Movie Review: The DIRT

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dirt, theNetflix
2019
TV-MA

“We wanna knock people on their asses and we gotta give them a show. I’m talking like on stage or in clubs. The fans, they’re ding for some anarchy. So let’s give it to them.”

This seems to be the era of the biopic; we’ve already had the Queen / Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, and there’s going to be one for Elton John starring that kid that was in the Kingsmen movie (probably part of the deal Elton made for being in the second Kingsmen movie…?). Of course, for those of us who grew up in the 80s instead of the 70s, the long-gestating movie-fied version of Motley Crue’s tell-all memoir book The Dirt was the one that many an old metalhead was waiting for. Finally, then, the movie was made, and released…on Netflix.

Yeah, despite evidence to the contrary, I still have this stigma about movies being released to a streaming service directly, rather than to the theaters. I know, that shouldn’t be an indication of the quality of the movie itself; however, it’s hard to not equate Direct To Streaming with Direct To Video (or DVD), and there are many bad movies released directly to that format. It doesn’t stop me from watching them, mind you.

Anyway, being a fan of the 80s iteration of the ultimate sleazy glam metal mo-fos to come out of the Sunset Strip–yeah, they lost me when they canned Vince back in 1992, and never really got me back when they came back to their senses after that self-titled album–I was interested in watching this movie. I’ve read bits of the book itself, but I don’t own it. Though, being a voracious reader of all of the rock and metal mags back in the 80s, I knew my Motley Crue history…or, at least the history that the media portrayed. So, the question was, is The Dirt going to dive into the dark, seedy underbelly of the band’s history and unearth things that even the hardest of hardcore Motley Crue fans didn’t know? Or is this going to be more of a self-serving edited down history that glosses over a lot of things and presenting hardly anything anyone already knew?

The answer is, “Yes.”

Just like with Bohemian Rhapsody, we’re talking about a band that had been around for over three decades before calling it a career. This isn’t like The Doors, where the band itself was only together for a handful of years before the singer died and no one cared about the band carrying on anymore after that. Anyone expecting an exhaustive documentary-style biopic…well, I don’t think anyone was actually expecting that kind of movie.

The movie glosses over some things, and leaves some things out entirely, and plays a bit loose with some facts, in the interest of time and streamlining things for the viewer. And I’m okay with that. I was expecting that, actually. And the movie itself realizes this, and lampshades some things directly explaining how things are different here than what really happened; there’s a scene where the band’s soon-to-be manager “Doc” McGhee shows up at the band’s apartment during an after-show party to introduce himself, and Mick Mars turns to the camera and starts explaining that McGhee never really went to their apartment, but they cut out the actual guy because of reasons. That was rather brilliant, really, I kind of wish they did that in Bohemian Rhapsody. It would have explained some of the editing choices.

The Dirt doesn’t flinch away from portraying the overtly decadent side of things. Within the first five minutes, the movie earns its TV-MA rating (which is the equivalent to “R”), with enough nudity, drug use and sexual debauchery to make you wonder if you stumbled upon a remake of Caligula by mistake. The actors, while not exactly replicas of the band members they’re portraying, retain the exact spirit of the band, with Machine Gun Kelly being the best Tommy Lee clone going. Who’da thunk that a rapper would play a metal drummer so affably? Though, it makes sense, given Tommy’s foray into rap back in the 90s, there.

Long story short, The Dirt was far more entertaining than it should have been. I found myself chuckling at the era that I grew up in and embraced as a pimply, overweight Midwest teenager who didn’t look all that flattering in spandex and hair spray, but that didn’t stop me darn it. And in case you’re about to do a Google search, no. No pictures exist of me like that. So don’t waste your time. Do I recommend watching The Dirt? Yes. Yes I do. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go throw on Shout At The Devil and Dr. Feelgood, in that order.

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Movie Review: TOYS

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Toys movie poster20th Century Fox
1992
PG-13

“Oh, yeah! I love jokes. I love all kinds of jokes. But, you knwo what I don’t like? I don’t like people trying to kill me, hurting my family and my friens, and destroying the whole world as I know it. That just doesn’t sit well with me.”

