Movie Review: DADDY’S HOME

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daddy's homeParamount Pictures
2015
PG-13

“Here’s a question for you. What do kids need more, a father or a dad? What’s the difference? The way I see it, darn near anyone can be a father, but not everyone has the patience or the devotion to be a dad. As for me, I’ve always wanted to be a dad. Let me tell you, I love it! Yeah! And I love my Ford Flex. It treats me to a smooth ride, and you know what? It didn’t break the bank. Room enough for the whole family.”

Brad, who always dreamed of having the perfect family, is determined to become the best step-dad to his new wife’s children. But when their biological father Dusty shows up unexpectedly, Brad’s idyllic family life is turned upside down and he must go toe-to-toe with Dusty in this hilarious family comedy…

I have to say, I am rather amused at how the description above from the back of the DVD cover describes this movie as “hilarious”. Perhaps the writer was being sarcastic? Or, maybe he did find this movie hilarious, and I’m just being cynical?

I’m sure there would be some people out there that would consider this collaboration between Will Ferrell and Mark “Don’t Call Me Marky Mark” Wahlberg to be the height of comedic perfection. Or at least comes close to that pinnacle. Me, I found Daddy’s Home to be amusing at best, but certainly not a laugh-out-loud exercise in hilariousness.

Anyway, Daddy’s Home has Ferrell playing a stepfather who is rather enjoying his role in his family life, until one day the children’s biological father shows up and begins to wedge himself into the situation. This, of course, leads to a constant stream of one-upmanship, with the standard wackiness ensuing, which ultimately culminates in the two coming to terms and becoming besties. The end.

I have to admit that Daddy’s Home does have a certain old-timey charm, rather like those family-friendly comedies from the 1950s, only with a bit more mild crudeness. As a matter of fact, if I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that the premise for this movie might have been a rejected concept for a TGIF sitcom from the 1990s. And admittedly, both Wahlberg and Ferrell do have a pretty good chemistry going, this being the second movie they’ve been teamed up together on. But as far as favorite characters go, this goes to the peripheral characters of the out-of-work guy who crashes at the house, and Ferrell’s character’s boss, both acting as kind of a Greek Chorus to the story. The very best part of the movie comes at the end, though, when John Cena shows up to the tune of Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls”. Awesomeness achieved.

Overall, I found Daddy’s Home to be a mildly amusing and…what’s that emotion…opposite of hate-filled…um…”heart warming”, I’m told, and mostly inoffensive way to kill 90 minutes. Really, I only watched this because I kind of want to see the upcoming sequel, due to wanting to see Mel Gibson and John Lithgow play off each other. Otherwise, not bad for a rental.

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Movie Review: CHOPPING MALL

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Movie Review CHOPPING MALLLionsgate Home Entertainment
1986
R

“I’m just not used to being chased around a mall in the middle of the night by killer robots.”

Some people will kill for a bargain…and at the Park Plaza Mall they do! Here, you can shop til you drop…dead! High tech robots equipped with state of the art security devices have been recruited as the new mechanical “night watchmen” for the Park Plaza Mall. When a jolting bolt of lightning short circuits the main computer control, the robots turn into “killbots”…on the loose after unsuspecting shoppers! Four couples are trying to make it after-hours in a mattress store. They make it all right…in the morgue! At Park Plaza, you can save on everything but your life!

Look at that DVD back-cover blurb up there. Just…gaze upon it. That, my fellow cinema fiends, is rampant abuse of the exclamation point right there. And to use them pared off with attempts to sound like Tales From The Crypt bon mots…they make me cringe. Also, this may be the first time I used “bon mot” in a sentence of any kind. But I digress.

Chopping Mall is a movie from the mid-1980s that poses the question: What if Short Circuit was a slasher horror flick, instead of a whimsical sci-fi family adventure? I mean, sure, you could argue that Chopping Mall came out a mere two months before Short Circuit and thus this would be a moot point, but let’s get real here. Chopping Mall is for those wishing Short Circuit had a body count and even goofier main characters. As a matter of fact, Chopping Mall was originally released under the title Killbots, which would have been far more on point with the plot of the movie, but was changed to the current name when it was re-released.

