Movie Review ~ Long Shot


The Facts
:

Synopsis: An unemployed journalist battered by his own misfortune endeavors to pursue his childhood crush and babysitter, who now happens to be one of the most powerful and unattainable women on the planet.

Stars: Charlize Theron, Seth Rogen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Andy Serkis, June Diane Raphael, Alexander Skarsgård, Ravi Patel, Bob Odenkirk, Randall Park

Director: Jonathan Levine

Rated: R

Running Length: 125 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Don’t look now, but we may actually be in a small scale renaissance of the mid-range romantic comedy. There were rumblings that it was coming back when last year’s Crazy Rich Asians made a splash, only to be followed by the popular streaming releases like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and The Set Up. So far this year, we’ve had the modest hit Isn’t it Romantic and soon after Long Shot’s May release there’s still The Sun is Also a Star to look forward to and Last Christmas for the holidays…plus several more Netflix offerings along the way. It’s not a full scale rebirth of the genre but it definitely gets a healthy dose of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation courtesy of Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron in Long Shot.

Originally conceived as more low-brow comedy titled Flarsky, the script from Dan Sterling attracted the attention of Seth Rogen after it got good buzz on The Blacklist, the infamous Hollywood insider-y annual survey of the “most liked” motion picture screenplays not yet produced. Rogen brought in screenwriter Liz Hannah (The Post) who gave the film a good polish, making the starring female role more of real person and creating more equality between the lead protagonists. With a new title and Rogen’s friend Jonathan Levine (Warm Bodies) in the director’s seat all they needed was a star. And boy did they get one.

Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road) is the real reason you should be buying a ticket to see Long Shot and is the film’s not-so-secret weapon. Sure, you may be a fan of Rogen, romantic comedies, or just need a solid two hour film that is worth your time but Theron is by far the main selling point Long Shot has to offer. Already adept at playing any genre she’s thrown into, Theron dives headfirst into a role that requires the actress to convince us her gorgeous buttoned-up Secretary of State could fall for Rogen’s lumpy (but lovable) political journalist, all while keeping her composure as she plots out an environmental treaty to lay the groundwork for her presidential run.

Recently fired from his grassroots publication, Fred Flarsky (Rogen, This is the End) is drowning his sorrows with his best friend (O’Shea Jackson Jr., Straight Outta Compton) at an upscale benefit when he runs into his old babysitter Charlotte Field (Theron). Flarsky may have written a few popular pieces on the internet but Field has done considerably better for herself; she’s the youngest Secretary of State under a dim bulb President (Bob Odenkirk, Nebraska) who was elected after playing the Commander in Chief on TV for years. When the President decides not to run again and offers to endorse Field, she gets early reports (from a too-brief cameo by Lisa Kudrow, Friends with Kids) that the public doesn’t think she has a sense of humor. Running into Flarsky and reading his material gives her an idea: why not hire this guy who knew her back in the day and see if he can punch up her image?

For Field, this starts as a business proposition. For Flarsky, this is a chance to get closer to a girl he has had a crush on since he was a pre-teen. Even more than that, he believes in her as a politician and gets behind her as a potential presidential nominee. As they make their way around the globe gathering support for her environmental protection plan, the two get closer…much to the horror of her staff members (June Diane Raphael, Girl Most Likely and Ravi Patel, Master of None) until they become an unlikely item.

It really is on Theron to sell us on her character falling for Fred and Rogen and Levine help her get there (with no small assistance from Hannah’s script) by keeping Charlotte aware of their differences but following her heart anyway. That’s what makes it all work because, unlike other Rogen vehicles where he’s paired with beauties just…because, here he initially winds up with the girl by winning over her brain first before anything physical happens.

Clocking in a tad over two hours, the movie comes in just a hair too long and a wiser editor could have excised more of Jackson’s unnecessary scenes as Fred’s friend that don’t wind up informing the action on anything we don’t already know. As good as Raphael and Patel are, they only work in small doses and their business could be trimmed as well because we really want more time with Theron and, to a slightly lesser extent, Rogen.  I can’t forget to mention Andy Serkis (Black Panther) popping up in a truly bizarre role as a publishing magnate with ties to Charlotte and Fred.  It’s not that the role is bizarre, it’s that Serkis is under heavy layers of make-up to render him unrecognizable.  Why?

The film almost makes it across the finish line without resorting to gross out gags but can’t resist a fairly atrocious bit of toilet humor that cheapens things up at the wrong time. Honestly, I get why they inserted it in the grand scheme of things but it sinks the film to a different level that I thought it was rising above.  Still, that and a rather perfunctory ending can’t erase the fun of the previous 100 or so minutes and any movie that prominently features Roxette’s mega-anthem “It Must Have Been Love” on more than one occasion already scores high in my book.

The Silver Bullet ~ Crawl



Synopsis
: A young woman, while attempting to save her father during a Category 5 hurricane, finds herself trapped in a flooding house and must fight for her life against alligators.

