It can be difficult to remember, living as we do in the age of franchises and cinematic universes, but there was a time not so long ago when the notion of ongoing sequels was viewed with indifference or even outright disdain.

For a long time, the sequel was largely considered the realm of shlock, an effort to cash in on low-rent continuations of genre series. It used to be a joke; now, it’s a mainstream business model (and a massively successful one at that).

Take “Halloween,” for instance. John Carpenter’s 1978 slasher was an instant horror classic, its murderous villain as relentless as he was inscrutable. But that film’s success led to a spate of sequels, creating a tangled and often incomprehensible web of expansive and self-contradictory lore. Ironic, considering that the initial film’s success was built upon the idea that we didn’t know anything about the why of the killer.

We got half-a-dozen films from that franchise, followed by two films that retconned away all but the first two entries, followed by a pair of hybrid remake/reimagining offerings courtesy of Rob Zombie, followed by a sequel trilogy that retcons the entire continuity and throws out everything but the first film.

That’s where we’re at now, at the end of that sequel trilogy. They say that all good things must end, but if “Halloween Ends” is any indicator, bad things end too.

David Gordon Green is the man calling the shots in the trilogy – he directed this film, as well as previous installments “Halloween” (2018) and “Halloween Kills” (2021), while also co-writing the script with Danny McBride and others – and the returns have most certainly been diminishing, with the first film being quite good, the second film being OK and this third film being … something.

What is clearly intended to be a closing of the book is instead a haphazard and messy collection of illogical leaps and twists, with very little of the perceived closure being the least bit earned. “Halloween” was never about the “why” – or at least, it was never supposed to be – but Green and company get lost in that why, resulting in plot developments that at times border on the nonsensical. In all the ways that matter, it’s a sad and ultimately unsatisfying conclusion.

Published in Movies

Everything old is new again.

That adage is as true in Hollywood as it is anywhere, with studios and streamers clamoring for content that is reflective – directly or indirectly – of that which has come before. Franchises rule the box office and it seems that you can’t turn around without seeing another reboot/remake/reinvention of this, that or the other thing.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that we’ve gotten a new “Hellraiser.” After all, the recent “Halloween” sequel trilogy has been wildly successful, we’ve gotten new versions of just about every slasher movie under the sun … honestly, the only real shock is that it took this long for us to get another “Hellraiser.”

The Hulu offering takes us back to the source material, adapting the 1986 Clive Barker novella “The Hellbound Heart” that served as the basis for 1987’s Barker-helmed “Hellraiser.” This new version is directed by David Bruckner, with the screenplay adaptation courtesy of Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski.

And it’s … meh.

The primary reason that the first “Hellraiser” was such a success, going on to inspire nine sequels before this new entry, is the fundamentally transgressive nature of the thing. That film was unsettling and challenging in ways to which audiences were not accustomed; however, envelope pushing is a LOT different nearly four decades later. We’ve seen it all before, and unfortunately, this new “Hellraiser” doesn’t seem to have anything to add to the conversation.

Oh, sure, there are some moments of well-executed gore and a couple of solid fan service moments, but the truth is that the whole thing is well … a bit dull, actually, which is the last thing anyone should want to hear about a horror movie – particularly one that remakes a classic. It all feels rote and vaguely sanitized, failing to clear the admittedly high bar.

Published in Movies

There’s something fascinating about watching a new generation make its way onto film. Time’s march is inevitable, so it stands to reason that new cohorts will become focal points of the movies being made. And each of those cohorts will bring a new and different energy to the stories being told, both in terms of style and of substance.

One could argue that we’re currently witnessing a transitional period wherein the Gen-Z crowd is beginning to see itself on the big screen. This is a generation that was shaped more fully by the internet than any that came before, people whose lives have been lived online as much as off – reductive, I know, but as shorthand, it’ll do.

“Bodies Bodies Bodies,” the English-language directorial debut of acclaimed Dutch actor Halina Reijn, is a horror/comedy that places the young people of Generation Z in the center of the frame, skewering the social mores – or lack thereof – of that group with pitch black humor and razor-sharp satire, powering it all with a collection of strong performances.

