Movie Review: GREMLINS 2

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Movie Review_ GREMLINS 2Warner Bros.
1990
PG-13

“They put me on at 3am. People who are awake at 3am aren’t afraid of the Wolfman. The only thing that frightens those people is sobering up and going to work.”

The rules are the same but the laughs are bigger and the thrills are better. This time Billy and everyone’s favorite Mogwai, Gizmo, must face off against a new batch of Gremlins that definitely think New York is their kind of town.

There’s no denying that the original Gremlins is a classic. It managed to take a standard horror movie premise and turn it into a whimsical Christmas gem, which remains so to this day. So, of course it was inevitable that it would get a sequel to cash in on all the merchandising…er, movie magic that it’s spawned since. The only problem being that they waited six years to actually make one. And while the suits at Warner Bros. and Amblin Entertainment managed to get the original director Joe Dante to make the sequel, Dante had no interest whatsoever to do so.

And who could blame him? The story in the original Gremlins was wrapped up nicely, with Mr. Wing walking off into the night with Gizmo, back to the safety of his shop, after a night of terrifying wackiness. Gremlins didn’t really need a sequel. And on the cusp of the Summer of 1990, we got a sequel, whether we wanted one or not. And boy howdy, what a sequel.

I don’t think anybody was prepared for what we got when we sat down in the theater seats, awaiting the second installment of mogwai wackiness. If we were expecting something like the first one, we were sorely disappointed. Instead, we were treated to a biting satire of sequels in general, as well as a gleeful deconstruction of the first Gremlins movie.

We begin this movie with the death of Mr. Wing, along with the demolition of his shop, forcing Gizmo to vacate and suddenly finding himself the acquired property of scientists working in a New York high-rise business building owned by the Clamp Corporation. Coincidentally, this is where Billy and Kate from the first movie have ended up working at, and manage to rescue Gizmo. Of course, it’s just a matter of time before two of the Three Rules get violated, and soon the entire business building is overrun by the nasty scaly gremlins. And one of ’em has gained some super-intelligence and has plans for world domination.

Of course, when I first watched this movie in the theaters back in 1990, I didn’t really like it as much as the first one. Because, like pretty much everyone else, we were expecting something like the first movie, and were confused as to the tone and general absurdity of this one. While the concept of different style of mutated gremlins was cool (Spider Gremlin! Electo-Gremlin! Super-smart Gremlin with the voice of Tony Randall!), we also got a very thinly veiled jab at the movie industry’s need to do sequels that gleefully goes for the jugular. The Clamp Corporation is clearly a send-up of the Ted Turner mass media empire of the day, complete with a division that handles the colorization of classic movies. We have the late, great Christopher Lee as a mad scientist that stumbles upon the whole genetic splicing of the Gremlins thing. There’s also a wacky meta thing where the Gremlins apparently break into the theater you’re watching this at and breaks the film, causing Hulk Hogan to get rather annoyed at it. I am not making that up. Apparently, there’s an alternate take of this bit for the VHS release, but I’ve only really watched this at the theater when it was released, then on one of the premium cable movie channels at my grandparents’ place whenever it was on when I was visiting, so I only know the theater-centric version. And, to top it all off, the big climatic ending involves a musical number.

And it is just that kind of gleeful abandon and surreal absurdity that, over time, makes Gremlins 2: The New Batch to be just as good–dare I say, even better–that the original Gremlins. Because you cannot compare this with its original counterpart. This is a perfect example of comparing apples with pineapples. They both have the word “apple” in their names, but they are completely different fruits. Or, a berry and a fruit, if you want to get pedantic about apples technically being berries or whatever. What I’m trying to say is, Gremlins 2 is a different entity in and of itself.

So, watch and enjoy Gremlins 2, and admit to liking it. Just don’t try and compare it with its predecessor.

Movie Review: The FINAL GIRLS

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Movie Review FINAL GIRLS, TheSony Pictures
2015
PG-13

“I should have known something was up with this place. I mean think about it. What the hell kind of summer camp has waterbeds?”

When Max and her friends reluctantly attend a tribute screening of an infamous ’80s slasher film that starred Max’s late mother, they are accidentally sucked into the silver screen. They soon realize they are trapped inside the cult classic movie and must team up with the fictional and ill-fated “camp Bloodbath” counselors, including Max’s mom as the shy scream queen, to battle the film’s machete-wielding, masked killer. With the body count rising in scene after iconic scene, who will be The Final Girls left standing and live to escape this film?