Release Date: July 12, 2019

Thoughts: It’s not hard for me to figure out where my love of creature features began. Ever since I saw Jaws as a kid I’ve been enthralled by monsters on land, under the sea, and in space.  From nature run amok atrocities to alien lifeforms, I’m pretty lenient on films that pit men and women against some beast with really sharp teeth.  We’ve been pretty starved for these mid-budgeted movies (at least in theaters) with tastes shifting to blockbuster entertainment for the masses but this July sees the release of Crawl and it looks schlocky and fun.  While, as usual, the trailer gives away more than I’d like, there’s more than enough here to get me interested in what other scares director Alexandre Aja (Horns) has in store.  Also…while I’m not freaked out by spiders, snakes, or sharks, I am legit frightened by alligators and crocodiles so this is going to be sweaty palm experience for me.

Movie Review ~ The Mustang


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A violent convict is given the chance to participate in a rehabilitation therapy program involving the training of wild mustangs.

Stars: Matthias Schoenaerts, Jason Mitchell, Bruce Dern, Gideon Adlon, Connie Britton, Josh Stewart

Director: Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre

Rated: R

Running Length: 96 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: I wouldn’t blame you if you happened to let The Mustang trot on by you as we start to approach the jumping off point of the summer movie season. It’s not a flashy movie with superheroes dueling it out in a grand finale of a popular franchise (Avengers; Endgame) nor is it a horror film out to spook you (Us, Pet Sematary, The Curse of La Llorona) and it definitely isn’t a family film like Dumbo, though I’d argue that’s not a family film either. It doesn’t feature actors that can open a movie on their name alone and the film has been marketed accurately as a heavy drama with a main character often hard to root for.

I saw The Mustang right after taking in Captain Marvel for a second time and the experience was different though some of the feelings were the same. Both films featured strong examples of emotional resonance but whereas Captain Marvel is designed to have you sort of blasted backwards in your seat, The Mustang’s quiet grace made it a film you wanted to lean into and sit a little further forward for.

In a Nevada prison, Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts, The Danish Girl) is serving a long sentence for a violent crime we only get bits and pieces of information about. Used to serving his time in his preferred solitary confinement, he’s brought back into the general population and given a roommate (Josh Stewart, Interstellar) for the first time in years. Barely speaking more than a few words to anyone in a given day, Coleman starts a prison job maintaining the grounds but is intrigued by the horses being watched over by other inmates. He becomes fixated on one particular horse too wild to be broken and is recruited by the salty program lead (Bruce Dern, Nebraska) to try to see if he can have any luck taming the beautiful horse.

Now, it isn’t hard for the audience (or Coleman) to see the obvious parallels between the prisoner and the horse and that doesn’t seem to concern director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre in the slightest. In fact, I feel the filmmakers almost go out of the way to show us how closely tied in personality the man and mustang are. Stubborn and willful could describe Coleman or the horse he names Marquis and over time the two form the bond we expect but in ways we can’t quite predict. The path isn’t easy and the film features several unsettling acts of violence (not always directed toward the horse) that don’t feel like cheap devices to gain sympathy.

At a sleek 96 minutes, The Mustang is mostly muscle and is led by a stellar performance from Schoenaerts. Over the last several years Schoenaerts has proven to be a dependable presence in films but he’s yet to truly break through to the next level of stardom in the US. His performance is as good as any Oscar nominee last year (even better than at least one) as is Mudbound’s Jason Mitchell (Contraband) memorable supporting turn as a fellow inmate that shows Coleman the literal ropes of the horse ring. A sidewinding subplot concerning Coleman’s prison visits with his estranged daughter (Gideon Adlon) skate the edge of maudlin but the two actors are so good in their strained meetings that you begin to feel just as uncomfortable in their presence as they are. Featured in just two scenes, it’s never a bad day when Connie Britton (This Is Where I Leave You) appears onscreen as a prison psychologist.

Financed with monies awarded by the Sundance Institute, The Mustang has the distinct feel of an indie drama that would go over well at the Sundance Film Festival before playing at your local art house cinema. It’s likely a bit too small to become a breakthrough hit and its release date so close to highly anticipated blockbusters will all but push this one out of your local theater quickly. So after you see Avengers: Endgame, consider saddling up to this one. Or, make this one your first choice because it won’t be around for long.

Movie Review ~ Avengers: Endgame


The Facts
:

Synopsis: After the devastating events of Avengers: Infinity War, the universe is in ruins. With the help of remaining allies, the Avengers assemble once more in order to undo Thanos’ actions and restore order to the universe.

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Mackie, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Chadwick Boseman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sebastian Stan

Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 181 minutes

TMMM Score: (9.5/10)

Review: My advice right off the bat for all of you planning on seeing Avengers: Endgame is not just to avoid spoilers but to avoid any liquids for several hours before the show. This will save you the hard decision on when is the best time to run to the bathroom and let you fully enjoy this grand finale from the creative minds at Marvel Studios. After 22 films and more than 10 years, the time has come to finally close the book on the Marvel Cinematic Univerise as we currently know it. Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly more stories to be told and countless movies to be made but there won’t ever be a time when all of the characters we have come to know and love (and maybe not care for at all) will be in the same film at the same time.

While this review will not contain any spoilers for Avengers: Endgame, it’s hard to discuss this movie without giving away key plot points from 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War. Read on with confidence that your enjoyment of Avengers: Endgame isn’t going to be spoiled in advance.

First, a refresher.

At the end of Avengers: Infinity War the big purple baddie Thanos (Josh Brolin, Oldboy) had achieved his goal of gathering the six infinity stones and used them to wipe out half of the population on earth. With a snap of his fingers, Thanos “dusted” some of our beloved characters who were part of the unlucky 50% that were collateral damage in a misguided attempt at population control. As seen in subsequent films Ant-Man and The Wasp and Captain Marvel, no one was spared with people either turning into particles carried away on the air or left behind to mourn their fallen loved ones.

