Synopsis: To reclaim their spooky family bond Morticia and Gomez decide to cram Wednesday, Pugsley, Uncle Fester and the crew into their haunted camper and hit the road for one last miserable family vacation. What could possibly go wrong?
Stars: Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloë Grace Moretz, Nick Kroll, Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton, Bette Midler, Wallace Shawn, Snoop Dogg, Bill Hader
Director: Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon
Running Length: 93 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: My my, doesn’t it seem like we were just singing this theme song and snapping our fingers? It was only two Halloweens ago that the animated reimagining of The Addams Family was released to theaters and even though it took in 100 million at the box office, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee a sequel in this fickle market. However, MGM must have looked at the receipts and their upcoming schedule and figured that it was worth the bet and greenlit the follow-up almost as soon as the original was released. Good thing they did, too, because now The Addams Family 2 has arrived in time for Halloween 2021 as theaters are opening up more and also releasing this to streaming services so it can be viewed at home as a safe alternative.
I had my reservations about the first film, having come of age with the live-action films of the early ‘90s starring Raul Julia and Angelica Huston as the dark heads of a strange family of characters. My overly precious feelings were broken down just a tad by the friendly good-nature vibe created by directors Conrad Vernon (Kung Fun Panda 2) and Greg Tiernan (Sausage Party) and despite some, let’s just say it, ugly animation, it was a mostly harmless exercise in update for generational purposes. My parents’ generation had their version of the family created by Charles Addams, I had mine, now a new crop could have theirs.
The directors have returned with a sequel that scores higher because it’s less about re-telling an origin story and more about getting into the fun adventure of it all, exploring the dynamics of family (even the kookiest and spookiest) in between wild bits involving tourism throughout the U.S. Coming out of a summer in which many people re-discovered the simplicity of the road trip, it could very well speak to families that dealt with similar issues of cramped quarters and too much togetherness, while highlighting the overall value of these moments you can never get back if you pass them up.
Wednesday Addams (Chloë Grace Moretz, Suspiria) is aghast when everyone receives a participation ribbon at the school science fair. She had, after all, worked hard and believes in rewarding that effort with…some kind of prize. The sponsor of the competition, Cyrus Strange (Bill Hader, It Chapter Two), agrees and is impressed enough with her invention that swaps human personalities with those of other animals that he asks her to share the creation with him. She politely declines but it gets her thinking about her place within her own family, leading her into a glum (or glummer) state. Mother Morticia (Charlize Theron, Bombshell) thinks a road trip that forces them all to spend more time together might break Wednesday out of her funk and encourage more interaction with the rest of the family.
Leaving Grandma (Bette Midler, Hocus Pocus) behind to watch the mansion (she immediately begins planning parties and charging admission), the Addams set off to familiar points of interest on a cross-country journey. A stop at Niagara Falls means someone is going over in a barrel, then there’s the Alamo, Grand Canyon, etc. etc. all given to some kind of foible, often related to Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll, Vacation). There’s another reason why Morticia and Gomez (Oscar Isaac, Annihilation) decided to head out of town quickly…but I think I’ll keep that bit of news under wraps and let the viewer find that out on their own. All I’ll say is that it’s a plot turn and resolution we’ve seen countless times before but given an Addams twist and then another flip for good measure. No points for originality at the outset but I’ll toss some back for having fun.
If the animation has improved greatly from the first film, the voice talent has slipped a notch or two. Perhaps the voices were done differently than they were previously when all the actors could be in the same room but it has the feeling of no one being in close proximity when they laid down their voice tracks. Theron sounded sleepy enough in the first film but for the sequel it’s as if she’s at the stage where one eye is completely closed and the other has an eyebrow raised so high to keep the eyelid up just one fraction of an inch. Someone needs to call Huston and give Theron some pointers – she’s too good an actress to biff this classic vamp of a character. Moretz seems to be following suit in the snooze-button department. Even Isaac as the excitable Gomez comes across as lacking that pizzazz that makes the role such a flavor burst for any actor taking it on. There’s just a curious lack of connection anywhere and for a movie in which the main theme is bonding with one another, it only sticks out more.
Look, these are all things that adults are going to pick up on more than a kid. In fact, maybe I just need to write a review from a kid’s perspective and call it a day.
I liked The Addams Family 2 because it was funny, colorful, and I ate a handful of candy while I watched it.
Synopsis: A WWII pilot traveling with top secret documents on a B-17 Flying Fortress encounters an evil presence on board the flight.
Stars: Chloë Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Beulah Koale, Taylor John Smith, Callan Mulvey, Benedict Wall, Joe Witkowski, Byron Coll, Liam Legge, Asher Bridle
Director: Roseanne Liang
Running Length: 83 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: I think we’ve talked before about my not-so-secret aversion to flying but by very public (at least on this blog, anyway) love of all things involving movies and planes. It’s a strange dichotomy, I know, and it must be the universe’s way of trying to cure my fear through a medium I enjoy…but I’m so stubborn that my white-knuckle nature when flying the friendly skies just can’t be fixed. I’m also not talking about enjoying your standard airplane disaster movies like 1970’s Airport or it’s numerous silly sequels but more along the lines of the truly scary ones that present throat-clutching scenarios that elicit yelps and have been the cause for many a canceled transatlantic flight.
