Movie Review: GOING IN STYLE

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going in styleWarner Bros. Pictures
2017
PG-13

“What’s wrong with him?”
“He’s thinking.”
“It looks painful.”

Lifelong buddies Willie, Joe and Albert decide to buck retirement and step off the straight-and-narrow when their pension funds become a corporate casualty. Desperate to pay the bills and come through for their loved ones, the three men risk it all by embarking on a daring adventure to knock off the very bank that absconded with their money.

So, right about now, you’re probably wondering what I, a man that has a certain geek specialties and tastes in movies, am doing watching a movie like Going In Style, a comedy about three octogenarians planning on pulling a robbery on a bank? Oh, no reason…except for the fact that it stars Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin as the three feisty senior citizens. Do I need to say anything more? I do? Oh, all right, then. For the sake of padding up some writing space…

Yeah, back when I saw the theatrical trailer in the front of whatever movie it was that I was at the theater to watch, I thought that the premise was done, but since it stared three of the actors that are on my Watch Regardless Of What Movie They’re In list, I figured it was a matter of time before I actually watched Going In Style, but this would probably be one of those kind of movies I would wait until it was available for rental to get around watching. And wouldn’t you know it? Self-fulfilling prophecy. I did, in fact, watch it as a rental.

So, the story revolves around lifelong friends who are retired and run into some issues with their pension being suddenly revoked from the place they loyally worked at for 30 years of their lives. After finding himself at the bank during a well-planned robbery heist, they all plot to essentially do the same to offset the problem of their sudden lack of retirement income. So, enlisting the help of a pet store owner, they plan out to hit their bank. And things…don’t really go as planned. But, really, you were expecting otherwise?

Going In Style is formulaic, nothing new, and quite predictable…and I absolutely adored this. It’s not exactly Ocean’s Eleven, but then it didn’t pretend to be that. What this is, is a fun little heist movie that is probably going to be played on TBS every Saturday ad nausium for the whole family to enjoy. What can I say, but seeing the likes of Caine, Freeman and Arkin play off each other was great fun. And that’s what Going In Style is, a fun little weekend afternoon movie.

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Movie Review: INSIDIOUS: Chapter 2

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insidious chapter 2Blumhouse Productions
2013
PG-13

“In my line of work things tend to happen when it gets dark.”

I have to admit, I was a bit slow on the uptake to watch the sequel to one of the better horror flicks to come out in the 21st Century. I was kind of on a strictly limited budget at the time, which was mostly focused on the marriage that ultimately never happened. Obviously I spaced out on this and the third entry in James Wan’s Insidious franchise. But, with the upcoming fourth entry coming up in January 2018, I figured now would be a good time to play catch-up.

After a bit of a flashback to a young Josh Lambert getting an exorcism by a young Elise Rainer, Insidious: Chapter 2 picks up right when the first movie ended, with the younger son of Josh’s family saved from The Further, but resulting in the death of Elise. After a police investigation, the family moves in with Josh’s mother, hoping to try and put the events from the previous movie behind them. Soon, though, the bad dreams begin coming back, Josh’s wife Renai keeps hearing the piano playing by itself and begins to see a mysterious woman in white going after the baby, and Josh seems to be…not himself as of late. Meanwhile, Specs and Tucker–Elise’s assistance from the first film–stumble upon the videotape of Josh’s exorcism from the flashback in the beginning, and they, along with Elise’s long-time friend Carl, begin piecing together the truth: Josh wasn’t the one who came back from The Further, but the spirit of a deceased serial killer called The Bride in Black. Also, the real Josh has been trying to send messages to his loved ones from The Further. Soon, there’s a showdown between the possessed Josh in the real world, as well as the spirits in The Further. Do they succeed in putting things back to where it once was? Will the movie end with another booga-booga-booga shock take? Does Jason Voorhees love his hockey mask / machete fashion combo?

When I decided to watch Insidious Chapter 2, it was the first night of my annual self-imposed seclusion trip, wherein I spend an extended weekend in my aunt and uncle’s camper out by their pond. It was storming, lots of lightning, thunder, howling winds and torrents of rain beating down on my cozy dwelling. In other words, the ambiance was perfect for watching horror movies. And the whole thing helped in the amplification of my enjoyment of Insidious Chapter 2 greatly. Because, otherwise, and I’m rather sad for saying this, but I don’t think that Chapter 2 would have been as effective a horror movie as the first one was. Mind you, the story is a good one, the atmosphere builds up the tension nicely, and the effects were very good. Overall, a well-made ghost story with serious teeth. That doesn’t stop the nagging feeling that I’ve been there, done that already. Still, very much worth a rental some night. In the same kind of weather conditions I managed to watch this in. Trust me, it works.