Avengers: Endgame starts so casually (the Marvel Studios logo and title card appear at well-timed points later) that I wasn’t even sure the movie had begun. It’s like the days when you had a double-VHS to watch and just popped in the tape and things picked up right where you left off. Suddenly, you’re just back in it like a whole year hadn’t passed since the last movie ended. Picking up with a character we haven’t seen in some time, the movie quickly moves forward in establishing where our heroes are and takes its time in bringing them back together again.

Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have wisely been given the time to really explore the lasting effects on all who remain and convey to us their feeling of loss. Just like audience members were left all torn up after the snap from Thanos, so too are these super men and women who don’t know how to move on from the tragedy. While much of the 181 minute run time is devoted to amazing action sequences and visual effects that represent the tippy top of quality yet seen in these films, there’s almost an equal amount of space given to continue to give these comic book characters a dramatic arc that feel completely earned at this point.

The film kicks into high gear when an Avenger feels like they’ve figured out the key to identifying what happened to the people that disappeared…and gathers the group together for a final mission that will take them to places, emotions, and alternate dimensions heretofore unexplored. Much the way the previous film found a creative method in pairing up the Avengers to divide and conquer, directors Anthony and Joe Russo juggle multiple storylines without ever letting things fall by the wayside or allowing audiences to get ahead of the action. Two hours into the movie and I still had no idea how it was all going to end.

End it does, though, and with the kind of rousing action and developments that feel just even if they sting.   Every fan has a theory of who will survive until the credits and who might emerge as a new leader but I would say that you shouldn’t go into the movie trying to figure out how things will wrap up. Stay present in the moment and leave it to the writers and directors because they have your ultimate best interest (and entertainment) at heart.

As has been the case over the entire series of films, the impressive cast roster is what truly sets the Marvel films apart. Leading the pack is Robert Downey Jr. (The Judge) as Tony Stark/Iron Man. We’ve seen Tony grow from cocky businessman to cocky hero to cocky recruiter of future Avengers and his investment in this last film is right up there with his all-time best work. The character could easily have become abrasive and unlikable but Downey has always managed to keep him just ever so slightly on the tolerable edge as tough but lovable. There’s also good work from Chris Evans (The Iceman) who we’ve seen become a leading man before our eyes. Evans wasn’t always the most interesting actor in films but he’s shown such growth since he first took up Captain America’s shield that you know that whether he continues with the films or not (I’m not telling!) he’ll have another career in films where he isn’t always in battle with foes from space.

Continued good work from Chris Hemsworth (Rush) as Thor shows how the actor came back from having a character start off shaky until he finally found his rhythm and made the Norse god something memorable and unexpectedly funny. After two previous Hulks failed to make the role their own, I’m eternally grateful that Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher) was enlisted to take over way back in The Avengers. And if you can’t get enough of Scarlett Johansson’s (Under the Skin) Black Widow and her ever changing hairstyles you won’t have to wait too long as a standalone origin film centered on her and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, Tag) is about to go into production.

As for the rest of the supporting players, you can’t throw a gummi bear at the screen without hitting another familiar face that pops up from an earlier film – most are expected sights to be seen but there are a few nice surprises along the way. I don’t want to mention any of them but will let you pick out your favorites along the way. Even from a filmmaking perspective, this is a great looking movie that has been composed with care featuring excellent performances. There’s a somber shot near the end of the movie that calls back to that first amazing camera work in The Avengers which managed to capture all our heroes in one long swoop of action.

Filled with rousing moments (I almost got out of my seat and started jumping up and down for joy in one goose-bump inducing scene) and peppered with gasp-inducing twists that will likely have you reaching for your Kleenex, the emotional payoff in the last 45 minutes is equal to anything I can recall from the last decade. Yeah, it’s easy to dismiss this as another superhero movie in a long-standing franchise that will make billions of dollars but this is something more robust, more special.  There’s no denying that everyone involved knows they have a responsibility and shows great respect for each loose end that is tied up. It may have taken over twenty films to wrap up those loose ends but the wait was ultimately worth it. I just look forward to see what happens next.

 

Marvel Cinematic Universe

Phase One
Iron Man (2008)
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Thor (2011)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

Phase Two
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Ant-Man (2015)

Phase Three
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Doctor Strange (2016)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Black Panther (2018)
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018)
Captain Marvel (2019)
Avengers; Endgame (2019)

Phase Four
Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

Movie Review ~ The Curse of La Llorona

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Ignoring the eerie warning of a troubled mother suspected of child endangerment, a social worker and her own small kids are soon drawn into a frightening supernatural realm.

Stars: Linda Cardellini, Patricia Velasquez, Raymond Cruz, Sean Patrick Thomas, Marisol Ramirez, Madeleine McGraw

Director: Michael Chaves

Rated: R

Running Length: 93 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: Loosen your belts, good audience members, because The Conjuring Universe continues to expand at a rapid rate. The Conjuring sent moviegoers screaming in 2013 and it wasn’t long before we had a decent sequel and spin-offs including 2014’s Annabelle (and its 2017 far superior follow-up Annabelle: Creation) and 2018’s The Nun. Now, hot on the heels of the new release The Curse of La Llorona, is Annabelle Comes Home, arriving in just a few months. What began as unexpectedly frightening solid shocker stand-alone film has grown into a cottage industry franchise of fear. The question is, in a saturated market of theatrical releases, movies on demand, and streaming originals, can the filmmakers behind these horror flicks continue to introduce interesting characters that make future sequels of interest?

