Movie Review ~ Scream (2022)

Just when you thought it was safe to stop #Scream -ing…

The Facts:

Synopsis: Twenty-five years after a streak of brutal murders shocked the quiet town of Woodsboro, a new killer has donned the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers to resurrect secrets from the town’s deadly past.

Stars: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Jack Quaid, Mikey Madison, Dylan Minnette, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mason Gooding, Sonia Ammar, Marley Shelton, Kyle Gallner, Reggie Conquest, Chester Tam, Roger L. Jackson

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett

Rated: R

Running Length: 114 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: “What’s your favorite scary movie?” may now be a cultural touchstone phrase forever related to the classic film Scream, but it’s always been a litmus test to see where the person being asked falls on the scale of horror fandom.  If the answer is a deep cut, something from the Italian Giallo master Dario Argento or French cult vampire director Jean Rollin, you know you’re dealing with someone that has ventured further than the confines of their neighborhood video store.  Answering with a more commercially minded offering like a Friday the 13th or a Halloween tells you you’re in the presence of a person that doesn’t mind some blood, gore, and jump scares.  Get a response from a Frankenstein fraidy-cat and you may want to reconsider suggesting anything stronger than a black and white Universal classic.

For many, the answer to the question posed by the killer to Drew Barrymore’s doomed character in 1996 is, in fact, the very movie that asked it to begin with.  Scream opened to soft business in Christmas only to grow into a word-of-mouth hit, so much so that by the time the enjoyable sequel was released in 1997 both films had the distinction of being 1997’s top earners.  Fans of the franchise are legion, and after two more sequels (one in 2000 and the last one in 2011) it has amassed a devoted base that can and have spent much time arguing over the official order of quality, though you’d be hard pressed to find a list that doesn’t put the one that started it all in the prime spot. For the record, I’m a 1, 2, 4, 3.

Though the title lived on in television under the guise of an MTV scripted series with no ties to the original cast or setting, the first two seasons attempted to tell a continuing tale before killing off much of its YA cast.  I didn’t even bother with the third, standalone season, and from what I’ve heard that was for the best.  After the success of the continuation of Halloween in 2018, it still was a surprise when it was announced in March 2020 that Radio Silence, a filmmaking collective which found success in indie horror before making a snazzy showing in 2019]’s impressive Ready or Not, would direct and executive produce a fifth Scream movie incorporating original cast members with a new group of teens stalked by a vengeance-seeking killer.  As a dedicated fan of the films and the franchise in general (not to mention a number of the previous films Radio Silence has produced), I was thrilled for another gathering of my favorite cast members and a return to the whodunit slasher film that I have a true fondness for. 

Needless to say, as we move forward into the meat of the movie, this is a spoiler-free zone.  Aside from watching the first trailer for the movie the day it was released, I haven’t watched any other marketing for the film so can’t say what may be in the previews that could be a potential spoiler…but I won’t be giving away anything that could ruin your experience.

Well…maybe one thing.  And that’s my feeling toward the finished movie.  Surprising myself, I left the theater after my screening of Scream (which, it should be strongly stated, is Scream 5, no matter how the filmmakers and studio try to spin it) sort of aghast at how much against it I felt.  The more I heard how many people did like it, the more I was wondering if I just saw something different or my tastes had changed…but this was almost directly after gleefully binge-watching the previous four films.  Delivering on the “goods” if you will (read: killings, blood, and guts) but shortchanging fans that know their Woodsboro ins and outs with a number of discrepancies and head scratching choices, the screenplay from James Vanderbilt (White House Down) and Guy Busick attempts to make connections to the past at the outset but abandons its own efforts by the messy end.  Worse, the film suffers from a strong case of the unlikeables, characters and cast members that either don’t appear long enough to create much of an impression before they’re sliced or grate on the nerves to the point where you feel like paging Ghostface stat to get on with the show.

It’s been twenty-five years since the original murder spree changed the sleepy town of Woodsboro forever.  The survivors of the attack a generation ago have encountered several copycat slayings over the subsequent years but for the last decade there has been a peaceful silence which has allowed lives to be led without much fear.  Then Tara (Jenna Ortega, Insidious: Chapter 2) gets a phone call while alone in her house and hears a voice familiar to us but unfamiliar to her.  Remember, Stab (the movie within Scream 2 based off of the events in Scream 1) came out over two decades before and its sequels have long since fizzled out.  Poor Tara should have stayed up to date on her old-school horror trivia because things don’t go well for her when quizzed on her knowledge of Stab and Woodsboro’s sordid history.

Hearing the news about her sister from a town far outside of Woodsboro, Sam (Melissa Barrera, In the Heights) returns with her boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid, Rampage) just as secrets from her family’s past and a clever killer targeting those with ties to the 1996 murder spree emerge from the shadows.  Teaming up with Tara’s friends, among them Amber (Mikey Madison, It Takes Three), twins Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown, Sound of Violence) and Chad (Mason Gooding, Booksmart) and Wes (Dylan Minnette, Prisoners), Sam and Richie eventually realize they’ll need the help of the remaining few who’ve experienced this before if they have any hope of surviving the game plan of a killer (or killers?) always several steps ahead of them.  Enter Dewey, Gale, and Sidney.

To say the film feels lighter the moment even one of the legacy cast members is on screen is an understatement.  Originally meant to be killed off in the first film and then set to die in the sequel, original director of the first four films Wes Craven and his producing partners had such a strong reaction to David Arquette’s (You Cannot Kill David Arquette) portrayal of Deputy Dewey Riley (not to mention his popularity with fans) that they made sure to shoot endings where he lived.  And you’ll be especially glad he did because his presence in this entry is so useful, bringing not only that trademark goofiness to the role but an emotional sweetness that has always defined the role and made it unmistakably his.  Noticeably absent for much of the film are Courtney Cox (Masters of the Universe) and Neve Campbell (Skyscraper), but they’re like that time Madonna made all of us at her concert wait two hours after the opening act before she went on.  By the time she showed up, we were more than antsy but when she did…it was completely worth it.  Same goes here and not only do Cox and Campbell fit right back into their characters like no time has passed, they highlight the biggest problem with the movie for me.  The acting.