The screenplay, as adapted by Sarah DeLappe from a short story by Kristen Roupenian, is a dense collection of rapid-fire banter, equal parts clever and cutting, all flying forth from the mouths of a group of self-obsessed and deeply unlikeable characters. It’s a movie unafraid to plumb the shadows, both literally and figuratively, as it deconstructs the disconnect cultivated by those whose existences are defined not by who they are, but how they are seen.

Published in Movies

Sometimes, you just know that you’re going to like a movie. You hear the basic concept, you learn who’s involved, maybe you catch a trailer or two and boom – you’re in.

That’s how I felt when I first learned about “Day Shift,” the new film currently streaming on Netflix. Jamie Foxx and Dave Franco are hunting vampires? And Snoop Dogg is in it? Directed by stunt legend J.J. Perry in his directorial debut, it’s a high-octane genre mashup, bringing together action, horror and comedy to create a fast-paced, funny entertainment experience.

For me, it’s an easy call. You’ve got elaborate action sequences. You’ve got over the top gore. You’ve got banter and jokes. And you’ve got a trailer that prominently features one of my favorite actresses (and human beings) tearing s—t up as a vampire. Of COURSE I liked it. What’s not to like?

This movie is big and broad in the ways that we want movies to be big and broad. This is pedal-to-the-metal entertainment, pure and simple – and it is one hell of a good time.

Published in Movies
Monday, 25 July 2022 14:14

Say yes to ‘Nope’

Genre movies have long been used as delivery mechanisms for larger, deeper ideas. Sure, there are plenty that are essentially entertainment for the sake of entertainment, but for many filmmakers, the trappings of genre – sci-fi, horror, noir, Western, you name it – have provided an outlet to express insights regarding the world in which we live.

One could argue that no contemporary filmmaker has embraced that ethos as fully as Jordan Peele. His latest film is “Nope,” a sci-fi/horror/comedy mashup that has a lot to say about the evolution of our relationship to the entertainment we consume (and that, one could argue, consumes us in return). It’s a clever and weird throwback of a film, one clearly enamored with the sci-fi and monster movies of the mid-20th century even as it offers thoughts on entertainment writ large, both in the present day and in its embryonic beginnings.

Of course, while big themes and big ideas are great and all, they don’t really matter if the delivery system isn’t up to par. What Peele has done with “Nope,” just as he did with his previous two efforts “Get Out” and “Us,” is package his insights in a well-made and entertaining movie. And while this newest film is perhaps a bit shaggier and more challenging to parse, there’s no denying that he is an exceptional craftsman as both a writer and a director. That craft is on full display here.

(Note: This is a difficult film to synopsize without spoilers. I will do my best, but apologies in advance if I misstep.)

Published in Movies

It’s always a thrill when those whose work you admire have new projects coming. It’s a chance to experience again the quality that these individuals and/or entities bring to the table. And when they start combining forces, you cross your fingers that the resultant increase will be exponential rather than geometric.

Turns out, we’re all in luck when it comes to the new film “The Black Phone.”

First of all, it’s based on a short story by Joe Hill. Source material: check. Next, the film is directed by Scott Derrickson, from a script he co-wrote with C. Robert Cargill. Filmmakers: check. And the whole thing is brought to you by Jason Blum and the folks at Blumhouse. Production team: check.

Add it all up and you’re looking at a project that appears, at least on paper, to be poised to give you that exponentially expansive quality. That said, movies aren’t just what’s on paper – in the end, the execution has to be there. Is it?

Oh brother, you better believe it.

“The Black Phone” is a marvelous work of throwback horror, a film that blends a ‘70s B-movie vibe with a modern sensibility. That combination results in a wonderfully spooky creepfest, a film that uses elements of the supernatural to evoke scares that remain firmly rooted in reality. It’s rare for a horror movie to pull off “less is more” while also finding moments to go big; this one makes it look easy. It is unsettling, unrelenting … and unforgettable.

Published in Movies
Monday, 23 May 2022 15:09

Yes, all ‘Men’

Good horror movies find ways to scare you. Great horror movies dig into why you’re scared. And the very best horror movies use well-executed scares and the thoughtfully-explored reasons behind them to comment on larger ideas and issues.

Misogyny and its impact are often found front and center in horror movies. From the very beginning, horror has displayed an awareness of the underlying societal struggle of women, though not always in a positive way – many films, particularly early on, exploited and weaponized the perceived cultural shortcomings of women, taking unsavory advantage of the power imbalance. That said, we have seen a more nuanced approach from some genre filmmakers as the years have passed. Not across the board, mind you – there are still plenty of reductive, regressive creators out there – but it’s better now than it was.