Robin Williams stars as Leslie Zevo, a fun-loving adult who must save his late father’s toy factory from his evil uncle, a war-loving general who builds weapons disguised as toys. Aided by his sister and girlfriend, Leslie sets out to thwart his uncle and restore joy and innocence to their special world.

Back in the 1980s and 90s, Robin Williams proved himself as more than just a comedian in the acting department. He did have dramatic roles early on in his career, but he really didn’t hit his stride until the later part of the 80s onward, in my not-so-humble opinion. I had caught his turn in Dead Poets Society, then caught one of the more underrated Peter Pan adaptations released, Hook, and then his blowup voice work in Aladdin. When the movie Toys was released in late 1992, I held off of watching it in the theater like the afore-mentioned movies. Mainly because I had just transitioned from High School Student to Welcome To The Real World schlub that very year, and wasn’t really seeing a lot of movies in the theater at the time. Not unless it involved a date. Which I did once in a while. Ah, memories.

Anyway, I ended up renting Toys the summer after it was first released, from the small-town gas station that happened to have a small selection of VHS tapes for renting, and watched it at my grandparent’s place. It was…something.

I don’t think I was ready for what Toys ended up being. I don’t think anybody was, really. Even with his award-winning dramatic performances, the name Robin Williams attatched to a movie makes one think of a comedy. Maybe not always a wacky laugh-a-minute kind of comedy, but comedy none-the-less. Even with his dramatic rolls, Williams always had that kind of quirkiness that was uniquely his. The same can be said for his roll in Toys, but this may be an instance where his unique quirkiness couldn’t salvage the hot mess that this movie is.

The best way to describe Toys is a surreal stream of conscience. It tries to go for a whimsical undertone, but it doesn’t really work as well as Tim Burton or Barry Sonnenfield had done previous. Maybe they were trying to go for a Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, only with a toy factory and half the charm. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a movie that costarred rapper L. L. Cool J. (that honor goes to the Michael J. Fox / James Woods dud The Hard Way…which I now realize I’ll have to drudge up from my memory banks to do a review of one of these days); here, he plays the adopted son of the evil brother of the owner of the toy factory. He is…adequate. As is everyone, really, if you want to put a fine point on it. If there was one aspect of Toys that I can point to that I liked, that would be Joan Cusack’s character. Mainly because I’m morbidly drawn to weird characters like the one she played here.

Overall, I don’t consider Toys to be a bad movie. It’s just weird and off-putting in not a very good way. I came away from this movie a bit more confused and depressed than I think the movie was trying to go for. It’s worth checking out, just out of curiosity. But beyond that, I don’t see watching this again any time soon.

Movie Review: BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

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bohemian rhapsody20th Century Fox
2018
PG-13

“We need a song teenagers can bang their heads to in a car. Bohemian Rhapsody is not that song.”

Bohemian Rhapsody is a foot-stomping celebration of Queen, their music and their extraordinary lead singer Freddie Mercury. Freddie defied stereotypes and shattered convention to become one of the most beloved entertainers on the planet. The film traces the meteoric rise of the band through their iconic songs and revolutionary sound. They reach unparalleled success, but in an unexpected turn Freddie, surrounded by darker influences, shuns Queen in pursuit of his solo career. Having suffered greatly without the collaboration of Queen, Freddie manages to reunite with his bandmates just in time for Live Aid. While bravely facing a recent AIDS diagnosis, Freddie leads the band in one of the greatest performances in the history of rock music. Queen cements a legacy that continues to inspire outsiders, dreamers and music lovers to this day.

Queen. This is a band that, on paper and in theory, should not have worked. And yet, not only did it work, but some would argue that they made a mark on the rock and roll world that has yet to be duplicated, before or since. It was just a matter of time before a big screen biopic was made, and in the waning months of 2018, we got one. Whether we asked for it or not.