Back in the mid-Aughts, I watched and reviewed a movie called Camp Slaughter, the premise of which was a bunch of young adults in the modern times get time displaced into an early 1980s summer camp that’s experiencing a time-loop slasher. I thought it had massive potential, but fell very short of realizing its own meta-greatness with its limitations on budget and lack of acting abilities. Fun, but it could have been so much more so.

Fast forward a bit over a decade later, and I believe I’ve stumbled upon the realization of that greatness, with the release of The Final Girls.

In The Final Girls, young Max is the daughter of the late Scream Queen Amanda Cartwright, who stared in the cult slasher flick Camp Bloodbath in 1983. While attending a special showing of that particular movie, a fire starts, and she and her friends manage to escape…right in the middle of the movie itself. There, she and her friends must find a way out of their bizarre situation, while interacting with the characters of the movie while avoiding being offed by the slasher picking them off and navigating through all the tropes that come with it. Also, Max has to deal with confronting her mother who doesn’t know she’s her mother, and just another character playing out the movie.

The Final Girls was a joy to watch. It functioned as an affectionate parody send-up of the 80s slasher genre, as well as being a well-constructed meta deconstruction of the genre. Self aware, funny, and yet still maintaining being a horror movie in its own right (with just a hint of cheese), this movie managed to do what the aforementioned Camp Slaughter couldn’t: be entertaining without coming off as forced. Also, the effects were way better.

Of course, the best part of the movie was the interaction between the kids from the real world, trying to convince the movie characters that they’re in a slasher film and they’re all going to die. Especially done well was the whole “flashback” scenes, where the movie reality starts melting around them, plopping everyone into a black and while flashback scene. Not to mention the whole Butterfly Effect that happens to the movie characters as these new people in their universe start messing with the natural order of things in attempts to try and save them from the doom that is to come. And, in case you’re wondering, The Final Girls doesn’t end up with one of those “It was all a dream” kind of endings. Although, it does make one wonder if this is all playing out in Max’s subconsciousness as she’s dying slowly in the hospital from massive burns and smoke inhalation from the theater fire. But, that’s just my playful nihilism speculating.

Of course, I can’t help but point out a few glaring anachronisms in the plot, like, say, the group playing a song on the boom box that wasn’t released until years after the date the movie was set in. But, considering my formative years were in the 1980s, and I would know this stuff, this is minor fanboy quibbles that come off as an old guy complaining. Regardless, The Final Girls was a fantastic meta horror comedy that needs to be checked out sometime soon.

Movie Review: The EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

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edge of seventeenSTX Entertainment
2016
R

“I don’t wanna take up a ton of your time, but I’m gonna kill myself. I just thought an adult should know.”

Everyone knows that growing up is hard, and life is no easier for high school junior Nadine, who is already at peek awkwardness, when her all-star older brother Darian starts dating her best friend Krista. All at once, Nadine feels more alone than ever, until the unexpected friendship of a thoughtful boy gives her a glimmer of hope that things just might not be so terrible after all.

To answer your unasked question: yes, I’m feeling okay. I’m fine, really. I understand your concern, because I’m reviewing what’s essentially a coming-of-age teen dramady, and an Oscar nominated film at that. To be fair, I am just as shocked as you are. But, to reiterate, I’m fine. No, really.

There’s a perfectly good reason why I decided to watch The Edge Of Seventheen. Well, two good reasons, actually: Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson.

Hailee Steinfeld, who plays the lead of the movie, blew me away with her performance in the True Grit remake in 2010. And she was only 14 then, with that movie being her first. Now, she’s a bit older, with some more experience, which brought a rather nuanced and delightfully complex take to the character of Nadine. Woody Harrelson plays a grizzled teacher that at first seem to be a mere curmudgeon, but then there’s more underneath the crusty outer shell through all this.

It’s the interaction between these two characters that is this movie’s best feature. Watching these two trade some smartly written barbs between each other was fantastic. Harrelson’s reaction to Nadine’s opening suicide threat proclamation is especially dry and hilarious.

Beyond that, though, The Edge Of Seventeen is just another teen dramady where something otherwise benign makes said teen’s world begin to crumble around them, teen does stupid things as reactionary something-something, then teen has epiphany and everything is all sunshine, rainbows and unicorn farts. And puppies. Let’s not forget the puppies. End on an up-tempo indie rock tune for the credits, and you get the idea.

Yeah, had it not been for the the presence of Steinfeld and Harrelson, chances are good I never would have given The Edge Of Seventeen a second thought. And, unfortunately for those of you hoping I would give up my particular taste in movie genres and embrace “good” movies..nope. Whole lotta nope. Sorry, but this did nothing of the sort. It’s a very good movie, don’t get me wrong. It’s just not my cinematic poison.

Movie Review: The LEGO BATMAN MOVIE

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lego-batman-movieWarner Bros.
2017
PG

“Wait a minute. Bruce Wayne is Batman…’s roommate?”

There are big changes brewing in Gotham, but if Batman wants to save the city from the Joker’s hostile takeover, he may have to drop the lone vigilante thing, try to work with others and maybe, just maybe, learn to lighten up. Maybe his superhero sidekick Robin and loyal butler Alfred can show him a thing or two.

Admittedly, 2014’s The Lego Movie was probably one of the more unexpected hit movies based on a toy property to come out that didn’t have giant robots turning into vehicles or Michael Bay’s name attached to it. I still haven’t watched The Lego Movie as of this writing, mind you; that’s mostly due to my disdain of the nigh-ubiquitous “Everything Is Awesome” theme song that certain chipper types at work seem to utilize as their own personal theme music. I’m sure I’ll get over myself and get around to watching it eventually. Not as of yet, though.

Anyway, reportedly the most popular side character in that movie was Batman, which lead to the spinoff, The Lego Batman Movie. There was no doubt in my head that I was going to see this movie. I remember sitting in the theater a year prior, waiting for the exorcise in overstuffed mediocrity that was Batman V. Superman, and watching the teaser for The Lego Batman Movie, then leaning over to one of the Exalted Geeks in attendance and saying, “Why aren’t we watching this movie?” The Lego Batman Movie, even then, looked to be the superior Batman movie to, not only the one that we ended up watching that day, but to pretty much every other Batman movie that has come before.

Calm down, fanboys and fangirls. You know I’m right. Just hear me out. But first, the rundown (also, there may be spoilers ahead, so be ye warned):

The fun begins with Batman villain The Joker, along with pretty much all of Batman’s rogue gallery (and then some) attempting to hijack a plane carrying stupid amounts of explosives, when he’s once again foiled by The Batman…only to have his heart broken when Batman informs Joker that he doesn’t consider him his greatest nemesis. This prompts the Joker to begin planning his greatest revenge against the Dark Knight…by surrendering himself and the rest of the rogues to the newly appointed Commissioner Barbara Gordon, thereby rendering Batman’s crime fighting services superfluous. Bruce Wayne, while attending a charity event, inadvertently adopts Dick Grayson, then hatches a plan to sneak into Superman’s Fortress of Solitude to steal the Phantom Zone projector with plans to put Joker in the most inescapable jail in existence. Of course, this is just playing into the Joker’s hands, as his master plan is to break out all of the ultimate baddies that were stuck in the Phantom Zone previously to take over Gotham. Can Batman get over his need to be on his own to fight the evil that has taken over Gotham? Will he allow himself to be part of a family again? Is it possible to reference every single aspect of Batman history without coming off as pandering and ham-fisted?

As many have already indicated, The Batman Lego Movie was a highly enjoyable animated action comedy that not only works well as a satire of the various bits of media that Batman has appeared in since Detective Comics No. Something-or-other, but somehow gets to the very heart of who the character of Batman is much better than the other movies ever did. And that is, deep down, Batman doesn’t want to suffer the pain of losing the people he loves, so he keeps everyone at a distance. Until he comes across a situation in which he has to drop those emotional shields of his and let others inside to work together. As a family, if you will.

Character deconstruction aside, The Lego Batman movie should be watched by everyone, not only the fans of the Batman movies, or the first Lego Movie, but everyone. The writing, the animated action, the imagination that went behind this, everything gels together so well that you almost have to take in a second showing just to get all the things you may have missed before. And believe me, if you want to go just to geek out on the Batman, this movie is jammed to the cowl with various references and Easter eggs to geek upon. Even I was impressed at how obscure some of the villains included were.

I need to reel myself in, lest I spend more time geeking out about this movie. Bottom line, if you haven’t seen The Lego Batman Movie by now, you need to go see it while it’s still out in the theaters.

Movie Review: ATTACK OF THE LEDERHOSEN ZOMBIES

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attack-of-the-lederhosenzombies-1Fischer Film
2016
NR

“Life…life is…no, I’ve got nothing.”

Steve, a young professional snowboarder, ruins a high-paying photoshoot by playing a silly prank. He, his girlfriend Branka, and fellow snowboarder Joschi are left behind on the mountain. They seek shelter in an apre’s-ski tavern that is hosting an all-night party. Things go from bad to worse when a scientific eperiment unleashes an epidemic of zombies and mutant wildlife. This is mostly lost on the local drunkards, as they are not always easy to distinguish from zombies themeselves. But Steve, Branka and Joschi have to find a way to survive this hellish night.

Go ahead, balk at me. Say I’m a slave to my bad taste in horror movies, that I would see a title like Attack Of The Lederhosen Zombies and immediately want to watch it because of that, regardless of how bad it may be. Mock me for loving the horror genre, and being drawn more towards the best of the bad stuff. You should know me by now. And if not, you haven’t been paying attention. Because yes, I did seek out and watch Attack Of The Lederhosen Zombies the moment I learned this movie existed by the very name alone.

Yes, I realized it might be a painfully bad movie. I wasn’t wandering into this expecting Oscar-worthy caliber movie magic, after all. I leave that to the rest of the Exalted Geeks that expect perfection with everything they watch. Me, I revel in this kind of thing, and as it turns out, Attack Of The Lederhosen Zombies was actually rather fun. Mindless zombie fun, mind you, but fun just the same.

So, here we have an hotshot would-be snowboarding video star losing a major contract after a prank during a critical photoshoot backfires spectacularly. With nowhere else to go, the snowboarder, his buddy and his girlfriend spend the night at the local ski tavern that’s celebrating the end of the season. Unfortunately, that party is crashed by a Russian zombie that was turned by way of some day-glo yellow chemicals he was exposed to while at a demonstration of an experimental snow maker machine. Soon, most of the locals are turned, and the X-treme Sportz Trio and the barmaid of the tavern find themselves fighting their way out of the mountains.

Look, a movie like this could have turned out far more worse that it actually did. Attack Of The Lederhosen Zombies turned out to be a far more amusing zombie comedy, possibly because at no point did it feel like it was trying to be anything but a mindless entertaining zombie comedy. It has a very palpable 80s vibe to it, right down to the soundtrack music. It doesn’t try to reinvent the zombie genre, it doesn’t add to the mythos; as a matter of fact, you might say this is just another in an already bloated sub-genre of horror. But, with a running time of a brisk hour and seventeen minutes, and with everyone seeming to be having fun with this, you could do far worse than Attack Of The Lederhosen Zombies. It’s not the original Return Of The Living Dead…but it’s at least as good as Return Of The Living Dead Part 2. I’ll just leave it at that.

Movie Review: GREMLINS

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movie-review_-gremlinsWarner Bros.
1984
PG

“You say you hate Washington’s Birthday or Thanksgiving and nobody cares, but you say you hate Christmas and people treat you like you’re a leper.”

Don’t ever get it wet. Keep it away from bright light. And no matter how much it cries, no matter how much it begs…never, ever feed it after midnight. With these instructions, young Billy Peltzer takes possession of his cuddly new pet. Billy will get a whole lot more than he bargained for.

Say what you will about the 1980s. I realize that there are many out there that weren’t even born in the era that gave us many a pop culture item that kids nowadays wear “ironically”, or however they’re doing things nowadays. I pity those who have never known the magical whimsy that came with such imaginative tales that sprung from the era that gave us Steven Spielberg’s peek work in the fantastic, inspiring others to release such classics as…well, this movie right here: Gremlins.

Yeah, I know. The dismount and nailing the landing could have uses a bit of work, but I’m old. No shame whatsoever. Anyway…

I would think that, at this point, pretty much everybody knows about Gremlins. In that “I haven’t seen it, but I know about it” kind of way, I would think. If you haven’t seen it, well…again, I pity you. Because, in my not-so-humble opinion, Gremlins seemed to capture that bit of lightning in a bottle, mixing the whimsical family comedy with dark fantasy horror elements in a way that just inexplicably worked.

In case you’re wondering, I wasn’t able to get around to watching Gremlins until much later. This was due to my parents being rather strict as to what I could and could not watch as a mere grade-schooler. And since Gremlins had that verboten-until-viewed-first-by-the-parental-units PG rating, they deemed it too scary for my 10-year-old self to watch. Of course, this necessitated me to rely not only on my school chums who were able to watch it before me to experience the movie vicariously, but also with the special promotion that the local Hardee’s did, with individual book-and-record movie adaptation that came at a special price when you ordered some kind of combo, I can’t remember exactly. The problem was, since we went into the town that had said Hardee’s rather infrequently, we only got one of the multi-part set that was in the middle of the story. We didn’t get any more of those. I have no idea why.

Regardless, I finally was able to watch the movie a couple of years later, when we bought it on VHS, and despite all of the hype that my over-imagination built up, after watching it for the first time, IT WAS THE MOST AWESOME THING EVER. Yes, even after only having the plushy dolls and various other promotional brick-a-brack for visual references, and taking what I could piece together from second-hand descriptions and filling in the blanks with my imagination, Gremlins stil managed to exceed my fairly high expectations, and then some. Which is kind of a rare thing.

I think that the major part of what makes Gremlins such a classic was the juxtaposition of what is essentially a Christmas comedy injected with a healthy dose of dark fantasy and horror. And like a peanut butter, jelly and bolognia sandwich with cheese, it seems like an unholy combination, but it works and is delicious, I swear (stop making that face).

The story should be very familiar by now: Small town young adult receives a gift of a completely adorable furry creature of myth that comes with three specific rules of care (the last of which is the topic of many a pedantic discussion), the rules are broken pretty much immediately, and wackiness ensues.

Look, I can go on and on about how amazing this movie is. I could also go into specifics as to my favorite scenes and quotes. No, I’m not going to. If you have seen this, you understand what I’m saying. If you haven’t, for whatever reason you’re using to not watch it (and I hope it’s not that “It was from before I was born” non-argument crap), get over it and watch Gremlins. Multiple times. I implore you. Do so now.

Movie Review: GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)

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ghostbusters2016Columbia Pictures
2016
PG-13

“Okay, room full of nightmares.”

Paranormal researcher Abby Yates and physicist Erin Gilbert are trying to prove that ghosts exist in modern society. When strange apparitions appear in Manhattan, Gilbert and Yates turn to engineer Jullian Holtzmann for help. Also joining the team is Patty Tolan, a lifelong New Yorker who knows the city inside and out. Armed with proton packs and plenty of attitude, the four women prepare for an epic battle as more than 1,000 mischievous ghouls descend on Times Square.

Okay, internets. Are we done, then? Are we finished with all the vitriol, the whining, the knee-jerk reactionary hyperbole? You should be by now, seeing as how it’s been a week since the reboot of the Ghostbusters film finally came out.

Never since that great debate of the proper pronunciation of .GIF have I witnessed such a ballistic split in online nerd-dom over something so now-commonplace as a movie reboot. I don’t think I really have to go into discussing how ridiculous all the objections were; sufficed to say, I ignored the majority of them, opting to watch the movie with some cautious optimism. And my final verdict is…

Ghostbusters 2016 is decent. That’s right: Decent. And that’s not me trying to be neutral to avoid controversy. Believe me, if it would have sucked, I would have said as much, followed by the explanation of why my assessment was as such. I’m afraid anyone reading this expecting a delicious rant, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. I found this Ghostbusters to be entertainingly decent.

One of my biggest concerns going in was the very real possibility that this was going to be the “Girly Ghostbusters”. You know, one of those arbitrary straight remakes with female leads instead, that completely misses the point. Instead, while there be some parallels to the original, this one manages to tell its own story and fleshes this world out decently, and develops the characters into their own identities, and not mere carbon copies of the classic lineup. The effects were very good, with the ghost effects being some of the best parts of this. And when it found its own footing, both the humor and the horror elements gelled together well.

That said…did you catch that part, there, where I said “when it found its footing”? That’s because it took about 20 minutes or so for me to warm up to the characters and the humor. This is not because I don’t like the actors–I’m very much not familiar with their individual bodies of work to form an opinion–but because the first part seemed to rely heavily on juvenile gross-out humor, including a queef joke. And because of this review, I finally had to use Google to look up the proper spelling of the word “queef”. Thank you, movie.

I believe the weakest part of the movie was the villain. He was no Gozer. He was no Vigo the Carpathian. He wasn’t even on the level as the guy trying to get Vigo into our world, Doctor Jarosz. I would qualify this movie’s antagonist as more a baddie-of-the-week on an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I also found the nigh-unavoidable cameos from the original movie border on pandering…with the exception of Slimer. His bit was awesome.

Overall, despite its flaws, despite it being unnecessary, and despite the hordes of whiny fanboys raging against its very existence before there was even a script, Ghostbusters circa 2016 is a decently good movie. It was entertaining, and that’s all it is. The original two movies are in no danger of being usurped by this updated take on the paranormal clean-up crew, and I really don’t think I’ll be rewatching this, or buying the DVD when it’s released, but for a summer action horror/comedy hybrid, you’re not going to be demanding your money and/or childhood back once you get through the end credits.

(check out the Will Code For Beer Ghostbusters 2016 Special pubcast)

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