I’m not sure what’s up with this cast but I think each and every one of them I’ve seen and liked far better in other projects.  Here, it’s like no one was acting in the same movie or playing off of one another to any winning effect.  It’s never more evident than with Barrera who has some of the strangest line readings, coming off as emotionless when the scene calls for drama and often absent as strong support for those she is acting opposite. I felt for Ortega who is acting her face off, performing the role like it’s the last thing she’ll ever do.  I wish the performance (which, to be clear, is solid) was in a different movie she was headlining.  Brown is another standout, finding herself a nice match for the dialogue which has some hints at original scribe Kevin Williamson’s quick meta banter but never reaches that same smirking bar which made Williamson’s screenplays, for lack of a better word, iconic.

Which brings me to another low-ish point.  Vanderbilt and Busick don’t have Williamson’s knack for snappy phrasing, relying much more on accessing the characters F-Bomb portal than having them volley back-and-forth.  While Brown gets those nice moments to explain the rules surrounding a ‘requel’, too many references are made to fifth entries not living up to their potential, being ill-advised, not being titled correctly, etc…. basically heading off all the naysayers at the pass and beating the critics to their punches.  In that way, the script starts to feel like it’s apologizing for itself instead of creating its own playing field. A few missed opportunities along the way exist, making you wonder if there wasn’t more to the story that was left on the cutting room floor or if the screenwriters are saving something for potential sequel routes. 

Perhaps you can tie some of it back to that Wes Craven touch which guided those first four films.  Dying of brain cancer in 2015, Craven was never going to be a part of this new film and while no one is claiming the previous sequels to be flawless (let’s face it, as fun as Scream 3 was, it was also silly and falling apart at the seams) or that Craven was a can’t miss director, he set the look and feel of the franchise from the start…down to Marco Beltrami’s score which I was also sad to see wasn’t back. Yet…you just can’t divest yourself from feeling that if directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett were attempting to honor Craven they would have displayed some of his knack for spotting acting talent on the cusp of greatness. Going into more details is definitely tipping the scale toward spoilers…but we can chat after you’ve seen it and I can explain more.

I’m disappointed for myself that I didn’t like the movie a little more than I did.  This isn’t about living in any kind of past because onward we must travel, especially if we want the things we hold dear to continue to thrive.  Personally, I hope this Scream makes huge bucks (all signs point to a big YES in that department) and more films in a similar vein are made.  I would ask, please, that the same kind of focus is put on the key pieces that elevate a movie to classic status though.  The original cast and script of 1996’s Scream simply can’t be beat, even all these years later.  I can’t say the same for this continuation…but trust me, I wanted to. 

Now…I’m a 1, 2, 4, 5, 3 person.

31 Days to Scare ~ Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A young woman’s search for her biological family leads her to an Amish community that is hiding some very dark secrets.

Stars: Emily Bader, Roland Buck III, Dan Lippert, Henry Ayres-Brown, Tom Nowicki

Director: William Eubank

Rated: R

Running Length: 98 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Creatively, the Paranormal Activity franchise was at a dead end by the time the previous entry, The Ghost Dimension, was released all the way back in 2014.  With diminishing box office returns and scares that seemed standard, there was little the series hadn’t explored in its own mythology and audiences could almost set their watches by when things would finally start to get rolling.  The beauty of the first movie was the way it slowly reached its boiling point, leading to a finale that paid off.  However, after the same rug pull and trickery were repeated time and time again it wasn’t fulfilling anything but a 90-minute gap of your evening.

The series took a small step away from its origins in 2015 by releasing Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, taking the horror out of the suburbs and into the urban life of a Hispanic neighborhood but its cool reception brought producers quickly back to the familiar.  Now, they’ve gone even further by creating a standalone sequel, Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin and bypassing a theatrical release entirely, opting to send the screams to stream on Paramount+ in time for Halloween.  (Naturally, it was intended for the big screen but, y’know, COVID.)  The result is still a timewaster but a re-energized one that feels like a move in a good direction if this is the way the franchise wants to frighten us going forward.

Left at the doors of a hospital by her mother when she was just a baby, Margot (Emily Bader) has grown up longing to know her birth parents and find out why she was abandoned but has hit nothing but dead ends.  Now working as a documentary filmmaker with her boyfriend Chris (Roland Buck III) she’s met Samuel (Henry Ayres-Brown, Monsterland) after matching with him on 23 and Me.  A member of a small Amish community in upstate New York on his Rumspringa year, Samuel offers to take Margot, Chris, and local sound designer Dale (Dan Lippert) back home when he returns.  Knowing this is her opportunity to learn more about her roots and an opportunity to get footage for a potential documentary, they arrive in the dead of night to a snowy farm that practically screams “Welcome Death!”.

Over the next several days, Margot and her friends will experience the traditions of the community and eventually see some things they weren’t meant to.  Doors with huge locks on them will suddenly be opened and what’s behind them will be explored, hidden rooms will be entered and their contents become clues for Margot to the identity of her mother, suggesting that perhaps she might still be somewhere among the people gathered…or elsewhere on the grounds.  The creepy commune has practices that may remind audiences of Midsommar or other folk horror flicks that thrive under their isolated setting and the claustrophobia of both the insular location and found footage setting helps the film to keep the tension high even if the story feels a bit predictable.

The last film director William Eubank was responsible for was 2020’s Underwater, a highly underrated creature feature starring Kristen Stewart that I’m convinced will someday get the recognition it’s due.  On that film, Eubank showed attention to the small details in character traits which gives us more of a read on who those people were in a short amount of time.  The script from Christopher Landon (Happy Death Day) doesn’t flesh these Next of Kin folk out too much so Eubank has his work cut out for him but he’s cast the movie well with fresh faces and respectable stable of character actors playing elders in the group.  Journeyman actor Tom Nowicki (The Dark and the Wicked) is an especially good get as the leader of the society.

