Movie Review: The DEVIL’S HAND

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devil's handRoadside Attractions

The Devil’s Hand is a one of the movies that was available for streaming on my Prime account on Amazon (for all the plugs I do for them, I should really look into getting some kind of monetary kickback or something), with a cover that looked straight out of one of those small rural-based horror flicks of the 1980s. Eh, it looked like a nifty way to kill 90 minutes or so on a Saturday morning.

Doing a bit of research on this movie, it seems that this movie went through several working names, including Where The Devil Hides, The Devil’s Rapture and The Occult. Nothing really too shocking, really. On the Staci Layne Wilson review of this movie on Dread Central, she mentions that, having been on-set when it was being filmed, what she expected based on interviews with the cast and director wasn’t what she got when she watched the movie. Not necessarily a bad thing, but still. I bring this up, because the description of The Devil’s Hand on the Amazon Prime site describes it as “Five young Amish girls accused of being ‘Satan’s children’ must fight for their lives when their devout community elders insist they be ‘cleansed’ before turning 18.” After watching The Devil’s Hand, I find that to be not quite accurate.

So, we begin on a dark night on June 6th, when six girls are being born to six mothers (this sounds like the beginning of a nursery rhyme). Since this community has a prophecy that states that on the sixth day of the sixth month, six girls will be born, and on the day of their 18th birthday, one of them will become the Devil’s Hand. Because of this prophecy and incredible coincidence (*cough*), this prompts the town’s head Elder Beacon (Colm Meaney! Star Trek’s Miles O’Brian to my fellow geeks out there) to come over and try to kill the newborns. The father of one of the babies takes umbrage with this, and stops the Elder from his grizzly purpose, but not able to stop one of the mothers from smothering her own baby out of fear of the prophecy.

Infanticide. Always a great way to kick off any movie. [/sarcasm]

Anyway, fast forward a few years, and the remaining five girls are on the very cusp of their 18th birthdays, and during a group dip in the nearby lake, a couple of towny boys decide it would be hilarious to go skinny dipping with them. This inspires the girls and their chaperone to pack up and head back to their respective homes. Turns out, all the girls have been deliberately left ignorant of the whole prophecy bit, but are being watched closely by the Elders for any evil shenanigans and the like. One by one, however, the girls are being systematically murdered by a mysterious cloaked knife-weilding individual. Of course, this makes the townsfolk begin to get paranoid, looking upon the remaining girls with suspicion. It also doesn’t help that one of the girls seems to have epilepsy, with her episodes being chalked up to devil fits or something like that. This also causes the “good” Elder Beacon to turn up the fire and brimstone…and use that as an excuse to perve on the girls. One of the girls gets the full shunning and ejected from the community (which makes one wonder…how is New Bethlehem — the name of the community — supposed to be a “beacon of light” to the outside world, as one of the elders mentioned, if they’re shunning it completely? It makes no sense, but more on that later), which leads to the remaining two girls to go after her and, with the help of one of the towny boys who seems to have fallen smitten with the girl with epilepsy, find sanctuary at the house of another former New Bethlehem resident who was shunned for allegedly making a pact with Satan…who happens to be the biological mother of the epileptic girl who thought her mother died when she was an infant. The reunion is short lived, however, as Elder Beacon comes calling to retrieve the girls, who manage to escape back to New Bethlehem under cover of Day For Night filter, they’re pursued by the townsfolk and that hooded knife-weilder, when everything comes to a head when it turns out [SPOILERS] it was the mother of the epileptic girl that was the knife-weilding killer, leveling the field for her daughter to become the Devil’s Hand. Which she totally does at midnight of her 18th birthday, which leads to her killing everyone and burning down New Bethlehem.

My 18th birthday involved a pizza buffet and a trip to one of the malls in Omaha. Anyway…

The Devil’s Hand is mediocre at best. It doesn’t seem fully developed as far as what kind of movie it wanted to be. It starts off as a slasher, but then switches into a kind of CW style drama that’s set with…well, I’m certain the label “Amish” is not the word to use. The style and look seem more in keeping with Puritanism, and John Calvin’s experiment with a community of holiness with Geneva, especially with the reference to New Bethlehem being a beacon of light to the world. Also, the men don’t have the standard Amish beards.