So, after a brief scene at a demonstration of the high-tech security bots, we’re introduced to the horny 20-somethings that work at various shops at the local mall. One of them is the son of the guy who owns the mattress store, and he and his buddies decide to bring in their respective girlfriends and have a product testing party after hours. This just also happens to be the same night that the fancy-schmancy security bots at the mall got shocked by a power surge due to an electrical storm outside, and they all surpass the Three Laws and begin killing all humans. So now, long after all the other smarter humans have left the mall and the kill bots have been deployed, the only live bodies left are those horny 20-somethings, and now it’s a matter of survival trying to get out of a mall that’s been put in lockdown, while being stalked by the three security robots. Things don’t go well.

First thing I really need to point out here, is that, for a movie titled Chopping Mall, there is absolutely zero actual chopping. Oh, there’s plenty of electrocuting, stabbing, choking and being shot at by lazer blasts (seriously), but absolutely no chopping whatsoever. I have to say, I am very disappointed, movie. You promise chopping, and then fail to deliver said chopping. I don’t care if it was the alternate title choice, the video cover promised chopping, I expect chopping. That said, Chopping Mall was a nice bit of cheesy 80s-tastic fun. The script itself oozed dated 80s pop culture, right down to the use of the words “bodacious” and “to the max”. The effects were delightfully low-budget, and things get so over-the-top you have to really check your brain in at the door and just sit back and enjoy the wackiness.

Misnomer title aside, Chopping Mall was a lot of unintentional fun to sit through. Easily making my list of So Bad It’s Good movies you need to watch and rip on with friends one night.

Movie Review: RADICAL JACK

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radical jackEdgewood Entertainment
2000
R

Back in the early 1990s, I don’t think anyone could anticipate the kind of career trajectory Billy Ray Cyrus would take. After hitting One Hit Wonder gold with the infernal Country earworm “Achy Breaky Heart”, he seemed to have parlayed his lukewarm music career into various acting endeavors, as well as spawning more successful musical progeny. You have to admire his tenacity and work ethic, if not his talent.

In 2000, the Mulleted One starred in a low-budget “action” flick named Radical Jack. This movie’s premise seems to smoosh together two better movies: Road House and Stone Cold, only with hardly any of the charm and cheesy goodness of those. Radical Jack is an action movie so vanilla, so devoid of actual action or substance, you can’t help but continue watching out of pity, really.

Radical Jack tells the tale of ex-CIA operative “Radical” Jack (“Radical” was his code name, presumably chosen by a 10-year-old son of a Colonel) who is recruited begrudgingly to scope out illegal weapons trade happening in a small po-dunk Southern town of nondescript. Since “Radical” Jack rides a motorcycle and rocks a sweet, sweet mullet, of course the moment he hits the town he immediately gets a job at the local bar, but not until after he does his laundry and have sepia-toned flashbacks. He runs into the gang of ruffians lead by the son of the…gangster? Illegal gun fencer? Whatever you call him…all I know is he likes to sit outside on the porch of his nice home in the finest of polo shirts and have brunch and coffee a lot. Anyway, that guy’s kid and his slack-jawed yokel friends like to drive around in a Hummer and generally be assbutts to everyone in the town, including the waitresses at the bar that “Radical” Jack now works at. You can probably see where this is going. So, several confrontations happen, a bunch of tough-guy posturing and badly choreographed fight scenes ensue, and eventually the biggest non-surprising non-twist happens and the movie is over. Finally.

I have no idea who came up with the bright idea to try and make Billy Ray Cyrus an action star. Trying to take a guy who is closely associated with all-American wholesomeness and turning them into a grizzled antihero type just fell flatter than Garth Brooks’ attempt at his Chris Gaines persona. And I just now realized that I seem to know way more about 90s era country music than I’m comfortable to admit. That crap was everywhere, man. Anyway, the dialogue spouted was beyond horrible, the “action” scenes laughable, and if it wasn’t for some face palm-worthy bits of swearing that Billy Ray doesn’t seem to be able to pull off and some surprise nudity, I would swear this was a Family Channel attempt at edgy action television. The only redeeming quality of this movie happens to be that it’s one of those movies so bad that you can’t seem to stop watching, like a train wreck.

