Film Review: The Thing (2011)

Also known as: The Thing: The Beginning (working title)
Release Date: October 10th, 2011 (Universal City premiere)
Directed by: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Written by: Eric Heisserer
Based on: Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Eric Christian Olsen

Morgan Creek Entertainment, Universal Pictures, Strike Entertainment, 103 Minutes

Review:

“You think they’re gonna pay a bonus for bringing home an alien instead of core samples?” – Colin

While this prequel to 1982’s The Thing, also titled The Thing, is not a bad movie, it is a perfect example of why I will never like CGI monster effects as much as physical, real, practical effects like its predecessor.

If you watch both Things back-to-back, you will see the stark difference between this CGI festival of love and the much more impressive, real feeling effects of John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece.

Where the 1982 movie, regardless of how many times I’ve seen it, is still terrifying and a complete and total mindfuck, this 2011 prequel’s special effects look like they’re from a video game. Because of that, they pull you out of the film and its potentially terrifying impact because you’re reminded that this isn’t real and in fact, it’s kind of cartoonish by comparison.

The story here is good, as is the acting, the direction and just about everything else. Well, except for the pacing. Frankly, it’s oddly paced and doesn’t slowly build and escalate in the same way as the 1982 version, which they honestly should’ve just followed because it’s a perfect template on how to build tension at the right speed, in the right way and how to smack the audience in the face with a perfect finale.

Maybe the writers and the director didn’t want to do a complete rehash but they should have. While this is neither a remake nor a reboot, who cares. The reason why The Thing is a perfect movie is because of its flawless narrative framework, as well as its incredible effects that still look good almost forty years later. This Thing doesn’t seem to understand that, so it doesn’t utilize either of those winning techniques and we’re left with something promising on paper but executed like someone was designing cut scenes for a Resident Evil video game.

While I generally liked the story and how it explored the creature a bit more than what we already knew, it kind of goes too far with the battle on the crashed UFO finale. It’s not a big battle and it just follows the two remaining survivors as they decide to go there for some odd reason. They burn the alien and we think the story is done. But we already know that if it were truly dead, we wouldn’t have had a story for the 1982 movie.

So there’s a twist at the end that isn’t all that surprising and for some dumb reason the female lead of the movie survives. Honestly, this is a movie where everyone should’ve died. We shouldn’t have gotten the final girl riding off into the tundra in a snowcat like The Shining.

During the credits, we cut to a sequence that sets up the opening shots of the 1982 film. This part was done pretty well and honestly, at least this movie did a pretty good job of connecting the dots that we only just peaked at in the 1982 version. We see how every victim discovered in the 1982 version died where they were found, as well as seeing how the alien carcass had two faces merged together. I liked that they actually gave enough of a shit to work this stuff into the plot and none of it really felt forced.

Ultimately, this is a decent companion piece to the ’82 picture but it certainly isn’t necessary and honestly, didn’t need to be made. The fan service stuff was neat but the film completely missed its mark due to its failure of understanding the elements that made John Carpenter’s The Thing a perfect horror movie in the first place.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: 1982’s The Thing, which this connects to directly with its post-credits scene, as well as other body horror flicks.

Film Review: Möbius (2017)

Release Date: May, 2017 (Cannes)
Directed by: Sam Kuhn
Written by: Sam Kuhn
Cast: Caley Jones, Elissa Mielke, Cotey Pope

Borscht, Lion Attack, 16 Minutes

Review:

It’s been awhile since I’ve watched any of the short film selections on the Criterion Channel, albeit on its own service or its former service, FilmStruck.

I thought that this one had a cool premise and visually, it looked neat, so I checked it out.

Overall, this was a really stylish looking picture that was certainly visually effective and sort of mesmerizing. It felt otherworldly while looking pristine and beautiful.

The plot is pretty simple. It follows a poet as she reflects over her high school lover who has gone missing. All the while, she’s evading the authorities. But mostly she’s questioning what her relationship with the missing boy actually was.

At only sixteen minutes, not a lot happens and most of the time is spent on the visual flourish.