While The Curse of La Llorona ultimately fares better than The Nun (partly because it manages to make it to the finish line making some modicum of sense), the cracks are starting to show in The Conjuring Universe and it’s time for some originality to be brought back into the mix. The film is efficient, well-made, and delivers the requisite scares to give the audiences a jolt every five minutes (sometimes less) but it doesn’t captivate you like truly memorable horror films should. Like a late night trip to Taco Bell, it gets the job done but isn’t all that good for you.

A short prologue set in idyllic 17th century Mexico introduces us to a mother (Marisol Ramirez, Circle) who suddenly drowns her young sons for no apparent reason. Flash forward to 1973 Los Angeles and the story picks up with widowed social worker Anna (Linda Cardellini, Green Book) making a house call to Patricia (Patricia Alvarez, The Mummy) who has two boys that haven’t shown up to school lately. Finding the mother out of sorts (to put it mildly) and the boys locked in a closet, Anna steps in and places the boys in protective care while their mother gets the help she needs.

Unfortunately, the moment Anna opens that closet door she becomes part of a curse that affects everyone around her, including her children Chris (Roman Christou) and Samantha (Jaynee-Lynn Kinchen). She’s incurred the wrath of La Llorona, a vengeful spirit doomed to roam the earth searching for children to replace the two she murdered. Stemming from Mexican folklore, La Llorona is used as a way for parents to scare their children into following the straight and narrow. “You better be good or La Llorona will come and get you!” Now, this spirit has her sights set on Anna’s children and will stop at nothing to make them her own.

Working from a script by Mikki Daughtry & Tobias Iaconis (also represented currently in theaters with Five Feet Apart), director Michael Chaves (who is signed up to direct The Conjuring 3) doesn’t bring the same kind of flashy élan to the frights like other directors in The Conjuring Universe but what he does have is a good sense of rhythm in keeping the scares coming at a good pace. True, most of the frights are forced into your body because they’re accompanied with a loud noise that you can’t help but tense up at but there are a few nice shocks delivered just after the hairs on the back of your neck have been raised to full attention.

Daughtry and Iaconis unfortunately dumb down Anna and her kids into people that experience something they can’t explain and choose not to tell anyone else. All three of them are living in the same house and they can’t share they are all seeing the same ghostly apparition of a creepy lady in a white dress? To their credit, Cardellini and the children make a believable family unit, one that is still grieving over the loss of their father, which is one of several plot points never fully explored. There are attempts to link the movie to the original Annabelle film but aside from that brief glimpse of the creepy doll in a flashback this is largely a property unto itself.  Several characters are also introduced and you think they’re going to play a major role…but we wind up never seeing them again.

If there’s one thing I can say that I’ve enjoyed about these films in The Conjuring Universe it’s that they’ve all been set in the past. This removes the advances of technology as a way to help our terrorized family and prevents them from roaming the internet for ways to escape the ghoul preying on them. In The Curse of La Llorona, the lack of outside assistance/knowledge brings about the introduction of a shaman (Raymond Cruz), a sort of a stone-faced wise-cracking urban exorcist. Cruz’s character may bring some comic relief to the proceedings but his once-holy man seems to come from another movie entirely.

At a scant 93 minutes, The Curse of La Llorona doesn’t overstay its welcome and my audience seemed to have a dandy of a time screaming along with the movie. The scares are modestly commendable when they are doled out with precision and less successful when things just pop into frame along with a loud sting of music. I saw this in IMAX and should have brought earplugs. I’m sure the movie will do the kind of business that will encourage the people behind this franchise to keep going – I just ask that they take a little more time to think things through in future entries. If they want to make this a true universe, they should also be attempting to connect their films more than just having random props from other movies pop up.  I mean, the doll from Annabelle also appeared in Aquaman and Shazam!…do they belong in The Conjuring Universe too?

Movie Review ~ Pet Sematary (2019)

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Dr. Louis Creed and his wife, Rachel, relocate from Boston to rural Maine with their two young children. The couple soon discover a mysterious burial ground hidden deep in the woods near their new home.

Stars: Jason Clarke, John Lithgow, Amy Seimetz, Jeté Laurence, Obssa Ahmed

Directors: Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer

Rated: R

Running Length: 101 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Normally, I’m not a fan of remakes of originals that were just fine to begin with. Stephen King’s 1989 adaption of his own novel Pet Sematary was a solid horror film that has held up quite well over the past thirty years. Sure, it’s low tech and some of the performances delve into out-of-place hysterics at times but it was largely a successful effort and often spoken of highly as one of the better King adaptations that have made it to the big screen.

Yet I wasn’t that mad at the fact that the source material was going to get another treatment…and I actually thought it was long overdue. After a lackluster sequel that failed to move the series forward in any compelling way, the property just sort of sat there on the shelf for the ensuing years. I’ve always considered the book and its concept to be one that would lend itself well to multiple sequels and creative approaches yet no one had bothered to take another crack at it. As the original film approached it’s 30th anniversary, Paramount decided to dig up their former horror hit and handed it over to three guys that have been making a name for themselves in the scare business.