Coming it at a rather long 98 minutes, Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin follows tradition by lighting a flame early on with scare licks here and there and gradually increasing the frequency until boiling over for a prolonged finale that is a bit too chaotic.  It doesn’t skimp on the jerky camera movements (note: it’s not all found footage, some of it is filmed like an actual movie) or a nice dose of mayhem but there is such a thing as too much of a scary thing. Reaching a level that gets disorienting, I realized what a far cry it was from a rather humble beginning…and not just of this movie but of the first one that came out 2007. We’ve left that California thread behind (hopefully) and who knows what will be next, but there’s effort being made to resuscitate it by a team that obviously cares.

31 Days to Scare ~ Scream (2022) – First Look Trailer

Synopsis: Twenty-five years after a streak of brutal murders shocked the quiet town of Woodsboro, a new killer has donned the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers to resurrect secrets from the town’s deadly past.

Release Date:  January 14, 2022

Thoughts: It’s been 10 years since we’ve heard that familiar voice on the phone calling the latest batch of doomed flavors of the month (quick…how many of the teenage cast members of Scream 4 are still a ‘thing’?) and so the return of Ghostface is being met with an expected marked frenzy.  Going the 2018 Halloween and 2020’s The Grudge route and leaving off any numerical suffix, 2022’s Scream is the first not to be directed by Wes Craven who passed away in 2015.  In the hands of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett (also known as Radio Silence, the team behind 2019’s Ready or Not), we’re back in Woodsboro for a new series of murders that tie into the events from a generation earlier. 

As excited as I am for this new installment, I almost wish I hadn’t watched the lengthy preview because…boy does it show a lot more than I wanted to see.  I know this cast is huge and the body count has the potential to be plentiful but seeing the fates of several characters (and perhaps a healthy bit of the opening) feels like we’re being served far too much before we’ve even sat down to eat.  Fingers crossed the twists make up for the trailer spoilers, but this is the last time I’ll watch any promo materials for the film before it is released.

31 Days to Scare ~ The Temp (1993)

The Facts:

Synopsis: A troubled businessman’s life is upturned after the arrival of a mysterious female temp worker in his office.

Stars: Timothy Hutton, Lara Flynn Boyle, Dwight Schultz, Oliver Platt, Steven Weber, Colleen Flynn, Faye Dunaway, Scott Coffey, Dakin Matthews, Maura Tierney, Lin Shaye

Director: Tom Holland

Rated: R

Running Length: 96 minutes

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review:  Tell me if this sounds familiar to you (and if not, humor me).  You’re at home, eaten a nice meal, and are ready for dessert.  You go to the freezer, get out a batch of ice cream that already has a flavor profile…let’s say, Peanut Butter Cup.  Tonight, though, Peanut Butter Cup alone isn’t good enough.  You go to your cupboard and add some M&M’s, a few mini marshmallows, maybe some actual peanut butter cups to gild the lily, and then top it off with some chocolate syrup and whipped cream.  By the time you’re done, there’s this strange creation in front of you that doesn’t resemble what you started with and when you bite into it…you wish you had just left it alone.

That’s sort of what I feel like when thinking about The Temp, the goofy thriller that came out on my birthday in 1993 and made back just a paltry 1/3 of it’s 15-million-dollar budget.  With a strong director (Tom Holland of Thinner & Child’s Play), two Oscar winning actors (Timothy Hutton and Faye Dunaway) and a number of rising stars in its cast, not to mention it’s perfect for the early ‘90s pseudo-suspense set-up, The Temp should have been an easy score for Paramount Pictures.  However, if you read up on the film and even just watching it through, you can tell that it’s been royally messed with on its way to release and either maneuvered into the half-hearted attempt it is, or torpedoed from something more sinister which it feels like it wanted to be.

Of all the offices to stage a murder mystery, a cookie company in Oregon would be the last thing I would think of but that’s exactly where screenwriters Kevin Falls and Tom Engleman post Peter Derns (Hutton, Ordinary People) as a divorced dad with anger management issues recently returned to work after suffering a bit of a breakdown. With his company about to be taken over by a larger corporation looking to trim the executive roster as a cost-saving measure, his paranoid nature is back on high alert almost instantly. To make matters even worse, his personal assistant (Scott Coffey, It Takes Three) just left for paternity leave, and he’s left scrambling to please his own boss (Faye Dunaway, Eyes of Laura Mars, wild-eyed and sweat-lipped from the downbeat) with little notice.

He’s not on his own for long, because he’s soon assigned a temporary assistant, the well-educated Kris (Lara Flynn Boyle, Poltergeist III) who time and time again proves to be Peter’s saving grace.  There’s clearly some kind of electric connection between the two and whatever flirting goes on between them remains on the up and up. This is especially good considering that when his full-time assistant returns Kris has endeared herself enough to stick around and begins to rise up the ranks of the company rather quickly.  So quickly, in fact, that it comes on the heels of a suspicious number of accidents, deaths, and exposed secrets about executives, suggesting that someone on the inside might be making it easy for Kris to have a path forward.  Is it Kris herself or someone else with a vested interest in seeing the others around her fail?

In our current era of #MeToo and understanding more about gender politics in the office workplace, The Temp actually becomes an interesting watch through a more experienced lens.  I’m sure the movie couldn’t have been written exactly as-is now…but could it remain just slightly altered and be more effective?  Possibly.  It’s a shame that it seemed to go through so many test screenings and alterations in post-production.  The well-known tale is the entire final act was reshot, much to the anger of Dunaway who refused to film certain scenes and to the overall confusion of audiences.  What’s there now seems incongruous with the rest of the movie, turning into a half-baked Hitchcock film when it never expressed any interest in being up until that point. 

What it had shown some curiously in exploring were a few nasty deaths and Holland’s expertise in building tension as we waited for some bad things to happen to the employees and friends of Peter. (Look for Single White Female’s Steven Weber, Oliver Platt from Flatliners, and Beautiful Boy’s Maura Tierney in the cast as well.)  One such incident is bloody memorable even today (two words: Paper Shredder) and if The Temp had been more adventurous in exploring those kinds of shocking moments, perhaps it would have been promoted more in theaters from a box office dud to minor success.  It also might have helped Boyle break out more as a film star because while she had notoriety on TV and minor roles in films, leading lady status sadly evaded her.  Hutton and especially Dunaway look embarrassed to be in this by the end, but Boyle stands by the movie throughout, which in a strange way works for her character as well.    

