Movie Review ~ Bad Things

The Facts:

Synopsis: A group of friends go to a hotel for a weekend getaway and soon discover that women do bad things here
Stars: Gayle Rankin, Hari Nef, Annabelle Dexter-Jones, Rad Pereira, Molly Ringwald
Director: Stewart Thorndike
Rated: NR
Running Length: 87 minutes
TMMM Score: (4/10)
Review: I’ll start reviewing the new horror film Bad Things by doing a visual exercise. Imagine that you are dressed in your finest clothes to go out to eat. You are picked up in a fancy car and dropped off at a restaurant serving the cuisine you crave. The setting is exquisite as you get to your table; every detail has been considered, and the chair the maître d’ has pulled out for you is plush and luxurious. As the waiter emerges from the kitchen with a covered serving platter, gleaming from polish, your mouth starts to water at the food you are so hungry to eat. The plate is set down in front of you, and the cover is removed to reveal your dish: a plain hamburger on a soggy bun. Sure, you are hungry, dressed up, out to eat, and have made a night of it, so you’ll eat the hamburger…but it’s not what you wanted.

That’s exactly how I felt while watching writer/director Stewart Thorndike’s Bad Things, which has the ingredients to create a humdinger of a scare but isn’t assembled in a way that audiences will want to devour. Each chef (director) can create their dish, but if no one comes to eat…you can’t stay open. 

Ok…enough with the food talk. Let’s get down to it. Bad Things is not a great movie, but it has intriguing elements that kept me involved until the (very) bitter end. The good things are star Gayle Rankin (The Greatest Showman) as Ruthie, who has inherited a closed hotel she’s visiting for the weekend with her partner Cal (Hari Nef, Barbie) and their friends Fran (Annabelle Dexter-Jones) and Maddie (Rad Pereira). Ruthie’s past fling with Fran has Cal’s trust issues on high alert, but they are reassured by Ruthie’s plans to re-open the hotel she grew up in as a child.

Of course, there’s history to this hotel, and over the weekend, the friends will be haunted by not just ghosts from the past but by their behavior. Is the hotel making them act out of sorts, or is the isolation freeing them to try out their worst instincts? These interesting questions should have yielded 87 minutes of creepy twists. However, Thorndike’s strange dialogue and diversions, not to mention some broadly unwieldy performances, keep Bad Things from growing beyond good ideas.

If I can say anything to get you to keep watching this and not give up (it’s far too easy to do this nowadays), stay for Molly Ringwald’s (Jem and the Holograms) slick third-act cameo. Sharing the screen with Rankin, it’s the kind of crackling scene Thorndike needed more of in Bad Things. Despite a few creepy moments, the Ringwald sequence is the one truly good thing in the picture.

Now Available On Shudder and AMC+

Movie Review ~ Fear the Night


The Facts:

Synopsis: Eight women attend a bachelorette party at a remote farmhouse in the California hills. They are interrupted by the arrival of masked intruders who surround the place and begin shooting arrows at the home and the guests. One partygoer leads the women in making a stand against the attackers as they fight back to save themselves throughout a single dark night.
Stars: Maggie Q, Travis Hammer, Kat Foster, James Carpinello, Highdee Kuan, Ito Aghayere, Gia Crovatin
Director: Neil LaBute
Rated: NR
Running Length: 92 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: Who knows where writer/director Neil LaBute would have been now had he not found his way into an ill-advised remake of The Wicker Man in 2006. That Nicolas Cage turkey was howlingly funny when it was supposed to be scary and depressingly dull at the moment its famous plot was due to become gruesomely twisted. LaBute’s talent with biting dialogue that signaled the sparring between the sexes was likely the wrong match with the folk horror remake to begin with; that he couldn’t pull it off shouldn’t have been that much of a shocker.

In the years following, LaBute tooled around in projects that didn’t restore his profile by much, but he did find some footing in 2022 with House of Darkness. That Kate Bosworth/Justin Long slow burn is an underrated, spooky good time, and I’d encourage you to check that one out some dark stormy night. You may consider that one even sooner if what I’m about to lay out for you regarding LaBute’s latest doesn’t sound that appealing. While Fear the Night is passable soggy pulp entertainment for an “in a pinch” watch, it never raises the volume loud enough to leave much of an impression.