That brings me to “Men,” the new film from writer/director Alex Garland. The genre auteur has crafted a stunning and unsettling piece, one that burrows into the misogyny – both external and internal – with which women are too often confronted, all set against a deceptively idyllic backdrop whose bleakness can only be seen (at least at first) lurking in the shadows. Physical shadows, yes … but also shadows of the psyche.

Garland’s propensity for idiosyncratic and intense visuals is in full effect, counterbalancing the pastoral countryside with a lurid sinisterness lurking just beneath the surface. Rich and vivid and visceral, “Men” has a look that matches the conflicted chaos that lies at the heart of its unconventional narrative.

Published in Movies
Monday, 16 May 2022 14:55

‘Firestarter’ a lukewarm remake

Stephen King is having a … well, what exactly? It’s hard to call it a moment when it feels like we’ve been watching a steady stream of adaptations of his work for years now. And you can’t really call it a Renaissance or a comeback, if only because his popularity never really waned in any real way.

Anyway – whatever it is, he sure is having it.

The latest adaptation (or re-adaptation) is “Firestarter,” based on King’s 1980 novel. This new film – directed by Keith Thomas from a screenplay by Scott Teems – is the second cinematic adaptation of the work, following the 1984 version that, among other things, helped catapult young Drew Barrymore into superstardom. With Jason Blum’s Blumhouse productions on board, you might expect a leap forward in quality; they do have a knack for solid horror offerings.

Unfortunately, this new version instead fails to capture the spirit of the source material, leaving the viewer with a film that – ironically – lacks heat. There’s a flatness to the proceedings that undercuts the possibilities inherent to King’s work; parts of the film feel rushed and/or unfinished, with those cohesion-lacking moments impacting the rest of the film.

It’s not a BAD film – I’d argue that it’s better than the 1984 version, though that might be damning it with faint praise – but neither is it a particularly good one. Instead, we get something that feels disposable and unnecessary; if you’re not going to try and do anything new, why bother with a remake at all?

Correction: if you’re not going to try and do anything AT ALL, why bother?

Published in Movies

Movies based on video games have a checkered history at the box office; they have traditionally not been known for their quality. Hollywood continues to struggle to find the secret sauce in converting characters and narratives from one medium to the other.

Movies ABOUT video games are something of a different animal – think “Tron” or “The Last Starfighter” or even “Ready Player One.” These are films that use video games as the foundation for the stories themselves, rather than the IP around which the story is built.

A new film that falls into that latter category is “Choose or Die,” currently streaming on Netflix. Directed by first-timer Toby Meakins from a screenplay by Simon Allen, it’s a horror film whose central conceit revolves around an obscure 1980s video game unearthed by a player hoping to solve it and get their hands on an unclaimed cash prize connected to said solution. But the game is cursed, capable of altering the player’s reality with horrifying results.

If you’re like me, that previous paragraph probably has you intrigued. It’s a compelling conceit for a film. Unfortunately, the execution isn’t quite up to snuff. “Choose or Die” can’t quite hold together, coming apart in the back half after a strong start – the third act in particular falls flat, never managing to give us the level of payoff promised by the film’s solid beginning.

Published in Movies
Monday, 07 March 2022 15:46

Meat-cute – ‘Fresh’

Just like everything else, the internet has fundamentally altered the dating world. With a multitude of dating apps out there, places where you can explore just about whatever romantic niche you’d like, the possibility of discovering someone new is high. But when it comes to making and maintaining a meaningful connection, well … that possibility is considerably lower.

All in all, it can be a real meat market out there, a metaphor taken to a grisly extreme in the new film “Fresh,” currently streaming on Hulu.

Directed by Mimi Cave from a script by Lauryn Kahn, “Fresh” is a dark satire of modern-day dating marked by a bloodily over-the-top premise (that I’m going to try hard not to spoil). It is a visceral and surprising film, one that takes great pleasure in subverting your expectations at multiple turns and punching up at a few worthwhile societal targets. Smart and sharp-witted, it’s a movie that really gives you something you can chew on.

Published in Movies
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