Movie Review ~ The Tomorrow War

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The Facts:

Synopsis: An ordinary family man is recruited by time travelers from 30 years in the future to fight in a deadly war against aliens.

Stars: Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski, J.K. Simmons, Betty Gilpin, Sam Richardson, Theo Von, Jasmine Mathews, Mary Lynn Rajskub

Director: Chris McKay

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 140 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  It’s still been sort of a weird summer, hasn’t it?  While things felt like they were heading back on track with theaters re-opening, the business hasn’t exactly been booming.  Sure, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It and F9: The Fast Saga unsurprisingly attracted devoted fans into seats based on their name recognition alone, the disappointing showing of the much anticipated musical In the Heights knocked the wind out of many sails just as things were getting going.  Approaching the traditionally jam-packed July 4th weekend, there’s not a smorgasbord to choose from in cinemas and definitely no major blockbuster release that historically debuted just ahead of the holiday weekend.

Instead, that action mega-ton popcorn film is making its premiere on Amazon Prime and while The Tomorrow War gets the job done as a frenzied, effects-heavy epic that just keeps going and going, it’s missing a few key elements that were magic ingredients to previous success in years past.  We’ll get into what those components are in a bit, but I want to say from the start that you absolutely should watch The Tomorrow War and not be deterred by a trailer and synopsis that suggests a bland sameness or Pratt’s waning promise as a capable lead in motion pictures.  Stumbling terribly at first, the film positively jolts to life about forty minutes in and hooked me for the remainder.

Several years in the future, Dan Forester (Pratt, Jurassic World) is a ordinary guy with a wife and daughter trying to get a better job after his military service.  Then, during a holiday party at their house when everyone is watching a soccer game on TV (at Christmas? I know…), the world changes when out of a center-field nebula armed visitors from the future appear and announce the need for volunteers to come and fight a war going on decades from now.  Over the next year, armies across the globe go forth and are decimated by alien creatures so terrifying the future visitors dare not share pictures for fear that they will have trouble recruiting present day citizens from traveling through time to battle them.  Eventually Dan is called up through a national draft and finds himself facing down these beasts along with others that have had no training in combat or evasive measures. 

These first forty or so minutes of The Tomorrow War that deals with all the exposition needed to inform the audience of a lot of plot details is pretty bad.  It’s awkward and gangly, sort of like Pratt’s weirdly uncomfortable look stuffed into a shirt/sweater combo during the holiday party.  The writing is poor, the acting is not much better, and all signs were pointing to 140 minutes of iffy effects to go along with the bad plot mechanics.  Then, something sort of amazing happens.  Director Chris McKay (The LEGO Movie) and writer Zach Dean put Dan and his untrained bunch face to face with an enemy that might just be one of the most terrifying creations seen in these alien beasts on Earth films yet.  I’m not kidding when I say that when we get our first look at the White Spikes I sat up rigid in my seat, jaw agape, and said “Oh no, I do not appreciate that.”  Much of this has to go to the effects folks who created this monster, seamlessly blending it (for the most part) with the live-action actors…but it’s a formidable foe that is nightmarishly ruthless.  That McKay keeps it hidden for an extended period of time also adds to its overall scariness when we finally do see it.

In time-travel movies, the filmmakers can play fast and loose with their rules, and they do so here as well, to some extent.  I won’t go too far into who Yvonne Strahovski (All I See Is You) is playing or how she figures into Forester’s life but the two join forces in the future which winds up having a major impact on the past.  Just when you think the movie is reaching its climax, you look at your watch and realize it’s only halfway done.  Then the next time you think it’s over, your watch tells you there’s a half hour left.  This happens two or three more times before the film actually wraps up and the multiple endings give The Tomorrow War an overall breathless pace but also contributes to a weariness after a time.  That extra time gives way for some slow dips in the action and dramatic scenes between Dan and his estranged father (J.K. Simmons, Zack Snyder’s Justice League) as well as a few fun sequences of Indiana Jones-style adventure.  It’s a big package to digest and while it wouldn’t have worked on the big screen because you’d have to take it a bit more seriously, on the small screen some of these quirkier asides tend to play easier.

What is harder to take is Pratt’s clunker performance, a disappointing sign the actor isn’t delivering on some early promise that he had leading man potential.  An executive producer of the film, Pratt should have been even more on the ball as someone with a grander stake in the movie’s prospects but alas, he’s just missing that magical “it” factor that could have given all of his scenes more weight.  His jokes don’t land, his dramatic thrust isn’t felt, it’s just a vacant, mannequin type of performance that goes through the motions but doesn’t bring anything new.  That’s especially apparent as the film draws to a conclusion and becomes a one-man Pratt showcase even though he’s sharing the screen with likable actors like Sam Richardson (Werewolves Within) who outcharms him without even trying.

This is a big, big, big movie and not one you should be watching on a tiny computer screen or your phone.  You will want to check this one out and make The Tomorrow War an event if you can, trying your best to ignore it’s bad opening and enjoy when it shows what our heroes are up against.

Movie Review ~ A Quiet Place: Part II

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Forced to venture into the unknown, The Abbott family realize that the creatures that hunt by sound are not the only threats that lurk beyond the sand path.

Stars: Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Djimon Hounsou, Wayne Duvall, Okieriete Onaodowan, Scoot McNairy

Director: John Krasinski

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 97 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  Even before this bugger of a pandemic arrived on our shores and fairly quickly shuttered businesses, not to mention effectively cancelling the summer movie season, a great number of people were saying that theaters were on the decline.  The streaming services were offering up faster ways to watch movies at home, and it was becoming easier than ever to get the entertainment you wanted at a far lower price than you would if you went to the cinema.  Plus, watching from the comfort of your living room meant the only person you had to worry about kicking your seat, obnoxiously using their cell phone during a movie, or eating loudly would be your significant other, friend, or family member and not a random stranger you didn’t have the courage to silence. 