Recovering addict and veteran Tess (Maggie Q, Divergent) is steeling herself for a bachelorette weekend to celebrate her younger sister’s upcoming wedding. Happy to be reunited with her kid sis, she’s wary about spending time with another nitpicking sibling, Beth (Kat Foster), and several of Beth’s snooty Karen-esque friends. Traveling to a remote cabin that the three sisters share as part of an inheritance, Tess hopes to make it through without any major blowouts with Beth, clenching her fists and biting her tongue when she’s constantly reminded how far she’s fallen.

A convenience store run-in with a pack of degenerate men led by Perry (Travis Hammer, From Black) doesn’t damper the women’s mood, but it does give viewers a small taste of how Tess is willing to insert herself into a potentially dangerous situation without thinking twice. Arriving at the cabin, they are joined by a few late arrivals (including Gia Crovatin’s Mia and Ito Aghayere’s Noelle) and take note of the two male caretakers down the road hired to watch the expansive property while it is not being used. The party barely begins when an arrow slices through the night air, surprising not just the guests but the audience. 

This is when Fear the Night could have turned the tables on the usual home invasion thriller and gone a different route. After all, LaBute has made a thriller (2008’s Lakeview Terrace) about the safety of a dwelling being violated and the need to fight back. So, he should be familiar with the steps to achieve a consistent state of suspense and dread. Yet it’s aggravating to see how Fear the Night feels the need to do a deep dive into misogyny early on to justify the crime and punishment to come later.

If there’s one reason to see Fear the Night, it’s for Maggie Q delivering another stellar performance bound to go criminally unnoticed. An actress that impressed in minor film roles early in her career, she’s starred in a hit TV series and headlined the dud (but decent!) The Protégé in 2021. Now here comes Tess, a role that feels as if it were written for her (or with her in mind), and she nails it. I only wish the supporting cast were as strong. There are too many partygoers and indistinguishable men hunting the women down, and while it means more deaths, none of which are staged with any flash, it robs us of more time with the actors we appreciate. This could have been a four women/three men movie instead of our seven/three split.

It’s never a good sign in my book when a movie opens at the end and then flashes back. That’s a crummy parlor trick of a plot device because then all the viewer is doing is waiting for the film to get back to the “beginning.” In Fear the Night, this framework is so unnecessary that I’m surprised editor Vincent Welch didn’t push back hard on LaBute to cut it completely. Though technically savvy for a low-indie thriller, most of the movie feels like a weekend experiment LaBute put together with some friends. Aside from Maggie Q, Crovatin, and Aghayere, the acting is strictly serviceable (and in the case of Foster, hardly worth mentioning again), so the only thing to fear here is the potential time-waste. 

Movie Review ~ The Miracle Club


The Facts:

Synopsis: In 1967, three generations of close friends in Ballygar, a hard-knocks community in Dublin, have one tantalizing dream: to win a pilgrimage to the sacred French town of Lourdes, that place of miracles that draws millions of visitors each year.
Stars: Laura Linney, Kathy Bates, Maggie Smith, Stephen Rea, Agnes O’Casey, Mark O’Halloran, Mark McKenna, Niall Buggy, Hazel Doupe
Director: Thaddeus O’Sullivan
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 91 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: Bless Me, O Lord, but I nearly wrote off The Miracle Club at first glance because I thought I could detect the faint whiff of cheese from the screen. I’d seen enough of these “old ladies on a bus” films to feel like I knew what was waiting for me at the end of ninety maudlin minutes. Despite liking much of the main cast and still dreaming of a trip to the emerald shores of Ireland one of these years, I was downright unsteady about what I’d find when it came time to sit down and settle in for this dramedy. Would it be able to balance wry comedy with more serious tones of faith or be undercut by its frothy fun?