Movie Review: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2

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paranormal activity 2Paramount Pictures
2010
R

When the first Paranormal Activity movie was released, it made gobs of monies. Inevitably, a sequel was eminent. And so, one did get released in 2010, cleverly titled Paranormal Activity 2. Except, it wasn’t a sequel so much as a parallel companion piece to the first Paranormal Activity movie. Well, except for the very last part, which does take place after the events of the first movie.

Confused yet? Let me explain…

Paranormal Activity focuses on Kristi, the sister of the main character from the first movie, and her family. After a burglary occurs at their home, an elaborate security camera system is installed, and thus introduced our method of “found footage” in this installment. All kinds of weird stuff gets captured by the cameras, which leads to Kristi believing the house is haunted. Of course, her husband disagrees, while her stepdaughter begins investigating paranormal goings on–activities of some sort–and the infant son Hunter finds himself with a friend no one else can see. The dog gets attacked, Kristi gets possessed, and her husband decides to exorcise the demon by sending it to Kristi’s sister, Katie from the first movie, because he’s kind of a jerk. Yeah, that works out well. And in case you’re wondering what happened after the end of the first movie, Paranormal Activity 2 lets you in on that bit of information.

As I mentioned, Paranormal Activity 2 doesn’t stick to the general conventions of a traditional sequel. It does answer a few questions raised by the first movie. Admittedly, much of the tension comes by watching intently, waiting for something to happen, not willing to blink lest even a small clue may be missed. Otherwise, it’s pretty much your standard found footage boo-scare flick that didn’t resonate with me as much as the first film. And that’s not saying much, really. It did manage to flesh out the overall story. Otherwise, meh.

Book Review: PSYCHOSPHERE

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brian lumley psychosphereBrian Lumley
Tom Doherty Associates, Inc.
1984

A machine, Psychomech, granted Richard Garrison great and terrible mental powers–strength enough to restore his dead love and vanquish his enemies. Through Psychomech, too, Garrison learned of the Psychosphere, another plane where mental powers ruled supreme–and where Garrison was sole tenant. Now a new mind has entered the Psychosphere, a mind twisted and evil and bent on controling the Earth. Richard Garrison must discover the owner of that mind–and destroy it!

The second book in Lumley’s Psychomech trilogy, continuing with the goings on with former Army Corporal turned demigod Richard Garrison, his zombie wife and the dog who loves him.

I had to pause for a few minutes to take in what I just wrote, there. Anyway, the plot of this book…

Ever since the events in Psychomech, Richard Garrison has been rendered, not really a full-on god, but at least powerful enough to give Gozer a run for his/her/it’s money, with two other consciences dwelling within his…head? Is that right? Anyway, with all of this PHENOMINAL COSMIC POWER!, he spends his free time gambling and making enemies with the mob. Everyone needs a hobby, I guess. There is a problem, though–Garrison is slowly leaking the power he has, mostly due to wrecking the Psychomech pretty badly in the previous novel, and the other two consciences are coming out to play more often than not. Also, Vicki is beginning to think that she no longer loves Garrison like she thought. Oh, and there’s an obese albino hermaphrodite psychic in an underground fortress attempting to take over the world in there, somewhere.

Psychospere was…interesting. It starts off as a pretty intriguing thriller, then gets weird as the story progresses. This may be due to the obese albino hermaphrodite psychic character. I just like writing all of that out. This character is about as powerful as (apologies for mixing geek references, here) Professor Xavier, if not moreso, and really has a thing for hedonistic orgies that would make Caligula blush. Like with the first book, the parts that seemed to drag more in the story were the parts where Garrison is in his head reality, dreamstate kinda place (the psychospere? it’s never really explained fully what that titular thing is), dragging around the remains of the psychomech and slowly losing power. The big ending conflict was decent, and the way Garrison resets everything was interesting. Overall, I would say Psychospere, like the first entry in the trilogy, was a bit overlong but interesting enough to finish. Is that considered damning with faint praise? I could never get a grasp on that concept…

Movie Review: The MUMMY (2017)

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mummy, the 2017Universal Pictures
2017
PG-13

“Whatever’s in there has been safely hidden for two thousand years. This isn’t a tomb, it’s a prison.”

Nick Morton is a soldier of fortune who plunders ancient sites for timeless artifacts and sells them to the highest bidder. When Nick and his partner come under attack in the Middle East, the ensuing battle accidentally unearths Ahmanet, a betrayed Egyptian princess who was entombed under the desert for thousands of years. With her powers constantly evolving, Morton must now stop the resurrected monster as she embarks on a furious rampage through the streets of London.

It seems Universal doesn’t know quite what to do with their stable of Classic Monsters. There’s been some rather disappointing attempts at bringing the gang back together since the 21st Century moved, with lackluster results. Mind you, some of them are serviceable action movies, but none of them have been particularly memorable. And now, Universal wants to do that grands-scope shared universe thing with its own characters, and call it the Dark Universe. And this remake of The Mummy is their way of kicking things off.

