Movies

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Blair Witch
2016
Directed by Adam Wingard
Starring James Allen McCune and Callie Hernandez
In Theaters Now

I wanted to like Blair Witch. I really did. I wouldn’t call myself a “die hard” fan of the original, Blair Witch Project, but I still contend that it’s one of the most inventive and deeply chilling horror films of all time. While it may have more or less kickstarted the “found footage” genre, it made smart choices. Perhaps part of the charm of the Blair Witch Project is that it wasn’t hampered by all the cliches that have become so commonplace in the found footage genre. Or maybe it was because it was smartly written, brilliantly acted and while it had some creepy elements it made you create the horror in your own mind. A lot of people I’ve met who don’t like the Blair Witch Project, aren’t that smart. And while I wouldn’t contend that you have to intelligent to understand it, the more you allow your mind to wander, the more you can create something pretty terrifying out of that 1999 film.

Which brings us to the sequel. While this is technically the third film in the Blair Witch series, the less that’s said about Blair Witch 2: Electric Boogaloo, the better. That film took a meta approach weaving the movie and a traditional horror plot together for something what wasn’t satisfying on any level. Blair Witch (2016) has the benefit of going back to what worked in the original. Unfortunately, it far too often strays into the same problems that have bogged down the genre since the original.

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One of the things I did like about this movie is that it’s a nicely devised concept. Heather from the original Blair Witch (sadly no cameo) had a kid brother that we never saw. He’s grown up wondering what really happened to his sister and is convinced to go out to the Black Hills to find her. Of course, there’s some plot holes you could drive a semi-truck through as well. For example, Heather’s brother James, isn’t the one on the quest, but rather his friend Lisa is. She’s also making a documentary, because, of course.

Naturally we know that these characters are going to end up in the woods and bad things are going to happen. I don’t think I really need to give spoiler warnings, because nothing in this movie is really going to be spoiled by mentioning these particular plot points. I mean, everyone knows that there will be creepy woods stuff in a movie about the Blair Witch.  Continue reading

Godzilla Review
Earlier tonight I had the pleasure of seeing an advanced screening of Godzilla, the new motion picture from Legendary and Warner Brothers. The film has a lot going for it and certainly does a fine job of erasing the memory of the horribly maligned 1998 Tristar take on the character. While the marketing for that film was much better, this movie has managed to be a bit deceptive in it’s marketing because it’s not nearly as visceral as the advertisements would have you believe. Godzilla the movie isn’t so much about the creature itself and it’s certainly not the “Gojira” remake that some of the promos seem to make it out to be.

Instead, Godzilla is largely a paint-by-numbers “Godzilla movie”, following the basic formula of a dozen or so other entries in the series. Of course, this time it’s with a bunch of Americans in the central roles and no invaders from Planet X, but you get the idea. Even the scenes in Tokyo, seem to be filled with more English speaking actors than not. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just very much catering to a Western audience.

Without going into specific plot points, it’s fair to say that Godzilla has to tangle with another monster, as has become a hallmark of the franchise. Unfortunately, this is one of the areas where Godzilla doesn’t quite deliver as strongly as it should. The problem with this Godzilla movie is pretty much the same problem that every Godzilla movie has had… Not enough monster fighting.

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The difference between this entry and other efforts, is that the monster fight potential here is huge but it’s largely squandered. We see lots of aftermath, but very little of the battles themselves. And for as much as the destruction is evident, we never really get that beauty shot of city smashing. At times it almost seems like Godzilla is a ninja, stealthy appearing out of nowhere, despite his increased size in this film. This is one shortcoming from director Gareth Edwards, who at times slavishly recreates the classic Godzilla style, but omits a few key parts that leave you feeling a bit like your prom date skipped out before the hotel.

The most heinous offense is when Edwards forgets to include the first monster skirmish about 40 minutes into the film to hold audiences over. Typically this sets up the climatic final battle, but here we’re teased with a first battle, only to have the film cut away to much less interesting human subplot. Sadly, this as with most of the films in this genre, is a bit of a letdown. He then repeats this a few times over.

Bryan Cranston puts in a pretty strong performance, but despite all the advertising, he’s not the main character of the film. The main family that becomes the focus of the film couldn’t be more uninteresting if they tried. On the plus side, at least it’s not Channing Tatum in the “hero” role. Ken Watanabe also does a fine job, but he’s given absolutely nothing to work with. It’s a shame, because his character could almost be interesting, but instead he’s mostly there to try and give the film a “message” and explain perfunctory dialogue. Continue reading

Phantasm 5 Ravager
So it’s been revealed, complete with trailer, that Phantasm V is actually happening. With each passing day it seemed like there wouldn’t be a follow up to 1998’s Phantasm IV: Oblivion, leaving fans to always want at least one more chapter for the exploits of Reggie, Mike and the Tall Man. Rumors have been rampant for nearly a decade that something was going to happen, but as Angus Scrimm teeters closer to being a hundred years old (literally) and nothing materialized, it almost seemed as though it was just a pipe dream.

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But in the words of the Tall Man, “No, it’s not!” The gang are back for what is most likely their last adventure. Picking up where Phantasm IV left off, Reggie now heads into the Tall Man’s home world for a final showdown. The trailer doesn’t reveal much, other than showing us that there’s going to be some blood and all our favorite characters and elements are back. Even the little troll guys.