While it is true that The Miracle Club is going to play like gangbusters for the matinee audience, and you better believe that once it was over, I texted my mother to let her know there’s finally a movie out there that she’d flip for, I was surprised at much genuine warmth I felt toward it. This project could have gone far astray, but it’s kept in line by sincere performances, decidedly unfussy direction, and a script that doesn’t skimp on the charm.

In a working-class suburb of Dublin in 1967, three women are preparing for their church talent show where the grand prize is two tickets to Lourdes, France. Known for its major Catholic monument and as a destination site for many faithful, each woman feels drawn to make the pilgrimage for different reasons. Eileen (Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell) is a hard-working mother of six who has found a lump on her breast and hopes to visit the purportedly healing waters at Lourdes to stave off any disease that may rob her of time with her family. Dolly’s (Agnes O’Casey) son hasn’t yet spoken, and she wants to bring along the young boy to see if time on the sacred site will release whatever is holding him back.

The eldest of the group, Lily (Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey: A New Era), has one leg shorter than the other and walks with a modified shoe, but her healing journey is one of the heart, not the body. Long ago, she lost her son, and the guilt she has carried because of a mistake in judgment has gnawed at her throughout her life. She sees a chance to start to take steps toward that reprieve upon the arrival in town of Chrissie (Laura Linney, Sully), the daughter of Lily’s late friend Maureen (and Eileen’s sister). Gone from the city and living in America for forty years, Chrissie is initially met with a cold shoulder and whispers, but once she joins the women with their church group to Lourdes, they will all have to put the past behind them or risk a future of unresolved pain.

To say the leading ladies of The Miracle Club are a trio of formidable talent is putting it mildly. Smith has been celebrated for decades, winning two Oscars and countless accolades on stage and screen. Whatever positives have been said about her in the past can be applied in superlative here. She’s less acerbic and biting, coming down on the softer side of a withering glance at people she disapproves of, which allows her room for the more sensitive arc her character scales late in the film. I love seeing Oscar-winner Bates taking on a wide variety of roles as her career continues to flourish, and after playing glam earlier this year with Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret., she goes dowdy but absorbs the sharp tongue Smith relinquished and rides a fine line of too abrasive at times. The real showstopper is Linney, turning in one of her most carefully structured performances in ages. A three-time Oscar nominee, there’s a memory monologue well into the third act that Linney delivers with tremendous grace, even though it’s painful to recall. 

A film that’s been in the works for nearly two decades (and was once almost an HBO TV Movie), director Thaddeus O’Sullivan keeps things brisk and thankfully doesn’t let some of the dreary paternal hierarchy found in the script from Joshua D. Maurer, Timothy Prager, and Jimmy Smallhorne get in the way of the women’s narrative. I have a feeling there will be a sizable number of viewers entering The Miracle Club prepped for a spirited trip only to wind up dabbing their eyes at the end for an altogether different reason than you might expect. Considering the talent in front of the camera, it’s no wonder The Miracle Club is such a treat.

Movie Review ~ Enola Holmes 2

The Facts:

Synopsis: Now a detective-for-hire, Enola Holmes takes on her first official case to find a missing girl as the sparks of a dangerous conspiracy ignite a mystery that requires the help of friends – and Sherlock himself – to unravel
Stars: Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Louis Partridge, Susie Wokoma, Adeel Akhtar, Helena Bonham Carter, David Thewlis, Sharon Duncan-Brewster
Director: Harry Bradbeer
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 129 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review:  In early 2020, things could have turned out quite differently for the first Enola Holmes adventure. Initially set to be distributed theatrically by Warner Brothers, when the global pandemic’s lasting impact was just being understood, the studio quickly saw the writing on the wall and sold off the property to Netflix. The streaming service then sat on the movie through the summer and packaged it up to deliver it in August, riding the wave of star Millie Bobby Brown’s success coming from Stranger Things. The resulting success of the film was due not just to that timing but also to its overall quality and care for its characters. Based on a series of books by Nancy Springer, with Netflix now owning the rights to future sequels and interested in maintaining a good relationship with star/producer Brown, a sequel was planned and shot in short order.