Again, everything looks great but I didn’t feel that there was a whole lot here to chew on.

Whenever the main character, played by Caley Jones, was onscreen, she was able to convey a lot with very little. She wears her emotion on her face, even if most of her looks are sort of deadpan. But some of that is due to the sounds around her and the use of lighting and tone.

This was a fairly interesting experiment and I certainly wasn’t bored during its sixteen minutes. But ultimately, I’m not sure what this was trying to convey other than just giving us cool visuals.

Frankly, it felt like a really long music video without the music.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other short films reviewed here on Talking Pulp.

Film Review: Bride of Chucky (1998)

Also known as: Child’s Play 4, Chucky, Chucky and His Bride (working titles)
Release Date: October 16th, 1998
Directed by: Ronny Yu
Written by: Don Mancini
Based on: characters by Don Mancini
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: Brad Dourif, Jennifer Tilly, Katherine Heigl, Nick Stabile, John Ritter, Alexis Arquette, Gordon Michael Woolvett, Kathy Najimy

David Kirschner Productions, Midwinter Productions Inc., Universal Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“My mother always said love was supposed set you free. But that’s not true, Chucky. I’ve been a prisoner of my love for you for a very long time. Now it’s payback time.” – Tiffany

Initially, I didn’t know what to make of this movie when it came out in 1998.

Over time, I grew to love it though, as I mostly see it as a black comedy, which is how it’s really intended to be seen. It’s not so much a parody of the Child’s Play movies, as it is a true vehicle to just let Brad Dourif’s Chucky be unrestrained from trying to make a more serious slasher film.

Bride of Chucky goes beyond horror accented by comical one-liners and evolves the franchise into something more in-line with its star character’s personality. Overall, it’s less scary and less terrifying but it makes up for that in its coolness. And it really does get nuts in the best way possible.

Now with that being said, I don’t like it as much as the original three films but it is more energetic and more fun, overall. Without, I feel as if it has more replay value than most of the movies in the series.

I love the inclusion of Jennifer Tilly as Tiffany, Chuck’s actual bride who also becomes a killer doll. And of course, this leads to the sequel Seed of Chucky, which focuses on the offspring of the killer dolls. Most people seem to hate that movie but I kind of love it too for what it is but I’ll get into that when I review it, specifically.

Ronny Yu did a fine job of giving life and energy to Don Mancini’s script and frankly, I thought he was a wise choice. I also love his Freddy Vs. Jason, even though some people think it sucks. But fuck those people, as Yu understands how to turn these slasher franchises into something beyond the norm, which was kind of needed in the time that he made this film and FvJ.

The best part about this (and its sequel) is the chemistry between Tilly and Dourif. It’s f’n spectacular. Where I originally wasn’t keen on the concept before seeing the film, Tilly won me over almost immediately and proved she was a perfect choice for the role. And she has since become nearly as iconic as Chucky.

Bride of Chucky is an enthralling entry into a series that didn’t have much left in the tank. It reinvented what a Child’s Play movie could be and it left the door open for more, which allowed the Dourif era to flourish for three more films.

Despite my distaste for the 2019 Child’s Play reboot, I’m glad that the Dourif version of Chucky still isn’t dead, as there is a television show in-development, which will continue to build off of this movie and all the ones before and after it.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: all the Child’s Play movies except the 2019 reboot.

Film Review: Child’s Play (2019)

Release Date: June 18th, 2019 (Paris premiere)
Directed by: Lars Klevberg
Written by: Tyler Burton Smith
Based on: Child’s Play by Don Mancini
Music by: Bear McCreary
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, Brian Tyree Henry, Mark Hamill (voice), Tim Matheson

Orion Pictures, BRON Creative, Creative Wealth Media Finance, KatzSmith Productions, United Artists, 90 Minutes

Review:

“[about to stab and mutilate Shane] This is for Tupac.” – Chucky

I’ll be honest, I didn’t have much urge to see this. I didn’t want or need a Child’s Play remake and in fact, I want the franchise to carry on with Brad Dourif as Chucky and Jennifer Tilly as Tiffany wherever Don Mancini wants to use her character. I certainly didn’t want a reboot that misses most of the point of the original film and really could’ve just taken its original ideas and made a movie where this new doll wasn’t Chucky.

