoming wary of the show's quality up until the episode Hardhome, which featured one of the greatest television scenes I've experienced in recent memory. It was then that my fears of an inferior season were gone. Most seasons up until this point have been slow burns, only elevating to epic heights in its final few episodes, and this season seemed no different. Unfortunately, the finale left a lot to be desired. While it's extraordinary by other TV standards, it's not up to par with previous finales and its flaws are too glaring to ignore.
The writing in this episode feels choppy. There are so many story lines the show juggles simultaneously, and this is the only episode where I noticed it jumping from one story to the next, to the next, with little to no cohesion or fluidity. It's quite jarring, especially since many story lines come to an end in this episode. Moments that should feel impactful and dire merely come across as lazy and perfunctory. Arya's arc in this season essentially went nowhere, which was disappointing. Daenerys' scene was pointless and overlong, not to mention underwhelming following her epic actions in the previous episode. These scenes served little more than to break up the rest of the episode's momentum, offering no closure to the characters themselves, which is a shame considering how much I love them.
Mother's Mercy does a few things right. Cersei's arc this season was one that came full circle in the most sensible and righteous way possible. She was finally stripped of power and forced to present her naked self to her people, both figuratively and literally. It was a heartbreaking scene, not because she didn't deserve it, but because of how raw and desperate Cersei has become. She was no longer the manipulative, conniving bitch we've come to know and love (to hate). Rather, she's presented a vulnerable wretch for the entire city to see. It's a powerful scene and one of the season's arcs that actually worked. Stannis also has his comeuppance, and although it makes sense from a practical standpoint, it's unfortunate that his character had to meet such a disgraceful end. He had become one of my favorite characters, and it was sad to see it all go to waste due to his stubbornness and failure to trust in himself. Though, from a character standpoint, these always were his weaker traits and it made sense that they'd result in his downfall.
Jon Snow is the real talking point of the episode, and after watching the episode, I was speechless. I was seething at the fact that they killed off his character, the last of the Stark sons (not including the children), who has become the most honorable and likable character on the show. But again, from a practical standpoint, it makes perfect sense that his honor ended up getting him killed by his own people. From the point of view of the Night's Watch, Jon was a traitor, putting the lives of their enemies ahead of their own. However, as sensible as it may be, his death still infuriates me. He was a cornerstone of the show and I can't imagine it being the same without him.
These pivotal scenes worked on their own, but in the context of this episode, their power was dampened. It was scene after scene of tying up loose ends, and after a while it became desensitizing. Still, the production value and performances alone elevate the episode into being a great watch. On the lower end of the GoT spectrum, sure. Shocking and infuriating, absolutely. But well-made television nonetheless.