The resulting film, somewhat uncreatively titled Enola Holmes 2, is again debuting during the fall season at the perfect moment between the finality of summer hits and the onslaught of fancy-schmancy Oscar bait. Reuniting the entire original cast (minus unavailable Sam Claflin, whose Mycroft is barely mentioned) and director Harry Bradbeer, it’s mostly more of the same in this follow-up, and that’s good news for everyone involved, including the viewers. Jettisoning an established Springer manuscript in favor of an original tale, writers Bradbeer and Jack Thorne (How I Live Now) drew inspiration from actual events, giving the film a slight edge over the more rambunctious plot of the first.

Shortly after we last saw Enola Holmes (Brown, Godzilla: King of the Monsters), the teenage sister of world-famous detective Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill, Zack Snyder’s Justice League), she set up her detective agency but hasn’t had nearly the same success as her more famous brother. She’s about to close her doors when a young factory girl knocks and asks for assistance in finding her “sister,” who has gone missing. Tracking down the girl will lead Enola into a web of blackmail and schemes involving members of high society and crisscross with a case that Sherlock has been working on. Together, they uncover a sinister new opponent with their sights set on Sherlock, who doesn’t mind leaving a clue or two for his sister.   

In addition to Brown and Cavill and the always clever Helena Bonham Carter (The Lone Ranger) as their rabble-rousing mother, Bradbeer has brought back fun supporting players Susie Wokoma as jujutsu teacher Edith and Louis Partridge (Paddington 2) as Tewkesbury, a potential love interest for Enola. New cast members fit in nicely, including David Thewlis (Wonder Woman) calling on his nasty side to pursue the Holmes siblings, and Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Dune) as an “inside woman” helping Enola solve her case.

You’d rarely want to mash two sequels together to be one long movie, but the two Enola Holmes films (so far) would make a tremendous four-hour-long sit some cozy Sunday. As we head into the Thanksgiving weekend, consider Enola Holmes 2 and its predecessor as the perfect combo to relax with after that big turkey dinner.

Movie Review ~ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever


The Facts:

Synopsis: The people of Wakanda fight to protect their home from intervening world powers as they mourn the death of King T’Challa.
Stars: Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Dominique Thorne, Florence Kasumba, Michaela Coel, Tenoch Huerta, Martin Freeman, Angela Bassett
Director: Ryan Coogler
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 161 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review:  By all accounts, 2018’s Black Panther was far more than just another Marvel movie. Director Ryan Coogler’s film arrived after the success of Thor: Ragnarok and before the beginning of the bend rounding that was Avengers: Infinity War, yet it stood out. Instead of feeling like it was serving as another puzzle piece that told a larger story, it flipped the power dynamic to invite the Marvel fans into its orbit instead of the other way around. That formula paid off incredibly well, not just in audience satisfaction but in the movie becoming the first Marvel Studios property to be a major awards contender, nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, and in six other categories. Ultimately winning three (rightfully so), Black Panther set a high bar that no other similar genre film has met as of this writing.

A sequel was inevitable even if the awards hadn’t come and there were always plans to bring back Black Panther down the line. No one could have predicted how difficult that would be, though. Getting Coogler and the cast to come back was a matter of signing on the dotted line, but when original star Chadwick Boseman tragically died of colon cancer in 2020, questions were raised on how the film and franchise would deal with this loss. Considering Boseman’s legacy and his too-short career’s tremendous impact on the world, Coogler and Marvel have made wise decisions regarding their follow-up. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever allows a time for mourning befitting Boseman’s immense contributions.

The opening of Coogler’s sequel is this passage of time as heroic efforts by princess Shuri (Letitia Wright, The Silent Twins) cannot save her brother King T’Challa from a mysterious illness that claims his life. As her mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett, Olympus Has Fallen), and the Wakandans mourn, Shuri cannot forgive herself or let go of her brother’s memory. With T’Challa’s passing and the throne reverting to Ramonda, the Black Panther, a symbol of protection for Wakanda, has also been laid to rest. A year later, Wakanda’s protection of vibranium, their powerful natural resource, is called under question by the United Nations, which feels the country should be more willing to share it with the world, even though it has proven dangerous when it falls into the wrong hands.