A little personal history: The first Queen song I ever heard was their hit “Another One Bites The Dust”, played at a skating rink in Grand Island, Nebraska, while I was in 2nd Grade, attending a birthday party with my Cub Scout troop. This was back in 1982. Come to think of it, that was probably my very first exposure to this wacky thing called “rock n’ roll”, as my parents had more of a taste for schmaltzy AM Gold type music, if they did play music. As time went on, I was familiar with Queen’s singles, and while I knew a handful of outright fanatics of the band in High School, I never really graduated past “listener” of the band. Meaning, I never owned a full album, maybe one or two singles; but, if one of their songs came on the radio, I wasn’t exactly clamoring to change the channel. Also, my English teacher taught me how to play “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” on the guitar.

Anyway, like any other biopic/docudrama/whatever, I went into watching Bohemian Rhapsody with a generous amount of salt grains. Obviously, I don’t expect accuracy in these kind of movies; not only are we essentially trying to boil down three decades worth of a career into over two hours of run time, but artistic licenses abound to make things much more interesting for the movie goer. The same thing goes for Bohemian Rhapsody: I’m not expert on the band or their front-man Freddy Mercury, but I still got the sense that a lot was glossed over, and some context was sacrificed for streamlining the run time.

So, what we’ve got here is a trip of highlights following Freddy Mercury’s first hookup with the band that would become Queen, record their first album after selling their van, getting signed by EMI, getting engaged to his girlfriend, questioning his sexuality while the band tours America, recording the titular song, getting bigger, starting an affair with their manager, coming out to his fiance who then breaks things off with him, recording “We Will Rock You”, getting even more popular, recording “Another One Bites The Dust”, estranging himself from the band after he signs a two-album solo deal with CBS Records, contracts the AIDS, makes up with the band just in time to play the Live Aid festival in 1985. The end.

Of course, I understand why the makers of the movie would focus more on the hits and ending things on the big triumphant comeback at the Live Aid concert. This wasn’t an exhaustive documentary, this was a biopic of sorts. As such, it’s an entertaining soap opera drama of sorts that happens to be based on the life and times of Freddy Mercury and the band he helped to make famous, and the wackiness that came with it. Everyone doe a decent enough job playing their respective parts; I do have to say, though, that while Rami Malek does a bang-up job portraying Mercury, he always looks like he’s about to sneeze. My favorite bit, though, happens to be with the band’s interaction with EMI executive Ray Foster, who is played by Mike Myers. The guy from Wayne’s World is telling Queen “Bohemian Rhapsody” will never be a hit. I don’t care if it may not have happened, that was too good to pass up.

Overall, Bohemian Rhapsody was a rather entertaining diversion, based on a band I had a mild interest in. Unlike Oliver Stone’s The Doors, though, watching Bohemian Rhapsody didn’t really kickstart an interest to really research the history of the band or really dive into their discography, like I did with The Doors back in the day. But, I did feel it was engaging and heart-rendering and joy-inducing all the same. At least they played my favorite song over the end credits, albeit an edited version of “The Show Must Go On”. I’m not crying, there’s something in my eye…DON’T LOOK AT ME!

Movie Review: REALITY BITES

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reality bitesUniversal
1994
PG-13

“At the beep, please leve your name, number, and a brief justification for the ontological necessity of modern man’s existential dilemma, and we’ll get back to you.”

A small circle of friends suffering from post-collegiate blues must confront the hard truth about life, love and the pursuit of gainful employment. As they struggle to map out survival guides for the future, the Gen-X quartet soon begins to realize that reality isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

Ah, the 1990s. The decade of pretentiousness, covered with a shellac of false altruism. The time of the late 20th Century where cynicism became a fashion accessory, and everyone became willfully ignorant of their own rank hypocrisy. And the music sucked, too.

That is to say, there’s not a lot about the 1990s that hold fond memories for me. Maybe the first two years or so–’90 thru ’92–but that was when the decade was young and still shaking off the hangover from the ’80s. Otherwise, regardless of being part of the so-called “Generation X” that the news media foisted upon our age group, I still scratch my head whenever I hear someone claim that the ’90s was the greatest decade of the 20th Century. There were some bright spots, certainly, but overall, no thanks.

