Movie Review: SUMMER OF ’84

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summer of 84Gunpowder & Sky
2018
NR

“Even serial killers live next door to somebody. Tough pill to swallow, I know, but it’s true.”

Summer, 1984: The perfect time to be 15 years old and free. But when neighborhood conspiracy theorist Davey Armstrong begins to suspect his police officer neighbor might be the serial killer all over the local news, he and his three best friends begin an investigation that soon turns dangerous.

Nostalgia-based movies are, admittedly, rather fun to watch. Especially movies based on a year in a specific decade I remember living through. Which is to say, the 1980s. There have been horror movies that have been set in the 1980s that I’ve watched with varying degrees of success. The better ones happen to be the ones where the actual year they’re set in is merely a backdrop to the story, and not bogging down the movie with hamfisted nostalgia references. I seem to hold these kind of movies to a higher standard, mainly because of ties to my own childhood. I know when I’m being pandered to.

That was one of the concerns I had when going into watching the recently released Canadian mystery / horror flick Summer Of ’84. Was this going ot be gimmicky, or is this going to be a rather good mystery thriller with a good story that I can get lost in, with the year itself being merely the backdrop? All indications were to the later, as the various horror movie blogs and sites were giving Summer Of ’84 an enthusiastically positive thumbs up. So, I went ahead and took a gander at this little movie. Kinda glad I did.

Right off the bat, I’ll say that the story behind Summer Of ’84 borrows heavily from the Hitchcock classic Rear Window, with elements of Fright Night (without the vampires) and pretty much any 80s movie that involves a bunch of young teenagers banding together to solve a mystery in their small town. There are several nods to other horror movies, as well as to the classic Hardy Boys Mystery books that I recall devouring in my own youth.

As far as the year that it’s set in, Summer Of ’84 manages to not over-saturate the nostalgia factor, avoiding the temptation to go the “Hey, this is a thing that happened! Isn’t that NEAT?!?” Instead, 1984 is really the backdrop to the overall story, which is one that could have been set in any time period and still would have worked as a movie.

All of the actors were really good in their rolls, and the characters were written in a way that were spot-on, and made you care about their situations. There’s some actual depth to this movie, and not just your run-of-the-mill mystery thriller horror flick. Of course, for the majority of the run time you seem to think that you’ve got everything figured out, and expecting the upbeat type ending. But then, the final 20 minutes bucks the usual conventions and ends the movie with a chilling twist that, even if you did see it coming, will leave you with a hollow bleak feeling. The movie jukes us into a very unconventional ending, and I like that.

Overall, though this movie’s very limited release before being released on VOD came nowhere near Omaha, I would have like to check it out on the big screen, had I been given the chance. Regardless, The Summer Of ’84 was a rather enjoyable and engaging throwback of a movie with a resolution that will stick in your head long after the end credits. Recommended.

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Movie Review: The BERMUDA TRIANGLE

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bermuda triangle, theSunn Classic Pictures
1978
NR

The passengers and crew of a boat on a summer cruise in the Caribbean stray near the famed Bermuda Triangle, and mysterious things start happening.

Ah, the Bermuda Triangle. A classic in the pantheon of supposedly haunted mystery spots on this big world of ours. You’ve heard the legends, of ships and aircraft disappearing mysteriously in this stretch of ocean between Bermuda, Puerto Rico, and the southern-most tip of Florida. Paranormal enthusiasts have tried to explain things as supernatural something-or-other, alien abductions, or Atlantians annoyed with us surface dwellers. Of course, pop culture has been rather helpful in spreading the mythology and pseudoscience; one of which is the topic of discussion in today’s review, the 1978 Italian/Mexican joint flick The Bermuda Triangle.

Also released under the titles The Secrets Of The Bermuda Triangle and Devil’s Triangle Of Bermuda, The Bermuda Triangle stars writer/director/actor John Huston, a man known throughout his career as the writer and director of genre classics, including the likes of The Maltese Falcon, The Asphalt Jungle, and The African Queen. The rest of the cast is…inconsequential, really.