It appears that vibranium may not be as exclusive to Wakanda as everyone thought. A deep sea rig has discovered a possible new source within a subocean cave but couldn’t have predicted that another nation of underwater people is ready to protect it as fiercely as the Wakandans.  Led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía, The Forever Purge), a super-powerful leader with wings on his ankles and “ears that point toward the sky,” they speak ancient Mayan and fight with an extreme severity that makes them nearly invincible either underwater or on land. 

When Namor asks Shuri and Ramonda for help in locating a ‘scientist’ Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne, If Beale Street Could Talk), really an MIT college student, who has unknowingly created the only device that can detect vibranium so that he may eliminate her, the two nations become divided over how to handle the threat of outsiders. Namor would instead wipe all danger out immediately, whereas Shuri and Ramonda know that taking down one enemy often creates numerous others in their place. As Namor’s armies demonstrate their power over the Wakandan people, striking with deadly force and creating more tragic situations for all to deal with, Shuri must decide whether to continue living in an unresolved shroud of guilt or emerge from self-imposed darkness into the light as a leader her people deserve.

The first half of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is about exciting as any film you’ve seen in recent memory. After that opening which may have you dabbing your eyes, Coogler’s film wastes little time kicking into high gear with impressive action sequences and story-building that again manages to keep his movie centrally located as opposed to other Marvel endeavors, which can fly all over the world. This doesn’t need to jump locations to keep us engaged; the set-up and characters make us inch forward in our seats. Brief trips outside of Wakanda, like Shuri and head of special forces Okoye (Danai Gurira, Avengers: Endgame) taking a trip to capture Riri before Namor gets to her, are opportunities for Coogler and cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw to have fun with action sequences and the results are spectacular.

It’s the last hour of the sequel that gets dicey. Maybe it’s the special effects that aren’t as polished as the first (an alarming trend in many Marvel movies), or perhaps it’s just because something is missing in Wright’s performance that doesn’t align as nicely as Boseman’s did with the hero track. Wright is a fine actress with good instincts, but an action star? I’m not so sure about that. Her dramatic scenes carry a nice heft, but when she’s asked to take center stage, it feels a little like asking the solid second-chair violinist to lead the entire orchestra suddenly. They get the job done, but there’s more effort than necessary in the work. Luckily, Wright often has the towering Bassett and the excellent Gurira (where is the spin-off show for this character?) by her side for support.

Filling out the rest of the cast, Mejía makes for a surprising villain of sorts, though even classifying him as such can be tricky, seeing that his goals are often in lockstep with Shuri and Ramonda’s. He’s just going about it in a slightly more forceful way. It’s not the cruel world dominator we’ve seen in other Marvel movies of the past. Funny enough, it’s the stars of Jordan Peele’s creepy Us don’t share many (if any) scenes, but Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) and Winston Duke (Nine Days) have several excellent moments in the spotlight throughout. Don’t you dare, don’t you even dare, leave before the mid-credits scene (the only one) for an emotional wallop game-changer.

The biggest nitpick I had with the film is that for a movie that focuses so much on tradition and ceremony to honor the dead (multiple funerals happen in the movie), there is often little acknowledgment of the loss of life of those that serve the leaders of these nations. Though they are fictional, many people give their lives to protect their homes, but both leaders fail to mention their sacrifice. At the same time, Coogler focuses a great deal of effort on funeral services for others. In a movie about uniting and not dividing, I think having even one sentence of acknowledgment would have helped.

Successfully continuing the Black Panther franchise was a monumental undertaking, not just in terms of a regular sequel but with the added cloud of loss hanging above the filmmakers. Instead of it being a time of sorrow, you can almost feel Boseman’s presence around the endeavor at times. I wouldn’t dream of saying something as gauche as “he would have approved,” but I’m happy that these were the filmmakers responsible for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever because they had worked with him and respected and mourned him. You can tell they took this seriously, which shows in the quality sequel that rose from such a tragedy.