Film Review: Halloween (2018)

Release Date: September 8th, 2018 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: David Gordon Green
Written by: Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride, David Gordon Green
Based on: characters by John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Music by: John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, Daniel Davies
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Toby Huss, Virginia Gardner, Nick Castle

Miramax, Blumhouse Productions, Trancas International Films, Rough House Pictures, Universal Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“There’s a reason we’re supposed to be afraid of this night.” – Hawkins

Well, the highly anticipated Halloween is here.

This film is a direct sequel to the first movie and thus, ignores everything that came after the original film. So no hospital movie, no Michael hunting little Jamie, no Paul Rudd fighting a weirdo cult, no LL Cool J as a poor security guard and no Busta Rhymes karate moves. Most importantly though, none of that white trash Rob Zombie crap. Although, I did like Malcolm McDowell.

I guess the coolest thing about this isn’t bringing back Jamie Lee Curtis and John Carpenter (in some capacity), it’s actually getting Nick Castle back to play the Shape, as he was the original Michael Myers. Side note: did you know that the Shape a.k.a. Michael Myers directed The Last Starfighter?

Anyway, jumping right in, I thought that the first half hour or so of the movie was slow. All of that could have been condensed down to ten minutes, really. This is a slasher film and doesn’t need to give us giant spoonfuls of exposition. Just give us the quick rundown of where the story is and go for it.

After that first half hour, things really pick up but I felt that the middle act of the picture almost went too fast. Michael starts killing and he kills a lot. However, once you get to the big finale at the Strode house in the woods, it slows to a crawl again.

I get that this final act was an attempt at building tension, which it does do well, but as Laurie carefully moved through her house looking for Michael, I was just sitting in my chair thinking, “Hurry it up, already.” I mean, if she was so prepared for Michael coming for her, she should of lived in a one room cabin and not a maze full of mannequins and junk store trinkets.

As far as the kills go, it was a mixed bag. Too many kills happen off screen, which I hate in a slasher film. Commit to the f’n bit and show it! Show it all! What’s more baffling is that the kills that they do show are pretty brutal. So why give us a mixture of violent kills and off screen kills? Were the filmmakers teetering on making this PG-13?

One thing about this movie that really got me into it though was the use of John Carpenter’s music. He did the score for this one and kept it very traditional and tapped into the themes of the original. However, as the film rolls on, those famous tunes start to evolve and Carpenter did some really neat stuff musically. I’ll probably buy this film’s score on vinyl if I come across it at my local record shop.

Another positive is the psychology of this film. I don’t mean to spoil anything but this starts out like a typical Halloween film once Michael gets free but eventually you come to see that the hunter is actually the hunted. Laurie Strode wanted him outside again so that she could finally kill him and finally close this long, dark chapter of her life. Laurie becomes a badass and spends decades preparing for this night in an effort to deal with her PTSD. It’s ruined her life, her marriages, her family and she just wants to put this MFer to bed, once and for all.

However, even though I prefer this movie to H2O, I preferred the other version of Laurie Strode better. Also, that film had that great iconic moment where Laurie and Michael come face to face through a small window. That really was a great moment and gave that film more meaning than it should have had. This new film didn’t have that sort of confrontation, which would’ve actually done more to build tension than Laurie slowly walking through a dark house with a shotgun. Having Laurie and Michael look into each others eyes is something that needed to happen, it froze me in my seat when I saw that in H2O. Nothing about this Halloween came close to having that effect on me.

In the end, I was really happy with the movie. It hits the right notes, most of the time. It was also a great homage to the original film and a few other horror classics. We haven’t had a good slasher film in quite awhile and this at least satisfied the part of me that’s been yearning for a real throwback to my favorite era and subgenre of horror.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Halloween 124 and 5.

Film Review: Resident Evil (2002)

Also known as: Resident Evil: The Movie, Resident Evil: Ground Zero (working titles), Biohazard (Japanese English title), Resident Evil – Genesis (Switzerland)
Release Date: March 12th, 2002 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Written by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Based on: Resident Evil by Capcom
Music by: Marco Beltrami, Marilyn Manson
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Eric Mabius, James Purefoy, Martin Crewes, Colin Salmon, Jason Issacs (narrator/cameo)

Constantin Film, New Legacy Films, Pathé, 100 Minutes

Review:

“You’re all going to die down here.” – The Red Queen

I never saw this when it came out and I didn’t have much urge to, as I wasn’t invested in the video game series and it looked like a low budget action horror film that didn’t pay much attention to what the first game was. Based off of my experience playing the original Resident Evil, when I originally saw the trailer for this, I was baffled by it.