At first, I found it strange to watch a film I knew was meant for the big screen on a smaller scale in my home theater but eventually I got accustomed to it like many people did.  You could see where the idea that maybe theaters weren’t as in-demand as on-demand would be coming from…but then a movie like A Quiet Place Part II comes out and you’re reminded that going to the movies, and the right kind of movie, is the best kind of communal event.  Now, I can only guess at this because I saw this sequel to the 2018 blockbuster in a Dolby Theater with about 10 other members of the press, but I would wager a bet that if you saw this in a packed theater (as packed as social distancing could be) you’d feel the same way.  The energy the film creates is tangible and I don’t think it’s simply because it was the first one I’d seen in a theater in over a year.

It sounds silly now, but I was almost nervous my senses would be too overwhelmed to take the theatrical experience after all this time, but I clearly needed no slow re-introduction.  Thankfully, the film doesn’t waste any time, either.  If by some chance you’re reading this and haven’t seen the original, fair warning that spoilers are ahead because it’s impossible to review the sequel without talking about a significant plot development at the end of the first film.  No major spoilers for the second chapter will be shared but I strongly suggest you don’t see this one before you have caught up with the film that scared the beejebus out of audiences three years ago and fast-tracked a follow-up set to arrive May of 2020.  Now, exactly a year later, Paramount is cashing in on a big gamble that audiences wanted to wait and see this in theaters, and I’d be willing to bet this is the film that will be how many make their return to the movies.

Picking up so close to the end of A Quiet Place that you could nearly edit the two films together, returning writer/director John Krasinski cleverly finds a way for his now-tragically deceased character to make an appearance.  Beginning the film with a flashback to Day 1 of the invasion when alien creatures arrive from the sky and wreak havoc in a small town (and, apparently, the rest of the world), Krasinski parallels the opening of the predecessor with sly winks to locations and props that we know will be important hundreds of days from now.  This prologue is the first pot of water Krasinski lights a fire under and slowly brings to a boil. When it bubbles over it sets the stage for a heart stopping sequence with creature scares that come in unlikely directions at unexpected times. 

Once we get into the proper film, after Evelyn (Emily Blunt, Mary Poppins Returns) and her children Regan (Millicent Simmonds, Wonderstruck), Marcus (Noah Jupe, Holmes & Watson), and a days-old newborn, ensure the creatures on their property are cleared out they quickly realize they need to leave the protection of their farm for a nearby outpost.  Hoping for friendly inhabitants, perhaps a townsperson they used to know like Emmett (Cillian Murphy, Batman Begins), they make the perilous journey in silence, arriving at an abandoned metalworks plant where a painful surprise awaits.  It’s here I’ll stop and save the rest for you to discover, noting that Krasinski almost out of necessity has to find a way to split the family up but devises a believable way to do so.  In doing this, he’s able to stage several sequences where he uses some extraordinarily effective editing to hop between narratives and raise the blood pressure of everyone watching.

What I appreciated quite a lot about the film in general is that it sidesteps many of the duties that sequels feel obliged to fulfill.  True, you see more of the creatures in this one, but only because they’ve already been introduced so the mystery of them is gone. Why continue to hide them?  However, Krasinski doesn’t make it a priority to explain why the monsters have come to Earth or fashion a lot of backstory into the proceedings and that’s because it doesn’t matter one iota.  Why they are there doesn’t matter as much as what is happening in the here and now.  We actually don’t learn anything we didn’t already know about the beasts and why would/should we?  There isn’t time to waste studying them, they just need to be stopped.

Stopping them requires a brave spirit and Krasinski (Aloha) recognized that Simmonds is a natural choice to step into the driver’s seat for this round.  While Blunt is still a warm, commanding presence in the movie and earns the top-billing she receives, she’s less of the natural central figure.  That aura transfers to Simmonds and, to a lesser extent, Jupe.  While Jupe has shown great acumen for unlocking unique personalities in the children he’s played, his character feels less of a priority to develop than the others.  Simmonds makes up a lot of ground Jupe doesn’t cover as she rises to a challenge put forth early on which takes Regan out of her comfort zone.  Anyone coming into the dynamic that was so tight in the first film is at a disadvantage but with his bushy hair and beard, Murphy is more than an acceptable stand-in for Krasinski as a neighbor who has had a very different experience of survival than the Abbott family.

Not all sequels need to tread new ground, that’s why they are sometimes called Part II which insinuates it’s a continuation of a previous iteration.  Krasinski has exceeded expectations and given audiences exactly what they asked for, maybe even a little more.  There’s an ample number of scares to be had, some of the cheap jump variety (watch out for those random flocks of birds!) but most of the creeping flesh kind that make you squirm in your seat from anxiety.  I’ve a feeling Krasinski has a third one of these in him and if I were Paramount, I’d give him the time, money, and freedom to make it when it fits into his schedule.  If A Quiet Place Part II is any indication, it’s loud and clear he’s worth the wait.

Movie Review ~ Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse

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The Facts:  

Synopsis: An elite Navy SEAL uncovers an international conspiracy while seeking justice for the murder of his pregnant wife. 

Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Lauren London, Brett Gelman, Jacob Scipio, Jack Kesy, Colman Domingo, Guy Pearce 

Director: Stefano Sollima 

Rated: R 

Running Length: 111 minutes 

TMMM Score: (6.5/10) 

Review:  I must confess to being a huge fan of the Tom Clancy films of the Sean Connery/Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford days and not so much from the later chapters when Ben Affleck took over for Ford, Chris Pine took over for Affleck (in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) and John Krasinski took over for Pine in the popular TV series for Amazon Prime.  Each actor had their own spin on the role of Jack Ryan so you were bound to have someone along the way you could call your favorite.  Movies just aren’t made at the breakneck speed necessary to keep up with the pace that books are written so much of Clancy’s material has been left un-adapted and even the properties that were already brought to life have had to jettison key characters with stories too complex to include into larger narratives.