The new film has a screenplay written by Jeff Buhler who already had The Prodigy in 2019 and will pen upcoming remakes of Jacob’s Ladder and The Grudge, and was directed by Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer who gave us the underrated horror gem Starry Eyes. Having these three give King’s tale of a city family that moves to the country and experiences the dangerous power of a nearby burial ground seemed like an on the money choice and with stars like Jason Clarke (The Aftermath) and John Lithgow (Pitch Perfect 3) on board this remake was elevated up a few notches from being just a shameless cash-in.

The Creed family has uprooted their life and moved to a small town in Maine so Louis (Clarke) can be a big fish in a small pond as the doctor at a local university. Like the first film, his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz, You’re Next) doesn’t seem to have much of a life of her own outside of taking care of their two young children so while Louis goes to work Rachel begins the process of setting her family up in their new house. Friendly neighbor Jud (Lithgow) catches young Ellie (Jeté Laurence) exploring in the woods and shows her the pet sematary on their property where children come to bury their pets. When tragedy strikes the Creed family, Louis is driven to make an unholy choice involving the pet sematary that has deadly repercussions for everyone.

While the film largely falls into the remake category, with names and situations that echo what we’ve read/seen before, certain elements of the plot have been reimagined and not all of them work as well as they should. If you’ve seen the previews you’re likely aware of the one big change from the book/original film and that choice is, in hindsight, a smart one considering what it allows the filmmakers to do with the final 1/3 of the movie. What I didn’t care for, actually, was that last act when it became less of a slow-burn horror movie and more of a cheap scare machine which undercut some of the strong structure that was built up early on.

Another strange thing about this film is that Buhler’s script is overly talky. In most cases, having some extra character development in a movie designed to provide maximum scare time would be welcome but there seemed to be an endless series of scenes with Louis and Rachel talking in their bedroom. Feeling like low-grade Cassavetes, their marital squabbles and differences of opinion in how much they share with their children about death starts to feel intrusive to the frights. After a while, you begin to wish the bad thing that is coming will just happen so they’ll have something else to talk about.

Clarke, as usual, makes for a reliable leading man and the conflict Louis experiences sits well with him. No one plays tragically at odds with oneself quite like Clarke can. Like the movie, he starts to veer off course near the end but he holds on longer than the film does. I’ve not seen Seimetz in a lot of things but she brought a nice layer to Rachel that wasn’t present in the previous film. The subplot concerning her guilt over an incident from her childhood involving her dying sister isn’t as scary as the 1989 version because its less subtle but she navigates some jarring pseudo-scares quite well. The Jud character was always the most memorable in these films and while Lithgow is no Fred Gwynne, his wind-beaten face and growly voice convinced me right off the bat he was the right guy for the role. The trickiest part in the film is taken on by Laurence as the Creed’s daughter who has to play a whole range of emotions – for a young performer tasked with the film’s most important material she is a strong presence.

As they demonstrated in Starry Eyes, Kölsch & Widmyer know how to slowly turn up the heat on their movie pot and allow it to boil over at just the right time. Here, though, the pot stays on the fire just a hair too long, that is the difference between a remake that sticks its landing, and one that bites off more than it can chew. (I’m trying to jam pack this with metaphors today, clearly). The ending of the film doesn’t measure up and just gets too bizarre to the point where the audience laughs in all the right places but more than a few unintentional passages as well.

I feel like we’re going to be seeing more of these remakes of popular films over the next few years and if they turn out like Pet Sematary I won’t be totally disappointed. There’s some thought that went into this one and more than few examples of creativity on display that are worth noting from directors that are continuing to hone their craft. Showing a bit more appreciation for narrative follow-through and arriving at an ending that satisfies is what was missing.

Movie Review ~ The Best of Enemies


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Civil Rights activist, Ann Atwater, faces off against C.P. Ellis, Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan in 1971 Durham, North Carolina over the issue of school integration.

Stars: Taraji P. Henson, Sam Rockwell, Anne Heche, Wes Bentley, John Gallagher Jr., Bruce McGill

Director: Robin Bissell

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 133 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: The filmmakers for Green Book haven’t even had their Best Picture Oscar on the shelf long enough to gather dust before another problematic movie on race relations has made it to theaters. Now I have a feeling that The Best of Enemies tells its tale with a bit more honesty and is unquestionably less outright manipulative but still…something feels off here. Though, like Green Book, it boasts two likable stars (one a recent Oscar winner) and is based on actual events, The Best of Enemies overstays its welcome by hammering home its message audiences will have received loud and clear early on.

It’s 1971 and Durham, North Carolina is still racially divided. Though laws on desegregation have chipped away at the antiquated restrictions at many institutions within the state, the schools remain separated by race. Continuing to fight for her civil rights and the rights of others was the outspoken Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson, What Men Want), a grassroots activist that wasn’t afraid to raise her voice to call attention to injustice within her community. On the other side of the coin was Ku Klux Klan leader C. P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell, Vice) who also felt like he was seeing the rights of another population of Durham being restricted. The two public figures were both respected within their individual circles and known to each other…and they didn’t care for the other one bit.