One of my favorite examples is Nightmare at 20,000 Feet which is actually part of a larger anthology film, 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie. (Yes, I know it was originally from a 1963 episode of the original TV series.) I’ve yet to discuss that movie at length as part of my 31 Days to Scare and still might so won’t say much more about it, but it’s a dandy of a freaky fifteen minutes. Clearly, someone else has an affinity for it as well because there’s a new film out that takes a page or two (or three) from that story and uses it as an inspiration for a larger period piece that’s an eventful, if completely ludicrous adrenaline rush of a ride. As one of the last movies to come across my desk in 2020, the overly eager Shadow in the Cloud could have been the last gasp of a year that didn’t know when to quit but it manages to eek by on its suspense and “did they just do that?’ far-fetched action sequences.
In the throes of World War II, a highly classified package needs transportation out of an army base in Auckland, New Zealand and Air Force Capt. Maude Garrett shows up to the all-male crew of The Fool’s Errand, a B-29 bomber charting a course to Samoan Islands with papers granting her a seat. Garrett (Chloë Grace Moretz, Greta) is used to the male bravado instantly on display to both intimidate and (improbably) entice her but doesn’t let it distract her from the job she’s been tasked with. With the only seat available in the gun turret below the main cabin, her cargo must remain above her guarded by a kind crew member (Taylor John Smith, Insidious: Chapter 3) while she is in the cramped space below.
As the plane takes off, the Brit must contend with the close quarters of her seating arrangement, the “locker room talk” of the crew she hears over the radio, a small crack in the glass that separates her from the clouds below, the threat of enemy planes engaging for attack, and another danger that has also hitched a ride on The Fool’s Errand. If you haven’t yet watched the trailer for Shadow in the Cloud, I’d advise against it as it gives away sadly too much of the surprises the hectic flight has in store, including a disappointing amount of the very end of the movie. No, it’s best to go into the movie as blind as possible because that’s how you’ll wring maximum enjoyment out of the wild ride writer/director Roseanne Liang has in store for anyone brave enough to withstand takeoff.
Working from a script originally written by the problematic Max Landis (click here for more details), the producers have gone to great lengths to separate themselves from that predatory persona. I hope that his name still lingering as a writer for legal reasons doesn’t deter people from seeing Shadow in the Cloud because this is largely a fun film with its eye squarely on keeping you at attention, ready at a moment’s notice for things to change course. With the first 45 minutes largely a solo endeavor for Moretz to command the screen (a challenge she meets nicely, by the way) with growing suspense, Liang pivots the movie to a full-scale action/horror mash-up when things get hairy. At a trim 83 minutes, there’s not a lot of breathing room or time to acclimate yourself so you have to keep up with the rapidly changing developments as they fly by.
At times in the first half of the movie I found myself closing my eyes and wondering what this would sound like as a podcast. With only Moretz seen onscreen and everyone else from the crew heard on radio, Liang relies on a good sound design and well-done CGI effects to convincingly isolate her young star in the underbelly of a plane where she’s exposed in a glass dome for everyone to see. When she gets a glimpse of something out of the ordinary and can’t do anything about it, the tension meter starts to rise exponentially and Liang keeps her thumb on our pressure points straight through to the finale. Aside from Moretz’s strong performance, the rest of the cast is a bit of a blur of accents and standard military male archetypes; I mean, it took me forever to even notice Love Simon’s Nick Robinson has a small part as another gunner in the unit.
If the film loses you during it’s juggernaut of a final twenty minutes when the action takes over and the stunt work blends with some at-times unconvincing CGI, I think you may be the wrong audience for the film. I found these sequences to be most audacious and rapscallion, with Liang providing escapist fun for female audience members first and not caring about paying service to the fanboys out there that may decry some of the more non-period implausibility’s. Like Patty Jenkins did with expectations of Wonder Woman and its (better than you’ve heard) sequel, Liang knows how to make a “female action film” without gender-ing it to death.
I found Shadow in the Cloud to be so enjoyable and mostly unpredictable in the way it played out. Maybe experienced travelers will foresee some of the final details and small twists that are interspersed in the film throughout, but I appreciated the way the movie introduces some rather big game changers and then just moves on without lingering in the reveal, pleased with its cleverness. It has a job to do and doesn’t have time to waste basking in any rug pulls. It’s brawny but not quite brainy and gets some good jolts in along the way. You can hardly ask for more in a film of this type. Very worth the travel time.
Synopsis: Members of the mysterious and spooky Addams family are readily preparing for a visit from their even creepier relatives. But trouble soon arises when a shady TV personality realizes that the Addams’ eerie hilltop mansion is standing in the way of her dream to sell all the houses in the neighborhood.
Stars: Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloë Grace Moretz, Finn Wolfhard, Nick Kroll, Bette Midler, Allison Janney, Elise Fisher
Director: Conrad Vernon, Greg Tiernan
Running Length: 87 minutes
TMMM Score: (5.5/10)
Review: I have to admit when it was announced an animated reboot of The Addams Family was on its way to theaters…it happened. It was a long time coming and always inevitable…but it happened. I turned into one of those people that suddenly became overly protective of what had come before, treating it as some precious commodity that was untouchable. How could they think of making another movie without the likes of Angelica Huston, Christina Ricci, or the late Raul Julia? And animated? True, the two live-action films were cartoon-y in their own way and The Addams Family had already been seen on the small screen as colorful cells on Saturday mornings for young audiences but I just didn’t want this particular property messed with. Plus, this world that was created by cartoonist Charles Addams in 1938 was so smartly macabre I wanted it kept the way it was and left uncorrupted.
After what seems like a long path to movie theaters, The Addams Family has arrived with excellent timing as a Halloween outing option, though I was dismayed to see numerous parents ushering their young tykes into Joker playing next door instead. It’s a mixed bag of a movie with some good elements in the form of spirited vocal performances and a droll script with a good message of acceptance that has a few genuine laugh out loud lines. On the other hand, the animation is particularly ugly and off-putting, which in some cases may have been the point but largely was just bad design.