Take John Clark, Jack Ryan’s close friend and onetime bodyguard.  Featured in a number of Jack Ryan novels and eventually becoming nearly as popular as Ryan himself, Clark fits into many of the operations Ryan undertakes throughout Clancy’s blockbuster espionage thrillers.  However, it was in 1993’s Without Remorse that Clancy gave readers Clark’s origin story, including how and why he changed his name from John Kelly and why the CIA helped him change his identity.  Though the film has been bouncing around Hollywood for years trying to get made with several big names attached, it wasn’t until red-hot star Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station) showed interest that the title became a must-have commodity again.  Now, as Jordan gets ready to direct and star in Creed III, he’s set himself up with another franchise starter but how would Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse measure up to the level of thrillers it has followed?

It’s a little bit of the whole good news and bad news situation right now.  Ripping the band aid off, I’ll say that the bad news is the overall ambiance of the movie doesn’t feel like the big budget production it should, considering the studio funds behind it and the producers involved.  A number of films originally intended for theatrical release acquired by a streaming service look like they were made for the big screen when you see them at home.  With Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, everything feels scaled down like the original goal was only to be for in-home distribution.  More on that later but for now let’s talk about the positives.  The good news is that Jordan is a natural for the role, well suited to be playing a skilled Navy SEAL back from a dangerous mission in Syria involving the CIA and the Russian military.  When members of his team are assassinated and his pregnant wife is killed, he’s left for dead by an attacker’s gunfire but survives.  This turns out to be, ironically, a good news/bad news situation all over again.  Good news for John Kelly and bad news for anyone that gets in his way of finding those responsible for the death of his wife and unborn child.  Taking the title of the movie literally, Kelly is a one-man machine of vengeance as he mows his way through high ranks of government both foreign and domestic to get the answers he wants. 

The final script was re-written by Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Wind River and the upcoming Those Who Wish Me Dead) and it shows with his vernacular and tendency to use shorthand in his technical terms.  He has the actors speak like these professionals would talk and it assists in the authenticity of it all.  Working with his Sicario: Day of the Soldado director Stefano Sollima, Sheridan took over script duties form Will Staples so I can’t say who made the majority of alternations from Clancy’s original novel but the changes seem to be for the better in allowing this story to grow in future installments…because it should and will.  Apart from it filling a gap for representation in people of color as action heroes, Kelly’s a complex character like we haven’t seen much of lately.

Much of that complexity is owed to Jordan’s performance as well as his platonic relationship with Lt. Commander Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith, Queen & Slim) a friend and SEAL team member he can trust that has been watching out for him while he’s healed.  Working with the Secretary of Defense (Guy Pearce, Lawless) and a not entirely trustworthy CIA Officer (Jamie Bell, Rocketman), Kelly and Greer use their government resources to further their serach for the truth. Of course, this being an action film built around large(ish) scale set piece, Kelly stages some daring acts of aggression in order to extricate information from sources that can help them locate who put a target on all of their backs.

You’d likely be able to write down who the bad people are at the beginning the film, seal it, and open it again at the end of the film and find your correct answer within.  Along with a strange look that gives it almost a B-movie vibe, there’s little in the way of surprise as the plot moves from Point A to Point B.  Extended fight sequences are periodically thrilling but endless gunfire scenes start to get old rather quickly, especially when it becomes a challenge following the action.  Several times, Oscar-winning cinematographer Philippe Rousselot (Beautiful Creatures) leaves us lost amongst the action with no direction on where to look.  It’s all disorienting.

It might not rise to the ranks of The Hunt for Red October or Patriot Games but for a first outing with John Kelly, Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse is a sufficient introduction to the character.  This was a Saturday evening choice in my house and it proved to be a popular and rather perfect selection for a movie night.  Jordan is said to be coming back for a second film and if that proves successful I’m wondering if we’ll ever see him team with Krasinski or another new Ryan feature film in the future – now that would be the event film I’d like to see.

Movie Review ~ Pixie

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: To avenge her mother’s death, Pixie masterminds a heist but must flee across Ireland from gangsters, take on the patriarchy, and choose her own destiny.

Stars: Olivia Cooke, Ben Hardy, Daryl McCormack, Colm Meaney, Alec Baldwin, Dylan Moran, Rory Fleck Byrne, Fra Fee, Pat Shortt, Frankie McCafferty

Director: Barnaby Thompson

Rated: R

Running Length: 93 minutes

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review: There are times when you can think of movies like food.  Some are hearty main courses that fill your belly with their ambition and dogged charm like 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark while a comfort meal of a film such as Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion will always be one you know you can return to time and time again.  Singin’ in the Rain is like a delectable desert that is almost at times too perfect to get to the bottom of and Tootsie is a fizzy refreshment that seems to fit whatever table you find yourself at.  Some films are more like appetizers than anything else, quickly consumed and enjoyed but no match for the more savory dishes that are yet to come.

The Irish crime comedy Pixie is a quirky little amuse-bouche that you won’t turn your nose up at but won’t come back for seconds on, either.  It packs a nice little punch and while it has a number of pleasingly salty double crosses and tart one-liners, the plot feels a tad crunchy.  Promising to be more of a raucous romp than it winds up being, there’s still a lot to like about director Barnaby Thompson’s cheeky film based on a screenplay written by his son, Preston.  While it plays a great deal like a TarantinO’Shea production that allows it to start off on the right foot, Pixie doesn’t have quite the stamina to maintain an overall tone to be as bold in its choices or twists.  So it can’t hope to leave an impression that lasts, despite a solid cast, some lovely location shooting, and inventive work by cameraman John de Borman (Quartet) throughout.

In a small church not too far outside Belfast, Ireland, two masked men interrupt a group of priests that turn out to be less holy men and more holy rollers armed with shotguns to protect a sizable suitcase full of drugs.  The robbery goes right…until it goes wrong for reasons of a more personal nature.  You see, the men were acting on the advice of Pixie O’Brien (Olivia Cooke, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), a sneaky little thing that hopes to bypass her gangster stepdad (Colm Meaney, Tolkien) and violently oafish stepbrother (Turlough Convery, Saint Maud) and use the drugs to pay for her passage to America.  Both men were involved with Pixie and had a different understanding of who was the more important one to her.  It doesn’t end well.