When a fire destroys part of a school that served the black children of Durham, it sparks a debate that leads to the city council voting whether or not to allow children of both races to attend the same school. At the same time, a court-ordered school desegregation decree has finally come into play but instead of being the deciding vote and making history, the district judge involved passes the decision down to the people of Durham. Through a structured two-week community meeting known as a charrette, Atwater and Ellis become co-chairs and lead a group of representatives from the city in deciding how they want to move forward on several key issues, the biggest being fully integrating their schools.

Writer/director Robin Bissell (a producer of The Hunger Games) has adapted Osha Gray Davidson’s book and while it’s clearly a labor of love, it is quite a labor to get through. At two hours and thirteen minutes, the movie takes a while to get moving and then just sort of treads water for a good sixty minutes rehashing what we already know or setting up more scenes of racial tension designed to elicit the appropriate rage from the audience. By the time the film reaches it’s predicted climax, audiences might be a bit numb after all the elevated dramatics Bissell introduces.

The saving grace of the movie lies in the casting and it starts at the top with Henson and Rockwell. Both are actors that invest themselves fully into their roles and that’s certainly the case here. Though Henson is sporting an almost comically large fake set of breasts, she brings a dignity and strength of soul to Ann who wrestles with wanting to practice what she preaches about acceptance even when the person on the other side won’t look her in the face. You may think Rockwell has played a version of this character already in his Oscar-winning role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri but the differences between the two men are vast. At the beginning of the film Ellis actually believes in the racist thoughts he spews forth but Rockwell takes us through each crack in his belief system as he spends time not only with the black members of Durham but other white people that don’t share his values.

There’s nice supporting work from Anne Heche (Volcano) as Ellis’ wife who doesn’t suffer fools…especially her husband, Wes Bentley (Interstellar) as the prototype KKK member of that era in that area, and Bruce McGill (Lincoln) as a crooked councilman. I also liked John Gallagher Jr. (10 Cloverfield Lane) as a local shopowner sympathetic to the integration that has to choose between what’s right for him and what’s right for his community. He shares a brief scene with Rockwell that hints at the kind of impactful moments the movie is sorely short on. Yet the film never takes off quite so much as when Henson and Rockwell are bickering or, eventually, seeing eye to eye.

Conceived as a historical piece documenting an important turning point in the Civil Rights movement but orchestrated as an audience rousing drama where everyone goes home happy, The Best of Enemies wants it both ways. It tries awfully hard, though, and that work doesn’t go unnoticed. Yet it winds up feeling like another strange misstep in Hollywood’s attempt to get a movie about the Civil Rights…right.

Movie Review ~ Shazam!

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: We all have a superhero inside us, it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In Billy Batson’s case, by shouting out one word – SHAZAM! – this streetwise 14-year-old foster kid can turn into the adult superhero Shazam.

Stars: Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Mark Strong, Jack Dylan Grazer, Grace Fulton, Faithe Herman, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Cooper Andrews, Marta Milans, Adam Brody, Djimon Hounsou

Director: David F. Sandberg

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 132 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Those poor souls over at Warner Brothers/DC Comics were likely looking at 2019 and feeling crestfallen at their prospects. With three highly anticipated Marvel films set for release and their Wonder Woman sequel pushed back to 2020, it must have felt like any hopes of getting another foothold in their franchise ladder weren’t going to happen. I’m not sure how much faith they had in Shazam! at the outset but they should have pumped this one up a bit more than they did. Sure, I saw the preview more times than I needed to before other films but going into the movie I wasn’t expecting anything vastly different than the soulless offerings they’ve been churning out in the past decade.

Thankfully, it seems like they may have stumbled onto something good.

Foster kid Billy Baston (Asher Angel) has found himself on the wrong side of the law for the last time when he is apprehended after obtaining information from a police database. He’d been attempting to find his mother after they were separated when he was a toddler and hasn’t given up hope that she’s out there and is looking for him as well. Taken in by another foster family that already boasts a diverse line-up of kids in similar family situations, Billy bides his time until he can run away again to continue his search.

When he’s mysteriously brought to the temple of an aging Wizard (Djimon Hounsou, Serenity) tasked with guarding the seven deadly sins, he absorbs the fading Wizard’s magic and turns into a buff superhero (Zachary Levi, Thor: The Dark World) anytime he says the Wizard’s name: Shazam. Unware of the extent of his newfound powers, Billy has the mind of a teenager in the body of a mature adult and at first doesn’t exactly use his upgrades for good. Though he runs through some trials of his abilities with his foster brother (Jack Dylan Grazer, IT), he starts to be the kind of hero that’s only looking out for himself instead of assisting others.

He’s put to the ultimate test when Sivana (Mark Strong, The Imitation Game) enters the picture. Obsessed with finding the temple of the Seven Wizards that he too visited as a young child, the grown man eventually makes his way back to the hidden dwelling and frees the sins from their prison. Now being used as their vessel for evil, Sivana sets his sights on taking the Wizard’s power from Shazam (who has become something of a local Philadelphia celebrity) and eliminating everyone he loves.

If there’s one thing that’s been sorely missing from the DC slate of superhero movies it’s a sense of humor and finally the stiff suits at the studio backed up and let wiser talents guide this process – and it’s largely successful. Though the previous credits for screenwriters Henry Gayden (Earth to Echo) and Darren Lemke (Goosebumps) might not have suggested they’d be the right choices to bring Bill Parker and C.C. Beck’s superhero to the big screen, Shazam! is a welcome change of pace from the darker-hued adventure films the studio has been greenlighting. Adding director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation) was another inspired choice as he’s nicely able to balance the lighter/more comedic elements of the plot with the darker edges supplied by Sivana.