Part origin story (which I quite liked), we see how The Addams Family made their way to live in an abandoned asylum on the top of a hill in New Jersey. Gomez (Oscar Isaac, A Most Violent Year, an excellent successor to Raul Julia) and Morticia (Charlize Theron, Atomic Blonde, curiously less successful) have raised their children Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz, Greta), and Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard, The Goldfinch) in relative isolation, keeping them away from the rest of the world that was so cruel to them when they were young. The family is preparing for a gathering of the entire Addams clan for Pugsley’s mazurka, a sword-dance his father has been trying to teach him that is of little interest to the mischievous imp. Preferring to play with bombs instead of blades, father and son can’t quite connect on this important upcoming event. At the same time, when a bubbly big-haired TV makeover host (Allison Janney, I, Tonya) comes knocking hoping to re-do the gloomy Addams manse to fit in with the entire town of Assimilation she has just made-over, Wednesday becomes more curious with life outside their small lot and asks Morticia to go school and not be “home caged” anymore, a request that causes the blood to drain into Morticia’s face, one of several funny visual gags.
The bulk of the film is taken up by these two competing storylines revolving around the children, with equal time given to both. When the family begins to arrive and Pugsley gets put in the spotlight, it gives the animators room to create more peculiar Addams relations that would likely have pleased their original creator. Though he seemed popular with the crowd when I saw the film, I could have done with far less of Uncle Fester…but maybe it was just the way Nick Kroll (Vacation) has voiced him like he has a numb tongue that started to grate on me after a while. I got a kick out of Bette Midler (Hocus Pocus) as Grandma and you can judge for yourself if Snoop Dogg (Pitch Perfect 2) earns his credit for voicing Cousin Itt. There’s plenty of visual flair to these larger animated scenes, aided a bit by the 3D upgrade I sprung for which added some extra depth to the expansive Addams mansion.
I just couldn’t quite get over how grotesque most of the animation so often looked. Apart from The Addams Family who have their own ghoulish glow about them, the rest of the townspeople are all spindly legged monstrosities that are really off-putting. Perhaps that’s what the team was going for, to show some parallels between the family and the townspeople that judge them but…I just don’t quite buy that easy out. There’s just too many hastily rendered faces with eyes that are so close together you can count them as one and mouths that look like stop signs. Speaking of disturbing, there’s far too many moments where sharp objects (arrows, swords) either enter the mouth, the head, or the back…it’s nearly all with Uncle Fester so it’s a gag but it was over-the-top for my taste.
In all honesty, I should have been able to let go a little more from the outset because so much time had passed between the last live-action film released theatrically (Addams Family Values in 1993) and this new one from directors Conrad Vernon (Kung Fun Panda 2) and Greg Tiernan (Sausage Party). An entirely different generation has emerged and deserved being introduced to their own version of The Addams Family like I was back in 1991 when the first movie came out. It inspired me to look back at the original television series and the original Charles Addams cartoons and might do the same for some kids today as well. I’m glad this option is available in theaters now to encourage a family night out at the movies, parents can take their kids to this one without much concern.
Synopsis: A young woman befriends a lonely widow who’s harboring a dark and deadly agenda towards her.
Stars: Isabelle Huppert, Chloë Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe, Colm Feore, Stephen Rea
Director: Neil Jordan
Running Length: 98 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: In my mid-teens, I used to love the made-for-TV movies that aired on the USA Television Network. Remember those? The modest thrillers featured an array of crazies (mothers, nannies, children, stalkers, stepfathers, etc) preying upon naïve chumps that were easily tricked and overpowered. They were soapy, syrupy, and an absolute delight to devour on their own or in a weekend marathon where they would all start to blend together by the time Sunday night rolled around. Watching the entertaining new thriller Greta, I found myself riding a wave of nostalgia because you don’t have to squint too hard to see that for all its handsome production values and A-list leads it’s just a gussied up made for cable movie.
Still grieving the loss of her mother, recent NYC transplant Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz, Suspiria) hopes living in a new city with her college friend Erica (Maika Monroe, The 5th Wave) will help her move on. Though she’s from Boston, Frances displays some downright Midwestern morals when she finds a purse left behind on the subway and returns it to Greta (Isabelle Huppert, Dead Man Down). The lonely woman takes a liking to Frances and the two form a friendship that seemingly fills a void present in both of their lives. Greta’s daughter doesn’t live close and Frances begins to enjoy spending time with the soft-spoken older woman. That all changes when Frances discovers a secret about Greta that sets into motion a series of events revealing Greta’s true nature.
To say more about the second and third acts of Greta would be to give away some of the twists screenwriter Ray Wright and director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, In Dreams) have waiting for audiences, most of which are telegraphed well in advance. The film is exactly what you think it’s going to be and doesn’t stray too far from the path. Usually, I’d huff and puff about this lack of originality but the way Greta unfolds is so nicely handled by Jordan and his actors that I found myself quite enjoying just going along for the intriguing ride.
The performances are actually the most surprising thing the movie has to offer. It’s a great benefit that Jordan has Huppert in the title role because she brings her inherent oddity to the forefront and makes it her weapon to keep us on our toes. We know from moment one there’s something off about her (and it seems like Frances does too) but Huppert’s sad eyes and wan smile nicely hide the rage boiling underneath her porcelain surface. When she feels rejected by Frances she lashes out in unexpected ways, which creates an air of uncomfortable unpredictability and that’s a space Huppert seems to revel working in.