Fortunately, there was no further attempt to make Billy Ray into an action hero star. Unfortunately, Radical Jack still exists. And if you come across it…grab your friends, and rip this one to shreds. You’ll have a jolly good time.

Movie Review: ELOISE

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Movie Review ELOISEVertical Entertainment
2017
R

Four friends break into Eloise, an abandoned insane asylum, in search of a death certificate which will grant one of them a large inheritance. Unbeknownst to these four trespassers, what begins as an in-and-out adventure will evolve into their darkest nightmare in a place haunted by evil doctors, tortured spirits and unspeakable memories.

Here we are with yet another Abandoned Haunted Medical Facility type movie, this one featuring the likes of Elza Dushku and Robert Patrick as actors. My track record with movies like this one is rather dismal, and I only end up watching them more out of morbid curiosity, almost daring the movie to do something different–some kind of creative twist to a tired movie trope–to make me like it even a little bit. Does Eloise manage to do this? In a word…nope.

So, the movie involves a young, 20-something blue collar man who just learns of the death of his father. While at the insurance office following up, he’s then made aware of a long-forgotten aunt who was interred at the Eloise insane asylum decades prior, and has bequeathed a large sum of money to him. Though she’s been presumed long dead, the kid (sorry, I’m in my 40s, so 20-somethings are looking like kids to me) needs to get the official death certificate to prove her to be dead-dead, so he can get the money awaiting him. And the certificate is located in one of the abandoned buildings of Eloise, naturally. So, he enlists the help of an old friend of his, a bartender he met the night prior, and the bartender’s brother, who happens to be a fount of information on Eloise, to break into the abandoned facility and try and find the death certificate. The inside of this place is creepy enough as it is, especially in the dead of night; but soon the standard set of supernatural shenanigans begin happening, progressing predictably to what you would expect in something labeled as a “horror movie”.

Well, now…this was an unsurprisingly boring movie to sit through. Most independently shot horror flicks involving haunted asylums or hospitals of some sort usually are, as they all seem to go the route story-wise. You know the drill: bunch of young adults break into the abandoned structure for whatever reason, said abandoned structure turns out to be haunted for realsies, wackiness ensues. Usually off screen. Nothing new to see here, folks. Move along, move along.

Mind you, there are several things going for the movie’s favor, like being shot on location at the defunct Eloise mental institution outside of Detroit, Michigan, and capitalizing well with the eerie atmosphere of the interiors of said building. The history behind the facility also lends to the atmosphere and amps up the dread when they’re inside the place. This being director Robert Legato’s first film–a guy who is better known as a long time VFX specialist for several well-known Hollywood directors, as well as helming a few Star Trek episodes in the 90s–he did a very good job shooing and editing the movie itself. And the story does start off with a promising premise. But, once they finally get inside the titular building, it goes the route every modern haunted asylum movie has gone before, and not very memorably I should hasten to add. The actors were all adequate in their respective rolls, with Eliza Dushku being the default standout of the bunch. The worst part is about two-thirds of the way in, when the movie introduces the dimensional time-shift aspect to the plot, in an attempt to answer the mystery behind the evil of the…

Ah, forget it. I give up trying to explain things about this movie. Eloise has flashes of good ideas, but ultimately falls flat. So far, the only good abandoned asylum movie in existence is Session 9, and you would do well to watch that one again instead.

Movie Review: EDGE OF TOMORROW

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Movie Review EDGE OF TOMORROWWarner Bros. Pictures
2014
PG-13

“Now listen carefully. This is a very important rule. This is the only rule. You get injured on the field, you better make sure you die.”