Sandberg has cast the film well starting with Levi as our hero that becomes more than the sum of his bulging muscles and caped suit. Seeing that he’s actually a teen given awesome powers, Levi might overplay the sarcasm and wise-cracks a bit early on but it provides him a place to jump off from as he grows into a more responsible hero and a more understanding teenager. He has a nice rapport with Grazer and his other foster siblings, adding some layers to a character that could easily have been pretty one-dimensional. The villain role doesn’t seem to be much of a stretch for Strong at this point and while he’s perfectly fine in the part it would have been nice to see it played by someone a little less expected. It’s just too easy for Strong to slide into these wicked characters by now.

While it’s a good 10-15 minutes too long, spending unearned time with Sivana and following Levi through perhaps a few too many blunders, Sandberg and the screenwriters manage to introduce a late breaking twist that I found pretty delightful and nicely inclusive. Buoyed by strong performances by the child actors (a rarity these days) and a nice dose of humor and creativity, Shazam! is a fun right turn from the careening curve DC studios couldn’t pull out of.

Movie Review ~ Hellboy (2019)


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Hellboy and his closest allies battle an undead sorceress who has the intention of destroying the world

Stars: David Harbour, Ian McShane, Milla Jovovich, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim, Thomas Haden Church, Penelope Mitchell, Sophie Okonedo, Brian Gleeson, Alistair Petrie

Director: Neil Marshall

Rated: R

Running Length: 121 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: I believe it’s best for me to out myself right at the top of this review. I was not a comic book kid so have never been well versed in the mythology of the characters that have turned up in the pages over the years. From Marvel to DC to the Dark House imprint that published the Hellboy comics, it was just never something that I found any traction with so I was left to be a happy fan that would see these characters come to life for the first time on the big screen. I mean to show you how out of the loop I was, when The Avengers was first announced I thought it was another remake of the UK series from the 1960’s.

I give this disclaimer at the beginning of my review of Hellboy because I’m coming at this with no knowledge of what the characters SHOULD be or what the tone of the comics was. All I can report back on with my modicum of authority is the quality of this rebooted product taken as an outsider. Though it starts off with some verve and vigor, far too soon it becomes packed with the kind of noise and shoddy CGI that overwhelms the audience instead of impressing them.

The road to this Hellboy restage has been a long one, with plans for a third film under director Guillermo del Toro’s watch being abandoned in favor of starting fresh. That meant del Toro (who would wind up winning an Oscar for The Shape of Water) and original star Ron Perlman (Pacific Rim) were out and director Neil Marshall (The Descent, Tales of Halloween) and David Harbour (Suicide Squad) were in. Further separating this film from the 2004 original and its 2008 sequel was a desire to bring the character back to his darker roots and away from the more outwardly heroic (and PG-13) character del Toro and Perlman created. This new Hellboy was going to be an R-rated brawler pitted against a host of ghastly foes.

Marshall makes it clear from the opening that his approach will be different. The first shot of the film finds a crow picking the eyeball out of a corpse while Ian McShane (Jack the Giant Slayer) narrates a prologue littered with foul language. It’s here we’re introduced to the evil witch Nimue (Milla Jovovich, Zoolander 2), known as The Blood Queen, who is defeated by King Arthur and cut into pieces that are spread around the world so her powers can never again be restored. Jumping ahead to introduce Hellboy as he searches for a missing agent within a nest of Tijuana vampires, the bloodletting continues.

These early scenes kick off the movie with some semblance of charm and hint there is some playfulness afoot in Andrew Cosby’s screenplay that mixes Arthurian lore with tales of vampires, witches, giants, and various other ghoulies and beasts. It’s when Hellboy’s dad (McShane) sends him off to England to assist members of The Osiris Club take down a trio of ugly giants that the film begins its gradual decline into less interesting territory. It’s also when the two weakest links in the film are introduced.

Daniel Dae Kim (Allegiant) and Sasha Lane (American Honey) become allies of Hellboy as he hunts down Nimue and her warthog henchman and you’ll wish he were working alone. As Ben Daimio, an agent harboring a dark secret, Kim barely registers as Hellboy’s opposites attract sidekick who starts off trading barbs with the red devil before softening the more he gets to know him. While Kim may struggle with his British accent it’s nothing in comparison to the abysmal effort from Lane as Alice Monaghan, a woman abducted by faeries as a child that has the ability to speak for/as the dead. Everything about Lane is wrong, from her atrocious accent (when it’s there) to her basic line readings that often arrive without inflection – if ever a single performance could ruin a movie, this is it.

As our main guy, Harbour brings the requisite attitude to the proceedings, with his Hellboy a more tortured soul haunted by his past than Perlman chose to play him. I feel like Perlman still has the edge on the role, though Harbour makes his Hellboy wholly separate and his own. The person that seems to be having the most fun and who recognizes what movie she’s actually in is Jovovich as the villainous Blood Queen seeking to find a king to rule alongside her. Reaching out to Hellboy as a possible contender for the throne, Jovovich manages to find some strange sparks with Harbor – it’s not exactly sexual chemistry but something a little more meaty and wicked. Jovovich has been relegated to Resident Evil sequel hell for years and it’s nice to see her show up in something different.