I often struggle with Moretz as an actress but her turn here feels like one of the most fully formed characters she’s tackled. Frances has some emotional trauma that hasn’t healed and she can’t totally forgive her father (Colm Feore, The Prodigy) who appears to have moved on with his life. Moretz wades through some of the heaviness in Wright’s script and brings forth a lonely girl in a big city that feels familiar and relatable. We understand why she might eschew a night out drinking at a club with her party girl trust fund roommate for a quiet dinner with the widowed Greta. And we also see why Greta’s betrayal of trust hurts her so much.
The slow boil of the first 45 minutes gives way to an increasingly hard to swallow turn of events that don’t always jibe from scene to scene. At one point Moretz is kicking down a door with her bare foot and in the next shot she’s unable to break a window. A character is introduced late in the proceedings for no good reason other than to up the danger ante for Frances and satisfy some unspoken violence quota. And for a movie set in the modern day it mystifies me that Greta’s place of residence is so hard to find one character goes on what is essentially a needle in a haystack search instead of firing up Google Maps.
Jordan is a curious filmmaker with a resume that covers many genres. He hasn’t had an outright thriller in a while but he wades into the waters quite well with interesting camera set-ups and pacing that keeps things moving along without accumulating much drag. There are several suspenseful sequences staged with people in peril from dangers just outside the frame and it creates the desired tension. For those that like blunt edges, there’s a bit of gore that shocks with glee.
Now that the Oscars have been given out and everyone has patted themselves on the back, it’s time to get back to business. We made it through a particular rough January (Serenity – yikes!) and a February that saw some modest, but not huge, hits (Alita: Battle Angel, What Men Want) and before you knew it, March is upon us. With a host of anticipated movies set for release in March, Greta is being released in a narrow window before the blockbusters arrive. It may be getting a release without much fanfare but it’s a better film than it’s modest roll-out would have you believe. With noted caveats aside, this one is worth catching in theaters.
Synopsis: A darkness swirls at the center of a world-renowned dance company, one that will engulf the artistic director, an ambitious young dancer, and a grieving psychotherapist. Some will succumb to the nightmare. Others will finally wake up.
Stars: Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson, Mia Goth, Chloe Grace Moretz, Jessica Harper, Lutz Ebersdorf, Sylvie Testud
Review: Though Dario Argento’s 1977 film Suspiria has long been considered a giallo classic, filmmakers have been trying to remake it for decades. Most recently, it was going to be a project for Natalie Portman and director David Gordon Green, until arguments over the budget caused the in-demand duo to move on to other projects. Portman, who had begun training for the dancing in Suspiria, went on to win an Oscar for Black Swan, which was considered by many to be a film in the same vein. Though he had put a lot of heart and soul into his vision of Suspiria, even casting the film with some impressive names, Green wouldn’t delve into horror again until 2018 when he successfully rebooted Halloween.
The person that brought the project to Green was director Luca Guadagnino who met with Argento and his co-screenwriter Daria Nicolodi to get their blessing to remake the film. With Green on to other projects and Guadagnino gathering strong accolades for his work, plans continued to simmer until it was officially announced in 2015. Three years later we have what Guadagnino considers an homage to the original film instead of an outright remake. Though the original Suspiria will always have a place in the horror history books for it’s gorgeous production design and creative visuals, Guadagnino’s version is the superior one with the director and screenwriter David Kajganich holding nothing back. It may lack the color and vibrant gothic-ness of Argento’s vision but it takes the morsel of an idea Argento set on the plate and turns it into a five course banquet of riches.
Once again, the film is set in 1977 but the political unrest at the time is felt throughout and becomes a secondary character at times. Televisions broadcast news of a plane hijacking and there are demonstrations in the street from youths rebelling against their parents and grandparents who are being held responsible for the atrocities conducted in WWII. Into this mix comes American Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson, Fifty Shades of Grey) who has arrived from the safety of her Mennonite upbringing. Growing up Susie always felt out of place in her devout and traditional family but an early exposure to the Markos Dance Academy creates a strange pull to the modern dance pieces they originated. It was her dream to attend and after an impressive audition she is granted a spot in the company.
Susie has shown up right after the disappearance of Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz, Dark Shadows) who we see at the beginning telling her therapist Jozef Klemperer that she thinks the academy is being run by witches. When Patricia vanishes completely, Klemperer begins to investigate on his own which will drum up painful memories of his past and endanger his future. At the same time, Susie is drawn deeper into the darkness that haunts the academy as well as the intoxicating aura of Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton, Only Lovers Left Alive) who takes her under her wing.
The bones of the film Argento created are still there, with Susie’s friends falling prey to an unseen evil but Guadagnino takes things further into more psychologically complex territory. With no male actors playing a major role in a film directed and written by men, the movie is completely void of a male point of view, a smart move made by Guadagnino and Kajganich to get out of the way of the imperious actresses hired to play their sinister characters. Suggesting the witchcraft at play is part of the undulating movements by the dance students and choreographed by Blanc, Guadagnino and Kajganich move away from our traditional thoughts of spells and sorcery.
As Susie, Johnson gets her best role to date, showing just how much the Fifty Shades series failed to utilize her strengths. Far more nuanced than the original character portrayed by Jessica Harper (who pops up in an important supporting role here), Johnson’s Susie is innocent but not naïve, green but not inexperienced, clever but not all-knowing. Where she begins at the start of the movie and where she ends are light years apart and Johnson skillfully takes us step by step through her journey. As Susie’s friend that begins to get more suspicious of her beloved academy and teachers, Mia Goth conveys a nice amount of terror as she becomes a target of evil and Moretz’s brief appearance fits in nicely with the paranoia of her character.
Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) has populated the staff of the academy with brilliant European actresses, all notable stars in their own right. It’s Swinton who is given center stage in not one, not two, but three different roles and the performances are, as expected, brilliant. That Swinton could so believably play multiple parts (and ages, and genders) is another tribute to her willingness to lose herself entirely in a role. The filmmakers at first tried to deny she was playing more than her central role of Madame Blanc but it quickly become a well-known fact that she was also playing Klemperer. The third role she’s playing I leave it to you to find out on your own.
As a horror film, the movie delivers the shocks in several truly disturbing sequences that I’ve honestly had trouble shaking off. If you get woozy at the sight of blood this is definitely not the film for you as the last third of the movie is drenched in the red stuff. That being said, the violence is effective because it is so straight-forward and horrifying, some of it coming out of nowhere. A dynamite sequence interspersed with the troupe performing a new piece is a harrowing experience. There are also quiet moments, such as an outstanding epilogue that conjure the kind of emotions not usually felt in a horror movie. Special mention must go to Radiohead’s Thom Yorke for his first feature film score that is all moody creepiness and melds perfectly with several of Guadagnino’s uncompromising sequences.
As is the case with many of these overtly arty horror films, Suspiria isn’t for everyone…nor should it be. At 152 minutes it’s a commitment but one that I felt flew by in a flash. Your experience will likely be different than mine, but I’m hoping people go into this one with their eyes wide open, knowing it’s a challenging film on many levels. I found it to be a largely unforgettable winner and a loving homage to the 1977 original.
Synopsis: A darkness swirls at the center of a world-renowned dance company, one that will engulf the troupe’s artistic director, an ambitious young dancer, and a grieving psychotherapist. Some will succumb to the nightmare. Others will finally wake up.
Release Date: November 2, 2018
Thoughts: Whoa, this remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic looks far better and way more terrifying than I was expecting. Coming off of 2017’s lauded coming of age drama Call Me by Your Name, director Luca Guadagnino makes a major shift in tone for this creepy tale of a European dance company ruthlessly run by a coven of witches. From this brief look, the feel of the film seems in line with Argento’s stylish masterpiece but also doesn’t come off like a carbon copy. With stars Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades Freed), Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive), Chloë Grace Moretz (The 5th Wave), and original star Jessica Harper top lining and buzz steadily building based on early screenings of key intense scenes, Suspiria is one fall film to keep your eye out for…and then cover them in fear.
Synopsis: Four waves of increasingly deadly alien attacks have left most of Earth decimated. Cassie is on the run, desperately trying to save her younger brother.
Stars: Chloë Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Alex Roe, Maria Bello, Maika Monroe, Liev Schreiber, Ron Livingston, Maggie Siff
Director: J Blakeson
Running Length: 112 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: As is tradition, January is proving to be a rough month at the movies…which is largely why The 5th Wave is only the second movie I’ve seen in the theaters so far in this new year. While it’s not as pretentiously terrible as the other movie I saw earlier in the month (Anomalisa…oy), the latest big screen first installment of a Young Adult trilogy of novels struggles to set itself apart from the numerous other (and better) page to screen adaptations.
Coming off like a Muppet Babies retelling of Independence Day, The 5th Wave is the first novel in Rick Yancey’s trilogy following the after effects of an alien invasion that leaves the world in ruins. An electromagnetic pulse has destroyed anything with a current or engine, a super strain of the bird flu, and a series of catastrophic earthquakes that yield gigantic, yes, waves, has trimmed the population down by the millions. The screenplay by Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich), Akiva Goldsman (Winter’s Tale), and Jeff Pinkner (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) often feels more mature than the characters speaking the lines, but that winds up helping the film overall.
At the center of the mayhem is 16-year-old Cassie and her younger brother Sam (spoiler alert if you miss the first 15 minutes of the movie: the parents don’t make it…), left to fend for themselves against an alien race known as the Others who are taking steps to rid the planet of its inhabitants. When Cassie and Sam are separated by the kind of “just missed the bus” moments that can only exist in fantasy movies, the siblings find themselves split into two separate plot threads. One thread follows Cassie’s rocky journey to reunite with her brother and the other tracks Sam as he is recruited into an army of children trained to exterminate the alien species by a grumpy looking Liev Schrieber (Spotlight) and a heavily made up Maria Bello (Prisoners, who, it must be said, gets the biggest laugh of the movie thanks to a sight gag involving her red lipstick). There are a few twists that aren’t hard to predict, though to its credit the film doesn’t expressly telegraph each and every move.
It’s the end of the world as she knows and she feels…ok? Though the first 1/3 of the movie is decently paced and mildly involving, its biggest problem is its bored-looking star. Using flared nostrils and expressive lips as a substitute for deep emotion, Chloë Grace Moretz (Carrie, Dark Shadows) saunters through the majority of the movie killing time and collecting her paycheck. She gets a few good tough chick moments but they are weakened by the film feeling obligated to give her googly eyes for a hunky piece of could-be-alien man meat (Alex Roe, filling the man-meat qualifications nicely).
I actually found myself more interested in the parallel storyline of a squad of teens and pre-teens going through basic training, though overall it’s given unfortunately short shrift in favor of more Moretz moments. Led by Zombie (Nick Robinson, Jurassic World) alongside interesting but underdeveloped characters (like Tony Revolori, The Grand Budapest Hotel and especially Maika Monroe, Labor Day), had the film focused solely on the squad, it may have found its footing easier when it rounds the corner into its final act. A brief side note, I’m growing a bit weary seeing kids killing kids and being put into such deadly harm so parents, even though its based on a book your kids can pick up in their library, this easily earns it PG-13 thanks to several overly violent and disturbing passages.