However, this has gone on to spawn a half dozen movies and is the most successful film franchise based on a video game, so I figured I’d kill 100 minutes and actually give it a watch, 16 years later.

Well, it’s not terrible but it also isn’t very good. It had some decent bits in it but most of it felt as soulless as the zombies roaming in and out of the picture.

I guess the worst part of it all was the acting. Milla Jovovich was actually pretty decent and Eric Mabius wasn’t bad but everyone else around them delivered their lines like a punch to the gut. Most of these character and the actors portraying them were pretty off putting. Michelle Rodriguez’s line delivery certainly takes the cake for acting cringe in this film.

The special effects are good when they are practical effects. The CGI employed in this is fucking terrible. From what I’ve seen from later films in the series, the creature CGI effects at least improve beyond this film. The Licker creature, which was the big bad of the movie, looked atrocious. The digital monsters looked like something from a SyFy movie but a SyFy movie when it was still 2002.

As far as a positives, I really liked the concept and the idea of the Hive, an underground tech heavy fortress controlled by an evil A.I. called the Red Queen. I felt like there was a lot that they could do with this but it was left pretty unexplored, other than a few key moments like when the task force got sliced to pieces by lasers. But this also felt like it was heavily borrowed from Cube.

This was a fast paced, fun movie. I’ll give it that. I wasn’t bored watching it or waiting for things to pick up. However, I did suffer from my mind going numb due to stupid characters making stupid decisions.

Also, another positive is that I feel like I should watch the other movies as well. I’ve never seen any of these in their entirety. I’ve seen bits and pieces of some of the sequels but I don’t even know which ones. It just seems like these movies are on FX all the time.

Anyway, I guess I’ll follow this up shortly with reviews of the other five Resident Evil movies.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: the pther Resident Evil films, as well as other horror video game films from the same era: the Silent Hill series and Doom.

Film Review: Kazaam (1996)

Release Date: July 17th, 1996
Directed by: Paul Michael Glaser
Written by: Christian Ford, Roger Soffer, Paul Michael Glaser
Music by: Christopher Tyng
Cast: Shaquille O’Neal, Francis Capra, Ally Walker, James Acheson, Da Brat (cameo)

Touchstone Pictures, Interscope Communications, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Buena Vista Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“He’s A Rappin’ Genie With An Attitude… And He’s Ready For Slam-Dunk Fun!” – marketing tagline

I’ve never seen this until now. And I can’t believe I’m saying this but it isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s f’n terrible but it’s not 2.9 on IMDb terrible. More like a solid 4.

Anyway, the story is bad, the special effects are really bad and the acting may be even worse. But this is a film that has some charm to it.

At this point in his career, Shaq couldn’t act himself out of a wet paper bag and he’s not much better over twenty years later but man, he needed some acting coaches before jumping into this weird movie.

He was still really likable in this, however, but rapping half of his lines was probably unnecessary. Then again, this came out at the same time he was a few albums deep into his short rap career. I just felt like this movie and his rap albums were the result of people not being able to tell him “no” when he wanted to do other things outside of basketball.

I think the glue of this picture was the kid Max, played by Francis Capra, who wasn’t a one-off child actor, he still works consistently in Hollywood today. The kid had charisma and as a character, I cared about him, even if this was a stupid and strange movie. His East Coast, New York attitude kind of reminded me of Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid.

The premise is about this bullied kid who frees a genie from a magic boom box. Yes, you read that right. Genie Shaq then spends a lot of time trying to convince the kid that he is a genie but his magic never works. Then it starts working and the kid takes the whole damn movie to come up with his three wishes. Genie Shaq, in the meantime, starts a rap career in the movie. So he is literally a rapping genie. You also read that right.

So the kid is trying to connect with his scumbag, criminal father. Eventually, the biological dad decides to fix his life and do what’s right by his son. The son then also learns to accept his step father, who really is the better male role model in his life. Genie Shaq eventually gets free and leaves to have a life with some chick that’s into rapping genies the size of a Sasquatch.

Anyway, you could probably go your entire life not knowing that this film even exists but what fun would that be? Sure, it’s probably a waste of your time but sometimes wasting time is a good use of time… or so a fortune cookie said to me once. Granted, I was hammered on Zhujiang and tweaking from monosodium glutamate, so I could have read it wrong.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: Steel with Shaq.