Which brings me to this review of the movie Reality Bites. I had originally watched this movie in the second-run theater, back in 1994, when the ticket price there was $1.50, and a small bag of popcorn ran about $5. After watching it, I was rather ambivalent as to whether I liked it or not. Essentially, my thought process was along the lines of, “Well, it was a movie, by golly.”

Revisiting Reality Bites twenty-five years after the fact, I still find myself rather unmoved with the movie. At best, Reality Bites is essentially a long episode of Friends without the wit or humor and interesting characters. The irony being that Friends debuted a few months later that same year. At worst, this is an uninteresting dramady that tries a bit too hard to be smart, relying on the kind of insipid bumper sticker philosophies that was rampant in that decade. Not that things have changed much nowadays, mind you.

Overall, Reality Bites is the perfect encapsulation of everything I despised about the ’90s. I’m sure there are those who disagree. I’m sure you look on this decade–and this movie–with fondness. You might want to have those nostalgia cataracts removed from your memory, there.

Movie Review: EIGHTH GRADE

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eighth gradeA24
2018
R

“Do I make you sad? I don’t know. Sometimes I think that when I’m older, I’ll have a daughter of my own or something…and I feel like if she was like me, then being her mom would make me sad all the time. I’d love her because she’s my daughter, but I think if she turned out like me that being her mom would make me really sad.”

Once in a while, I tend to have a momentary lapse of reason, and decide to watch what most normal people would term a “good movie”. Which, usually turns out to be some kind of drama/comedy hybrid that’s equal parts quirky as well as going for the feels. You know, more “real life”, than being anything like escapist fantasy, that let you forget real life and all its woes LIKE MOVIES ARE SUPPOSED TO DO.

Sorry. Got a bit emotional, there. Darn it, though.

Anyway, the last time this happened, it was the movie Lady Bird. Now, during the three months that I was laid out for health issues, I decided to watch the critically acclaimed drama/comedy (a “dramady”, if you will) Eighth Grade.

Since the movie description blurb from the back of the DVD cover is two-thirds ego-stroking writer/director Bo Bumham and his inspirations making what is essentially his first directorial debut, I’m going to go ahead and describe the movie myself:

So, there’s this 13-year-old girl named Kayla, and she’s finishing up her final week of her Eighth Grade year. So, at least we don’t have to follow this mopey kid around for the entire school year. Bonus, that. Anyway, Kayla has a bit of a hobby posting videos of herself on her YouTube channel, motivational stuff about confidence and self-image and other sanctimonious know-it-all crap that only a barely-a-teenager is capable of. Of course, in real life, it’s a case of not practicing what she preaches, as she’s a terminally shy kid who struggles to make friends but mostly keeps to herself. Then again, the individuals she’s trying to impress are self-absorbed wankers, so she may actually be better off being the wallflower in this situation. Worked for me. Anyway, at home she’d rather dwell on social media, burying her nose in her phone at all times, rather than connecting with her single father, who’s only trying to do the best he can considering the circumstances. She goes to a birthday party she didn’t really want to go to at first, but then has a bit of fun near the end of the party. Then she tries to impress the “hot guy” in her class by lying about having nude photos of herself during a terrorist drill (seriously), then we see her bond with a high school girl while visiting the school she is going to go to after the Summer Vacation. She meets the high school girl and some of her friends at the mall to hang out (they still do that? I thought malls went the way of the buffalo since Amazon killed them off? Or is this one of those retro-nostalgic revival things, like vinyl records or common sense?), then, while catching a ride back home with said high schoolers, she manages to rebuff the advances of one of the boys trying to get her nekkid. At home, she breaks down and makes a video announcing that she intends to stop making videos (irony?), then, after watching an old video of herself in sixth grade sending her future eighth grade self a message, she burns all of her nostalgia memories and reconnects with her father. We end with her making a video for her 18-year-old self in the future. And the cycle begins anew, folks…

You can probably tell by my recounting of this movie that, due to being in my mid-40s and having ceased to actually care what the young people think, feel and care about well over a decade ago (it’s a liberating thing, really; embrace your middle age, people) that I don’t really fall within the THIS IS THE BESTEST MOVIE OF 2018, IF NOT THE HISTORY OF INDEPENDENT CINEMA! camp. I doubt anyone would have thought I would have. And unless the movie is directed by Wes Anderson or Cameron Crowe, chances are I’m not going to get too interested in one of those slice-of-life films.