When Earth falls under attack from invincible aliens, no military unit in the world is able to beat them. Major William Cage, an officer who has never seen combat, is assigned to a suicide mission. Killed within moments, Cage finds himself thrown into a time loop, in which he relives the same brutal fight–and his death–over and over again. However, Cage’s fighting skills improve with each encore, bringing him and a comrade ever closer to defeating the aliens.

Edge Of Tomorrow is a science fiction movie that I remember seeing the teaser trailer for once while waiting for another movie to begin. It consisted of Tom Cruise in a mech suit of some kind, wondering around a battlefield with things blowing up around him…and that’s about all I remember before my brain began drifting to other, much more interesting things, like wondering if there was time to go get a package of Reese’s Pieces to mix in with my popcorn (I opted not to go). I wasn’t really planning on ever watching Edge Of Tomorrow, more out of disinterest in yet another gritty science fiction war movie, let alone one that features Tom Cruise in there. But, yet again the great ogre that is boredom reared its ugly head one weekend afternoon, and spying this on the streaming decided to kill off a couple of hours. The resulting reaction was…mixed, at best.

It’s the near future of…2015, and in a totally ironic reversal, Germany has been invaded…by a horde of intergalactic aliens called the Mimics, sort of a hive-minded Lovecraftian horror that managed to kill all the humans in their way. Five years later, the world’s combined military forces have finally managed their one victory, led by a sergeant in a mech suit that was dubbed the Angel of Verdun. This provides a much-needed boost of moral for the humans, and before you know it a major offensive in France is planned, with public affairs officer Major Tom Cruise William Cage being recruited to cover the day of the assault. Major Cage has a slight disagreement with this idea, and so he’s busted down to Private, labelled a deserter, and assigned to the J Squad for the battle. Of course, the battle itself doesn’t go well, and Private Cage dies taking out a rather large Mimic, getting covered in its blood with his dying breath. The End. Oh, wait, no…Cage wakes up again, reliving the last 24 hours leading up to the battle, with the memories of the previous attempt fresh in his head. Realizing he’s stuck in his own personal Groundhog Day hell, he proceeds to spend maybe hundreds of the reiteration of the same day trying to figure out a way to stop the Mimics once and for all. And this involves hundreds of times trying to convince the Angel of Verdun that he’s not nuts and help him do so. Of course, the standard time loop wackiness ensues, leading to finding the Big Alien Brain behind all this, which might involve Cage having to make the final assault without his timey-wimey powers.

As I was watching this, I kept asking myself, who was it that decided that Tom Cruise, of all people, needed to be an action star? This seems to be his modus operandi with movies since the end of the 20th Century. You would expect him to maybe be in a parody of an action movie, like with Charlie Sheen (Hot Shots) and his brother Emilio Estevez (Loaded Weapon 1). I don’t watch a lot of Tom Cruise movies, but going over the filmography page on IMDB, it seems that after doing Eyes Wide Shut, there’s been a lot of action movies on his list. And okay, he was in the action movie comedy Tropic Thunder, which is an awesome movie and everyone should go see it. But still, Tom Cruise still seems…off as a choice for action hero material. But, I digress.

It probably won’t come as much of a surprise when I say that I’m unfamiliar with the Japanese novel this movie is based on, All You Need Is Kill. Which is a very Japanese sounding name, there. And from what I’ve gleaned on the interwebs, there was a lot of plot streamlining for the movie, so one could say that Edge Of Tomorrow is loosely based on the novel. That said, my impression of Edge Of Tomorrow is essentially Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers. That’s the movie in a nutshell, minus the having to travel to distant planets to battle the alien horde. Mind you, I happen to dig the whole “stuck in a time loope” trope, when it’s done well, and here it’s done pretty good. Also, you get kickass mech suits and the late, great Bill Paxton as the Master Sergeant, with a whole lotta stuff blowing up. In other words, it’s an sci-fi action movie that tries to be smarter than what it really is, and the result is a rather enjoyable popcorn flick that you don’t have to think too hard about, as all the technical stuff is spelled out for you. You can just sit back, munch on some popcorn, and enjoy the show.

Overall, I did enjoy Edge Of Tomorrow the same way I enjoyed the original Independence Day, right down to the “hooray human endurance” happy ending. Mind you, I don’t understand why Warner Bros. decided to play up the movie’s tag line–“Live. Die. Repeat.”–upon the home video release. To many, that’s the actual title of the movie. I had a co-worker refer to it as that, asking “Have you seen Live Die Repeat?”, which took him describing the plot to make me realize he was talking about this movie. Regardless, you should check this out some time as a rental if you haven’t done so.

Movie Review: IT (2017)

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itWarner Bros.
2017
R

“This isn’t real enough for you, Billy? I’m not real enough for you? It was real enough for Georgie.”

Seven young outcasts in Derry, Maine, are about to face their worst nightmare–an ancient, shape-shifting evil that emerges from the sewer every 27 years to prey on the town’s children. Banding together over the course of one horrifying summer the friends must overcome their own personal fears to battle the murderous, bloodthirsty clown known as Pennywise.

I’ve been sitting here now, for quite a bit of time, trying to figure out how I’m going to lead off this particular review of the new big-screen adaptation of one of Stephen Kings more notorious novels in his repertoire, It. There were several ways I could have approached this, really: talk a bit about the book; talk about the first adaptation, the TV miniseries from 1990; a bit from both columns maybe. But, the biggest thing that hit me the prior night, after watching the 2017 movie, was that the new It was released 27 years after the TV miniseries. I see what you did there, movie. Was that deliberate or mere coincidence? Probably coincidence. Unless it was deliberate. It’s enough to make me paranoid. Well, more so.

Anyway, at this point I should make the obligatory mention of me being a long-time fan of Stephen King, having read the book It in the late 1980s at the age of 15, and watching the original broadcasts of the TV miniseries adaptation and then renting the VHS releases more than once back in the day. And while I loved the miniseries adaptation (the first part was better than the second part, but that seems to be a universally held opinion on the whole), it still seemed to lack a certain bite that would have really made it a scary tour de force. I realize that there were limitations due to being shown on network television back in the very early 1990s, but still. Getting a proper big-screen movie adaptation was something that was announced every other year or so since the mid-1990s, but took quite a while to actually find ground and get made. Long enough for me to take a “I’ll believe it when I’m sitting in a theater and seeing it” kind of stance with any news report of one.

And now, here we are, with what is reportedly the first chapter in a two-part big screen adaptation of It. I saw it. I believed it. And, wow, let me tell you, the wait was definitely worth it.

There’s a couple of things I need to point out here before I forget: First, best use of an Anthrax song in a movie, ever. The other movie that I know of that utilizes Anthrax was Last Action Hero. At least, they had an Anthrax song on their soundtrack. I haven’t seen that movie yet, so I can’t verify if it’s in the movie itself. But, yeah, It cranks out “Antisocial” at a key point in the movie. Metal horns up. And on a side note, one of the antagonists wears metal shirts. Awesome. The other point I wanted to make, most importantly, is that, if you have an aversion to clowns–even if they just make you the least bit uncomfortable–this It is definitely not for you. Trust me on this one. Because the Pennywise here makes Tim Curry’s Pennywise from the miniseries look like he was a member of Clowns For Jesus.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. With something like this, it could have been very easy to skip past a lot of the source material and just focus on “there’s a creepy clown, BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA!” kind of narrative. This movie wisely takes the time to build up the main characters, to give them depth and make you care about them. The fear and terror here doesn’t stem from some supernatural harlequin; the actual terror is from each of the character’s real life, what they most fear. The clown–or, more to the point, the entity behind the clown itself, more on that in a bit–just happens to amplify those fears to get to them. But, what makes it so effective is that you’re given time to get to know everyone in the Loser’s Club, to care about their situations and home lives. Heck, even the main antagonist, one Henry Bowers, is given a scene that makes you sympathetic for how he came to become such a monster. Very good job picking out the right child actors to carry the story.

Now, a bit about Pennywise. For me, clowns are no problem. I have no fear of them. They don’t even make me uncomfortable…unless they invade my personal space, but that goes for everyone on this planet. Bill Skarsgård’s take on Pennywise is the first instance where I was genuinely creeped out by a clown in any media. This can be chalked up to two things: 1) Bill Skarsgård’s mannerisms and style he went for (he wisely chose to not just imitate Tim Curry’s iconic version), and 2) the effects that made Pennywise off-putting and unnatural, and not just when the fangs came out. I’ve read and heard complaints that Pennywise didn’t seem real…and I think that was the whole point. As I touched on, and for those of you familiar with the source material, Pennywise is just an avatar that It uses, and I would think that, to wring the maximum amount of fear from a child, an ancient entity of pure evil that may or may not be a Lovecraftian elder god would use that to great effect. And I found it used to great effect, here. Especially in the final confrontation.

Anyway, I’ve been gushing about this movie for far too long, now. I’m just going to leave off with this: While I do admit that there were times when the story seems a bit disjointed and unfocused, keep in mind the source material. To say there were some issues with pacing with the book would be to understate things considerably. Also, to that end, anyone who may be expecting a faithful word-by-word adaptation of the novel…nope. Not getting it here. The very fact that they set the year this takes place with 1988 and 1989 instead of 1957 and 1958 tips you right off the bat. And really, I am not only okay with the changes, but I think it makes the story better.

Overall, despite the gang of 11-year-old boys sitting behind me freaking out every five minutes over the littlest things (seriously, what was that father thinking?), I enjoyed this It immensely. Easily the second best film I’ve seen in theaters this year. I would highly recommend you seeing this as a matinee, with a bunch of friends and a goodly amount of popcorn at the ready. Red balloon optional.

Movie Review: The NEON DEMON

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neon demonAmazon Studios
2016
R

“I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I can’t write, no real talent. But I’m pretty, and I can make money off of pretty.”

I started hearing buzz in the horror community about this particular movie titled The Neon Demon build over a year ago, and kept running into the title here and there. It was directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, who many may know as the guy who did the artsy movie that was marketed as a Fast & Furious knock-off Drive, as well as Only God Forgives. Neither one of those I watched; but, given that this was listed in the Amazon Prime streaming under the “horror” section, I decided to go ahead and give it a watch. It was only just short of two hours, so during my recent rehabilitation stint and nothing else to do, I popped it on the player.

The Neon Demon falls squarely within the What The Bloody Heck Did I Just Watch?!? files. This doesn’t fall squarely under the “horror” title, per se; if anything, this is really akin to the classic David Lynch movies that makes you think that you’re experiencing a noir-ish drama through a nightmarish filter.

The story of The Neon Demon can be boiled down to aspiring young model goes to Los Angeles, gets picked up by a modeling firm, begins to get a taste of fame within the world of supermodels, and starts to go a bit insane from the pressure and alienation. Oh, and then gets killed and eaten by her competing model friends in an Elizabeth Bathory-style attempt to retain her youth and beauty for themselves. As is what happens in L.A., I would presume. I was only there once, in 1984. There was a lot of palm trees and citrus there.

Anyway, the entirety of The Neon Demon plays out like a two-hour fever dream, with a deliberately despondency and pace that, when pared up with the rather trippy EBM soundtrack, has the effect of walking through the world coming down off of some very potent pain medication. There was a bright, over-saturation of the colors and especially the whites that gave a feeling of a void and added to the despondency. And speaking of despondency, the acting from everyone added to the overall waking dreamlike quality, being slow and deliberate, like this all can’t be real but somehow is. To that end, this had the added effect of having Keanu Reeves emote the most in this movie. Mind=blown.

Overall, The Neon Demon has a lot more going for it than just being an artsy horror movie. It’s very well shot, well acted and put together. The story is rather thin, though, and the plot does seem to meander about aimlessly at more than one place. There are some very stark and disturbing scenes, and the final thirty minutes well earns its “horror” nod, so don’t think this is going to be all that easy to sit through. As far as recomendations, I would say yeah, it’s worth a watch some time, especially if you like movies like Requiem For A Dream and Mulholland Drive.

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