The Mummy is an icon, no doubt about it. One of the Big Three, with Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster. Sorry, but Wolfman comes up a very close fourth. I knew about the Mummy for decades before watching my first Mummy movie. And that particular movie was the 1999 Brenden Frazier romp that still gets a viewing from me at least once a year. Then I watched the 1932 Boris Karloff classic. And now that I’ve seen the 2017 redux of The Mummy, I can now say I was good only having watched the previous incarnations.

The 2017 The Mummy stars Tom Cruise as an opportunistic Sergeant who, after some wackiness, stumbles upon the ancient tomb of an Egyptian mummy. Which is odd, because this was hundreds of miles from Egypt, where these kind of things are normally found. So, with the help of a persnickety scientist, the casket is exhumed and is being flown back to London, when one of the people flying along with becomes a zombie, and the plane crashes, killing Sergeant Cruise in the process. The End. Wait, no…Tom Cruise lives! Praise Xenu! Okay, okay, low-hanging fruit. Sorry. Also, no one seems all that perturbed that a corpse is back living again. Huh. Anyway, he’s taken to one Dr. Jekyll, who is the head of a high-tech and clandestine Monster Squad, and is informed that he’s now undead and is gonna be used to finish what the mummy started all those thousands of years ago. Hint: it involves a dagger with a shiny ruby and whole lot of discomfort. Now it’s a race against time to try and stop this ancient undead she-mummy and find a way to get Cruise back to not so much living impaired so he can not be killed by Dr. Jekyll’s alter ego because otherwise he’s gonna become The Mummy and unleash all sorts of evil upon the world. In the meantime, we’re all struggling to find a reason to care about this movie.

I really don’t want to sound like I’m just jumping onto the Hate Train with this review. I really wanted this to succeed. I wanted this to be good, and somehow work even though the inclusion of Tom Cruise stretched my suspension of disbelief quite a bit. I’ll get to that reason in a moment. In short, although it seemed a bit derivative and bandwagon-jumping on Universal’s part, I was actually excited about the prospect of the Dark Universe they were trying to create. You know, despite the fact that Dracula Untold was technically supposed to be that launching pad for that.

I also should point out that, as it’s been pointed out by many already, Universal more or less invented the whole “shared universe” thing that they’re now trying to crib from Marvel. They were always pairing up their Classic Monsters back in the day, and everyone ate it up. So it’s a bit puzzling how Universal keeps misstepping now. But, I digress.

As a movie itself, The Mummy is…meh. There’s no other way to describe it, really. It’s not a bad movie, it’s very action-heavy and keeps my attention throughout, yes. But, it’s clear they were trying to shoehorn everything in with trying to launch the universe, and forgot to focus on the story and characters themselves. I’ve said it before, and I’ll continue to say it until my dying breath, Tom Cruise just isn’t convincing as an action star. Also, I don’t know if it’s his ego, or the scriptwriters think they can get away with writing Cruise’s character as far younger than what the actor’s age really is (admittedly, he can get away with it better than, say, Russel Crowe, who at one point calls Cruise’s character a “young man” when Cruise is actually two years older than Crowe), but the fact that he’s a 50-something man playing 20-something characters is starting to wear a bit thin. The story itself seems to be all over the place, and the pacing is fairly kinetic. The major point of contention I have, though, is the characterizations, and the fact that some scenes seem all-too ripped off from other movies. Like, say, American Werewolf In London. That one is pretty blatant, as I picked that one out immediately.

You get the sense that maybe the makers of this film decided to re-purpose 1999’s The Mummy in rebooting the franchise. There are some interesting takes on the titular Mummy, such as making it a princess instead of the priest Imhotep, but overall I can’t shake the feeling that they tried to grab the pulp adventure fun of Brendan Fraser’s version and instead kind of ended up with the Batman V. Superman of the Classic Monsters movies. Okay, so maybe more Suicide Squad than Batman V. Superman, as there were parts I kind of liked in the movie, whereas Batman V. Superman is just awful straight through. It’s not unwatchable, but you’ll come out of it feeling a bit disappointed, and remembering the snacks you were consuming while watching this more than remembering the actual movie when it’s over.

Movie Review: ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES!

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attack of the killer tomatoesNAI Entertainment
1978
PG

“We have convince the little housewife out there that the tomato that ate the family pet is not dangerous!”

 

For years, I’ve been seeking out this particular no-budget ultra cheese fest that is Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes!. Ever since spying the old VHS cover at the local Applause Video store back in the 1980s, and repeatedly being denied a rental by the parents (despite the PG rating). Yeah, I had an interesting childhood, there. Anyway, that title stuck in my head for years, kept fresh–no pun intended–with spinoff sequels and a short-lived cartoon series. I even watched the first sequel, Return Of The Killer Tomatoes, a few years ago on Netflix. But it was the original ultra low-budget horror/sci-fi/comedy/musical from 1978 that was my holy grail, the one I wanted to watch, simply out of sheer morbid curiosity. Finally, it was recently that I was able to watch this elusive flick by way of Amazon streaming. So, I giddily settled down and prepared for the worst.

