The Silver Bullet ~ Happy Death Day

 

Synopsis: Teen must relive the same day over and over again until she figures out who is trying to kill her and why.

Release Date:  October 13, 2017

Thoughts: As the old saying goes: Into every theater, a little cheese must fall (or something like that).  Look, I have no aspirations that Happy Death Day is going to be a top-tier horror entry or even a mediocre curiosity either…but is it too wrong to hope this provides some silly diversion entertainment this fall?  Given a prime release date of Friday the 13th in October, this is another low-budget entry from Blumhouse Pictures (The Visit, The Purge, Split, Insidious) who has shown a knack for raking in some serious dough with their features.  Directed by Christopher Landon  (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse & Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) and with visions of Groundhog Day dancing in my head, this trailer for Happy Death Day gave me a good chuckle…but can it prove to be more original than it looks?

The Silver Bullet ~ Split

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Synopsis: Kevin, a man with at least 23 different personalities, is compelled to abduct three teenage girls. As they are held captive, a final personality – “The Beast” – begins to materialize.

Release Date: January 20, 2017

Thoughts: There was a time when the presence of director M. Night Shyamalan’s name on a poster or movie trailer would elicit a little shiver down your spine. Then came a string of overstuffed, self-serving duds that found his name removed from all marketing materials in order to not tip off audiences he was involved. Then along came the surprisingly strong (and scary!) The Visit in 2015 and Shyamalan got some of that clout back…and I’m hoping that Split continues the Shyamalan-aissance. The latest thriller with a twist finds James McAvoy (Trance) with multiple personalities holding three girls hostage and there’s some nice potential here for some spooky scenery chewing. With January no longer that foreboding dumping ground for useless films that it once was, could Split ring in the New Year with a yelp?

Movie Review ~ The Purge: Election Year

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Two years after choosing not to kill the man who killed his son, former police sergeant Barnes has become head of security for Senator Charlene Roan, the front runner in the next Presidential election due to her vow to eliminate the Purge.

Stars: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Edwin Hodge, Betty Gabriel, JJ Soria, Mykelti Williamson

Director: James DeMonaco

Rated: R

Running Length: 105 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I’m not sure if The Purge: Election Year was part of writer/director James DeMonaco’s long-term Purge franchise plan from the start, but with Americans steeling themselves for another bitter election in November and the continued struggle with gun control it’s arrival is anything but poorly timed. Now, the movie itself is fairly run of the mill with performances that range from metered investment to foamed-mouth zeal but, like its two predecessors, its morality tale is disquieting and prescient.

What started as a home invasion thriller in 2013’s The Purge morphed into a rough and tumble sequel in 2014’s The Purge: Anarchy. Both films pretty much disintegrated in their third acts and The Purge: Election Year also struggles with making it over the finish line with any semblance of order…but for me it was an improvement over the previous entries thanks to a strong build-up.

Set in the year 2025, Election Year brings back Frank Grillo from Anarchy as Leo Barnes, no longer out for revenge for his son’s murder but instead focusing on protecting a beacon of hope to end the yearly Purge. That hope is Charlene Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) an idealistic senator hoping to win the approaching election to unseat the bureaucratic nebula called the NFFA (New Founding Fathers of America) that instituted and continue to support the annual Purge. Running a campaign based around her desire to outlaw the yearly Purge, she’s made a number of enemies from the elite NFFA who conspire to use the pending Purge to get rid of her.

Though their methods of dealing with conflict differ greatly, Roan and Barnes are united in knowing the horrors the Purge can bring. When Roan is double-crossed by agents meant to protect her, Barnes teams up with an inner-city crew to keep Roan alive until the night is over. As in Anarchy, Election Year introduces us to another set of characters whose storyline will intersect with Barnes and Roan sometime during the night. Those other characters are a deli owner (Mykelti Williamson), his immigrant employee (JJ Soria), and a reformed tough-gal (Betty Gabriel) who has left her Purge bloodlust behind and helps transport victims to a triage center instead.

A solid first 45 minutes gives way to another Purge night filled with gory killings and ordinary citizens turning into crazed psychos. All manner of crime is legal for one night…yet DeMonaco never focuses on the jaywalkers, embezzlers, mattress tag rippers, and movie pirates. I suppose it would be tough to generate a thrill from following people that steal stop signs all night, but when we see yet another shot of someone getting an arrow through the head or turning up at the business end of a guillotine it does make me wish for more white-collar crimes.