Film Review: Hardware (1990)

Also known as: M.A.R.K. 13 (alternate title)
Release Date: August, 1990 (Edinburgh International Film Festival)
Directed by: Richard Stanley
Written by: Richard Stanley
Based on: SHOK! by Steve MacManus, Kevin O’Neill (uncredited/plagarized)
Music by: Simon Boswell
Cast: Dylan McDermott, Stacey Travis, John Lynch, William Hootkins, Iggy Pop (voice), Lemmy Kilmister (cameo)

Palace Pictures, British Screen Productions, British Satellite Broadcasting, 94 Minutes

Review:

“[on radio] Kill! Kill! Kill! Today’s death count is 578.” – Angry Bob

For a movie that doesn’t really work when you put too much thought into it, Hardware is still a pretty intense picture that masterfully builds up tension and suspense. I have some issues with it but it brings a lot more good than bad to the table.

I guess my biggest gripe is that it takes way too long to really get into it. The first half is slow and actually pretty boring. However, once the killer robot is fully functional, at about the movie’s midpoint, things go nuts and you’re glued to the screen until it all plays out.

However, this robot is self repairing, covered in armor and locked in an apartment with an unprepared woman that falls asleep. She wakes up just in time to dodge the robot’s first attack but then this hardcore killing machine just chills in the shadows of the already dark apartment. I just assume that a killer robot would go full throttle into kill mode because this woman has no weapons, poses no real threat and flesh is soft and easy to tear apart. I never understood why the robot just laid back like he did. But hey, at least he picks off the creepy sleezeball dude.

What I really like about the film is the tone. It’s post-apocalyptic which was done to death by 1990 but this felt like a strong cocktail mixed with Mad Max and Blade Runner with a 151 Terminator floater. It has such a hard edge to it that it laughs at the word “gravitas”. And the woman does become quite the badass over the course of the picture. Plus, you’ve got Iggy Pop and Lemmy Kilmister in this. It’s punk, it’s metal, it’s rock and fucking roll, bay-bay!

I love the robot’s design in this film. I also liked that his skull started out as just a piece of art and it was painted with an American flag for its face. This was one of the coolest killer robots of the era.

Hardware is pretty much forgotten but it is still a solid sci-fi thriller with a nice amount of gory bits.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Incidents in an Expanding UniverseDeath MachineDust Devil and Saturn 3.

 

Film Review: Mascots (2016)

Release Date: September 10th, 2016 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Christopher Guest
Written by: Christopher Guest, Jim Piddock
Music by: Jeffrey C.J. Vanston
Cast: Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, Christopher Guest, Fred Willard, Ed Begley Jr., Christopher Moynihan, Don Lake, Zach Woods, Chris O’Dowd, Bob Balaban, Jennifer Coolidge, Michael Hitchcock, John Michael Higgins, Jim Piddock, Maria Blasucci, Oscar Nunez, Harry Shearer

Netflix, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Well, my name is A.J. Blumquist, and I’m a former mascot, Danny the Donkey, and uh, I’m a judge this year for the Fluffies. For the two people that don’t know, uh, Danny the Donkey, my mascot alter ego, was the first one to have an anatomically correct costume.” – A.J. Blumquist

When you have something really good, you can ruin it by having too much. This can be said about cheesecake, high end whiskey, cocaine, sex with street walkers and well, sadly… Christopher Guest mockumentaries.

One could say that this isn’t Christopher Guest’s fault, he’s just making what he knows and he is a master of the genre. He can’t help that there has been a huge over-saturation of films like this and really, a lot of that could be due to how good his movies have been. But on the flip side of that, this falls flat in just about every way and there are recent mockumentaries that are much funnier than this: What We Do In the Shadows, for instance.

Guest rounds up his typical group of stars minus a few key people, most notably Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara. He spends more time using newer actors in main roles and most of his great collaborators take more of a backseat here. John Michael Higgins, Fred Willard, Jennifer Coolidge and Michael Hitchcock were severely underutilized and even Jane Lynch, who got a good amount of screen time, deserved more.

Out of the newcomers, I didn’t really connect to any of them except for Zach Woods. I liked Woods in this. But even Chris O’Dowd, who I usually find funny, didn’t hit the mark here.

It’s not that this picture is unfunny, it has some funny bits, but it doesn’t keep you as amused as Best In ShowWaiting for Guffman or A Mighty Wind. It’s nowhere near as incredibly as This Is Spinal Tap and it falls short of living up to Guest’s previous weakest film, For Your Consideration.

I’m not sure what this means for Guest’s future, as other reviews I’ve seen aren’t too fond of this film and feel the same way that I do. But if he sticks with Netflix he’s probably fine, as they’ll pump out anything with a famous name on it.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: Christopher Guest’s other mockumentaries but this is the worst one so all the others are better.

Film Review: The Gangster (1947)

Also known as: Low Company (reissue title)
Release Date: November 25th, 1947
Directed by: Gordon Wiles
Written by: Daniel Fuchs
Based on: Low Company by Daniel Fuchs
Music by: Louis Gruenberg
Cast: Barry Sullivan, Belita, Joan Lorring, Akim Tamiroff, John Ireland, Sheldon Leonard, Elisha Cook Jr., Charles McGraw, Shelley Winters

King Brothers Productions, Allied Artists Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“Your wife called. What should I tell her?” – Shorty, “Tell her I dropped dead.” – Nick Jammey

The Gangster came out at a time when Hollywood was over gangster pictures. Even though it defied the big studio trends and was also put out by a studio on Poverty Row, it was still a pretty solid success and very much taps into the film-noir style.

What’s most interesting about this film is it’s production value. King Brothers didn’t believe in building expensive or elaborate sets. They also didn’t want to waste money on location shoots. Almost everything was built with light wood and cardboard on the cheap. This gives the film an otherworldly look though. It feels more like a dream sequence or a stage show production with confined sets. It’s sort of magical in this way and even with these frugal tactics, it still looks good.

One thing I like is that there is a high chiaoscuro style in a lot of scenes due to how walls and ceilings were painted. There are multiple shots of a black and white checkered or striped background, which make the actors pop off the screen in the foreground. The use of lighting is fantastic and the high contrast look with heavy shadows protects the look of the set, keeping imperfections in the dark.

For a Poverty Row production, this also has some good acting. Not only that but it has small roles for a lot of notable stars. Shelley Winters, Elisha Cook Jr., John Ireland, Charles McGraw and Akim Tamiroff all show up in some form. There are other familiar faces, as well.

The Gangster is a film that wasn’t on my radar until now, thanks to TCM’s Noir Alley. I was glad to see it and it’s a film that I will have to slide somewhere into my Top 100 Film-Noir list.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: DesperateScene of the Crime and White Heat.

Film Review: The Man Who Laughs (1928)

Release Date: April 27th, 1928 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Paul Leni
Written by: J. Grubb Alexander, Walter Anthony, Mary McLean, Charles E. Whittaker
Based on: The Man Who Laughs by Victor Hugo
Music by: Ernö Rapée, Walter Hirsch, Lew Pollack, William Axt, Sam Perry, Gustav Borch
Cast: Mary Philbin, Conrad Veidt, Brandon Hurst, Olga V. Baklanova, Cesare Gravina, Stuart Holmes, Samuel de Grasse, George Siegmann, Josephine Crowell

Universal Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“[via subtitles, to the House of Lords] A king made me a clown! A queen made me a Peer! But first, God made me a man!” – Gwynplaine

This is sort of the swan song to the typical German Expressionist style, even though it was an American film. The director was German and Conrad Veidt, the title character, originally made his mark in the expressionist film style. Plus, even though this takes place in England, the sets look very German, especially for the time.

Now while it shares a strong resemblance to German Expressionism, it isn’t as surreal as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari or as brooding as Nosferatu. But it still has a darkness to it and even though IMDb and other places categorize this as horror, it is very light in that regard. In fact, the only thing one can argue that fits the horror genre is the grotesque disfigurement of the title character.

Veidt plays Gwynplaine, a man who, as a boy, had his mouth disfigured by a king to look like a creepy smile. As a child he meets Dea and over the years they fall in love, even though Gwynplaine feels he is unworthy of her due to his disfigurement. Gwynplaine constantly wears a scarf over his mouth unless he is performing in the freak show of his traveling carnival. Dea, however, is blind and she sees her blindness as a blessing as it lets her see the true Gwynplaine.

As the film rolls on, it is revealed that Gwynplaine has a right to the throne and he is then pushed into a marriage with a Duchess, who is pretty much a horny vixen that weirdly is turned on by his disfigurement. But all Gwynplaine cares about is spending his life with Dea in his arms.

The character of Gwynplaine is one of the most iconic in cinema history, even if he is mostly forgotten by modern audiences today. His look was the inspiration of the Joker in the Batman comics. He would also inspire the look of the title character in the iconic ’60s horror picture Mr. Sardonicus. Most recently, the origin of his smile was an inspiration for Christopher Nolan’s version of the Joker, as played by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.

This also came out during the time when film was transitioning from silent pictures to sound. Initially, this was released as a purely silent movie but due to its quick success it was re-released with a score, it’s own theme song and added sound effects.

The plot is based off of a Victor Hugo story, which the studio thought would help capture some of the magic they had with the adaptation of his more famous story The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Regardless of that, The Man Who Laughs stands quite strongly on its own.

This is a well crafted movie, the narrative flows nicely and the acting is exceptional, as you fall in love with a few of these characters and you want to see Gwynplaine achieve the happiness he yearns for.

A solid motion picture, through and through, The Man Who Laughs is one of the finest pictures of its era.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other German Expressionist films with a dark edge: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, The Golem, etc.