As to the conclusion of the movie, it’s no secret that this is the first in a planned trilogy so there’s little resolution to offer by the end…making the previous two hours feel like a large set-up to sequels that may not happen should The 5th Wave get deep sixed at the box office. My advice would be to wait until the second (or third, or fourth if they dare to split it into two movies) is released and catch The 5th Wave from the comfort of your own home.
We did it! We made it through another summer and while the outdoor heat wasn’t too bad (in Minnesota, at least) the box office was on fire.
I’ll admit that I indulged in summer fun a bit more than I should, distracting me from reviewing some key movies over the last three months so I wanted to take this opportunity to relive the summer of 2015, mentioning my thoughts on the movies that got away and analyzing the winners and losers by month and overall.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride read.
Traditionally, August is the month when the wind-down begins. It never has any of the big tent pole pictures featured earlier in the summer and it can be a time when studios try to burn off some troubled pictures or try to skillfully position a sleeper hit. This August for sure had its share of high and low points, much like the summer that it capped off. I was still in frolic mode so didn’t get to as many reviews as I had wanted but sitting here now, in still sunny September, it’s time to review the movies I missed!
Movie Review ~ Shaun the Sheep Movie The Facts: Synopsis: When Shaun decides to take the day off and have some fun, he gets a little more action than he bargained for. A mix up with the Farmer, a caravan and a very steep hill lead them all to the Big City and it’s up to Shaun and the flock to return everyone safely to the green grass of home. Stars: Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Omid Djalili, Kate Harbour, Tim Hands, Andy Nyman, Simon Greenall, Emma Tate Director: Mark Burton, Richard Starzak Rated: PG Running Length: 85 minutes TMMM Score: (7/10) Review: I’m not saying that the U.S. doesn’t churn out a fine slate of family friendly films…but there’s a certain aura around the British imports that seem to work time and time again. Like Paddington earlier this year, Shaun the Sheep Movie was an unexpected delight, 85 minutes of smart comedy that’s deep enough for adults to not need a lobotomy to enjoy and zany enough to keep the attention of young tykes. Remarkable when you consider there’s not any dialogue in the movie aside from some rumbles and grumbles from human and animal characters, it’s a big screen adventure adapted from a popular television show. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was surprisingly entertained and quite impressed by the stop-motion animation. The film didn’t have great marketing so it slipped by most people but if it’s at your bargain movie theater, pack those kids up in your minivan and get to it…or treat yourself to a solo show.
Movie Review ~ Dark Places The Facts: Synopsis: Libby Day was only seven years old when her family was brutally murdered in their rural Kansas farmhouse. Twenty-five years later, she agrees to revisit the crime and uncovers the wrenching truths that led up to that tragic night. Stars: Charlize Theron, Drea de Matteo, Nicholas Hoult, Christina Hendricks, Chloe Grace Moretz, Corey Stoll, Sterling Jerins, Tye Sheridan, Shannon Kook Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner Rated: R Running Length: 113 minutes TMMM Score: (3/10) Review: With the huge success of Gillian Flynn’s third novel Gone Girland seeing how fast the movie rights were snapped up, it’s only natural that her other two other books would take a similar path. Dark Places is the first of these to hit theaters (Sharp Objects is arriving as a television movie) and it shows one of two things, either the third time was the charm for Flynn or something was lost in translation. Full disclosure, I haven’t read the book but I’m inclined to think that it’s the fault of the screenwriter because there are so many hazardous movie mistakes only a Hollywood writer could make. Though the mystery of a decades old killing spree coming back to haunt the sole survivor is initially intriguing, it quickly dissolves into a sticky mess that makes less sense the more secrets are revealed. It also doesn’t help that it’s badly miscast, with the usually impressive Charlize Theron relying on her ever-present trucker hat to do most of the acting for her…or maybe to hide her embarrassment at being looped into this turkey. Though it boasts a cast that typically gets the job done, no one quite seems to know what they’re doing…as if they hadn’t read the book before undertaking their scenes. The only worthwhile performance is Christina Hendricks as Theron’s murdered mom, bringing some dignity to a role that, as written, doesn’t earn it.
Movie Review ~ Fantastic Four The Facts: Synopsis: Four young outsiders teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe which alters their physical form in shocking ways. The four must learn to harness their new abilities and work together to save Earth from a former friend turned enemy. Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Tim Blake Nelson, Reg E. Cathey Director: Josh Trank Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 100 minutes TMMM Score: (4/10) Review: Well, what can I saw bout the Fantastic Four that hasn’t been said (loudly) already? Is it a lousy movie? Yeah, probably. Could it have been better? After two attempts to bring these characters to the big screen I’m not sure we’ll ever get a decent adaptation. What went so wrong? If you believe the outspoken director, it was studio interference that took his movie from a rich origin story to an overstuffed thundercloud of action movie clichés and fairly terrible special effects. If you are to believe the studio, it was that director Josh Trank (who debuted with the surprise hit Chronicle) disconnected from the material, a development that was costing time and money. Watching the film with this knowledge you can see the moment that something went awry. Because the thing is, the first 20-30 minutes of Fantastic Four is quite good, sensitive even. It’s a slow start and, let’s face it, audiences these days don’t want a slow start. They want their action and they want it now. The studio was happy to oblige and when it becomes a standard summer superhero movie my interest took a nosedive and it became a waiting game of the good guys defeating the bad guys so I could go home. I think the colossal outcry from fans and critics was a little on the dramatic side, even for a superhero film, but it’s not wholly unwarranted.