After seeing the film, I don’t hate it but I also don’t really like it. It just kind of exists in this weird alternate timeline limbo in my head. The films with Dourif’s Chucky will always be my Child’s Play movies.

Sure, bringing in Mark Hamill as the new voice of Chucky was definitely a great move by the producers, as his voice work is almost always tremendous but it doesn’t make up for the lack of Dourif and the unique personality that he brings to the role. It’s like the remake for A Nightmare On Elm Street. I absolutely love Jackie Earle Haley as an actor but anyone else other than Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger is almost criminal.

It’s not just the change of voice that’s the problem though, it’s the whole “modern take” on the Chucky doll.

In the original film series, Chucky was a human serial killer that used a voodoo spell to hide his soul in a doll in order to evade death. His plan was to then transfer his soul into that of a child to start life over again, as a serial killer in a new, little kid body. I mean, that shit’s terrifying.

In this remake, Chucky is just a robot doll, no soul. He becomes a killer because a disgruntled employee in a Vietnamese factory removed the safety protocols from the Chucky doll’s A.I. chip. Really, that’s it.

I guess the scary thing is that Chucky is basically Siri in the form of a doll, as he can tap into the A.I. of every smart device made by the same Apple-like or Google-like company that manufactured him. So Chucky can control TVs, lights, cameras, automated Uber cars and all types of other shit. While that is actually a cool idea to explore, why did a neat concept like this have to be altered and crammed into a Child’s Play reboot, as opposed to just being its own, fairly original film?

Getting back to the A.I. chip thing, no manufacturer would have individuals manually put safety protocols into a chip. The chips themselves would be manufactured the way they needed to be before some Vietnamese dudes in an assembly line even touched them. The A.I. program would be copied directly to the chip at the point of the chip’s manufacture, as opposed to the doll’s manufacture.

Also, this movie must exist in the future, as we aren’t using automated robot cars as Ubers yet.

Additionally, Chucky seems to be motivated by his emotions, as he wants to be Andy’s BFF but Andy eventually rejects him after the murder spree begins. Are there real emotions there? Is it simply Chucky’s programming that makes him just simulate emotional responses? I’d probably go with the latter but even then, shouldn’t he be trying to win Andy over instead of plotting and executing the sort of revenge that will make Andy hate him? Sure, his safety protocols are gone but what does that have to do with logic?

But the core of what Chucky is, is also why this doesn’t work for me. I knew that the original Chucky was an evil human being that wanted to steal the body of a child at any cost. New Chucky is just a broken iPhone that can walk around and carry a knife. There’s no actual connection to it emotionally because it is just a broken object and not an actual force of true evil.

The film also seems to miss the point about Andy being a kid that is sort of isolated. While he starts out that way in this movie, he quickly makes friends and has a whole posse that he runs around with. In the original, Andy’s attachment to Chucky seemed more real and organic because he was a really lonely kid and because Chucky was actually a human being that knew how to pull Andy’s emotional strings.

Being an Aubrey Plaza fan, I did want to give the film an honest shot because she was in it and I’d like to think that she wouldn’t have done the film if the script was shit. While I enjoy her in this, as I do almost every role she’s played, it’s not enough to salvage the whole picture.

But I also thought that the majority of the cast was solid, despite the film being a mess.

Now the picture did give us some good horror kills with standard slasher level gore but none of the kills were great or anything all that original, except the death by robot Uber but even then, Chucky had to crawl into the car to finish the job.

Honestly, the only thing I truly thought was promising about the film was the concept of a corrupted A.I. turning a doll into a killer that could use your own devices and technology against you. The concept was ruined by having it forced into a pointless reboot instead of being its own fully realized idea that could’ve stood up proudly. But what we got was a kernel of an idea propped up by a now bastardized franchise that was once beloved.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: the original, superior films.