Most of the practical make-up effects are quite impressive, from Hellboy’s detailed horn stumps to the truly terrifying character of Baba Yaga. Their meeting in a nightmare-scape is a highlight of the film and I wished that Baba Yaga was given more screentime, though it feels like the studio is holding onto her for intended future installments. It’s the CGI effects that are uneven throughout. Some of the visual effects look downright terrible, a few notches up from something you would see on the SyFy channel. We’re supposed to be immersed in this world yet the sub-standard effects keep jarring us back into the reality we’re in a theater. Some late in the game scenes of extreme gore (think innocent Londoners literally ripped in half) are kind of a hoot but wind up so fake looking that the impact isn’t what the filmmakers intended.

I’ll be interested to hear what fans of the Hellboy comics think of this new film and if it aligns more with their vision of the character. Two post-credit scenes signal intentions on keeping this franchise going and if a sequel ditches Kim and Lane, improves the effects, and maybe uses make-up that is more practical than computer generated it might smooth out some of the rough edges of this reboot.

Down From the Shelf ~ Pet Sematary Two

The Facts:

Synopsis: A teenage boy and his father move to his recently deceased mother’s hometown, where they encounter the ancient Native American cemetery with the power to raise the dead.

Stars: Edward Furlong, Anthony Edwards, Clancy Brown, Jason McGuire, Sarah Trigger, Jared Rushton, Darlanne Fluegel

Director: Mary Lambert

Rated: R

Running Length: 100 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: If you were to be browsing the roster of movies that have been made from the novels/novella/short stories of Stephen King, you’d notice the strange absence of a popular Hollywood occurrence: sequels. Something about King’s work has never leant itself well to a continuation of the story, mostly because the tales are largely self-contained within the singular telling. When the effort has been made to squeeze a little more money out of a popular title, you wind up with an icky franchise like the Children of the Corn saga, which has produced numerous sequels. (I stopped watching after the third one and stopped counting after the sixth). Then you have interesting misses like The Rage: Carrie 2 and this sequel to 1989’s Pet Sematary.

I could actually see where Pet Sematary would be a valid property to revisit seeing that the ending of the first film was so open-ended and ambiguous. The evil at its center, an ancient Indian burial ground where dead things come back to life, was still open for business so what was stopping another unsuspecting family from moving into the neighborhood? With the slate wiped clean there was an opportunity for screenwriter Richard Outten (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) and returning director Mary Lambert to expand on King’s original idea and go deeper into the origins of the cemetery.

Unfortunately, this was 1992, when the goal of studios was to make their horror films as straightforward as possible. There’s little care for those pesky detailed complexities of backstory that would take time away from gore and bloodshed. So instead of a creative furthering of the material, Outten opts for a vague rehash of the original where someone learns the hard way that you shouldn’t re-bury dead things.

After watching his B-movie star mother get electrocuted in a freak accident on the set of her latest flick, Jeff (Edward Furlong, A Home of Our Own) returns with his father Chase (Anthony Edwards, Top Gun) to her hometown of Ludlow, Maine to bury her and start a new life. Chase sets up shop as the town veterinarian while Jeff quickly runs afoul of the school bully (Jared Rushton) and befriends a lonely outcast (Jason McGuire) with a tyrannical stepfather (Clancy Brown, Thor: Ragnarok). When the stepfather accidentally kills his friends dog, Jeff is introduced to the local pet sematary and the dark magic it holds.  Everyone in town knows what happened to the Creed family just three years earlier…and now Jeff is standing in the same location where the dead can walk.

Like the wiley cat in the first film, the once docile dog returns as an aggressive pup and causes all sorts of trouble that lead Jeff and Justin down a morally dangerous path. As they try to undo their dirty deed and as Chase learns more about what his son has been up to, the movie feels like it shows its hand far too early on. The big reveal on the ultimate power of the burial ground in the original movie was kept for the last twenty minutes or so but here you have someone resurrected about 45 minutes in and that person becomes almost an almost comedic figure, intentional or not.  Though they are supposed to be menacing, one-liners and a strangely goofy stare are clearly meant to put this character in the Freddy Krueger territory as someone who might kill you but also might just as well make you sit down and listen to their comedy routine first too.

Lambert actually succeeds well in the first half of the movie, starting with the creepy opening on the movie within a movie. She’s not working with A-list actors here and this is another opportunity to wonder why the screechy Furlong was ever considered a commodity in Hollywood. As the movie devolves into its expected violent end it never brings any scares along with it – and that starts to get mighty frustrating because you want something more to be happening. I appreciated Lambert opted to include scenes with some sincerity in them, such as when McGuire is mourning the loss of his dog but then they are overshadowed with lame pseudo-terror sequences that feel imposed upon her by the studio. The ending is especially problematic and bombastic, feeling like it was made by another filmmaker entirely.

Not surprisingly, Pet Sematary Two failed to dig up the same kind of business its predecessor did and it’s largely because no one bothered to come up with something interesting for audiences. Instead of giving us just another story of death, burial, resurrection, and violence why not go back and show us a little more about its origin? I’m sure everyone made a nice buck off of their time spent on the project…but it effectively killed any chance of a third film or more. And this is one that could have, in my opinion, had a few more sequels up its rotting sleeve.