By happy (and highly convoluted) coincidence, Pixie’s classmates Frank (Ben Hardy, Bohemian Rhapsody) and Harland (Daryl McCormack) come into possession of the stolen drugs Pixie was hoping to snag for herself.  After getting wind that her original fellas mucked it up and the drugs are in play somewhere else, it doesn’t take her long to find out who they might have been transferred to.  When she finds them, she tells the men where the drugs came from and paints a vivid picture of what happens to those who steal from the crime families in their town.  Fearing for their lives but mostly falling under her charms, both men agree to travel across the country with their unpredictable new friend who has vowed to help them sell the drugs and attempt to salvage their reputation back home.  However, Pixie hasn’t counted on several factions getting wind of the theft (including a smug Alec Baldwin, Aloha) and when they all start to converge on the same village, she’ll have to think fast if she wants to get out alive and consider if she trusts her new mates enough to bring them along with her.

While I appreciated that Barnaby Thompson keeps the film moving at a healthy clip, it can’t quite hide the obvious shortcomings in the script from his son.  The whole set-up at the heart of Pixie has been done before and feels recycled from a draft of an earlier film.  In fact, I wouldn’t have been surprised in the least to learn this was a script that had been bouncing around for more than a decade before it got made.  The filmmakers should have just set Pixie in the early 1990s because it has a sensibility and gait that doesn’t remotely resemble the world we live in now.  The violence is bloody (yet highly digitized) and the language chirped through with such rapidity, everyone sounds like they are being kept from using the bathroom until the scene is in the can (pardon the pun).

Why the film has the energy it does, and what makes it fall on the slightly recommended side are the performances from our lead trio of young stars.  Cooke, Hardy, and McCormack make for a fine triumvirate of players and work well off of another either as a group or one-on-one.  Cooke continues to change things up with each successive film she makes.  The sprite character with a fatal edge in Pixie is light years away from the punk rock singer that turns her life around in 2020’s Sound of Metal.  I wish the material had risen up to meet her instead of her having to lean down to match its height but, no matter, she elevates the screenplay immeasurably with her natural charm.

What becomes pretty clear in the final third of Pixie is that the script only was thinking about how to get to a certain point (an eyebrow raising shootout between mobsters disguised as priests and nuns) and then it doesn’t have much more up its sleeve.  Once it assembles all the players where it imagined them to be it doesn’t quite know what to do with them or how to get at a resolution that falls into step with the askew tune the rest of the film had been singing up until that point.  This is why Tarantino, love him or hate him, remains an ace at the three-act structure.  He’s always thinking about that end goal and when the movie is over you can look back and see how well appointed it was in service to all the plot details throughout.  Pixie wants to have those same attributes but isn’t sophisticated enough to play on that same level.

All that being said, there’s far worse ways to spend an hour and a half (Barnaby Thompson produced Fisherman’s Friends last year and that was dreck compared to this) and Pixie at least has some pep in its step thanks to Cooke so you’re never apt to be bored for long.  It may not entirely steal your heart, but you won’t feel robbed of your time once you’ve tooled around the countryside with Pixie.

31 Days to Scare ~ Friday the 13th Part 3: 3D

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Jason Voorhees takes refuge at a cabin near Crystal Lake and continues his killing spree as a group of co-eds arrive for their vacation.

Stars: Dana Kimmell, Richard Brooker, Paul Kratka, Tracie Savage, Catherine Parks, Jeffrey Rogers, Larry Zerner, Rachel Howard, David Katims

Director: Steve Miner

Rated: R

Running Length: 96 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  If there’s an era of film-going I wish I could go back to, it would definitely be the early ’80s when the seats weren’t stadium, malls had just a few screens, and you often had to wait in line through the screening before yours to secure your seat for the next show.  Stuck at home without all the bells and whistles of going to a theater, it’s nice to take some sort of solace in any kind of feature in your home cinema that enhances your experience which is why I’m glad I have a 3D television that not only plays movies released in 3D but converts regular programming into that format.  I grew up after the small resurgence of the 3D gimmick happened so never had the chance to see films like Parasite 3D (the early Demi Moore film, not the recent Oscar winner), Jaws 3D, or Friday the 13th Part 3: 3D.  Growing up, I’d watch these films and wonder why they looked so terrible and how come there’d be random items that would be shoved in front of the camera lens and then held there for extended periods of time. Though I’ve sadly never gotten the opportunity to see them in theaters projected as they were back in the day, Parasite 3D and Jaws 3D were eventually released on BluRay in a 3D format that allowed you to ditch the awful Red/Blue cardboard glasses that caused your eyes to cross and just use the regular sleek shades provided to those that had 3D televisions.  That just left Friday the 13th Part 3: 3D as the one I’d been wishing for.

Thankfully, my movie-loving prayers were answered this year with the arrival of Scream Factory’s gigantic collector’s edition of the Friday the 13th series which included a spiffy new 3D version of Part 3.  Now, I’d finally get to clearly see all of the effects and sit through the entire film without popping a few Tylenol halfway through.  Part 3 had never been a favorite of mine to begin with but it’s notable for a few reasons, the first is obviously the 3D and the second is that this is the one where killer Jason Voorhees gets his infamous hockey mask.  So after catching up with the original Friday the 13th and its fun but quickly made sequel, it was time to throw on my glasses and see Jason leap off the screen.  Released just 28 months after the original film (Part II came out 11 months after the first!) and swapping filming locations from the East Coast to California this would be the biggest box office take of the series to date and picks up the day after it’s predecessor ends.