Film Review: Pet Sematary (2019)

Release Date: March 16th, 2019 (SXSW)
Directed by: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmayer
Written by: Jeff Buhler, Matt Greenberg
Based on: Pet Sematary by Stephen King
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jeté Laurence, Hugo & Lucas Lavoie

Di Bonaventura Pictures, Room 101 Inc., Paramount Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Hug your daughter.” – Louis Creed

I should preface this by saying that I’m not a huge fan of the original Pet Sematary movie. It’s mostly okay and I do enjoy it but I don’t consider it a classic, as many people do.

This film made me appreciate the original and its sequel more, however. But that doesn’t mean I disliked this. It just felt mostly hollow and the things it changed didn’t feel necessary and actually made it less shocking and emotional than the original adaptation.

Now this could actually be closer to the book but I never read it. If that’s the case, I’ll give it a pass on its alterations. But that still doesn’t make it a better film than the two that preceded it.

The thing that is better in this movie is the acting. Top to bottom, the cast here is damn talented. And yes, John Lithgow is a more talented actor than the late, great Fred Gwynne but I still prefer Gwynne’s Jud. Still, Lithgow was solid.

The real scene stealer though was Jeté Laurence, the young daughter who dies and comes back from the dead. She was absolutely dynamite! And frankly, she carries scenes even when sharing them with actors that have been at this for decades longer.

On a side note, I liked the casting of twins Hugo and Lucas Lavoie, as the young Gage. Mainly, because the kids looked a lot like a toddler aged Miko Hughes, who played Gage in the original.

The film has pretty good atmosphere and it does a decent job of building towards actual feelings of despair and dread. I think that also has a lot to do with a very capable cast pulling you into the proceedings.

But in the end, this doesn’t feel special, it doesn’t feel necessary and it doesn’t really stand on its own two feet. I feel like it was rushed out to capitalize off of the recent success of the It remake. While that’s okay, I would’ve rather seen a new Stephen King adaptation than another remake for the sake of cashing in on an already established property.

Even with all its moody, dark tones throughout nearly every scene, this couldn’t generate enough real darkness to really stand next to its visually lighter predecessor. The acting saves the film from being a disaster but it still isn’t enough to carry it on its own.

Maybe it lacks heart or maybe it just tried too hard. Either way, it’s a carbon copy with the contrast boosted too high and a much weaker resolution when looking at the details.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Pet Sematary films and other modern Stephen King adaptations.

Film Review: The Wraith (1986)

Also known as: Turbocop (Mexico), Interceptor (Germany)
Release Date: October, 1986 (Tokyo International Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: Mike Marvin
Written by: Mike Marvin
Music by: Michael Hoenig, J. Peter Robinson
Cast: Charlies Sheen, Nick Cassavetes, Sherilyn Fenn, Randy Quaid, Clint Howard, Griffin O’Neal

New Century Entertainment Corporation, Alliance Entertainment, Turbo Productions, 93 Minutes

Review:

“You listen to me, you son-of-a-bitch! There’s a kid out there usin’ his car to kill people, not that it’s such a big deal since it seems to be your gang he’s got it in for… so, if you guys try to take the law into your own hands, and that killer turns up dead, I’m gonna see you all sniffin’ cyanide in the Arizona gas chamber.” – Sheriff Loomis

This is one of those movies that used to come on late at night on cable, usually with an introduction by Joe Bob Briggs via TNT’s MonsterVision. I always got glued to the set whenever it was on though, as there is just something so surreal and bizarre about it.

The plot is basically the same as The Crow, except the dead guy looking for revenge isn’t an invincible goth dude with a pet bird. Instead, he’s Charlie Sheen and he has the ability to turn into a ghost car. But then, that’s kind of confusing because he ends up giving the car to his little brother at the end, as he goes off into the sunset on his motorcycle with Audrey from Twin Peaks.

Anyway, Tucson is overrun by a gang of race car thugs. They bully people into racing them, cheat to win and then take their car. Charlie Sheen in his previous, less dreamy form, was murdered by the gang because he was having sex with Audrey from Twin Peaks, who the gang leader is obsessed over.