Movie Review ~ Ricki and the Flash The Facts: Synopsis: A musician who gave up everything for her dream of rock-and-roll stardom returns home, looking to make things right with her family. Stars: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Sebastian Stan, Mamie Gummer, Audra McDonald, Rick Springfield Director: Jonathan Demme Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 102 minutes Trailer Review:Here TMMM Score: (6.5/10) Review: So we’ve all long agreed to the fact that Meryl Streep can do no wrong. You can love her for it or hate her for it, but she never fails to impressive me with each new role she takes on. From starring in The Iron Lady to taking a supporting role (cameo, really) in The Homesman, Streep seems to take a role if it speaks to her, no matter the size or commitment. It’s not hard to see why she was attracted to the rough rocker Ricki with her tattoos and braided hair, here was another opportunity for Streep to strip away the classical actress aura and go barefoot into the wild. She’s ably aided by Diablo Cody’s middling script, Jonathan Demme’s careful direction, and a supporting cast that don’t just play second fiddle to Streep’s lead guitar. I think there’s one too many musical numbers allowed to play longer than they should and Cody’s dialogue doesn’t have the snap that it used to. The whole thing is worth it though for a stellar scene between Streep and Audra McDonald, the new wife of Streep’s ex-husband. A sparring match spoken with calm and some care, the two women have an electricity between them that the film needed more of. It falls apart swiftly in its second half, but it’s not a totally out of tune affair.
Movie Review ~ The Man from U.N.C.L.E. The Facts: Synopsis: In the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons. Stars: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris, Hugh Grant Director: Guy Ritchie Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 116 minutes TMMM Score: (7.5/10) Review: I never watched the television series on which this cool-as-can-be spy movie was based on but I’m pretty sure there weren’t the same amount of homoerotic jokes during the weekly adventures of Solo and Kuryakin. While I feel that director Guy Ritchie relied a bit too heavily on his similar experience at the helm of two Sherlock Holmes films, he brings his A game to this big screen adaption, sparing no expense when it came to production design. And that’s a good thing because though it’s never truly predictable, the plot is pretty thin. So it’s up to Ritchie and his cast to sell the film and they are more than up for the challenge. Henry Cavill (Man of Steel) is perfectly cast as the smooth Solo and he’s well matched with Armie Hammer’s (Mirror Mirror) simmering Kuryakin. The two trade barbs rich with double entendre while protecting Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) from falling into the hands of a sinister villainess (the scene stealing Elizabeth Debicki, The Great Gastby). The film looks and sounds amazing, here’s hoping costume designer Joanna Johnston gets an Oscar nomination for her impeccable suits and stunning dresses.
Movie Review ~ End of the Tour The Facts: Synopsis: The story of the five-day interview between Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky and acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace, which took place right after the 1996 publication of Wallace’s groundbreaking epic novel, ‘Infinite Jest.’ Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Segel, Joan Cusack, Mamie Gummer, Anna Chlumsky, Mickey Sumner Director: James Ponsoldt Rated: R Running Length: 106 minutes TMMM Score: (8/10) Review: I never thought I’d say the words “potential Oscar nominee Jason Segel” in a work of non-fiction…but then again I didn’t think two-time Oscar nominee Jonah Hill was possible either and look what happened there. Yes, Segel’s work as tormented writer David Foster Wallace is worthy of acclaim as the actor digs deep within and bypasses his comedic instincts to find the truth of the man behind the epic novel Infinite Jest. Jesse Eisenberg (who also pops up in American Ultra) turns in strong work as well, though he’s really just a prop for Segel to react off of. Their five day road trip interview for Rolling Stone is the basis for the movie and it leads the men and the audience into interesting territory. It’s a movie you watch once, appreciate, then file away as something you can recommend to people and feel like you’ve done them a favor. One thing that must be said…Eisenberg needs to learn how to smoke a cigarette. Here and in American Ultra he looks a child does when they are mimicking their parent. Many things about Eisenberg annoy me and this is just another thing to add to the list.
Movie Review ~ The Diary of a Teenage Girl The Facts: Synopsis: A teen artist living in 1970s San Francisco enters into an affair with her mother’s boyfriend. Stars: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgård, Christopher Meloni, Kristen Wiig Director: Marielle Heller Rated: R Running Length: 102 minutes TMMM Score: (7.5/10) Review: It’s nice to go into a movie with only a basic logline and a list of the actors featured. I didn’t know what to expect from The Diary of a Teenage Girl but whatever I thought, the movie surprised me in the best ways. The story of a young girl’s sexual awakening in San Francisco is gloriously set in the mid ‘70s, an era of freedom and discovery. While some may be off put by the relationship between an older man and an underage girl (star-in-the-making Bel Powley is older than she looks, thankfully), they’d be missing the point of Phoebe Gloeckner’s autobiographical graphic novel on which the film is based. It’s a frank flick that frequently finds its actors in the buff but doesn’t feel gratuitous because these characters are coming into themselves, marveling at a new experience they never knew existed. I appreciated that the film pulled no punches in showing nudity and discussing sexual situations and director Marielle Heller shows respect for all people involved. It’s a bold film with animated sequences, a killer soundtrack, and splendid performances.
The dog days of summer brought three other notable releases to theaters, though I’m guessing by the poor box office returns of two of them that the studios (and actors) wish the films had just quietly gone away.