The film has several endings, none of which are very satisfying. Most of the bad guys are dead, some of the good guys are…but nothing feels finalized or complete. Grillo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and Mitchell are strong leads and I liked what Gabriel was giving us. Williamson gest a full meal out of his scenery chewing while Raymond J. Barry and Kyle Secor (The Doctor) devour the film like they’re at an all-you-can-eat buffet. I have to make some space for Brittany Mirabile for her absolutely unhinged schoolgirl turned savage out for payback on Williamson and his store. I’m not saying it’s a good performance, but credit Mirabile for having gusto to just go for it.

It feels like this could be the last entry in The Purge franchise and that’s AOK with me. There’s not a lot further DeMonaco could take the concept/characters and the true finale hints at a Purge-less future that may be even scarier…mostly because it reminds us of the here and now.

Movie Review ~ The Boy Next Door

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A woman falls for a younger man next door, but their torrid affair takes an obsessive, dangerous turn.

Stars: Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Guzman, Kristin Chenoweth, John Corbett, Ian Nelson

Director: Rob Cohen

Rated: R

Running Length: 91 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: Sometimes when I’m sick in bed I can’t resist putting on one of those so bad its good trashy erotic thriller films from the 90s. I’m talking “classics” like Mark Wahlberg’s Fear, Sharon Stone’s Sliver, Bruce Willis’s Color of Night, and Kevin Bacon’s Wild Things. All totally B-grade films with A-list stars released by major studios that probably should have known better. We’ve been largely starved for these films recently but leave it to a former Fly Girl and the man that directed the first Fast and Furious film to bring home the bacon.

Ham is featured heavily in The Boy Next Door, actually, with its hambone script, hammy acting, and ham-handed direction. No cliché is off limits according to screenwriter Barbara Curry and much of the plot holes, contradictions, and outright impossibilities began to make sense once I found out Curry is an ex-Assistant U.S. Attorney from Los Angeles.

Curry’s set-up comes across like a movie on the USA Network you’d have on as background noise while you dusted your tchotchkes on a lazy Saturday afternoon. In the midst of a painful separation from her philandering husband (John Corbett), high school teacher Claire (Jennifer Lopez, who looks like anything but a woman named Claire) spends the final days of summer eating huge plates of food and staring lasciviously out the window at new boy next door Noah (Ryan Guzan, looking like he’s pushing 30 instead of 20) who has befriended her awkward son (screechy voiced and intolerable Ian Nelson, The Judge).

In a moment of “weakness”, i.e. she’s just a girl that can’t say no, Claire and Noah do the nasty in one of two surprisingly explicit and raunchy sex scenes. Waking up and realizing her mistake, Claire rejects Noah’s further advances, changing Noah from a horndog to a hellhoud in the process. Somehow the script finds a never ending supply of rationales for why she doesn’t come clean to anyone…least of all her friend and colleague played by frozen faced Kristin Chenoweth (Rio 2) and Kristin Chenoweth’s Botox (Hit and Run).

Made in less than a month for the chump change price of 4 million (half of which must have gone to lighting J.Lo’s house to constantly look like a purple-hued nightclub), the film doesn’t look bad nor is it assembled poorly…it just doesn’t hide any of the multiple faults at play. Clearly filmed out of sequence as evidenced by performances that are routinely caught in mid-hysteria only to be near comatose in the very next location shot, the film is only 90 minutes long but has no forward momentum.

Lopez has shown that she’s not a bad actress and I’m frankly surprised it’s taken her this long to try her hand at this kind of quick buck film, but she deserves better than the slack direction from Rob Cohen (Alex Cross) and nonsensical script but at least she looks fabulous in every single shot. Guzman may have been trying to have a permanent case of bedroom eyes but it comes off like he’s reading an eye chart on a distant horizon, the character is more bratty than diabolical and I kept wanting Lopez to just give him a good spanking and have the credits roll.

Personally, I would have been interested in having the titular boy next door be Lopez’s son…since Nelson plays him as such an oddball knob that having him flip out over his mom dating his friend might have been more intriguing to watch. Hard to say what exactly Chenoweth was going for here, one minute she’s concerned best friend, the next she’s a sassy woman of the world sporting jewelry four sizes too big for her neck. Though she gets to deliver the most hilariously awful in the film, she’s dealt no favors by Cohen featuring the pint sized Broadway imp in too many shots next to his Amazonian curvy star.