The plot of The Bermuda Triangle itself, well…if you know your Twilight Zone, you can probably guess the plot, as well as the big twist ending. That part, I don’t mind. No, what makes this movie a chore to get through, it’s the bloody annoying and unlikable characters. Not the choppy editing, not the really bad English dubbing, not even the way it seems to take forever to get to the point. That’s all just rancid icing on this already rancid cake. No, from the get-go, the characters and their interactions and mannerisms make you want to punch them individually, every single time they come on screen. Especially that brat of a kid. To say nothing of the blatant misogyny of the lead character, always verbally ripping apart his wife in front of everybody at the drop of a hat. Then your intelligence is insulted by suggesting that the doll they find floating on the ocean is somehow causing all the weirdness and murder, which leads you to be rather glad that they’re all stuck in a hell of their own making, reliving their doomed voyage in a continuous loop with no hope of respite for all eternity.

What do you mean, “Spoilers”? I just saved you the pain of having to watch this yourself. From here on out, if you do watch The Bermuda Triangle, it’s on you. You’ve been warned. Stay away. Stay away.

Movie Review: SNOWPIERCER

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snowpiercerThe Weinstein Company
2013
R

“Eternal order is prescribed by the sacred engine: all things flow from the sacred engine, all things in their place, all passengers in their section, all water flowing. all heat rising, pays homage to the sacred engine, in its own particular preordained position. So it is. Now, as in the beginning, I belong to the front. You belong to the tail. When the foot seeks the place of the head, the sacred line is crossed. Know your place. Keep your place. Be a shoe.”

After a failed global warming experiment, a post-apocalyptic Ice Age has killed off nearly all life on the planet. All that remains of humanity are the lucky few survivors that boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, powered by a sacred perpetual motion engine. A class system has evolved aboard the train, fiercely dividing its population–but a revolution is brewing. The lower-class passengers in the tail section stage an uprising moving car by car up toward the front of the train, where the train’s creator and absolute authority resides in splendor. But unexpected circumstances lie in wait for humanity’s tenacious survivors…

So, here we have the first English language movie by famed Korean director Bong Joon-ho, the guy who brought us the cult classic The Host back in 2006. Well, it’s mostly in English. 80%, if Wikipedia is to be believed. Regardless, this movie received so much buzz and won so many awards, that sooner or later I had to check it out just to see what the buzz was about. I’m not normally one to go see a movie because of its popularity; most of the time, it’s the exact opposite. Being skeptical of things that are highly acclaimed by the masses has served me well.

And now, here we are, five years after Snowpercer’s release. And what did I think of Snowpiercer?

It’s overrated.

Judging by the responses my assessment on Facebook got, you’re either condemning me as a heretic (sorry, Virginia), or smugly crossing your arms over your chest and nodding in agreement. More than likely, the former. This movie has appeared on many a Best Science Fiction Movies lists since its release, after all.

Mind you, I’m not saying that Snowpiercer is a bad movie. Nor am I saying that I hate it. It’s gorgeously shot, has some great action scenes as well as some effective tension (no doubt due to the limited spaces being set on a train lending to a claustrophobic atmosphere), and the character development is really good. I’m not certain, but I believe that Snowpiercer makes a little over a baker’s dozen worth of movies Chris Evans has been in that was based on a comic book.

No, the reason why I consider Snowpiercer to be overrated is that, essentially, this is Battleship Potemkin on a train. And no, I’m not saying Snowpiercer is secretly socialist/communist propaganda. It’s based on a French comic (Le Transperceneige) that was first published in 1982. And I don’t care really about the political leanings of any artist; I care about whether or not it’s a good, well-crafted story. And, when you get down to it, Snowpiercer is a good, well-crafted story. Only, I don’t consider it as innovative as everyone seems to think it is. Especially in this day and age with the explosion of hyper Social Justice Warriors making life interesting for everyone. But, I digress.

Do I recommend watching Snowpiercer? Yes. For all the reasons I stated above, and then some. Watch it and decide for yourself what kind of movie this is for you. For me, I enjoyed it, but I didn’t go ga-ga over it, either.

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: GLASS

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glass movie posterUniversal Pictures
2019
PG-13

“What do we call you, sir?”
“First name, Mister. Last name, Glass.”

M. Night Shyamalan brings together the narratives of two of his standout originals—2000’s Unbreakable, from Touchstone, and 2016’s Split, from Universal—in one explosive, all-new comic-book thriller: Glass. From Unbreakable, Bruce Willis returns as David Dunn as does Samuel L. Jackson as Elijah Price, known also by his pseudonym Mr. Glass. Joining from Split are James McAvoy, reprising his role as Kevin Wendell Crumb and the multiple identities who reside within, and Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey Cooke, the only captive to survive an encounter with The Beast. Following the conclusion of Split, Glass finds Dunn pursuing Crumb’s superhuman figure of The Beast in a series of escalating encounters, while the shadowy presence of Price emerges as an orchestrator who holds secrets critical to both men.