After a traumatic encounter in the woods two years earlier seemingly unconnected to the massacre at Camp Crystal Lake, Chris (Dana Kimmell) has returned to her family cabin on the lake with her college friends for a relaxing weekend.  Too bad for them Jason has just hacked his way through a group of counselors in training (from Part II) nearby, fled the scene, and is now lurking around the property.  As Chris reconnects with her onetime boyfriend Rick (Paul Kratka, one of the hunkier leading men in the series and also one of the worst actors) on an evening drive, the rest of her friends stay behind to play practical jokes, smoke weed, fornicate, and meet gruesome ends by the hulking killer.  When prankster Shelley (Larry Zerner) scares Vera (the lovely Catherine Parks, a personal fave) wearing a hockey mask, you can’t help but get a little zing of excitement at the realization that soon the unmasked murderer, whose face returning director Steve Miner has gone to great lengths to hide, will soon be wearing it.  As the numbers dwindle and a final showdown begins, Miner repeats much of what he did in the last film but having Jason go up against a resourceful foe that won’t go down without a substantial fight.

There are some films that just are what they are and no matter how much you fancy them up or try to rewrite their history, they just aren’t going to improve.  As I said before, Part 3 has consistently been on the lower end of my appreciation list and it’s not because this is the first one that starts to feel like a machine more than a movie but because there’s a lack of authenticity to the whole film that gives off a phony quality.  Perhaps the change of scenery to California is the cause of that; most everyone feels like they came out of the same acting class.  Their look, their style, their choices…all of it has a slickness to it that was missing from the first two and that’s not a good thing.  Also, the weathered ranch with a dingy beach the movie was filmed on looks nothing like a lush lakefront so believing you’re back on Crystal Lake is a stretch. One could also argue that the script from Martin Kitrosser and Carol Watson with additional material from an uncredited Petru Popescu was lacking in sufficient development of characters and the Voorhees myth. Two stoner characters might have been fun in 1982 but watching them now I have no idea how they related to the other people and why they were present.  Also, the silly background story given to Chris seems to imply that Chris may have met one of the characters from Part II before and been, well…I mean…I just can’t say it.  Watch it and you’ll know what I’m referring to and you can draw your own conclusions.  All I’m saying is that you could outright skip this one and move on to the excellent Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter and not miss anything crucial to the overall timeline.

What the film does have are some gags that are pretty fun in 3D.  A number of these are of the eye-rolling variety (and two of the eyeball variety) but the effect is put to good use not just in the obvious ways but by adding depth to locations and sharp weapons that come flying out at you.  The barn on the property gets heavily used and its well appointed set has a number of nooks and crannies that play well with a 3D view.  While the murders may not fully benefit from the filming technique, there were a few cool shots I hadn’t noticed before which were enhanced by a body or body part popping out a bit more.  All in all, it was well worth the wait to finally see this as audiences did back in 1982.  You can see why it took a hefty sum at the box office and how the producers original plan to end the series as a trilogy tempted them to call it a day with “The Final Chapter” a year later.  I’d still have to resist the urge to skip this one if I was attempting a marathon but knowing I could watch the disco-scored credits in the pleasant 3D might sway my thoughts moving forward.

 

31 Days to Scare ~ Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter

The Facts:

Synopsis: Debonair supernatural expert Captain Kronos and his hunchbacked assistant meet their match when they encounter a village where vampires have been stealing the vitality of young women, leaving them elderly and decrepit.

Stars: Horst Janson, John Carson, Caroline Munro, Ian Hendry, Shane Briant, Wanda Ventham, John Cater, Lois Daine, William Hobbs, Robert James, Elizabeth Dear

Director: Brian Clemens

Rated: R

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Mention Hammer Studios to horror fans and visions of Peter Cushing chasing down Christopher Lee’s Count Dracula will often spring to mind.  The British production company was known for their sophisticated horror films shot both in studio and on beautiful locations across Europe and is often most associated with the Dracula films they produced throughout the ’60s and ’70s.  Of course, Hammer was far more prolific than that and was responsible for a number of other creepy delights featuring a murders row of famous killers and monsters, as well as other vampire tales.  I’d been so Dracula focused for most of my life that I only recently began expanding my horizons and exploring their other bloodsucking catalog.  Last year I reported on the delightful Vampire Circus and for this round of 31 Days to Scare I found another interesting and well-worth a watch vampire yarn, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter.

Made in 1972 but delayed in its release until 1974, this was an original screenplay from director by Brian Clemens who had written for a number of UK TV series as well as several British thrillers noted for their atmosphere.  There’s atmosphere to spare in this one, too, with a pre-credit sequence showing two girls in a forest picking out flowers.  As one goes off in search of one last bouquet, the other stays behind and meets a hooded figure that drains her not of just of blood but of youth.  Recognizing the signs of a possible vampire presence, the village doctor (John Carson) calls an old friend to come and help his community before it is too late.  Enter Captain Kronos (Horst Janson), his assistant Grost (John Cater), and the voluptuous Carla (Caroline Munro), a peasant the men freed from the stocks on their journey who now follows them in hopes of getting closer to Kronos.

Perplexed by this new breed of vampire, Kronos and Grost attempt to track the creature with the help of Dr. Marcus and Carla.  As more fair maidens keep showing up haggard and withered, suspicion falls on a brother and sister caring for their invalid mother in a nearby castle.  Clemens manages to keep the identity of the vampire a secret right up until the end and the reveal was a rather neat surprise and something I didn’t see coming, so audiences can expect a mystery to go with their horror.  They can also look forward to a little bit of a diversion in the slow-ish subplot which sees Kronos traveling to a neighboring town and Dr. Marcus striking out on his own to interview the suspected siblings.  It gives the film a bit of a heavy midsection but at 92 minutes it doesn’t stay stuck in a rut for long.  Bouncing back with a fiery finale, pretty soon Kronos is forging a wicked sword to slay the best, culminating in an impressive sword-fight on one of Hammer’s typically well-adorned castle locales.

It’s too bad this film performed so poorly at the box office that the planned future installments never came to be.  This was a character I would have liked to see more of and deserved another film to get some traction.  Sadly, with audience demand dictating what went forward and what didn’t any hopes of the further adventures of Kronos and his gang would never come to be.  This might be one that could be revived in some fun way, yet there’s something so nicely done about this production that perhaps a one and done effort speaks well enough for it.  Nice discoveries like this tend to be good movies to keep in your back pocket because they can exist on their own merits and be that fun find for those in the know.  For this vampire fan, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter is definitely a new addition to the rotation of blood-sucking favorite flicks.