This being the film it is there was no ending to be had but the one that finds Lopez fighting for her life in a musty old barn while Guzman terrorizes her with a variety of ishy violent acts before getting his well-earned (and equally ishy) comeuppance. It’s maybe the only thing marginally satisfying about this well below average effort. Maybe worth a rental if you’re planning a night of adult cocktails…this can take the place of your cheeseball if you’re counting calories.

Movie Review ~ The Purge: Anarchy

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The Purge is a night where all crime is legal and all hospitals, fire stations, poison control centers and police stations in the United States are closed down for 12 hours.  A year after the events of the first film, five people meet in the streets and try to survive the night.

Stars: Frank Grillo, Michael K. Williams, Carmen Ejogo, Zoë Soul, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Keith Stanfield 

Director: James DeMonaco 

Rated: R

Running Length: 103 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review:  A year ago most pundits would have predicted that The Internship, Owen Wilson and Vince Vaugh’s Google comedy would have easily topped the weekend box office thanks to the reunion of its Wedding Crashers stars and a prime early June opening weekend.  Then people started getting a look at the movie, deemed it middling, and the buzz turned instead to the darker material of the low-budget thriller The Purge.  Made for peanuts ($3 million dollars) and arriving without much fanfare aside from several well timed social media pushes and spooky promotional material, The Purge surged, making $34 million smackeroos…12 times its budget.

Topping out at $64 million in box office receipts, even if the film ultimately wasn’t that great it was inevitable that a sequel was greenlit before the sun set on that first weekend.   So here we are now a year later being treated to what could be the start of a profitable franchise for Universal Pictures…even if the overall quality of the material hasn’t improved much.

There’s something creatively ghoulish about the concept surrounding The Purge; less than a decade from now America will be largely crime free due to 12 hours one night a year when all crime is legal.  That nasty neighbor who lets his dog pee on your hydrangea?  Hit him over the head with a bat.  The barista that keeps screwing up your cappuccino order?  Slit her throat.  All bets are off, and it’s helped to keep the other 364 days safe.

The first film took place at a house in the middle of a posh gated community and focused on a family’s fight to keep ghastly Purge participants out on the curb.  The sequel, as most horror sequels are apt to do, expands its cast, concept, kills, and setting to only mediocre results.  Instead of simply remaking the cat and mouse game of the original, The Purge: Anarchy introduces new targets navigating their way out of the inner city…aka Purge central.

Returning writer/director James DeMonaco again scores points for turning his film ever so slightly into the morality tale it really is deep down but can’t quite seal the deal when it comes to providing dramatic support for his concept.  He’s scripted rather dumb, unlikable characters that speak mostly in questions (“Who are they?” “Don’t you know?” “How am I supposed to know?” “Weren’t you supposed to know?) that are forced to bond together if they are to survive the night.

While DeMonaco had Ethan Hawke to head the original film, the sequel features the equally appealing Frank Grillo (The Grey, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) as a man that sets out into the Purge night for revenge  but winds up saving a mother (Carmen Ejogo, Sparkle) and daughter (Zoë Soul, Prisoners) from an elite squad picking off residents from the lower income part of the city.  Soon they’re joined by milquetoast couple Zach Gilford (The Last Stand) & Kiele Sanchez fending off mask wearing killers scooping up unfortunate souls for a sinister purpose revealed later on.

The fivesome go on a quest straight out of Adventures in Babysitting as they look for a car to get them out of the city.  Working on bland street sets seemingly constructed for multiple uses by numerous films, there’s not a lot of tension to be had…though there is a dandy of a jump scare early on in the film.  Almost thirty minutes longer than the previous film, the extra time isn’t put to good use as we are witness to scene after scene of bickering within the group and the dodging of multiple bullets throughout the night.

Grillo is a valuable character actor that has yet to really capitalize on his break out star potential, even after turning in some great performances over past few years.  He perhaps gives the soggy material more than it deserves in terms of character development but both he (and his hair) are the clear standouts here.  Ejogo and Soul may be the least convincing mother daughter duo in recent memory, not helped by the fact that both actresses mentally check out before the first reel is over.  It’s hard to say what real life couple Gilford and Sanchez are up to here because they’re assigned the worst kind of drivel dialogue: the self-narration.  Speaking everything they’re doing because DeMonaco couldn’t or wouldn’t find a more stylish way to do it, they stumble through the film as the token white people that are clueless and ultimately helpless.