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Phantasm has never been high art, but it’s succeeded against all logic to tell a fairly cohesive if not necessarily coherent story throughout the previous four films. The movies haven’t had a big box office draw in the past, but they have a cult following and this film was very likely made on a shoestring budget as it wasn’t financed by a major studio. Honestly, I wonder if a Kickstarter wouldn’t have been perfect for a movie like this, it’s a moot point now. However one thing that is for certain, nobody does low budget better than director Don Coscarelli. There are rumors that this movie has been filmed in bits and pieces for the last few years. How true that is, I don’t know, but Coscarelli has in the past shot extra footage that was used in later films, so it wouldn’t be out of the question. Nobody really knew that the filming for Phantasm V was taking place and it has been a top secret project.

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I actually liked where Phantasm IV left off, sort of leaving it up to the viewer to decide if it really was all some sort of nightmare or if there was another story left to be told. Clearly there is and we’ll get it here. The special effects look decent from what we’ve seen in the trailer, but a lot of that can be attested to advancements in digital movie making. Even still, I can’t wait to get one more round of the Tall Man. If you like low budget but fun horror, Phantasm V: Ravager looks like it’s going to be a blast.

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Curse of Chucky
Directed by Don Mancini
Starring Fiona Dourif, Brad Dourif and Danielle Bisutti
Available on Blu-Ray, DVD and RedBox

I’m kind of an odd fan of the Child’s Play films. While I don’t own any Chucky merchandise, I can actually appreciate the films. I believe the first three Child’s Play movies are all quite good, which is rare for any slasher horror franchise. Bride of Chucky was an odd film, that came at a time when the modern horror movie monsters were dying off. Bride of Chucky reinvented Chucky and made him a bigger star than he had ever been before. It was a brilliant move by Don Mancini and it cemented Chucky among the top tier of slasher icons. Unfortunately it came at the cost of Chucky no longer being “scary”. Seed of Chucky followed and arguably should have been the death of the franchise. Seed played up on the elements that made Bride funny, but took them too far and ultimately ended up with a movie that was neither funny nor scary.

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When Curse of Chucky was announced for direct-to-video, I didn’t put much stock into it. Seeing it released this past week, I decided to give it a watch. Some have called this a “soft reboot” but it’s definitely a direct sequel, actually tying this film to every one before it. Granted it doesn’t spend much time focusing on it, but it definitely is more tied to Child’s Play than the last few efforts. What’s so amazing about this movie, is that it manages to capture the spirit of the old Child’s Play movies and taps into some very scary other areas, without pretending the last two films didn’t exist. Don Mancini has done it again, reinventing Chucky back as that scary doll gave you nightmares in the early 80’s.

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Fiona Dourif stars as Nica, a paraplegic girl who is frustrated with her life living under her mother’s care. Her mom appears to be a bit unbalanced and shortly after a mysterious package arrives containing a Good Guy doll, Nica’s mom falls to her death. Nica’s older sister Barb (Danielle Bisutti) and her family arrive to help Nica with the funeral and slowly they begin to notice strange things happening with the doll. Of course, sure enough the doll is Chucky, who engages on a killing spree, turning the old home into a house of horrors.

What works so well in this film is that they don’t rush anything. We know from the moment that Chucky shows up that he’s a killer doll, but we barely see him move for a long time. This isn’t because there’s no budget like the recent Puppet Master films, but rather to create an atmosphere. It’s amazing that they’re able to do it, but they succeed. The acting is all quite good and the set helps play up the creepy aura of the movie.

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For years Chucky was after Andy Barclay, so it’s easy to wonder why he would seek out this new family in Curse of Chucky, but thankfully all is explained in a rather well done backstory. Brad Dourif even gets some screen time reprising his role as Charles Lee Ray. Some of the story is a bit forced, but it works well enough and some flashbacks from the original Child’s Play film help set the scene. Dourif and his daughter both play their roles well, with Chucky causing menace to Nica on both a psychological and physical level.

I’ve heard complaints that the movie is slow, but trust me it doesn’t lack in gore. It builds up to a crescendo of violence that includes some of the most insane death sequences I’ve seen in any movie for quite some time. The kills are fun and unexpected at times. The special effects are also top notch for the death sequences, including some of the best fake heads that I’ve seen on film. Continue reading

Superman movie review
It would seem we are in something of a Golden Age of superhero film. It seems like every other blockbuster is based on the exploits of a Marvel or DC Comics character, especially since 2008 when The Dark Knight was released and Iron Man began the march toward The Avengers. Conspicuous in his absence was the granddaddy of all superheroes, Superman. Though the first two Superman films are fondly remembered, the 2006 continuation Superman Returns fell flat and left the series in limbo. Now Man of Steel hopes to start an all new Superman film franchise. Is this a shiny new beginning for our oldest superhero, or another non-starter? Here are my mostly spoiler-free thoughts.

Man of Steel is very much Batman Begins for Superman, even relying on flashbacks to explain the backstory. This is not a slight against Man of Steel, the Superman story needed to be rebuilt from the ground up on film, just as Batman needed it. The choice of Zod as a villain is a bit interesting, because he is better known from the original films than he ever was in the comics. The sequel focused mindset dictates that Lex Luthor cannot be featured until movie #2 or #3 (though you are likely to spot some LexCorp logos throughout Metropolis).

The nonlinear exposition was actually refreshing for me, because I was prepared to sit through a full Smallville retread of the Superman origin. The prologue on Krypton at the start of the film does its best to reinvent the dying planet, but I found the execution a bit too Star Wars-prequelish. I say that as a fan of those movies, but the pure amount of CGI-candy, and action hero Jor-El, in that sequence gets to be a bit much. Continue reading