After being surprised by how good the movie Split was, I found myself actually looking forward to the green-lit final chapter in M. Night Shayamalan’s superhero trilogy, which started with Unbreakable back in 2000. The trailers that finally were released did a great job in showing just enough to keep me intrigued about what the movie was going to be, while not really spoiling anything in the process. I even managed to get Brian+Andrea to come along and watch, and then we recorded a podcast about it:

SPOILERS!

For the most part, i found myself rather satisfied with this final entry in the trilogy. I had some theories that cropped up from watching the trailer, mainly wondering if this was all going to be like that episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where she wakes up in a psychiatric ward and we’re left wondering what was the real world and which was the fantasy. Well…kind of yes, kind of no. Not to get into spoilery details (you’ve been warned), but the movie did a pretty good job story-wise throwing doubt as to whether these so-called super-powers were real or imaginary. Until the end, mind you, when the big twist happens and I was left wondering if I liked the way it ended or not. I’m still rather up in the air about that, and I probably won’t really come to a firm conclusion. I am, however, leaning a bit towards Didn’t Like Entirely, But It Doesn’t Ruin The Movie as far as the ending goes.

The movie itself is a nicely shot slow-burn, building up to a rather explosive showdown between Bruce Willis’s protagonist, and James McAvoy’s Beast personality. Everyone is great in their respective roles; however, it’s once again James McAvoy that steals the show with how deftly he’s able to switch different personality traits convincingly like that. Bruce Willis does a pretty good Bruce Willis, as always, and Samuel L. Jackson…well, what can I say? He’s the man. He plays the titular character pretty much catatonic for the first half of this movie, and still maintains a strong presence in the scenes he’s in. And when he actually does begin to put things into play, it’s just awesome to watch him work. There’s a scene where he is just watching The Beast take out a couple of guards, and he manages to act more with his face than many other actors can manage in entire movies.

Overall, though the movie did unravel a bit with the last 20 minutes or so, and I’m still not entirely satisfied with how things ended, Glass is still far better than it should be with a movie of this kind of scope. Glass could have been just another haphazardly slapped together sequel to capitalize on the popularity of the last movie; instead, there was attention paled to details that pretty much begs for more than just one viewing. However, I would probably recommend a matinee viewing, if you’re going to catch this in the theater. Recommended.

Movie Review: COOL WORLD

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cool worldParamount
1992
PG-13

“I’m a cartoonist. I drew all this. I have visions. I translate this.”

While growing up in rural Eastern Nebraska in the late 1980s and early 1990s, my family had a monthly tradition where we would drive to Sioux City, Iowa to the Southern Hills Mall (shout-out, there) after church, and spend the afternoon there. They would give my sister and me some monies, and we were off on that day’s adventure. Mostly, if there was any new movies of interest out at the time, I would use part of the $20 to see the flick at the theater inside that mall. And in the summer of 1992, one of those movies I watched in that theater complex was Cool World.

Keep in mind, I wasn’t as pop culture-savvy back when I was 18 as I am now, so I had no idea who Ralph Baskshi was, let alone his contribution to the world of animation. All I had to go on was that Cool World was a blend of live action and animation, so it had to be like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, right?

*sigh* No. No it wasn’t. Let’s get this over with, then…

Jack Deebs is a cartoonist who is due to be released from jail. His comic book Cool World describes a zany world populated by “doodles” (cartoon characters) and “noids” (humanoids). What Jack didn’t realize is that Cool World really does exist, and a “doodle” scientist has just perfected a machine which links Cool World with our world. Intrigued at seeing his creation come to life, Jack is nonetheless wary as he knows that not everything in Cool World is exactly friendly.

On my first watch of Cool World back then, I remember being beset by a combination of confusion and boredom. Having rewatched Cool World decades later just to give it a second chance in my old(er) age…yeah, this movie is still a very disjointed and confusing mess. Even after gaining a more informed appreciation of Ralph Baskshi and his cult films. The characters — both live action and animated — have no personality…and inexplicably, there’s a bunch of non sequitur bits of animation that just shows up and distracts from the story. And speaking of the story, that’s all over the place, not even adhering to their own established rules of their universe, and features a bat-guano climax ending that will make your head hurt before fading away into a memory that you eventually question you ever really experienced in the first place.