Though the film starts off strong, ironically it’s when The Purge actually begins that the cracks begin to show and grow with each passing second.  While there’s some intriguing material surrounding the government and their ulterior motives surrounding The Purge, it’s quickly relegated to a marginal subplot in favor of awkwardly moving the five hunted souls from point A to point B.

I’m still hoping this franchise finds a way to make the most out of its concept in future installments.  The premise lends itself well to the kind of isolated story telling that could go on forever…but only if the films find the characters and setting to support it.

Movie Review ~ The Purge

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A family is held hostage for harboring the target of a murderous syndicate during the Purge, a 12-hour period in which any and all crime is legalized.

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Adelaide Kane, Max Burkholder, Tony Oller

Director: James DeMonaco

Rated: R

Running Length: 85 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review: There are times when I’m in a movie theater where I start to bargain with myself before the lights go down.  The internal conversation before The Purge went something like this… “C’mon Joe, it’s your day off mid-week and you don’t really have much to lose taking in a home-invasion thriller with an interesting concept.  At best you’ll be surprised at the (pardon the pun) execution and at worst your eyes will get a nice workout as they roll in your head.  If the movie is half-way good you’ll come out on top.”  Well, The Purge is one half of a good movie, a par-baked pizza of a film that looks nice when you open it but the more you digest it the less appetizing it becomes.

Running a scant 85 minutes, The Purge has a first act that is nothing if not engaging.  Opening with security footage of some very bad people doing very bad things the audience is reintroduced to the concept that most will know going in: in the very near future the US Government has sanctioned one night a year where for 12 hours any and all crime is legalized.  You can murder your boss, make an unfortunate soul fodder for target practice, loot your local Best Buy, or if you choose to you can avoid it all by sitting back in your home under the protection of the latest and greatest security system…if you can afford one.

That’s what the Californian nuclear family at the center of The Purge is doing…and they know they’re secure within the walls of their manse because Dad (Ethan Hawke, Sinister) is the top-selling agent of the top-of-the-line security system on the market.  He’s outfitted their entire gated community, netting quite the bucks for his efforts and early on we see that the neighbors, while thankful for the protection, don’t love the fact that Hawke and his family have benefitted from the cost of their peace of mind.

Like most families the children have a boatload of issues.  Daughter (Adelaide Kane) is boy crazy and unhappy with her dad for keeping her away from her older boyfriend.  Son (Max Burkholder) is at that awkward age when communication comes best through methods that he has control over.  Dad and Mom (Lena Headey) do their best to keep the peace…though nothing is presented that puts any new spin on family dynamics.  Casting wise, the four actors make for a believable family.

When the Purge commences the family goes about their night inside as gunfire is heard and the television shows the horrors happening outside the tightly sealed doors and windows.  Then the son sees a black man yelling for help in the street and before anyone knows it, he’s opened the gates and let the bloodied man in.  It isn’t long before a group of preppy hunters have tracked the man to the house and begin their own attack in their quest for blood.

What happens after that is best left for the viewer to discover but trust me when I say that it’s at this point the movie starts to go downhill in a curiously rapid fashion.  Though the lead maniac (Tony Oller) possesses a chilly charisma that thinly masks some serious crazy there’s nothing distinctive about anyone else that comes knocking.  Actually, the film is edited so that you never get a true idea of how many people Hawke and family are up against.

Even with its short running time, the middle of the movie has some major pacing problems as the family looks for the man who has disappeared into the house so they can give him up to machete wielding psychos at their door.  That’s when you realize that the film has squandered an earlier opportunity to give the viewer an actual layout of the house so we can get our bearings.  There’s a lot of discussion about a new addition to the house and its general square feet but most of the movie looks like it was filmed in one or two hallways and bedrooms.

Though director James DeMonaco’s script raises some interesting questions about violence in our society, suggesting that what the Purge was really designed to do was aid in the further separation of the haves from the have-nots, it chickens out at the end with a lackluster run-of-the-mill final act where seemingly smart people do infuriatingly stupid things.  Morals only come into play when it’s convenient and a soapbox is handy to stand on.  Worse, no one really seems to understand the message that DeMonaco was going for in the first place.  Close but no cigar award goes to Headey who at least makes the most out of a role that doesn’t give her much to fight for.

I’m not sure that the first 45 minutes of The Purge is good enough to make you leave the theater satisfied but perhaps in the sequel (which was quickly greenlit after the low-budget but handsomely made film made back its budget in midnight screenings alone) there could be a better through-line that marries the societal questions on violence with a more thrilling output.