I have to admit, even I was barely prepared for what transpired. Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes! is a level of bad that will leave you wide-eyed and jaw-agape with trying to decipher what just happened.

The story involves a sudden uprising of attacks made by tomatoes. It’s right there in the title. As the American government tries to calm down a panicking citizenry, a team of specialists is put together to stop the tomato uprising. The plot thins as they try to infiltrate the tomato hordes, and uncover a conspiracy behind everything that’s happening. There’s also a news reporter hounding the crack team. Nothing seems to stop these tomatoes…nothing, except a certain hit pop song that is so terrible, even the sheet music will cause them to give up and die.

Watching this movie was almost a spiritual experience. Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes is a bad movie. And it knows that, and gives zero cares anyway. The acting is bad, the jokes are cringe-worthy, the songs even more so, and the editing and story will confuse you more often than not. When the end credits roll, you will be left with more questions than you came in with, along with a strange tingly sensation that is the signal that your brain gave up partway through and started playing Minecraft over in the corner while you inexplicably continued to watch it to the end. In short, Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes is so bad, everyone needs to watch it. Behold, the epitome of so-bad-its-good cinema. Throw it on some night with friends, along with various tomato-themed items for the full effect. You’re welcome.

Movie Review: KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS

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kingdom of the spidersDimension Pictures
1977
PG

“Well, that would explain Spider Hill…”

In between the end of his career-defining run on the original Star Trek series and his return as Kirk in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, America’s favorite Canadian import William Shatner kept relatively busy by guest starring on several TV shows and starring in several TV movies and miniseries. Kingdom Of The Spiders was one of the more memorable TV movies of that period. Memorable for all the wrong reasons, mind you, but memorable none-the-less.

I remember seeing a commercial for a re-run broadcast of Kingdom Of The Spiders in 1979, when i was but a wee lad. It featured the clip of the guy in a bi-plane freaking out because his lap was crawling full of SPIDERS! AAAAHH! Of course, I wasn’t allowed to watch it, as I was five at the time, and it was on past my bedtime. Oh, and my parents were operating under the assumption that Kingdom Of The Spiders was “scary” or something. Anyway, it wasn’t until recently that I finally watched the movie, while recovering from a malady with my knees, through the magic of Amazon streaming.

In Kingdom Of The Spiders, William Shatner plays Doc “Rack” Hansen, a rural vet in Arizona whose days of vaccinatin’ cattle and sexual harassment of his assistance in doing so is interrupted by a call from a local farmer, whose calf as mysteriously fallen ill. After sending for a blood test to the university in Flagstaff, the science division send over one of their arachnologists to investigate, and for ol’ Doc “Rack” to hit on relentlessly. As you may have gleaned from the title of the movie, the spiders in the area seem to be organizing to hunt much bigger prey due to the spraying of pesticides having wiped out the spiders’ natural food supply. Next thing you know, they’re taking over the area, killing off livestock and people, and the mayor still doesn’t want to do anything to scare off the visitors that are going to come for the county fair that’s coming up. So, basically this is Jaws with tarantulas. Or something. Anyway, the population dwindles, and next thing you know everyone alive takes refuge inside the local Inn, only to wake up to the entire county being webbed over by their new spider overlords. The end.

Kingdom Of The Spiders is very much in keeping with other nature run amok horror movies that I’ve seen from that era. I’ve seen far more of these types of movies than I’m comfortable with, really. This one endures mostly due to the masterful thespian craft of William “It’s not a toupee, dammit” Shatner, who plays his veterinarian character much like he played Captain Kirk: a cocky manly-man who likes to chew the scenery as well as the ladies. This was a television movie, mind you, in case you forgot it being brought up a mere couple of paragraphs ago, so there really isn’t much by way of graphic and scary bits, beyond a bunch of live tarantulas wandering about and some people being webbed up. Mostly when the humans are attacked, they flail about with a bunch of spiders–who probably have no idea what’s going on in the first place–crawling about them, trying to hang on for dear life due to this human they were put on freaking out. The actors try to do the best they can with what they were given, with the melodrama used to keep me from falling asleep in the middle of things. Oh, useless trivia: The little girl that plays “Rack”‘s niece was played by none other than William Shatner’s actual daughter. There, that’s something you know now.

Overall, I think I may have had a better reaction to watching this back when I was 6 or 7. Sure, Kingdom Of The Spiders is cheesy, melodramatic and fun for all the wrong reasons, but I’ve also seen way worse than this. It’s worth a Bad Movie Night showing some time.

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