Sheen comes back, turns into a ghost car a.k.a. a Dodge M4S Interceptor and kills the gang members, one at a time, in races that end with them usually being blown to bits. Although, their bodies remain intact with their eyes looking like they’ve been burnt out. I guess Ghost Car Charlie sucks their souls out through their eyes or something. Honestly, it’s not really clear.

The film also stars Nick Cassavetes, son of John, as the gang leader, Clint Howard, as a a guy that looks like a ginger Beavis with glasses, and Randy Quaid, as the no nonsense sheriff that ain’t got time for all this supernatural shit. But the sheriff doesn’t really care about solving the case, as the ghost car is killing off the scumbags of Tucson.

I can’t particularly call this a good film and really, it’ll resonate with a certain type of movie fan. Mostly, fans of ’80s schlock with a sci-fi and supernatural bent. Really, this is a common late night cable movie of the late ’80s and ’90s, so if that’s your thing, you should enjoy this.

There’s not much plot to muck up the insanity and surrealness, which in these type of movies is a real plus. We don’t need all this wacky shit explained, just serve it to us in mass amounts and let us feast.

I can’t say that this is a movie that helped anyone’s career but I certainly don’t think that it hurt anyone’s either. It’s a hearty helping of ham with a dopey but fun script, executed as well as it could be with ’80s special effects and a tight budget.

Plus, it’s got a lot of solid car action.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The Crow, which may have somewhat ripped this story off.

Film Review: Joker (2019)

Release Date: August 31st, 2019 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Todd Phillips
Written by: Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
Based on: characters by DC Comics
Music by: Hildur Guonadottir
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Shea Whigham, Bill Camp, Glenn Fleshler, Leigh Gill, Marc Maron, Sondra James, Brian Tyree Henry

BRON Studios, Creative Wealth Media Finance, DC Films, Joint Effort, Village Roadshow Pictures, Warner Bros., 122 Minutes

Review:

“I used to think that my life was a tragedy, but now I realize, it’s a comedy.” – Arthur Fleck

*There be spoilers here! But I kept it as minimal as possible.

When this movie was first announced, I didn’t want it. The Joker does not need an origin story. In fact, part of what makes him work so well is that who he is, or was, is a mystery. The Joker is a fucked up force of nature and that’s all he needs to be.

However, if I’m being honest, there have been Joker origins in the comics over the years and there are a few I like. Now none of them are actually considered canon and they all contradict one another, which is something that Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight sort of entertained with Heath Ledger’s Joker, as every time he told the story about how he got his scars, it was a different tale.

So as a standalone story, within its own universe, I can accept this concept. This is essentially an Elseworlds tale but at its core, this really isn’t so much a movie about the Joker character, as much as it is an examination of all the things that surround the creation of this specific fucked up force of nature.

By the time the second trailer for this rolled around, I started anticipating this immensely, as that’s the moment where I was sold on this picture.

However, the trailer showed that this film was a very strong homage to early Martin Scorsese movies, specifically Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. I was kind of worried that this would tap into those pictures too much and just try to emulate them. But Joker is very much its own thing that goes in its own direction and while it channels those great Scorsese films, it doesn’t rely on them too heavily or use them as crutches to prop up the production.

So just to put it out there, Joker is an absolute masterpiece.

It is the best film in the comic book movie genre that I’ve seen since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. In fact, this may surpass it but I need to see how I feel after a few more viewings and after I process and digest this more. It’s still fresh in my memory, as I saw it about eight hours ago and it’s all my mind has been pondering over the course of the day.

I found it fitting that Robert De Niro was in this, being that he was the star of those two Scorsese films this channels. But the man was utter perfection playing opposite of the roles he was in, back in the day. His career sort of comes full circle and in a way, he legitimizes this movie and he hands the reins of greatness over to Joaquin Phoenix, one of the best actors of our time, who gave one of the three best performances of his career: the other two being Walk the Line and The Master.