Mind you, Eighth Grade isn’t a bad film. It’s very well made, the cinematography is really good, and for the most part the actors were realistically engaging. For the most part. The teen characters were portrayed well; it was the adult characters that I had a bit of a bone to pick with. In this movie, they all come off as trying too hard to, shall we say, come off as hip and happening, like Kayla’s father always saying things are cool and trying to be the fun dad when she’s just being a sullen brat to him for no reason, or the teachers who affect the slang of the day, like “lit” and whatever else the kids are using that no longer mean what they meant when I was a teenager. Seriously, I struggle sometimes to keep my glossary up-to-date.

So then, in closing, overall, Eight Grade is a good movie, yes, but not the kind that a weirdo like me would actually seek out had it not been for the peer pressure of friends and associates who only watch “good” movies. For me, well…they say that a sure sign that your childhood is over is when you begin siding with the adults in youth-centric movies like this.

Quite frankly, I’m more than okay with that.

Movie Review: The GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS

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Movie Review GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, TheWarner Bros. Pictures
2016
R

“If I had a box of bad things, I’d put you in it and close the lid.”

If you’re like me, you’re a fan of the zombie movie genre, but are kind of experiencing burnout from the sheer glut of movies that feature the same old well-trodden plot that every modern zombie movie has done, ad nausium. But, you keep watching them, knowing that sometimes a real gem once in a while shines through all the other unremarkable chunks out there.

The Girl With All The Gifts was, back when it was making the fest rounds, getting a lot of buzz for being an innovative zombie movie that’s smarter than your average zombie flick. I had my doubts, but I was intrigued with the title of the movie itself, and what that meant in relation to the story itself. I finally got around to streaming the movie one weekend morning.

In a dystopian near future, humanity has been ravaged by a mysterious fungal disease. The afflicted are robbed of all free will and turned into flesh-eating “hungries”. Humankind’s only hope is a small group of hybrid children who crave human flesh but retain the ability to think and feel. The children go to school at an army base in rural Britain, where they’re subjected to cruel experiments by Dr. Caroline Caldwell. School teacher Helen Justineau grows particularly close to an exceptional girl named Melanie, thus forming a special bond. But when the base is invaded, the trio escape with the assistance of Sgt. Eddie Parks and embark on a perilous journey of survival, during which Melanie must come to terms with who she is.

I’ll give credit where credit is due: The Girl With All The Gifts is a much better zombie movie than most that are clogging the streaming. If you’ll forgive my pedantism, this is technically not a zombie movie. The infection is caused by spores, and the infected never really die and then come back to life. Which means The Girl With All The Gifts has more in common with 28 Days Later than Night Of The Living Dead. But, that’s a pointless minor quibble.

The main image used for the movie itself is something of an effective attention grabber — a girl in one of those Hannibal Lecter masks. You’re not even aware that this is going to be a post-apocalyptic pseudo-zombie movie. Well, if you haven’t read the novel this is based on first. Anyway, The Girl With All The Gifts does a great job establishing the characters and fleshing out their dynamics. The plot itself unfolds and allows you to put the pieces together as to the situation. There were some incredibly tense moments (the military stronghold breech and the immediate aftermath, for example); I have to admit, that while the premise itself is intriguing, once the survivors are off the base, The Girl With All The Gifts settles into a standard post-apocalypse survival road trip. The ending is interesting, but not all that shocking.

Overall, The Girl With All The Gifts is a very good movie that gives a good spin to the genre wheel. It’s definitely worth a watch.

Movie Review: The DEVIL’S HAND

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devil's handRoadside Attractions
2014
PG-13

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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