Cultural pedantic nature aside, to be fair, I actually thought The Devil’s Hand’s main strength actually was when it was a harrowing drama about spiritual abuse at the hands of spiritual leaders, and finding the strength to break free. There’s a scene that is more horrifying to watch than any of the slasher moments, involving Elder Beacon groping one of the girls under the guise of inspecting her for any evil influence. It made me sick to my stomach, and considering the recent controversy involving a former youth group pastor investigated for sexual abuse of students, it’s especially despicable. Of course, then at the last quarter of the film, it turns into a bad imitation of The Seventh Seal, and the big “twist” only leaves you groaning, “really?”, as it felt ham-fisted in there at the last minute.

As I mentioned at the top of this review, The Devil’s Hand is a good way to kill 90 minutes, but that’s really it. Again, it’s mediocre at best, comes off as more of a CW drama for the most part, with a disjointed plot and flat characters. It doesn’t insult your intelligence too bad, but except for Colm Meaney’s delightful scene chewing performance, there’s not much to care about when the end credits run. Worth a look-see, but not much beyond that.



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“It’s destroying everything.”
“It’s not destroying. It’s making something new.”

It’s not an easy thing for a movie to get under my skin. As someone who cut his teeth on horror and sci-fi movies and general weird fiction at a young age, I might be what you would consider a bit jaded when it comes to these kind of movies. So, when something comes along that can really get under my skin while at the same time gets my brain going, we’ve got something special, I would say.

I was looking forward to watching Annihilation since reading the premise on Den Of Geek last year. Apparently, this was a movie that was in danger of being dumbed down by executive suits. But the director and the producer stuck to their guns, and Annihilation was released as it was…to theaters in the US and China, and Netflix everywhere else. Which seems like an insult, like the studio was trying to make the movie fail. Regardless, as an Americanite, I saw Annihilation on the big screen. And I assure you, this is worthy of the big screen, not shuffled off onto Netflix.

Spoilers ahead, everyone. Really, stop reading this and watch the movie and come back. You won’t regret it.

Still here? Well, you’ve been duly noted, then…

So, a meteorite hits a lighthouse on the Florida coast, and immediately a translucent alien soap bubble begins to slowly grow and engulf the surrounding area. Being dubbed the “shimmer”, the military and scientists send in a variety of things to study it…only whatever — and whoever — they send in never comes back. Except for one guy, who had been missing for a year. His wife, a biologist and ex-military herself, is still holding on to hope that he comes back…and he does! With no memory of where he was, or how he got back to their house, while acting strangely detached and odd. Soon after he arrives, he and the wife are taken by the military to the base set up at the outside perimeter of the slowly advancing shimmer. With her husband in a coma, the wife volunteers to join a team to go into the Shimmer and try to get to the lighthouse at the center and figure out not only what’s going on inside the Shimmer, but what may have happened to the previous team that never came back. Mostly. Anyway, as soon as they all go in, the weirdness happens, as they immediately lose three days they can’t remember. They notice the fauna and the wildlife seem to be mutating, as the Shimmer works more like a prism, refracting not only light, but also the basic DNA structure of everything within the expanding structure. Which makes for not only unique beauty, but also some very disturbing nightmare fuel. Soon, the paranoia starts to take hold, and the team begin dying one by one, until the biologist wife and the psychiatrist leader of the team remain…maybe. Do they make it to the lighthouse? Well, yes…but that’s all I’m gonna say, because YOU NEED TO WATCH THIS MOVIE.

Seriously, Annihilation is a fantastic movie that needs to be watched. That description up there? No justice to what actually goes on in the flick. This is one of those rare instances where the mix of heady hard science fiction and Lovecraftian nightmare fuel works at a level that I haven’t experienced in a long while. It’s taken me this long to figure out just how I was going to write this review without not only spoiling things, but just keeping things from spiraling into a multi-page thesis type article. I’ve been chewing on this for just over a week since seeing this, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be thinking about it long after I post this.

The disappointing thing is, I understand that Annihilation is probably going to not do as well as I want this to. Mainly because it’s not the entertaining comic book stuff that’s been the usual fare. It’s not Star Wars. It’s not a Marvel superhero movie. It’s a slow-burning, heady science fiction movie that’s more than the sum of its parts. If you love movies like Arrival, 2001: A Space Odessey, Event Horizon and Ex Machina, then do yourself a favor and go watch Annihilation while you can, in the theaters. Very much recommended.

Movie Review: BRIGHT

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“This is like a nuclear weapon that grants wishes.”

In an alternate present day, humans, orcs, elves and faeries have been coexisting since the beginning of time. Two police officers, one a human, the other an orc, embark on a routine night patrol that will alter the future of their world as they know it. Battling both their own personal differences as well as an onslaught of enemies, they must work together to protect a young female elf and a thought-to-be-forgotten relic, which, in the wrong hands, could destroy everything.

When discussing with my friends movies of the past that are remembered fondly, but would agree could probably do with an updated redux, one that always springs to mind is Alien Nation. One of my many favorites from my youth, it’s a buddy cop sci-fi flick in which a human cop and a space alien cop who find themselves caught in the midst of shenanigans between other humans and the space alien refugees who are acclimating to human society. Yeah, it’s pretty heavy-handed with the social commentary, but I love it, and think it should be redone, especially in this political climate.

The reason why I bring this up is because I was getting some serious Alien Nation vibes while watching the Netflix original movie bright. I hate to say this, but Bright may be the closest we’ll get to a modern retelling of Alien Nation (sorry, District 9). And this one doesn’t even have space aliens.

Pause for a moment…is it bad that I feel the need to specify space aliens, and not just say “aliens”? I digress…

Bright takes place in a modern society where the folklore creatures of old have always existed, and dwell side-by-side with humans, giving rise to a different kind of class struggle, but still similar: the Elves are the rich upper-class, the Orcs are the lower class, while the humans are somewhere in the middle. And since the social commentary is about as subtle as a wrecking ball with the word “SUBTLE” spray painted on it, the regular prejudices between species abound.

So, anyhoo, the story of Bright involves a couple of LAPD cops–one human that’s just got back from leave after being shot by an orc while on duty, and the other an orc rookie–who come across an Elvin Bright and a magic wand. A “Bright” is essentially any being–human, orc and elf alike–that can wield magic and, most importantly, can hold a magic wand without being immediately atomized in the process. Now, the two cops who don’t really like each other to begin with have to survive the night protecting the elf and the wand from crooked cops, gang bangers, orc gang bangers, renegade elf cultists and the Magic Feds. Wackiness.

So far, since its release, Bright has been getting some divisive reviews, from those who praise it as a great gritty urban fantasy movie, and those who deride it as the worst movie to ever be released in 2017, if ever. I have yet to stumble across a review speculating that perhaps Brightis threatening The Lord Of The Rings as the most ambitious fantasy movie of the 21st Century, but then again the group of online reviewers and vloggers of movies is kind of limited. Anyway, let me throw in my paltry two cents on Bright.

I rather enjoyed Bright. Sure, it comes off as if someone just took two random genres and smooshed them together — “What if, like, Training Day or Lethal Weapon had, like, orcs and elves and other fantasy creatures?” — but for what it is, it’s a well-made multi-genre smooshing. Yes, the story follows the same beats as the other police drama thrillers that David Ayer has made — S.W.A.T., Street Kings, the aforementioned Training Day — and Will Smith once again plays Will Smith as a fill-in-the-blank. And did I mention the not-so-subtle social commentary? But, despite all this, the movie works on a level that I don’t think anyone was expecting. The dynamic between the main characters Ward and Jakoby works, as they don’t really like each other, but find themselves in a situation where they have to have each other’s backs. Mind you, the story is rather predictable, but at no point did things get stale along the way. Admittedly, at first I thought this was another adaptation of a comic book series, as the premise does seem custom-made for one. But no, this was an original script (in a matter of speaking). By far, my favorite character is the orc Jakoby, who refuses to succumb to stereotypes and try to do some good in a world that doesn’t seem to care for his type.

Overall, though the flaws are evident, I would recommend checking out Bright. You may like it, you may not, but it’s definitely not the worst thing ever to come out of 2017.

Movie Review: A GHOST STORY

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a ghost storyA24

I don’t think they’re coming.

Recently deceased, a white-sheeted ghost returns to his suburban home to console his bereft wife, only to find that in his spectral state, he has become unstuck in time, doomed to watch passively as the life he knew and the woman he loves slowly slip away. Increasingly unmoored, the ghost embarks on a cosmic journey through memory and history, confronting life’s inevitable questions and the enormity of existence.

All things considered, I don’t really consider myself a movie snob. Not that I was ever accused of being one (that I know of); I do have my preferences of genres, but I’ve been known to branch out into other genres and styles. And while I unabashedly revel in the mainstream cheese and B-movie badness, I have no problem with taking in a movie of a higher brow, let’s just say. Call them “artsy”, call them “pretentious”; once in a while you need something with a bit more depth perception to chew over long after the end credits roll.

Which brings us to A Ghost Story. Directed by the same guy who directed the Pete’s Dragon remake the year previous, A Ghost Story reunites the stars from the second movie the guy directed, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints — Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara — as a couple who lives in a small house on a plot of land, where they engage in…well, their lives. They discuss possibly moving, and have their usual disagreements, as couples do. Then, Affleck’s character — unnamed in the movie, but listed as “C” in the credits, while Mara is “M” — is killed in a car accident, and then comes back as a white-sheeted ghost (the classic no-budget costume kind, with eyeholes cut out, Peanuts style) and spends the rest of the movie watching passively his…wife? Partner? It’s not really addressed. Regardless, “C”‘s ghost watches as “M” goes through the stages of grief, then moves out of the house. Somehow, “C” cannot follow, and stays to watch another family move in, then another set of tenants, to the house being long abandoned and dilapidated, then torn down to have a highrise business tower go up. Then, the ghost “C” jumps off of the edge of the building, plummeting to…the 19th Century to begin the cycle of silently observing the passage of time, until he once again witnesses his living self and “M” play at the same situations leading up to this.

Underneath the surface (or sheet, if you want to be pithy about it), A Ghost Story is a very slow-paced–think a snail struggling through a puddle of molasses–look into nihilism and existentialism and the nature of time and space. Also, there’s very little dialogue employed in the movie, which serves to amplify the isolation and bleakness of existence. Which is to say, A Ghost Story is a dark existential drama that utilizes a supernatural angle in a way that could have been silly (bedsheets to represent a ghost) in the execution, but due to the expert use of angles, lighting and pacing, actually works on a deeper level.

While I can see how the deliberately slow pacing can turn off a lot of watchers–believe me, I found myself frustrated at times–but if you stick it out, the reward is great. Highly recommended.

Movie Review: COLOSSAL

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“Hi. She’s the monster, I’m the robot.”

Well, now, this was a pleasant surprise. Once in a while I do tend to come across a movie that, from both the title and the descriptor, I expect it to go one way and fit neatly within the confines of my genre place-settings…but then, upon watching it, you end up with something completely different all together. Such was my experience with the movie Colossal.

The story itself involves an unemployed New York socialite named Gloria who, after a messy break-up with her boyfriend, movies back to her hometown in New England. There, she rekindles a friendship with a childhood friend and starts working at his bar. Soon, though, news reports from Seoul, South Korea begin coming in about a giant monster that causes terror and destruction every night that coincides at 8:30am Eastern Standard Time in New England. The very same time that Gloria would find herself walking across the town park. It doesn’t take long for Gloria to realize that she is somehow the cause of this colossal beast manifesting, and begins to try and make things right. Only, her childhood friend’s dark side begins to manifest itself as well, and now it’s both a figurative and literal battle for Gloria to break free of the madness that has become her life.

Yeah, that synopsis doesn’t really do the movie justice, does it? That doesn’t take into consideration that, as the movie unfolds, you realize the Giant Rampaging Monster aspect is really more incidental as a background metaphor for the darker drama that is playing out in the foreground. Gloria is a damaged and deeply flawed alcoholic who’s running away from her insecurities. Her childhood friend–his name is Oscar, by the way–comes off as nice and sympathetic at first, but little by little his manipulative and abusive personality manifests itself.

Colossal is my first Nacho Vigalondo movie. Looking into this director’s information, it seems he’s known for taking generally accepted genre types and turning them on its ear. After watching Colossal, I would have to agree that yes, he seems very good at it. Colossal was not what I was expecting, and this is in a good way. Highly recommended.

Movie Review: GOING IN STYLE

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going in styleWarner Bros. Pictures

“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.

Movie Review: The GOOD NEIGHBOR

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Movie Review GOOD NEIGHBOR, TheLionsgate Home Entertainment

“Maybe I should teach him a lesson. Keep that son of a bitch on a leash, okay? Because the next time, if it happens again, I’m going to cut him in four pieces and send him home in this can.”

A pair of mischievous high school kids create the illusion of a haunting on an unsuspecting neighbor. While keeping his every reaction under surveillance, they see much more than they bargained for, and discover that the man they’re tormenting is not the easy target they’d expected.

Never have I been pleased with a simple mistake. You see, there’s this horror thriller movie out there that stars comedian Bill Engvall called The Neighbor. Ever since I learned of the existence of a straight horror thriller that features a member of the Blue Collar Comedy team, well, let’s just say my sense of morbid curiosity still hasn’t been sated yet. Because I happened to get the slightly differently titled The Good Neighbor by mistake. I was disappointed by the mix-up, yes, but I ended up watching The Good Neighbor anyway, because this one stars the always great James Caan as a delightfully grumpy neighbor to a couple of teenage boys with far too much time on their hands.

So, here’s the story: We start off with what seems to be yet another found footage-style setup, introducing a couple of suburban teenagers setting up some high-tech video surveillance equipment, with the one who is clearly spearheading this endeavor narrating what they plan on doing with said equipment–rig the house of a cantankerous and reclusive old neighbor that lives across the cul-de-sac where they dwell to seem that he’s being haunted, and film the results with said video cameras. The kid claims it’s for SCIENCE!, but it’s rather clear this is a thin excuse to take out some passive-aggressive anger on the neighbor for reasons that go beyond “he’s not a nice guy”. That, and teenagers are douche-nozzles, generally speaking. Anyway, just before you think you’ve gotten yourself into a feature-length episode of Punk’d, the movie cuts to courtroom scenes, where the teenage boys are on trial for the murder of the neighbor they’re doing the experiment on. So there, you know something went awry, and now you’re invested to continue watching to see what may have transpired. As we continue with the found footage angle, it’s clear that the old man’s reaction to the various “haunting” rigs is not what the boys were hoping for, as instead of being wigged out, he acts…differently. That’s really the only way I can put it without really getting in-depth and spoiling things for you. Basically, things are not what they seem on the surface, when we learn this goes beyond just wanting to prank an old guy because he emulates Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino…and the old guy has a reason as to why he’s grumpy. And why he ultimately reacted the way he did to put the boys on trial.

The Good Neighbor isn’t exactly a horror movie, so much as it’s a very tense psychological drama that has an atmosphere that will get under your skin and leave you on the edge of your seat, with an ending that will send some chills down your spine by the implications. James Caan is fantastic, as he has very little dialogue but nails everything without having to say much. Everybody did a rather good job, and I liked the fact that this didn’t turn out to be yet another found footage movie. Or your standard horror flick.

Overall, if you’ve overlooked The Good Neighbor before, do yourself a favor and check it out some time.

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