The first thing a few people asked me today was who’s a better Joker: Joaquin Phoenix or Heath Ledger? That’s really not an answerable question. While they both play a version of the same character, they really aren’t the same character. They play their roles very differently, in two very different films. Both were brilliant performances but they’re not really comparable. And maybe that doesn’t make a lot of sense but I think it’ll be easier to understand after seeing this movie.

It doesn’t stop with Phoenix and De Niro though, as every actor in this was incredible. Zazie Beetz rose to the next level, as did Frances Conroy, who gives a stupendous performance. Even very minor characters were superb, specifically Marc Maron, who I wish had more scenes, and Leigh Gill, who played the dwarf that was the only character Joker spared because he was the only person in his life that was kind to him. As small as Gill’s role was, the guy was astounding. The scene in Joker’s apartment was one of the many high points of the film but its definitely one of the top two or three scenes and most of the credit should go to Gill, who was so convincing that it was almost too real.

Getting to the director, Todd Phillips, I wasn’t in any way sold on this guy doing this movie. He was a comedy writer and director and didn’t have any experience working on something as dramatic as this was going to need to be. But that’s my mistake and I judged the guy unfairly. However, my skepticism was still probably founded in the fact that this really was a new challenge for him. And frankly, I wasn’t a big fan of his other work but maybe I need to go back and give his previous films another shot. Because even if I’m not big on The Hangover, from memory, I did think that it was a fine film visually.

And that brings me to the visuals of this picture.

Joker had breathtaking cinematography.

What’s really cool, is that the movie commits to the bit from the get go, as it uses the Warner Bros. logo from the late ’70s. It then immediately gives you the opening shots of Gotham City (really, New York City) shot in a way that looks like it is presented on actual celluloid with a bit of a grain to it. But it doesn’t look like some bullshit modern filter that doesn’t look authentic because you can tell it’s a digital effect. This looks like the real thing and frankly, it immediately makes your brain feel like it is watching a long, lost Scorsese picture.

Additionally, everything in this movie is lit like it is a film from that era. The world these characters live in, the interiors of Joker’s apartment to his place of employment feel like they are genuinely small pieces of the low income areas of ’70s New York City. In fact, the film doesn’t fully feel like it slips into true HD until the big finale that sees the Joker make his introduction to the world, live on television.

The musical score and the use of classic pop tunes is also well done. The music doesn’t solely create the film’s atmosphere, it is just one part of the bigger, well refined and fine tuned machine, but it is a really important part.

For some reason, this film is controversial. The media thinks it’s going to inspire incel white men to murder theatergoers. Never mind that violent horror movies come and go every month and the media has no problem with those films. Yet, the media is creating fake outrage and fear because they’re the ones who are actually evil. It’s as if they want a tragedy to happen, just so they can say, “I told you so!”

In fact, this film is a fitting one for them to attack and try to destroy because it puts the mainstream media on blast, as well as entertainment and society in general. But the media fears that this will allow people to sympathize with a psycho and in that, it will somehow flip a switch in the audience’s brain like they’re all sleeper agents waiting for this secret, coded message to activate their kill mode. Seriously, what fucking world do we live in in 2019?!

Anyway, when the media or the mainstream manufactures fear, people usually lash out against that and go to see what all the fucking fuss is about. In its first day, Joker already broke the one day October record. I’m sure it will get the weekend record and monthly record for October when it is all said and done.

There has been a lot of hype about this film by those who have seen it. I usually take that shit with a grain of salt. However, the hype isn’t just a response to the media hysteria. Joker is as good as people are saying. I actually plan on seeing it in theaters again and that’s something I rarely do because time is precious and I’m a busy bitch.

The last thing I’ll say though, is that if Joaquin Phoenix, Todd Phillips and this film aren’t nominated for Academy Awards in a few months, the Academy can go fuck itself. And if I’m being honest, I’ll be surprised if it is nominated for the marquee awards. Nowadays, those only go to movies about deaf chicks that fuck fish men and movies that act as fluffers for the politically decrepit film industry.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: early Martin Scorsese films, especially Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy.