Movie Review ~ We Summon the Darkness


The Facts
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Synopsis: Three best friends cross paths with sadistic killers after they travel to a secluded country home to party.

Stars: Alexandra Daddario, Keean Johnson, Johnny Knoxville, Logan Miller, Maddie Hasson, Amy Forsyth, Austin Swift

Director: Marc Meyers

Rated: R

Running Length: 91 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  I find that more and more I’m an easy target for any movie that starts out saying it is set in the 1980s.  Maybe because it’s the decade I was born and started to gain some consciousness (movie consciousness came in the 1990s, though) but there’s something so fun and carefree about the 80s that lends itself well to a retro bit of cinema.  For comedies, it’s a slam dunk to set your film in the Carter or Reagan era of our timeline but for the horror genre it’s especially wild because you’ve then freed yourself from the technical advances of future decades that make being stranded at a remote location that much more easy to navigate out of.

I hadn’t known We Summon the Darkness was set in 1988 before I started it on early Sunday morning so it already began on a high note.  In all honesty, I went into this one as blind as possible and knew nothing save for the synopsis that you can read for yourself above.  That’s really the best way to go into this because it has a twist that I wouldn’t dream of spoiling and it’s revealed pretty early into the feature.  Genre aficionados will probably spot it before the characters onscreen do but it’s a tribute to writer Alan Trezza and director Marc Meyers that they are able to keep things under wraps as long as they are able to.

Girlfriends Alexis (Alexandra Daddario, Texas Chainsaw 3D), Val (Maddie Hasson, Novitiate), and Beverly (Amy Forsyth, Beautiful Boy) have hit the road for a trip to a local concert.  Stopping at a gas station for some refreshments they’re alerted to a rash of cult killings of teenagers that have been plaguing the area so the audience knows they have been fairly warned for whatever happens next.  At the death metal concert they buddy up with Mark (Keean Johnson, Alita: Battle Angel), Kovacs (Logan Miller, Love, Simon), and Ivan (Austin Swift, Live by Night) and they all agree to go back to Alexis’ parents’ home after to continue the party.  At the sprawling manse that is appropriately cut-off from anyone that could interfere, the six will go through a night of hell…but it’s not totally what you think.

The previews for We Summon the Darkness have given away some of the major twists and that’s unfortunate because going into the film without that knowledge made the lead up an enjoyable bit of suspense and misdirection.  Being robbed of that would, I think, dampen the entertainment value so it’s up to you if you want to have that experience cooled a bit – I think you should just go headfirst into the bloody nightmare Trezza and Meyers have cooked up because it’s not only a lot of fun but it’s fairly funny as well.

As is the case with many of these types of horror films that are laced with comedy, the laughs start to grow old about as fast as the blood dries on the victims and it wouldn’t be fair to let the filmmakers off the hook and say the movie is smooth sailing.  While there’s little spared in terms of blood, gore, and guts, the humor starts to get repetitive and grating around the 70 minute mark and that’s just about the time Johnny Knoxville (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) turns up as Daddario’s Bible-thumping televangelist preacher papa.  Knoxville’s presence is not needed here as the younger actors are holding things down just fine (Hasson and Forsyth are both standouts) but he’s given a longer leash that required and he drags the taste level down a bit.  Thankfully, it recovers nicely for a decent finale which pulls no punches.

Add We Summon the Darkness to the growing list of watchable horror films that are harmless distractions during this quarantine.  I’m not sure we’d be as forgiving if there was an abundance of other films in theaters to watch…but then again we likely wouldn’t be devoting much attention to smaller movies like this in the first place.  So, in that regard, I’m glad indie horror films like We Summon the Darkness are getting viewed at all.  Meyers and his team are clearly talented and know their way around the genre, with some editing of the script it could have been even better.

Movie Review ~ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The city needs heroes. Darkness has settled over New York City as Shredder and his evil Foot Clan have an iron grip on everything from the police to the politicians. The future is grim until four unlikely outcast brothers rise from the sewers and discover their destiny.

Stars: Megan Fox, Alan Ritchson, Jeremy Howard, Pete Ploszek, Noel Fisher, Will Arnett, Danny Woodburn, William Fichtner, Johnny Knoxville, Tony Shalhoub

Director: Jonathan Liebesman

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 101 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: I can still recall waiting in line at the Eden Prairie East movie theater back in 1990 on the day the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film was released. An unexpected hit at the box office, I remember the film being exactly what I anticipated, filled with the necessary laughs and stylized butt-kicking action by our reptilian heroes. Followed by two sequels and one strange quasi-reboot in the form of an animated endeavor that I seem to have totally blocked out, the Turtles were comic book creations of 1984 and have demonstrated staying power through the years in television series and video games. However, it seemed like another big screen take on the ninjas would languish in the planning stages forever.

Originally intended for release in 2012, Paramount’s Michael Bay (Transformers: Age of Extinction) produced, Jonatha Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans) directed live-action reboot is the stuff that nostalgia killing dreams are made out of. I’m sure the concept of talking teenage ninja turtles has always been as silly as it sounds but there’s something about this labored effort that drives that point home over and over again, leaving even the most engaged of TMNT fan audiences in a bit of a stupor.

Producer Michael Bay has made nice with his former Transformers star Megan Fox (What to Expect When You’re Expecting), putting to bed the rift that resulted in her being replaced in that franchise.   He casts her here as plucky news reporter April O’Neil but Fox comes across more as weather girl material than investigative journalist. Delivering each of her lines as if she’s ordering Chinese takeout, Fox’s misplaced emotions are truly the mystery that needs solving.

I’m convinced Will Arnett (The Nut Job) and William Fichtner (The Lone Ranger) signed up for this film to prove once and for all they aren’t the same person…why else would these two usually decent actors ham it up in roles that should have been filled by soap stars more on Fox’s level? The normally attentive Arnett can’t make lemonade with his lemon role and Fichtner simply gives up two lines in.

While the Turtles themselves are nicely rendered and given genial voice by three unknowns and Johnny Knoxville (Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa), they are now almost too life-like. At least when they were in the rubber suits during the 90s there was arguably more of the kind of required suspension of disbelief those early movies went the distance with. In 2014, they just come across as creepy.

Perhaps the problem lies in the overall scale of the film. Built as a mega-million dollar 3D would-be blockbuster, the campy, wise-cracking nature of the turtles is all but obliterated within a soggy script that mixes a slackly delivered origin story with tired plot points liberally lifted from numerous other comic book flicks. The whole dastardly scheme enacted by Shredder and his Foot Clan bears such a close resemblance to that of The Amazing Spider-Man that Marvel Studios should be calling their lawyers.

Still, a lawsuit from Marvel would be the most exciting thing that could happen for the film. Supposedly more in line with the recent comics, aside from an admittedly spectacular chase sequence down a snowy mountainside there’s precious little happening here that would be of interest to anyone outside of curious die-hard Turtle fans. Add to that unimpressive digital effects and a ho-hum re-imagined Shredder that reads more like Edward HuntingKnifeHands and you have a late summer dud.

It’s truly time to let these teenage reptiles graduate, just as so many of their fans have grown up in the 30 years since they made their debut.

Movie Review ~ Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

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The Facts:

Synopsis: 86-year-old Irving Zisman takes a trip from Nebraska to North Carolina to take his 8 year-old grandson, Billy, back to his real father

Stars: Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicholl

Director: Jeff Tremaine

Rated: R

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Sometimes it’s just good to laugh and not have to think too hard about it or hate yourself the next day. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa is a departure from the normal Jackass set-up that gives you free reign to laugh and not worry that you’re doing it at the expense of others.

Though I’ve sat through the first three Jackass movies with a mixture of both horror and laughter I wasn’t sure what to think about their newest film.  The titular character was introduced in previous Jackass films and was used to good effect in the brief segments but how would a feature length film based on the character pan out?  More importantly, what of the gags that the Jackass troupe is known for?  Would they work as well in a structured setting or would they prove to be better suited for the free-form style that had already been successful in the previous entries in the series?

Well, much to my surprise the film is a lot better than I thought it was going to be with more of a focus on funny gags rather than moments to make you gag.  Gags aside, at its heart Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa has a nice message about the bonds of family and the relationships between the young and old.  There’s also a healthy dose of penis jokes…and that never hurts.

Though the film takes a little while to get going, when it does take off it hums along nicely.  After his druggie daughter can’t take care of her son (Jackson Nicholl, Fun Size), she enlists the help of her dad Irving Zisman (Johnny Knoxville, The Last Stand) to deliver the boy to his loser father via a cross country road trip.  Along the way they stop at male strip clubs, beauty pageants, bingo halls, and country kitchen-esque restaurants which provide the settings for quite a few well set-up and usually bravely foul but always bravura pranks.

This film goes beyond one off pranks and finds ways to make these situations actually funny…rather than being funny at the price of humiliating others.  There are some nice slices of life moments when the prank targets wind up making some surprisingly sensitive and honorable decisions when faced with the choices Knoxville and director Jeff Tremaine offer them.  Their reactions may be funny but they also show the good in people at the same time.  Maybe there’s a small softening of the Jackass troupe and there’s a big pay-off to be had if you can just go with it.

The movie actually works best when its just Knoxville and Nicholl in the car during exchanges that feel unscripted but clearly have at least some structure to them.  Both actors are game for fun but it’s not hard to imagine that Nicholl will look back at this in 10 years and cringe at the some of the things he’s asked to do and say to total strangers.

Still…it all seems in good fun and that’s what these movies are ultimately going for anyway.  I think this movie came along when I just needed to laugh – and isn’t that what these films have always been about?  It’s not the throwaway distraction that the other Jackass films have been but a harmless and enjoyable prank-filled trek across the US.

The Silver Bullet ~ Epic

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Synopsis: A teenager finds herself transported to a deep forest setting where a battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil is taking place. She bands together with a rag-tag group characters in order to save their world — and ours.

Release Date:  May 24, 2013

Thoughts: This one reminds me of a Ferngully: The Last Rainforest for a new generation.  Like that early 90’s hand-drawn animated feature, Epic looks to be a nice film for the conservation-minded parents to take their kids to.  The really good children’s films have a message so subtle that you don’t even realize it’s being communicated and based on the trailer, Epic’s movie studio 20th Century Fox has done a nice job keeping the soapbox preaching low and kid-friendly engagement high.  Adding in some interesting voice talent (Steven Tyler, Beyoncé Knowles, Pitbull, Colin Farrell) never hurts either!

Movie Review ~ The Last Stand

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The leader of a drug cartel busts out of a courthouse and speeds to the Mexican border, where the only thing in his path is a sheriff and his inexperienced staff.

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Rodrigo Santoro, Jaimie Alexander, Luis Guzmán, Eduardo Noriega, Peter Stormare, Zach Gilford, Genesis Rodriguez, Daniel Henney, John Patrick Amedori

Director: Kim Jee-Woon

Rated: R

Running Length: 107 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review:  He’s back.  I mean, he always said he’d be back…right?  After exercising his political muscles as Governor of California and appearing in a few cameo roles (like The Expendables 2) Schwarzenegger is back headlining another shoot ‘em up actioner that’s heavy on ammunition but light on any semblance of subtlety.  Ok, I’m sure you wouldn’t be lining up to see a Schwarzenegger flick that’s described as subtle but is it too much to ask for a film of this ilk to play to the strengths of its star?

Though it’s constructed and filmed with its head firmly planted in 80’s action flicks, The Last Stand seems to forget that these films were fun at heart so it sacrifices some great camp opportunities in favor of letting its cast shamefully overact amidst dizzying gun battles and laughable moments of misguided exposition.  It’s probably not a good thing if you come away from a film saying that Schwarzenegger was the best actor of the bunch…or am I wrong?

Schwarzenegger heads the cast as a sheriff of a small border town going head to head with minions of a drug lord (Noriega, Tesis) that have descended into town to clear the way for their boss to continue his escape from federal agents into Mexico.  The premise sounds like a perfect fit for Schwarzenegger and to a large extent the actor glides easily with the material.  The problem is that the soggy script from Andrew Knauer, Jeffrey Nachmanoff, and George Nolfi feels like it has been around for over a decade and it’s gathered a lot of dust.  I keep considering that maybe it was a pet project for Schwarzenegger before he took office.

Respected Korean director Kim Jee-Woon (I Saw the Devil) is making his US debut with the film and I can only liken it to when Hong Kong’s equally well-regarded John Woo made his first picture stateside, the misfire Jean Claude Van-Damme vehicle Hard Target.  It’s clear the director has style and good instincts but he seems restricted here and never guides the picture to achieve a balance between all of the elements it introduces. 

That goes double for a largely forgettable cast that’s all over the map.  Whitaker looks totally lost in it all…until the movie forgets that he’s a top billed actor and jettisons his character for the latter half of the film.  Knoxville continues to play arrested development imbeciles all the way to the bank and his pajama wearing, gun-loving doofus is anything but the comedic relief it’s intended to be.  As the right hand man to the kingpin, Stormare once again goes for the gold in the crazy meter and achieves liftoff early on.  Alexander, Gilford, Guzman, and Santoro are Schwarzenegger’s allies but any attempt to make them dynamic characters is a failure. 

That leaves us with Schwarzenegger to make the picture tolerable and he almost makes it work.  With some guffaw-inducing scenes where he looks positively crazy thanks to his nutso hairstyle, the movie begins to buckle under the weight of so much wasted energy.  At a baffling 107 minutes the movie could use a 15 minute trim, tightening up the action scenes and losing needless detours involving Schwarzenegger’s past.

Though there are a few clever methods used to dispatch the endless array of bad guys, The Last Stand is sadly not the comeback picture that I’m sure Schwarzenegger intended it to be — it’s embarrassing box office performance assures that no sequel will be considered.  Schwarzenegger already has several other projects in the works so let’s chalk this one up to the star dipping his toes back in the pool he helped fill throughout the 80’s and 90’s.

The Silver Bullet ~ Movie 43

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Synopsis: An ensemble comedy intertwining different tales.

Release Date:  January 25, 2013

Thoughts: Here’s a film I’ve been hearing about for a while now thanks to a word of mouth publicity campaign.  Though it reminds me a lot of the uneven semi-classic Kentucky Fried Movie, this particular entry sold me on the cast list alone.  You have Oscar nominated/winning females (Naomi Watts, Uma Thurman, Kate Winslet, Halle Berry) side by side with men that run the gamut from A-List (Hugh Jackman, Richard Gere) to has beens (sorry fellow MN Seann William Scott).  Many famous faces/names also wrote and directed the shorts so here’s hoping that the good stuff is great and the bad stuff is short.  I’ve laughed at this trailer (and its Not Safe For Work red band trailer here) and do anticipate liking this when it’s released later in January.