Overall, Cool World may have started off as ambitious and subversive, but ended up more a confusing mess. Watch if you’re morbidly curious, otherwise pass on this one.

Movie Review: PRAY.

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prayCross Shadow Productions
2007
NR

I’ve always said that the horror genre is the perfect medium for Christians to get involved in. I say that with absolutely no sarcasm or irony whatsoever. But, of course, this is generally not very well received by most of my fellow brethren and sisteren who share the faith in Christ Jesus as I do. You may have noticed that I don’t generally watch a lot of Evangelical Christian produced movies, for the obvious reasons. But, once in a while, I come across something so utterly adorable that the Evangelical Christian market puts out, I have to actually watch it just to marvel at it. Sometimes I enjoy it for all the wrong reasons. It’s the same reason why I love movies like The Room and Birdemic.

Recently, thanks mainly to the YouTube channel Say Goodnight Kevin, I discovered the attempt to make a Dove-Approved, family friendly slasher horror. That, of course, seems as feasible as dividing by zero. But, then, here we go. The movie is called Pray. (that period is actually part of the title, not the indicator that I’m done writing the sentence), and I believe I may have found that rare treat for my bad movie watchin’ tastes. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Madison and Lacy enjoy an out-of-town Christian rock concert. After some eerie events, the friends decide to drive back to their hometown. However, someone or something follows them home! Events unfold that find Madison alone at the mall later that evening. The mall closes, and we find our heroine mysteriously trapped inside. It will take her resolute strength and unflinching faith to escape!

Pray. is the most amazeballs movie I’ve every had the gleeful joy of watching. I mean that. This movie manages to hit near The Room levels of badness that it must be seen to be believed. There is just so much to unravel here that I really don’t know where to begin. But, here goes.

First off, not only do we start with a text of the definition of the word “miracle”, but the movie itself doesn’t think that we, the viewers, are competent enough to take it in, so there’s a handy-dandy voice-over reading the text out loud for us. I love it when the movie I’m watching decides to insult my intelligence right off the bat. It gets this out of the way, so I can settle in and enjoy things. Anyway, the acting here is about what you would expect from a low-budget Christian-based independent flick–meaning, I wouldn’t be surprised if they used volunteers from the church to film this, with a script that just had a general outline of what was going to go on, some minimal dialogue actually written out, then the rest just improvised for filler. There’s a scene early on, when the gang of kids emerge from where the nondescript “Christian rock concert” was, and the WGWAG* has his guitar strapped to him. He wasn’t a member of the band. He brought his acoustic guitar with him to the concert. Look, I’m acquainted with plenty of acoustic guitar enthusiast youth group types, and I’ve yet to witness any one of them take their guitar with them to a concert, Christian, rock or otherwise, unless they’ve got a set to play themselves. But, I digress.

The pacing and editing is shoddy, the film making is worse than amateur, many of the shots were lit very badly, and don’t even get me started about the complete lack of actual scares, tension or suspense in this so-called “horror” movie. Look, I understand that, to get a movie “Dove Approved”, there has to be certain homogenizing going on to get just the right amount of sanctification to make this family friendly. I wouldn’t be complaining much if the makers of this movie just relied heavily on jump scares, but even that’s too scary for Christians, apparently. Mind you, there’s a lot of music cue buildup to what you may thing will be a scary payoff, but no. The actual killer in this–listed on the IMDB page as “the Shape”, so they’ve ripped off something from a much, much better movie, par for the course for any Evangelical Christian attempt at pop culture–looks so very much lame: a hoodie and one of those translucent masks that you can get at any dollar store nearby. And that final twist ending itself not only insults your intelligence, but then punches it in the gut, and spits on it as it lays on the ground in the fetal position, before riding off with its girlfriend on a motorcycle. Seriously, this twist will make you pine for the days when “The call is coming from inside the house!” made your bellybutton pucker.

So, what else do I have to say? Would you believe there have been two sequels to this movie? With the third one in 3D. Because of course there is. You better believe I have those two cued up in my streaming account as we speak. In the meantime, though, Pray. (you gotta remember that period, it’s important) needs to be watched by everybody. Highly recommended for all the wrong reasons.

[*=“White Guy With Acoustic Guitar”]

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