I hadn’t heard a thing about American Ultra until two weeks before it was due to arrive, strange considering it starred Kirsten Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg. The two aren’t serious box office draws but they do have a fanbase that might have helped build more buzz for the stoner comedy. Not that it would have made the film any better because at its best it was a mildly diverting mix of comedy and gratuitous violence and at its worst it was a merely the thing you watched because you’d seen everything else at the theater and wanted some time in the air conditioning. It’s bad when you don’t know what the movie is about, but it’s worse when it feels like the filmmakers don’t have a clue either.
I’ve gone on record as no fan of director Noah Baumbach and very on the fence for actress Greta Gerwig so I wasn’t at all looking forward to their latest collaboration, Mistress America. Once again, the universe has a way of loving to see me humbled and I emerged from the screening not only in a damn fine mood but the desire to see it again. That rarely happens with any movie, let alone a Baumbach/Gerwig joint so that should tell you something about the quality of this movie that is firmly in a New York state of mind. Sure, it has its share of problems but they don’t ultimately detract from the overall enjoyment the film brings.
Finally, there’s the sad, sad case of We Are Your Friends, Zac Efron’s latest attempt to be a serious dramatic actor. While I think it’s Efron’s best dramatic performance to date and didn’t totally hate the film, audiences sure did and it became the third biggest box office failure of all time…pretty stunning considering how many other bad movies have been released and made at least a few million during its opening weekend. I think the film got a bum rap and just was released at the wrong time, but it should hopefully send a message to Efron that he needs to spend some time figuring out exactly where his place is in Hollywood because he is, like his character here, totally lost.
Synopsis: A former black ops commando who faked his death for a quiet life in Boston comes out of his retirement to rescue a young girl and finds himself face to face with Russian gangsters
Release Date: September 26. 2014
Thoughts: Though he remains one of Hollywood’s most consistent actors, over the last decade Denzel Washington (Flight) seems to be making the same type of film with little to differentiate between the characters he’s playing. Now, mind you, Washington was never known for making light rom-coms in-between his hard-boiled work but I find myself wanting to tell the guy to lighten up a bit. He’s becoming the new Charles Bronson of flawed characters searching for redemption and it’s becoming a bit one-note for me. This big screen (and evidentially much grittier) adaptation of the 80s television series reunites Washington with his Training Day director Antoine Fuqua (Olympus Has Fallen). That collaboration brought Washington an Oscar (undeserved in my opinion) and while I think Oscar lightening won’t be striking twice, The Equalizer at least will fill Washington’s 2014 quota for dark drama.
Synopsis: A reimagining of the classic horror tale about Carrie White, a shy girl outcast by her peers and sheltered by her deeply religious mother, who unleashes telekinetic terror on her small town after being pushed too far at her senior prom.
Review: Here’s the cold bloody truth about this remake of Brian De Palma’s 1976 film adaptation of Stephen King’s book…it’s just totally unnecessary. Now I’m not crazy about remakes in general, especially when they’re taking a film that was already well-respected to begin with – so the question must be “What will a new take on the film bring to the table?”
When director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) was asked this question the answer seemed to be that her vision of King’s novel would follow the book more. That’s a valid argument and we’ve certainly seen that King’s work can be interpreted different ways…one need only watch Stanley Kubrick’s big screen treatment of The Shining and compare it to the more faithful (but less interesting) television miniseries to see that the material lends itself to reinvention.
Knowing this, I still had reservations about seeing a new version of King’s famous story about a shy girl with a zealot for a mother that enacts a furious vengeance on her high school tormentors. I just didn’t see any point to it…could Chloë Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass 2, Dark Shadows) have that same vulnerability Sissy Spacek so wonderfully tapped into? Would Julianne Moore (Don Jon, Non-Stop) chow down on the role of Carrie’s fanatical mother with the same glee that Piper Laurie took? And what of the final denouement at Carrie’s prom…without the benefit of De Palma’s use of split screen and Pino Donaggio’s tingling score could it have that same terrifying impact?
Sadly…this remake lives totally in the shadow of the original and doesn’t do itself any favors by not taking the kind of risks that Peirce seemed to promise. While Moretz’s take on Carrie is less simpleton than Spacek’s, I have a continued desire to shout “Stop mumbling” whenever she’s on screen. Kudos goes to Moore for going all the way with the crazed mama role, though Laurie ultimately remains the victor only because her mania was always simmering rather than boiling, though I have to say that Moore was probably the only choice for the role the way screenwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa have fashioned her.
Then again, I found myself at times wondering what I would have thought of the film if it hadn’t been a remake. I’d have nothing to compare it to so it would have wound up being another high school set thriller with a decidedly interesting edge. So it’s not so much that the film is bad, because with its unusually strong performances (including Portia Doubleday as queen bee Chris and Gabriella Wilde, Endless Love, as sensitive Sue) and controlled style it’s a perfectly decent, if uninspired, effort.
The other big problem is that the majority of the audiences know how it’s going to end. That’s not just because they’ve seen the original because I’d bet the majority of the young audiences won’t even know films existed before 1990, but because the trailers and posters have showed our young star bathed in blood and not enjoying her prom in the least. In De Palma’s version, Carrie’s destruction of the prom was truly frightening as she has a mental break and uses her telekinetic powers to ensure no one gets lucky. With Spacek’s wide-eyes peeking out from a blood streaked face, all she had to do was move her eyes and De Palma’s split screen showed the result. No such invention is used here and that results in Carrie’s vengeance coming across as more calculated and decision-oriented. Spacek simply lost it, Moretz is in control…and that changes our allegiances in some way.
In the grand scheme of things, this remake is not the worst that could befall an adaptation of a Stephen King novel (coughcoughTheLawnmowerMancoughcough) but I just wish that if they HAD to remake it…they had done it with a greater conviction and purpose.